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Man arrested as beef protest tensions rise and Chinese visit to meat plant called off

Farmers form a new lobby group to meet Agriculture Minister

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Farmers talk to a trucker as they protest at the ABP beef plant in Bandon where a Chinese flag flies in the background. Photo: Denis Boyle

Farmers talk to a trucker as they protest at the ABP beef plant in Bandon where a Chinese flag flies in the background. Photo: Denis Boyle

Farmers talk to a trucker as they protest at the ABP beef plant in Bandon where a Chinese flag flies in the background. Photo: Denis Boyle

A man was arrested by gardaí at a farmer protest outside a meat plant in Co Cavan yesterday as tensions soared at pickets around the country.

Chinese inspectors were not able to get access to a separate meat plant due to the ongoing protests.

Gardaí maintained a presence at a number of plants as farmers continued to hold pickets, despite High Court injunctions. They arrested a man yesterday outside Liffey Meats in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, for breaches of the Public Order Act.

Meanwhile, it is also understood a delegation from the protesting farmers was being organised last night to establish an official voice and meet Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.

The minister warned yesterday that a resolution to the cattle price dispute would be found only around the negotiating table and not at meat plant protests or in court injunctions.

"At the moment, there is no farmer organisation that has a reach and control over the picket line," said Mr Creed.

He stressed it was imperative that farm organisations be allowed to speak for the individuals involved.

"I don't want to dump on anybody in particular here: it's a very delicate situation. I have engaged with farm organisations, they are aware of the difficulty.

"I have asked them to see if we can get to a situation where farmer organisations speak with one voice and find a way for them to represent those on the picket line to enable us to progress to talks."

His warning came as Chinese trade auditors successfully visited one Cork beef plant but were unable to visit a facility in Athleague, Co Roscommon.

Kepak, which owns the factory, hit out at the actions of the protesters, highlighting that China is one significant growth market offering potential for Irish beef and lamb.

"This behaviour, by people who claim to represent the interests of farmers, is a massive own goal and the cost of the failure to get this site Chinese export approved will be primarily borne by west of Ireland farmers for many years," it said in a statement.

According to Kepak, management met senior leaders of the Beef Plan Movement on Saturday night to discuss the situation, but it ended in an impasse.

"The Beef Plan Movement (BPM) indicated that it would take no action to facilitate livestock access necessary for the purposes of the audit," it said.

It went on to add that up to 40 protesters were illegally blockading the entrance and refused to allow any livestock trucks to pass.

"Management then spoke with several of the protesters but were informed that there was no spokesperson for the group and that no truck would be passing the illegal blockade," it said.

Local gardaí arrived at the scene but, according to Kepak, failed to secure safe passage for any of the hauliers. According to Kepak, it was then left with no option but to cancel the visit by Chinese inspectors.

Meanwhile, IFA president Joe Healy has called on the Agriculture Minister to establish a statutory commission of investigation into the beef sector to establish processor and retailer margins along the supply chain.

Mr Healy said that the terms of reference would have to be agreed with farmers, but the commission should have full access to the books of the meat processors and be able to establish what they are paid for each part of the beef animal.

"Full transparency on the price along the chain must be an essential element of the investigation," he said.

:: Clarification: In today 'Farming Independent', it states a man was arrested at a protest outside Kepak Athleague, Roscommon. In fact, he was arrested at Liffey Meats, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan.

Irish Independent