Uneasy truce holds sway - for now

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The likelihood of a resumption of farmer blockades has receded following the lift in cattle quotes this week.

The fact that the prices being paid by the factories are running ahead of the quotes has also convinced many that matters are finally beginning to turn in farmers' favour.

As reported on the front page and Ringside, prices are going in the right direction. Quotes are holding around 380c/kg for bullocks and 385c/kg for heifers but 390-395c/kg has been paid in places.

As high as 400c/kg, including bonuses, was paid for bullocks in Donegal, with 390c/kg more generally available.

The lift in prices is welcome but it will have to be maintained if farmers are to be persuaded from resuming their factory-gate protests.

This campaign has been driven by the grassroots rather than by the leadership of the IFA and farmers will require more than 5c/kg to assuage their anger and frustration.

One IFA source pointed out that both the association's livestock committee and national council gave the green light for further action at heated meetings last Thursday.

The livestock committee meeting was held at 1am on Thursday morning and went on to after 3am. Sources at the meeting said there was widespread disappointment and anger that the agreement reached with the factories and Minister Coveney covered everything except price.

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One regional leader insisted that in the wake of the meeting farmers were willing to go back to the gates of the factories. "And we wouldn't have been leaving after 24 or 48 hours, but we'd have stayed there for the long haul," he said. Another elected official insisted that farmers were willing to "die at the gates" of the meat plants.

That the protests were not resumed has caused some recriminations. There is a sense among the rank and file membership of the IFA that the protests were never fully backed by the leadership.

They claimed that allowing the factories to operate for three and four days each week the blockade was in place was effectively giving them the scope to circumvent the blockade. This certainly seems to have been borne out in the kill figures, which in the weeks on either side of the pickets hit 37,000 and 38,000 head.

The IFA leadership will argue that their more cautious approach was the correct one and was vindicated by the lift in cattle prices that has already been secured.

However, this upward trend in price will have to continue if the leadership are to prevent the grassroots passing them out once again.

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