Beef Industry shutdown: No end in sight as watchdog rejects claims prices could be discussed at talks

Michael Creed urged the parties to engage in talks. Photo: Arthur Carron
Michael Creed urged the parties to engage in talks. Photo: Arthur Carron
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Efforts to resolve the long-running dispute causing turmoil in the beef industry have been struck a further blow as the competition watchdog refuted claims beef prices could be discussed at stakeholder talks.

With poor beef prices remaining the central issue for most protesting farmers, an end to the dispute remains out of sight.

It came as efforts to establish talks to resolve key issues collapsed yesterday, as meat processors walked away from the negotiations due to continued protests outside their plants.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said yesterday that some 20 plants representing 80pc of processing capacity remain blockaded. This morning it said processors are facing an indefinite cessation of cattle slaughtering throughout the country.

"The vast majority of slaughtering has already been stopped and additional ‘wildcat’ disruptions are putting the balance of facilities under threat of closure," it said.

The latest developments in the crisis come as heavy rain over the last three weeks has forced farmers in the west and north-west to off-load both factory and store cattle ahead of the usual seasonal schedule

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed expressed disappointment at developments in relation to the beef dispute and urged the parties to engage in a positive way to resolve the current impasse.

"Having met with protesting farmers from across the country and having consulted widely with political colleagues, it is abundantly clear that the nature of this protest is complex and that channels of communication are unclear," he said.

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"The normal channels of engagement which may apply to such disputes regrettably have not applied as effectively in this instance. I ask MII to reflect on this reality and to make every effort to avoid action that might lead to a further deterioration in relationships in what is already an intractable dispute."

The meat industry delegation said it was adjourning its participation in the talks until what it described as "illegal blockades" were lifted from its facilities.

It said the extent of the continued protests had placed factory employees in peril of layoffs, and prevented beef farmers from having their factory-ready cattle processed.

Further, it claimed the protests have put in jeopardy national and international customers of Irish beef.

However, the Independent Farmers for Ireland group, which claims to represent the protesting farmers, said it informed the minister farmers would not leave the gates until talks concluded successfully.

The group said the ongoing protests were about the livelihoods of the thousands of farmers and their families.

Meanwhile, in the latest development in the increasingly bitter dispute, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) strongly rejected claims by the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) that it "would not put any impediment in the way of prices being discussed at the talks".

Yesterday, IFA president Joe Healy said following a meeting on Friday with the CCPC, the authority put no impediment to cattle prices being discussed at the planned beef crisis talks. However, the CCPC told the Irish Independent that discussions on pricing were generally prohibited under competition law. It also said the IFA should seek its own legal advice to clarify what was permitted under the law.

Prior to this meeting, the CCPC said it also wrote to the IFA setting out the limitations to discussing prices under competition law.

In communications with the IFA, the CCPC said an agreement between competitors to fix prices had traditionally been regarded as one of the most flagrant breaches of competition law. Any communications or discussions between competitors on prices would carry an inherent risk of infringing competition law, the CCPC said.

Irish Independent

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