'Constructive' talks offer hope of new beef breakthrough

Under fire: New EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Under fire: New EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Margaret Donnelly and Ciaran Moran

A breakthrough is understood to have been reached last night which may end the protests that have brought the beef processing sector to a halt in recent weeks.

The agreement, brokered at meetings held by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed with farmers' representatives, would see factories not resume processing cattle and protesters end their pickets so that new talks could take place.

A spokesperson for Mr Creed last night described the meetings as "constructive".

All sides have outlined their positions in terms of what is required to reconvene the talks process.

The minister and his officials will continue to engage with farmers and meat processors in an effort to convene talks at the earliest possible opportunity, the spokesperson added.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack said last night he hoped the agreement will represent a significant step forward toward a resolution.

He confirmed the agreement sets out a sequence that involves the factories ceasing operation, with the protesters lifting their pickets and meaningful talks aimed at a resolution beginning subsequently.

He said the process - if delivered upon - should give the space necessary for parties to engage on the basis of good faith and deliver a solution to what is now a major problem coming on top of other very serious challenges already facing Irish farming.

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Meanwhile, farmers have slammed the new EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan after he said he was "embarrassed" so few beef farmers had signed up to an EU-backed support scheme.

In an interview on 'Newstalk', he said he was embarrassed more farmers had not applied for an EU-backed beef support scheme.

He highlighted that he triggered €50m of financial assistance for Irish beef farmers, which was matched by the Irish Government.

"I am disappointed that there is such a low level of applications," he said.

"I was told by the IFA and others that there was a huge loss in terms of profitability and there was a major financial loss to farmers.

"I then produce the money, and now there is a reluctance by farmers to apply."

Mr Hogan said it would be an embarrassment to him and everyone else if the money had to be returned to the EU.

His comments have outraged farmers, with a number of farm organisations critical of the scheme from its inception.

Hill Farmers representative Colm O'Donnell said Mr Hogan would be the only one to blame if the money went back to Brussels.

"While the announcement and its timing was seen by some as an election gimmick, whatever the reason it has now backfired and left Irish farmers unable to draw down the €100m because of rules drafted by the EU," he said.

"This conditionality requires a 5pc culling of suckler cows and other cattle destined for beef finishing in order to comply with the T&Cs of the scheme.

"Commissioner Hogan was prepared to sacrifice produce from sustainable Irish suckler and beef farmers to clear the way for unsustainable South American beef to get his trade deal over the line. So much for the green jersey."

Irish Independent

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