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Martin Coughlan: Movement has secured some concessions, but the established order remains more or less intact


Anger and frustration: A Beef Plan Movement protestor in Kildare town. Pic: Mark Condren

Anger and frustration: A Beef Plan Movement protestor in Kildare town. Pic: Mark Condren

Anger and frustration: A Beef Plan Movement protestor in Kildare town. Pic: Mark Condren

YOU need to go back to 2018 to understand what drove beef farmers to the picket lines in 2019.

The autumn of 2018 through to the spring of 2019 saw a new farming group fill parish halls and mart centres up and down the country.

The Beef Plan Movement (BPM) claimed it would do what the other farm organisations had failed to do – put money back in the pockets of both finishers and primary beef producers.

There was talk of opening up the Chinese market, direct selling, abolishing the four movement rule and generally making life better for beef farmers.

But when factory base prices had again reached €4/kg by May 2019, the appetite for such schemes appeared to have passed. The processors remained quiet and the farm organisations seemed to consider BPM as nothing more than a winter talking shop.

In July, however, prices slumped to €3.50/kg and the whiff of rebellion was once again in the air.

Within a month Beef Plan protestors were picketing 10 factories.

Soon the protests became fully fledged blockades with factories across the country forced to close.

Legal threat

With the threat of legal proceedings from the processors hanging over them, BPM withdrew from further action.

The blockades continued, however, as large groups of individual farmers continued the fight. The kill dropped from over 30,000 to around 12,000.

Peace talks in September saw various adjustments offered to how factories would in future pay for stock.

The respite from direct action was brief. However, it was now becoming obvious that the unity of purpose between primary producers and finishers was dissolving as those who had held stock back from the factories claimed they were facing economic ruin.

By the end of the month the protests were over.

Was the Beef Plan campaign effective? Yes and no.

It certainly succeeded in channelling the level of frustration and anger farmers felt towards the entire establishment – factories government and farm organisations alike.

Bord Bia figures show that in the six months following the protests the new bonus payment system delivered an extra €13 million to finishers.

But the unfortunate thing is that just as the protests ended, the three then candidates for the IFA presidency reaffirmed their commitment to the country’s largest farming organisation accepting levies from the processors.

The establishment remains intact.

Online Editors