'Future of the Irish Beef Sector is in your hands. Please don't be responsible for its destruction' - Creed tells protesting farmers

Michael Creed. Picture: Damien Eagers
Michael Creed. Picture: Damien Eagers

Kathy Armstrong, Ciaran Moran and Margaret Donnelly

Agriculture Minister Michael creed has told protesting farmers "the future of the Irish Beef Sector is in your hands. Please don't be responsible for its destruction," in an open letter.

Pickets continue at several meat plants despite farming organisations and meat processors reaching an agreement over the weekend after tense negotiations.

Mr Creed has told farmers that their concerns have been heard, as he urged them to give the deal a chance.

He said in a lengthy message on social media tonight: "You have made your stand. your voices have been heard. I write this letter to respectfully ask for two thing. Firstly I ask that you give the agreement a chance. Own it for how you made it happen. Secondly I ask that you seriously consider what continuing the protest now means.

"The future of the sector is now in the balance. If you are of the view that you have no future in beef farming anyway - please consider those who wish to keep going.
"The people who entered Agriculture House in good faith to secure a deal on your behalf were willing to take the responsibility for what was agreed. Some have been criticised for what they did or did not achieve.

"Responsibility is not easy. Now you have a responsibility. Those of you who are minded to continue the protest must now be fully aware of your responsibilities.

"The future of the Irish Beef Sector is in your hands. Please don't be responsible for its destruction. The future of your fellow farmers are in your hands. Please don't be responsible for their livelihoods."

He continued to address some of the difficulties in the negotiations.

"The agreement is a compromise. Nobody got everything they wanted. Everyone had to give something. It was hard fought on all sides for over 36 hours of tough negotiation.

"It is detailed and I would ask you to find some time to go through it line by line to take in its full impact.

"Many of you are simply looking for a price increase. Please understand that this is something we could not legally discuss. But now farmers have an opportunity to stand together and agree prices through the establishment of Producer Organisations. Ireland's first recognised PO was approved last week. This can strengthen your hand going forward," the Fine Gael representative said.

"We agreed a number of new and increased bonuses. Importantly there is now a bonus for animals finished at over 30 months of age. I know this is a major matter of principle for many of you.

"I also know that there were calls to end the bonus structure in totality and that some farmers argue that it is anti competitive.

"The meat industry argues that they are critical to maintaining important markets. We all agreed to have the issue examined independently so that we can review it all with the facts on the table thereafter.

"All of the farmers I've met involved in the protests spoke of their mistrust of processors. The agreement is full of measures which will allow farmers to know where they stand in the supply chain. In order to make sure that all of this is delivered upon I will appoint an Independent Chairman to a Beef market Taskforce which will oversee the implementation of this agreement in its entirety."

Protesting farmers at factory gates could yet reject the deal that was agreed by the main farming organisations yesterday to end weeks of protests.

The agreement comes after seven farming bodies met Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which represents the factories, on Saturday and yesterday to discuss the protests which started on July 28.

However, while the main farming organisations welcomed the agreement, the Independent Farmers, which formed in recent weeks to represent the picketers, said it can neither accept nor reject the proposals.

"This decision has to be taken by all the peaceful protesters at the factory gates," it said. It added that meetings would take place to achieve a consensus and to determine what course of action would be pursued.

The deal will see a number of critical changes to the specification requirements farmers must produce cattle to, but will not affect the base price farmers get for their stock.

Farmers have been protesting about the prices they receive for beef with returns down as much as €150 per head of cattle.

The agreement involves several interventions which, according to Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, will provide an immediate benefit for beef producers, as well as a range of strategic measures which seek to address structural imbalances in the sector.

However, it is not yet known if the measures agreed will satisfy protesting farmers, whose position has become increasingly entrenched in recent weeks.

Once again, the talks could not discuss beef prices, which have collapsed in the past 12 months and are seen as the critical issue by many farmers on the picket line.

Last week, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) told the Irish Independent that discussions on pricing were generally prohibited under competition law.

In communications with the IFA, the CCPC said an agreement between competitors to fix prices had traditionally been regarded as one of the most flagrant breaches of competition law.

Any communications or discussions between competitors on prices would carry an inherent risk of infringing competition law, the CCPC added.

Online Editors