Margaret Donnelly: 'Harsh realities are coming to light for all sides in beef protests'

Garda keep a close eye on the farmers protest outside Liffey Meats in Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan on Monday afternoon. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Garda keep a close eye on the farmers protest outside Liffey Meats in Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan on Monday afternoon. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

As the Beef Plan tries to regroup, having disassociated itself from the current wave of protests, some harsh realities are coming to light in the beef sector.

As we exclusively revealed, the affidavits the factories presented to the High Court last week detail just one side of the story, but it's not pretty.

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Details of how factory workers and hauliers were allegedly verbally abused and threatened don't reflect well on those on the picket line.

It may have been a minority and not condoned by the organisers, but it highlights the lack of control the Beef Plan really has over its membership.

But it must also be recognised that disastrous beef prices and continually low drystock farmer incomes have prompted the factory-gate protests.

And while the meat processors correctly maintain that the current market situation leaves little room for price improvement, farmers can argue that the price restrictions imposed under the QPS 'in-spec' regime have been abused by the factories.

Factories must therefore shoulder their share of the blame for the current protests as well. Farmer frustration with the meat plants didn't emerge from a vacuum.

There are real questions for the factories and Bord Bia to answer around what the markets really want.

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But for now, while a smaller number of protests continue, the High Court injunctions have given the factories the upper hand and will probably be the stick to beat farmers from the gates.

Further, the real sting in the tail for the Beef Plan is if the factories - which some have indicated they plan to - look to recoup the losses they incurred during the protests.

Those left at the gates protesting face further injunctions, a lack leadership and a mandate, but there is a much more immediate concern for many farmers: the recent turn in the weather.

Many have been forced to house cattle in the last few days - a costly decision at this time of the year.

Farmers in the west are dealing with waterlogged land and flooding in some parts, which along with poor beef prices make for an ominous winter looming.

Unfortunately, the only other option for many farmers in the west at this point is to face angry pickets.

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