Beef plan protests: Tensions high at Rathkeale plant protest

Gardaí at a recent farmer protest. Picture Denis Boyle
Gardaí at a recent farmer protest. Picture Denis Boyle

Tadgh Evans

TENSIONS are rising at beef factories across the country, including in nearby Rathkeale, as hundreds of protesters continue the campaign for meat factories to pay better prices to beef farmers.

Kerry farmers have been part of the protests around Munster, mainly Rathkeale and Bandon, and South West and Kerry Beef Plan Chair Dermot O'Brien claimed this week that one cattle dealer from Kerry attempted to drive through the Rathkeale picket on Monday night.

Similar incidents have occurred at locations such as Bandon and Slane. Gardai confirmed they attended the premises in Rathkeale, but played down the incident.

Mr O'Brien, a Firies-based suckler farmer, said the alleged incident caused "a lot of unrest". He claimed the driver got out of his vehicle and leveled verbal abuse at protesters. He said the situation was brought under control within an hour.

"We did not blockade his entry because we have an understanding that everyone would be content with whatever decision they [the drivers] make, to stay outside or proceed," he said.

"Some drivers are very antagonistic towards the protesters. We're operating under strict guidelines, and it's a peaceful protest. Some drivers didn't observe the picket line and are approaching the picket at ridiculous speeds," he claimed. "The Gardai have been very professional and understanding in the way they've handled all the different locations. They've managed to keep restraint, and the Beef Plan movement has worked well with them to enforce the peaceful protest guidelines."

He also said that six members of the protest were, about an hour and a half later, asked to leave having been found to be in breach of protest guidelines.

"That was a separate incident," he said. "There's a footpath as you enter the factory. They [the protesters] were asked to remain on the footpath and not approach the drivers...because of that, I asked them to leave the scene.

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"Gardai were satisfied the situation was under control, and decided to leave matters in my hands as the referee at the location."

The protests began at a small number of beef factories on July 29. They are now into their 10th day and include some 20 locations. Mr O'Brien said negotiations with Meat Industry Ireland are at an early. The protests will continue until "meaningful negotiations have concluded".

"The first thing is the farmer has to be awarded their cost of production and at least a margin... That is fundamental.

"We want more farmers in Kerry, and from further afield, to stand with us in solidarity because, as I see it, this is their last chance to voice their concerns and fight for what's right."

"Many farmers involved are not yet members of the Movement, and we welcome all businesses and farm organisations and their members to take part. The price of beef has risen by half a percent over the last 12 months, while the price has reduced by seven per cent for the primary producer in this time. So, equally, the consumer should be on the picket."

Mr O'Brien also wants a number of `anti-competitive' practices addressed as part of negotiations.


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