Meat processor threatens Beef Plan Movement with massive damages claim

Dawn Meats may sue as it tells High Court it was losing €1.5m a day at height of protests

Gardaí at a recent farmer protest. Picture Denis Boyle
Gardaí at a recent farmer protest. Picture Denis Boyle
Protest: The march, led by the Beef Plan Movement, at Leinster House
Some of the messages on display at the Beef Plan Movement protest
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The Beef Plan Movement potentially faces a multi-million-euro bill in damages demands from a meat processor seeking compensation for the costs of lost production during factory gate protests by farmers.

Dawn Meats has raised the possibility of suing the Beef Plan Movement for damages.

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In an affidavit submitted to the High Court to secure several injunctions against protesting farmers last week, Dawn Meats said "while it does not currently seek an injunction against the Beef Plan Movement, it does intend to maintain its claim for damages against the Beef Plan Movement in respect of losses it suffered during the first wave of protests".

In legal letters dispatched to the Beef Plan Movement by several meat processors at the height of the first wave of protests, factories claimed protesters were blockading their sites, intimidating hauliers and suppliers, and recording or photographing those passing the pickets.

Dawn alleges the disruption caused by the first wave of protests cost the company €1.5m per day in lost turnover and led to the temporary loss of 547 jobs across three plants.

However, in the documents seen by the Farming Independent, Dawn Meats has conceded that given the scale of its potential losses from the Beef Plan Movement protests, it believes it is highly unlikely that the protesters will ever be in a position to adequately compensate the company at the conclusion of an expensive and time-consuming trial.

Further, it claimed that given the purpose of the protests is to secure higher prices for beef suppliers, “it invites the inference that the individual defendants are not of significant means”.

The Beef Plan Movement, which received legal warnings from a host of other meat processors on foot of their two-week protest, called on all meat processors to withdraw all threats of litigation following negotiations to resolve the dispute.

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However, it has emerged that as late as last week lawyers for Dawn Meats informed the Beef Plan Movement that it would not withdraw its threat. Lawyers for ABP wrote to the organisation last week to inform it that if protests continued at its plants, the processor would not be withdrawing the threat of litigation.

Beef Plan Movement Company Limited By Guarantee was set up on Thursday, December 20, 2018.

Based on current Companies Office records, the company’s directors include Alan O’Brien, Enda Fingleton, Kevin O’Brien and Hugh Doyle.

Earlier this month, founder member Eamon Corley resigned as a director of the Beef Plan Movement.

From Leinster House to the factory gates: how the Beef Plan Movement protest unfolded

Some of the messages on display at the Beef Plan Movement protest

Wednesday, July 10

An estimated 2,500 farmers, led by the Beef Plan Movement, marched on Leinster House to protest against the Mercosur trade deal, the 'final straw' for beef farmers.

Sunday, July 28

The first Beef Plan protests take place with protesters calling for a fairer margin of the retail price.

Tuesday, July 30

A farmer is taken to hospital after an incident at a protest outside ABP Cahir. Beef Plan says its protests are "peaceful and it is not stopping produce from going into factories", but asks farmers to "think twice before they take cattle to the factory".

Wednesday, July 31

The Beef Plan posts videos of people passing their pickets on social media, naming the individuals, including farmers, vets and hauliers.

Thursday, August 1

Tensions heat up as the protests enter their fifth day. Meat Industry Ireland says it will engage with the leadership of the Beef Plan, if it calls off its protests, but accuses some of the group's members of "unacceptable abuse and intimidation".

Friday, August 2

Gardai investigate an incident outside Dawn Meats in Slane; Beef Plan claims some of its members have been met with aggressive, threatening behaviour. It issues members with guidelines on peaceful protesting.

Wednesday, August 7

Tense scenes erupt outside Dawn Meats in Co Kilkenny as farmers claim they were told to move away from factory entrance gates.

Thursday, August 8

Beef Plan says there are plans to mobilise further protests. Figures from the Department of Agriculture show the beef kill for the last week was down 16pc. Meat factories accuse the Beef Plan of "illegal blockades" as a number of plants lay off staff temporarily.

Friday, August 9

Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed, asks Beef Plan to enter into talks. Beef Plan says it won't call off protests, as factories look for a "legal remedy" to stop pickets at 20 plants. Beef Plan organisers are threatened with legal proceedings and later in the day suspend protests to engage in talks.

Monday, August 12

Farm organisations and meat factory representatives meet, as farmers maintain a presence at some factories. Beef Plan says it will revert to its protest if "sufficient progress is not being made".

Wednesday, August 14

Beef Plan chairman Hugh Doyle says he could not rule out protesting again, calling the talks 'disappointing' - but admits he did not go into the talks expecting to get a price rise for farmers.

Monday, August 19

Talks between the farm organisations and the factories resume as beef prices remain under pressure.

Tuesday, August 20

Farmers claim they have been turned away by processors for protesting at factory gates in recent weeks. Minister Creed attends the talks in a bid to seal an agreement. Wednesday, August 21

Marathon talks conclude early this morning despite disagreement on critical issues.

Friday-Sunday August 23-25

Beef Plan holds regional meetings to discuss the proposed deal from the talks. Members refuse to back it and unofficial protests begin at a number of plants on Sunday evening.

Tuesday, August 27

ABP and Dawn Meats are granted High Court injunctions against protesters. The Beef Plan says it is not organising or backing the current round of protests and says members will be expelled if they protest. Farmers vow to continue protesting.

Thursday, August 29

Since Tuesday Dawn Meats, ABP, Kepak, Slaney Meats and Liffey Meats have been granted High Court injunctions against protesters.

Friday, August 30

A Chinese trade delegation postpones a planned visit to a Cork meat plant as protesters warn they are willing to be jailed to trigger action over low cattle prices.

Sunday, September 1

Protests continue at a number of plants, amid reports of scuffles.

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