Margaret Donnelly: 'Battle over beef prices goes back almost two decades'
Over the past 13 days, thousands of beef farmers and their families have stood outside meat factory gates, as the Beef Plan movement's protests gained momentum and force.
What started off with a small number of farmers gathered on Sunday, July 28, at a handful of meat factories, has grown in momentum with more than 300 farmers outside Kepak Athleague in Roscommon one night this week.
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And for what? Beef farmers are calling for a fairer portion of the retail price of beef.
While the Beef Plan was officially started late last year over poor beef prices, its origins go back to 2014.
In fact, this issue of beef farmers saying they don't get a fair share of the price of food goes back even further.
In 2000, the IFA led a two-week blockade of meat factories.
And its then-president Tom Parlon said: "Most of the issues which led to the January beef blockades are unresolved and will blow up again if they are not tackled."
Déjà vu, anyone?
The blockade in 2000 ended with some firm talking around the table and the IFA bearing more than £500,000 in legal and other costs.
This battle is more complicated, as the Beef Plan movement does not have the political clout or deep pockets of the IFA.
It's also a new organisation lacking, to some degree, in leadership and the funds to face massive fines, and it's managed through WhatsApp groups nationwide, with more than 15,000 beef farmers 'signed up' to support its cause.
But what it lacks in formal organisation, its members more than make up for in enthusiasm.
There is a determination on both sides to win this battle, a dogged determination by the protesters and a steely resolve by the meat factories as workers watch from the sidelines as they are laid off and factories remain silent.
The winner in this dispute remains uncertain at this stage, with neither side looking like backing down anytime soon.
But what's even more uncertain is how this dispute will be resolved. And what can be offered to pry farmers away from factory gates.
At this stage, I'm not sure the Beef Plan movement itself knows what will appease the increasingly frustrated protesters.
Back in 2000, a beef price rise made the difference.
But with Brexit on the horizon it is very difficult to see the meat factories opening the cheque book this time around.
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