Pressure mounted on protesters to step down from beef factory picket lines across the country, after one such demonstration that had prompted legal threats came to an end.
A blockade at Dawn Meats plant in Slane, Co Meath was lifted this afternoon, just hours after the company issued a legal threat to Hugh Doyle, Chairman of the Beef Plan Movement.
In a letter to Mr Doyle, seen by the Irish Examiner, Arthur Cox solicitors, on behalf of Dawn Meats, had imposed a deadline of 8pm tonight for the lifting of the blockade.
They told Mr Doyle that if the blockade was not lifted by this deadline, they would hold him “personally liable for damages arising from the losses suffered by our client to date and in the future as a result of the conspiracy to which you are a party”.
“While our client’s losses are not fully ascertained, the value of the product currently being prevented from leaving the plant is estimated to be circa. €500,000. Our client’s losses are expected to be far in advance of this figure which excludes loss of sales; our client reserves the right to provide further particulars of loss in due course,” the letter stated.
A spokesperson for Dawn Meats alleged Mr Doyle had told Dawn Meat management that he could have the blockade at their plant in Slane lifted if the company increased the base price being paid for beef, a contravention of the agreement reached by meat processors and farming organisations last weekend.
The blockade was lifted hours in advance of this deadline, and in a statement issued through the Independent Farmers of Ireland the Slane protestors said they had ended their protests “in the best interests of the beef industry”.
The group said it hoped the move was the “first step” in ratifying last weekend's agreement.
“It is hoped that the farmers throughout the country will view this deal through similar eyes as those in Slane and see that although there are areas that are lacking, it is a solid foundation that can lead to positive changes,” the statement read.
“There is much work still to be done but it appears to us that the peaceful pickets have achieved all they can, and it is now time to enter the next stage of this process,” the protesters said.
Dermot O'Brien, spokesman with the Beef Plan Movement was critical of the legal threat issued to Mr Doyle.
“We want the agreement to succeed,” Mr O’Brien told the Today with Sean O’Rourke show on RTÉ Radio 1.
“But unfortunately a fresh legal threat was issued against the Beef Plan Movement and its directors. This is totally and utterly unacceptable. There is no goodwill here being extended by one particular meat processor.
“It is not right. In my opinion, this is a tactic to break up the agreement, because this agreement is a win for farmers all around this country. And we want the agreement to succeed, but maybe others do not. To issue fresh legal threats against the beef plan moment is not the way to go here,” he said.
Meanwhile, a group that claims to represent 7,000 Angus cattle farmers became the latest organisation to call for an end to the protests.
Gerry Smyth Managing Director of Angus Beef Ireland said its members are struggling to make ends meet.
“Their cattle are going over weight and fat, and moving out of specification, which means they will lose the bonuses that are typically paid for these high-quality animals,” Mr Smyth said.
“These protests have gone too far. Hard-won customers for Angus beef may look to other markets if they can’t buy in Ireland, which would do long-term damage to our members.
“No one is denying that times are tough for beef farmers, but these ongoing protests are damaging to everyone. It’s time to find a solution and allow time for the deal agreed over the weekend to try to work,” he said.