Update 2.10pm: The ongoing disagreement over beef pricing shows no sign of resolution as farmers reject the Government’s offer of talks.
The Department of Agriculture claims it reached out to members of the Beef Plan Movement, who have been holding protests outside meat factories across the country, in order to halt the demonstrations and enter a phase of discussion.
The row has stemmed over the price of beef, which is at its lowest point in years, with many farmers claiming they are struggling to survive and will be forced out of business without Government intervention.
The Department of Agriculture has previously stated that it cannot legally have any role in determining beef prices, as it is not the department’s role to “comment on commercial decisions taken by private entities in an open market”.
The Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed released a statement on Thursday morning, expressing disappointment that the offer of talks had been rejected.
“The Minister deeply regrets that efforts by his office to reach out to the Beef Plan Movement to enter a process of dialogue and to temporarily suspend their protests has been rejected,” a statement said.
“In light of the announcement of lay offs in the meat processing sector, the difficult income situation facing farmers with livestock for slaughter and on animal welfare grounds, the Minister is again calling on the Beef Plan Movement to reflect on its position and to take up the invitation to enter into talks.”
The Beef Plan Movement has previously said the precondition that protests must be called off to allow talks to happen is unacceptable to the group.
The group said it is “willing and ready to sit down for talks without preconditions attached”, as it believes the preconditions represent an un-level playing field in the beef industry.
The group has presented 13 issues it has with the industry that need to be addressed in order to make beef farming sustainable and profitable for farmers, including the use of an upper age limit to influence the price offered for steers and heifers and young bulls, carcass weights threshold for cattle and sheep changed without reasonable notice period, and excessive trim being taken from carcasses.
The Irish Farming Association (IFA) presidential candidate and national treasurer, Tim Cullinan, described the response to the beef crisis from the minister as “half-hearted and totally inadequate”.
“I have previously called on the minister to bring the three main principal beef processors – ABP (Larry Goodman), Kepak (Keatings) and Dawn (Queallys and Dan Brown), into Agriculture House with farmer representatives to find a proper solution,” Mr Cullinan said.
“One has to question the minister’s commitment to farmers here as it appears this belated response has only arrived from the Minister at the first mention of job losses in the factories.
“What’s needed now is meaningful, long-term solutions that can only be hammered out by having all the key participants themselves at the table.
“We want long-term solutions for beef farmers so that they get a proper and deserved income and not short-term interventions to take the heat off the minister.
“The minister must get the principal players in this around the table and we need to see him move on this before the weekend.”- Press Association
The Agriculture Minister has invited those leading the protests at meat factories to enter into talks.
Michael Creed's invitation comes as 150 staff at a Dawn Meats factory in the South East are to be temporarily laid off.
For the last 11 days, farmers have been protesting outside more than 20 meat factories across the country.
They are unhappy with the low prices they are getting for their stock and the protests have had a big impact on meat processing.
The Beef Plan Movement has been leading the demonstrations.
However, the protests have resulted in job losses at the Dawn Meats factory on the Kilkenny/Waterford border.
President of the Irish Farmer's Association Joe Healy has sympathy for the staff.
"We're not able to make a living out of beef production even though we produce the best product in the world," said Mr Healy.
"The laying-off of workers in unfortunate."
In relation to the job losses, Mr Heally hoped that a "solution could be found to this sooner rather than later."
Seán Harris ,from the Beef Plan Movement, said that while they regret any job losses, their protests will continue. He said it was important they stand together and "get a result on this".
Midlands-Northwest MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan has been calling for justice for farmers.
"If these farmers keep getting ripped-off, they are not going to end up with any cheaper prices.
"It just means more profits for these companies.
"What we need is a far share of the lots of money that's made from beef."
Minister Creed wants the Beef Plan Movement to reflect on its position and to take up the invitation to enter into talks.
Some beef protestors have called organisers of this weekend’s Tullamore Show in Co Offaly, to withdraw its invitation to Minister Creed over the ongoing dispute.