Tensions between protesting beef farmers and meat producers have escalated after an industry body said its members will seek legal action against the farmers who have been picketing outside factories causing significant production problems and layoffs.
Meat Industry Ireland (MII) claimed the ongoing pickets have led to layoffs at factories, are having a detrimental impact on supply, and have been responsible for the closure of 14 plants.
However, the threat that producers would seek “legal remedy” through an injunction against pickets has been slammed as “heavy-handed” by farmers’ representatives.
There was little indication of a resolution to the impasse last night after the Beef Plan Movement rejected Agriculture Minister Michael Creed’s invitation to enter into talks aimed at ending the two-week-long pickets.
MII said it “acknowledges the right of suppliers to organise a peaceful protest” but that “the unlawful behaviour of some protesters at certain sites has caused significant and irreparable damage to the beef industry”.
“The continued intimidation of fellow farmer suppliers, company employees, Government-assigned veterinarians, and other service providers including hauliers is unacceptable,” it said.
MII said what it described as “illegal blockades” have seen companies lay off employees, and increased the risk of businesses losing customers as operations come to a halt.
“At this point, Beef Plan has been responsible for the closure of some 14 plants while many other plants are now operating well below capacity due to intimidation and breaches of the rule of law,” said MII.
Beef Plan claims of conducting peaceful protests ring hollow in the face of these facts.
The Beef Plan Movement said it could not agree to the talks because the minister had attached a precondition requiring a suspension of the protest before any meeting could take place.
It says it sent an invitation to Mr Creed to discussions that would focus on the movement’s 13 policy and technical issue points aimed at ultimately delivering prices to farmers that meet their costs of production price with a margin.
“This was sent in clear knowledge that he is not to discuss price per kg with us at any time,” said the chairman of the Beef Plan Movement’s western region, Eoin Donnelly. “Our agenda is clear, we simply want to meet to discuss the 13 points raised. He has declined without a precondition which is regrettable.”
Mr Donnelly said the preconditions that protests must be called off to allow talks to happen “is not something that we’re prepared to accept”.
A spokesperson for Mr Creed said the minister “regrets” the Beef Plan Movement’s decision to reject his attempt to broker talks.
“In light of the announcement of layoffs 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,” said the spokesperson.
The movement has received the backing of the Irish Farmers’ Association. President Joe Healy described the threat of legal action against pickets as “heavy-handed, ill-advised, and counterproductive”, and said any talks should be convened without preconditions.
“Hauling beef farmers before the courts is not the answer to the hugely significant challenges facing the sector,” he said.
The current dispute is a product of the desperation farmers find themselves in. The reality is that if we don’t improve the situation of farmers, we won’t have any beef sector at all as farmers will go out of business.
“Meat Industry Ireland should set aside any preconditions and enter the talks proposed by Minister Creed immediately. The minister should make it clear to MII that he expects them to attend the talks.”