Watchdog claims closing meat factories may be ruled an anti-competition boycott to force up prices

Farmers at the Dawn Meats plant at Grannagh, Co Kilkenny. PHOTO: EAMONN FARRELL
Farmers at the Dawn Meats plant at Grannagh, Co Kilkenny. PHOTO: EAMONN FARRELL

Margaret Donnelly and Ciaran Moran

The Beef Plan Movement last night suspended its protests in the face of threatened legal action and after agreeing to enter talks with the meat factories.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed confirmed both sides accepted his compromise proposals aimed at breaking the ongoing impasse between the two parties.

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All protests at meat processing plants and legal proceedings are to be suspended with immediate effect until the agreed talks have concluded.

A meeting will be held on Monday involving both Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which represents the meat processors and the Beef Plan movement, led by Hugh Doyle. The meeting will also include representatives from the farm organisations, the department and its agencies.

The minister will appoint an independent chairperson who will preside over an agreed agenda.

It's understood the Beef Plan has communicated the news to its protesters through its WhatsApp groups, saying "the introduction of the legal proceedings has forced us into a position, where we have no option but to agree to suspend our protests with immediate effect until talks conclude."

The group told its members if it is not satisfied sufficient progress is being made, it will leave the talks and resume the protest with immediate effect on Monday night.

It came after the competition authority warned the Beef Plan movement its two-week protest outside meat plants may be unlawful.

Read also: 'If farmers cannot survive, then what kind of rural Ireland will you be left with?'

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) confirmed to the Irish Independent it had engaged with Beef Plan (BPM) in relation to the action which was taking place at processing factories throughout the country.

It was concerned BPM's plans and actions were "to organise what appears to be a collective boycott by beef farmers of beef plants, with the intention to force an increase in the price of beef, has raised concerns".

It's the second legal issue Beef Plan faced, with organisers facing threatened legal action from the meat factories.

A number of factories issued legal letters to Beef Plan on Thursday night, saying they would face action if the protests were not called off.

Mr Creed had called for picketing to stop and for the factories to withdraw their legal threats as a compromise from both sides for talks to happen.

The movement has been protesting outside more than 20 meat factories around the country over the margin farmers are receiving.

It has forced around 14 meat factories to shut their doors, with hundreds of staff laid off.

Yesterday, the Irish Independent revealed a number of major meat processors had written to Beef Plan warning it had just hours to stand down by 10am yesterday or face immediate legal action.

Prior to the protest and as recently as yesterday, Beef Plan issued guidelines to its members and had temporarily stood down a number of its protests over the past two weeks.

Among its guidelines was that passage must not be unfairly blocked for anyone presenting cattle for slaughter and that people must be allowed to pass the protest.

The group had also stepped down a number of protests in recent days when guidelines were breached. Both sides in the dispute have made conflicting claims of intimidation.

Meat Industry Ireland, which represents the processors, said while the Beef Plan group has guidelines for members, the leadership has failed to ensure adherence to its own protocols. "Indeed, the behaviour of some protesters at certain sites has gone well beyond the guidelines … and has resulted in unacceptable abuse and intimidation of fellow farmer suppliers, company employees, veterinarians and other service providers," it claimed.

Beef Plan said its members have met with aggressive and threatening behaviour during its two-week protest.

Meanwhile, Mr Creed is expected to attend the Tullamore Show tomorrow, despite calls by Beef Plan members for the show to withdraw its invitation. It's understood a number of the meat factories will not exhibit at the show as planned.

Irish Independent