Bruton denies refusing to meet IFA as 8,000 protest

ENTERPRISE Minister Richard Bruton has denied that he refused to meet with officials of the Irish Farmers’ Association, as an estimated 8,000 farmers marched on his office in Dublin yesterday.

IFA president John Bryan, who addressed the protest outside the minister’s office, said he wrote to the minister two months ago requesting a meeting to discuss retailer dominance.

Mr Bryan said he got a reply from the minister saying he was too busy to meet the IFA on May 13 last — the same day officers from the Competition Authority raided the association’s head office.

“That’s why we’re here outside his office today,” the IFA leader told protesters who carried banners urging the Government to tackle inequality in the food chain.

A statement from Mr Bruton’s office said the IFA had asked for separate meetings on the Competition Authority’s investigation and the issue of a code of practice for the grocery sector.

It pointed out that it would be inappropriate for the minister to discuss an ongoing Competition Authority investigation and that he had communicated this to the IFA when asked for a meeting to discuss the issue.

It added that Mr Bruton received the report of John Travers, the facilitator appointed to consider the introduction of a voluntary code of practice for the grocery sector, last week and had met him yesterday.

“The minister has clearly indicated his intention to meet with representatives of the IFA, following his consideration of the report,” it stressed.

A spokesperson later confirmed that it was expected that Mr Bruton would contact the IFA within a week.

The Competition Authority said it did not normally comment on its investigations but felt it was in the public interest to issue a brief comment on the statement made by the IFA.

It confirmed the search was part of its ongoing investigation into possible price-fixing in the liquid milk market and followed recent incidents involving the disruption by groups of farmers of normal business at a number of retail outlets.

Mr Bryan said the recent raid by the Competition Authority was an outrageous attack on farmers and an attempt to undermine their rights. “Any law that protects retailers and criminalises farmers is wrong. Our competition law is flawed and the law must be changed,” he said.

One of the protesters, farmer Raymond O’Malley from Ardee, Co Louth, said he was “absolutely appalled” at the way the Competition Authority was behaving towards farmers.

“It now seems, as farmers, we don’t have a right to negotiate a price for any of our products. That’s utterly wrong.”

Former Fianna Fáil TD Ned O’Keeffe said he had joined the protest as a farmer and IFA member. “I have always questioned the attitude adopted by the Competition Authority when I was a member of the Dáil,” he said.

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