Farmers set to face legal action as deadline passes for Beef Plan protests to end

Picket: Farmers talk to a driver at Kepak in Clonee, Co Meath. PHOTO: FRANK McGRATH
Picket: Farmers talk to a driver at Kepak in Clonee, Co Meath. PHOTO: FRANK McGRATH
Cattle row: Beef prices are the root of this dispute with processors

Margaret Donnelly and Ciaran Moran

The beef industry has been plunged into deepening crisis with hundreds of jobs on the line and the threat of a court battle against protesting farmers.

The Beef Plan movement, furious over the margin that farmers receive, has thrown the meat processing industry into chaos.

Protests continued into their 13th day with no end in sight to the dispute that has shut down 14 factories.

The Irish Independent learned last night that a number of major meat processors have written to the Beef Plan movement warning it had just hours to stand down or face immediate legal action.

However, it is understood the Beef Plan protests are set to continue regardless.

As the crisis escalated yesterday, it emerged that:

  • Meat plants are now laying off hundreds of staff due to a lack of work;
  • Major producers are at risk of losing lucrative contracts with the threat of Brexit looming large.

Up to 200 staff at Dawn Ballyhaunis and about 150 at Dawn Grannagh are understood to be among the hundreds temporarily laid off.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed now faces intense pressure to find a way to help resolve the dispute.

Outcry: Beef farmers protest over prices at the Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Outcry: Beef farmers protest over prices at the Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

Mr Creed’s office said he had attempted to broker talks involving Beef Plan but these had been rejected. The movement said the precondition that protests must be called off to allow talks to happen is not something that it was prepared to accept.

In the meantime, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has said its members had no choice other than to seek legal remedy in an effort to prevent Beef Plan from causing further damage to the industry.

In letters dispatched last night, beef factories made a series of demands of the Beef Plan movement, while threatening an injunction to stop the protests.

It is understood the factories claim protesters are blockading their sites, intimidating hauliers and suppliers, and recording or photographing those passing the pickets.

They warn that if they do not secure full access to the meat plants by this morning, then legal action will swiftly follow - including applying for injunctions.

But there was no indication last night that the Beef Plan was preparing to step down its protests.

Protesters outside Dawn Meats Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo. Photo Brian Farrell
Protesters outside Dawn Meats Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo. Photo Brian Farrell

Earlier yesterday, Beef Plan movement's western region chairman Eoin Donnelly said in a statement: "The precondition that protests must be called off to allow talks to happen is not something that we're prepared to accept."

This had been made clear from the outset, he said.

"The threat of legal action from large wealthy international corporations does not bode well for their own corporate social responsibility and reputation," Mr Donnelly said.

More than 20 factories currently have protests outside them after almost two weeks of demonstrations.

A number of meat factories have temporarily laid off hundreds of staff in recent days as operations grind to a halt.

These include, but are not limited to, the staff at Dawn Ballyhaunis and Dawn Grannagh.

Beef Plan said the move by factories to lay off staff was "unfortunate for all concerned, but it is nonetheless a HR matter for factory management".

"Beef Plan farmers have repeatedly told Government that rural Ireland is heavily dependent on beef farmers and factory personnel need to manage volatility in the market better, to ensure sustainable future for farmers and all relevant stakeholders," it said.

Disruption: Macroom farmer Ger Dineen and Inspector Dave Callaghan in Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle
Disruption: Macroom farmer Ger Dineen and Inspector Dave Callaghan in Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle

Last week, the beef kill was down 16pc as the protests took place. It is understood the impact of the protest has increased this week, with MII confirming yesterday that 14 plants had stopped operating around the country, while many others were operating below capacity.

MII, which represents the meat processors, warned legal action was necessary as factories now faced losing contracts.

"Unfortunately, because of Beef Plan blockades, and in the aftermath of its refusal to enter talks brokered by the minister, businesses have, as a last resort, been left with no choice other than to seek legal remedy in an effort to prevent Beef Plan from causing further damage to the Irish beef industry," it said.

It also said that it was extremely disappointed that an attempt brokered by Mr Creed to bring together the full resources of the State and all the beef sector stakeholders was rejected by the Beef Plan.

"Earlier in the evening, MII accepted the minister's invitation to attend the meeting," it said.

MII added that the protests may lead to factories losing contracts.

"The illegal blockading of factories has increased the risk of businesses losing customers that they have supplied and developed over the past 20 years," it said.

"This campaign of blockades and intimidation puts at risk the success of our exporters and indeed farmers' and the State's marketing investment in securing outlets for Irish beef over many years."

Meanwhile, the Beef Plan has called on Mr Creed to review its 13 policy and technical issue points "so that he can confirm what lies within his legal remit to discuss".

The Beef Plan is seeking what it considers to be a reasonable proposal on returning a margin to Irish beef farmers.

With factory prices for bullocks and heifers down some 40c per kilo on this time last year, finishers are facing a hit of up to €150 a head on an average 370kg carcass.

Irish Independent