The lifting of the injunctions against two people who had been protesting at the C&D pet food factory in Co Longford will, hopefully, allow commonsense to prevail in the ongoing beef prices dispute. Most importantly, it now gives an opportunity for the beef market taskforce, which was established in September, to convene without the threat of either further legal action by processors or more blockades by farmers. We have had more than enough of both.
Two men, Fine Gael Cllr Paraic Brady and Colm Leonard, a local carpenter, had been the subject of the injunctions and all of the main farm organisations involved in setting up the taskforce had refused to attend a meeting of the new group until the injunctions were lifted. The company had also threatened to sue the men for damages, as a result of losses incurred during the blockade.
It is high time that the Government, producers, and farmers listened to each other. There has not been much listening going on of late. The tractor protest on the streets of Dublin was loud and raucous, with Agriculture Minister Michael Creed shouted down on occasions when he sought to address the concerns of individual farmers. The latest protests followed blockades at beef processing factories over two months this summer and farmers protesting outside the Dáil.
Likewise, the Taoiseach does not appear to be doing much listening, preferring to repeat the mantra that the Government has no role to play in cattle prices. Such a pronouncement is neither welcome, helpful, nor particularly accurate. It is true that the Government does not set the prices paid by producers to farmers, but it has much persuasive power with processors, particularly in relation to direct and indirect financial supports for the industry.
Neither do the factory owners appear to be listening to anyone other than themselves, while using financial muscle to dictate the price to farmers. As business people, they must realise that running any kind of commercial enterprise at a loss cannot be sustained, yet that is what they are forcing many farmers to do. There is ample evidence that beef prices are improving elsewhere in Europe, but are falling or stagnant in Ireland.
There is also the issue of the relationship between farmers and the meat industry. Speaking in the Dáil this week, Mr Creed described it as “toxic” and hoped that the establishment of the taskforce would mark a new departure. “That is because, in the long-term, it is not sustainable to have an industry survive and prosper without good relationships between the primary producers and the processors,” he said.