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

  

‘Matter of survival’: Protesters at the picket outside the Bandon meat processing plant, Co Cork. Photo Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
‘Matter of survival’: Protesters at the picket outside the Bandon meat processing plant, Co Cork. Photo Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Ralph Riegel

It began outside a west Cork beef processing plant on a balmy Sunday evening in late July with just 10 people.

Over the August bank holiday weekend, the numbers soared to more than 250 men, women and children protesting over unsustainable beef prices outside the ABP plant in Bandon.

Despite the wind, rain and even lightning overhead yesterday, protesters maintained their Bandon vigil to show Ireland's meat industry that the Beef Plan movement was serious.

"They think this is just about beef prices," Kilnamartyra farmer Ger Dineen said.

"But it is about the survival of rural Ireland - it is about paying a fair price for top quality produce.

"If farmers cannot survive, what kind of rural Ireland will you be left with?"

It's a message that has resonated from Cork to Longford and Mayo, where the strength of support for the movement has taken everyone by surprise, not least the meat industry, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and even the farm organisations themselves.

Protests outside Irish beef plants haved proved a lightning rod for the anger and frustration within a farming sector unable to comprehend the poor relationship between supermarket beef prices and what they are offered at the factory gate.

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It has also galvanised rural communities who fear that everything they hold dear is under threat - from Garda stations to schools and post offices.

In pouring rain yesterday, more than 25 farmers maintained their protest outside the Bandon plant -occasionally taking shelter in three cattle trailers parked by the side of the road.

Bales of straw served as seats.

Tables were made up of pieces of timber.

There was a steady supply of hot drinks and food from fellow farmers and members of the public.

Almost every vehicle that passed on the busy Bandon-Macroom road sounded its horn in a gesture of solidarity with the protesters.

But no livestock trucks entered the plant.

"One woman dropped in a tray of hot sausage and rasher sandwiches to us this morning," a protester said.

"Another elderly couple stopped and brought over a box of chocolates and packets of biscuits. They told us that everyone in the community was behind us."

Such is the support being enjoyed by protesters, who are viewed as fighting for basic rural rights and the very survival of small-medium farm operations.

For Ger Dineen it was a simple question of maths. Farmers cannot survive if they are losing €120 to €150 on each animal brought to an Irish meat plant.

"The minister talked about the €100m package he secured for the industry," he said.

"But that equates to an increase in the income of beef farmers from €4 per hour to just €4.60 per hour," he said.

Ger was Ireland's Grassland Beef Farmer of the Year in 2017.

"To be honest, I'd probably rank in the top 1pc of grassland farmers (for operational efficiency)," he said.

"If I'm in trouble, what hope have the lads in the west or other parts of the country that wouldn't have our grassland advantages?

"We have no problem with meat plants or supermarkets making money. Good luck to them.

"All we are campaigning about is getting a fair price for our produce."

Helen O'Sullivan, secretary of the Beef Plan movement in Cork, said the campaign ensured the plight of livestock farmers was no longer ignored.

"It was about getting people to listen to us - and they are listening now," she said.

"The support that ordinary people have shown us has been absolutely incredible. They have been behind us 100pc.

"We are here for as long as it takes to get this sorted out - farmers deserve a fair price for their beef."

Ger calculates that it cost him €5.03 per kg to produce beef in 2017- rising to €5.38 per kg last year.

Meanwhile, prices on offer this year have plummeted to as low as €3.45 and €3.50.

Irish Independent


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