Farmers urged to end pickets as beef supplies running low

Field day: Tara O’Haire from Longford at the Ploughing in Fenagh, Co Carlow. Picture: David Conachy
Field day: Tara O’Haire from Longford at the Ploughing in Fenagh, Co Carlow. Picture: David Conachy
Anna May McHugh at the opening of the event. Photo: Mark Condren

Margaret Donnelly, Claire Fox and Kevin Doyle

Beef could soon be off the menu, with restaurants warning they may run out of supplies, as the Taoiseach and Tánaiste both called on protesting farmers to end their pickets.

It comes as meat processors yesterday temporarily laid off hundreds of staff, with one factory saying it had not ruled out the prospect of shutting down as beef farmer protests drag on into a seventh week.

Restaurants Association of Ireland chief executive Adrian Cummins warned that if the blockade is not lifted soon, some restaurants won't have beef on the menu because of "zero supply".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday urged the protesting farmers to try to work the draft deal agreed with the meat industry on Sunday. "All that can be achieved by the protest and blockade has been achieved. And I would ask that they stop now," he said.

He added that continuing pickets would lead to only more meat factory job losses, lost markets for Irish produce and long-term damage to a very important sector.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney also called on farmers to end the protests before they do "irreversible damage to this sector".

"We are at a moment that is very close to a tipping point for the Irish beef industry," he said.

He said the outcome of the weekend talks needed to be respected by those still on the picket lines because "we're very close to this moment that is potentially going to do irreversible damage to this sector".

In that scenario, Mr Coveney said the people who would suffer most would be farmers.

His warning came as more than 350 people were temporarily laid off at the ABP meat-processing plant in Cahir, Co Tipperary, and the owners of the Meadow Meats factory in Rathdowney, Co Laois, said they were not ruling out the plant's closure.

Speaking at the Ploughing Championships in Co Carlow yesterday, President Michael D Higgins referred to the beef dispute when he said he welcomed the "discussion on what is a fair share of return between producer, processor, retailer and consumer".

Later, he said the "firing of blame in all directions" was not helpful, adding: "We should really just move on now."

A number of farmers who staged a small protest at the Bord Bia tent at the Ploughing Championships yesterday said they were not affiliated to any farm organisation but were "individual independent farmers".

Protester and south Kilkenny beef farmer John Roche told the 'Farming Independent' he was protesting against the "treatment of farmers by the Government, different establishments and other farm organisations" who have "let them down" during the current beef price crisis.

"If we were to be dependent on the farming organisations we wouldn't have got out the gate with this," Mr Roche said.

"I believe farming organisations let us down over the years and this is what got us where we are at. We are producing a quality product. Everywhere we go our logo is stuck on it and can't seem to get any more money for product."

While he agreed with elements of the agreement struck at the weekend, he said it did not go far enough.

Irish Independent