The 3,000 job layoffs in meat factories announced on Tuesday are “regrettable” but there are 80,000 herd owners facing extinction as a result of a decline in incomes over the past 20 years, Dermot O’Brien of the Beef Plan Movement has said.

He told RTÉ’s Prime Time on Tuesday night that beef farmers are taking a price of €3.45/kg, which is not meeting the cost of production of a kilo of beef.

This is an optic to sway public sympathy from the farmer to meat processors

“My heart goes out to those people [who have been laid off]. I’ve stood on the picket lines myself, I’ve met those people and [many] have travelled across the world to find a living. They will also say that they work under difficult conditions and would say they are not unionised.

“The farmers of Ireland feel very sorry for them, but farmers have to stand up and fight for themselves."

“The public sympathy is with the farmer at this present time. This is an optic to sway public sympathy from the farmer to meat processors. We were at talks [on Monday] and expected MII to come to those talks. If they come to talks, we can negotiate and find a way forward,” he said.

Farmers want a resolution

The Kerry farmer said that farmers want a resolution. To break the current impasse, which has seen work in at least 20 factories come to a halt and MII pull out of the talks, he said that the Beef Plan Movement has requested that the legal threat that hangs over farmers is withdrawn, as well as the associated costs.

“If MII had the legal threats lifted, we gave a commitment to go to the line and speak to those farmers. These farmers are from different denominations, different farm organisations and umbrellas.

“If they nominate the Beef Plan Movement to come and speak to them we can do that. Our hands are tied and restricted from doing that [until the legal threats are lifted],” he said.

Meat Industry Ireland

Director at MII Cormac Healy said that there have now been four weeks of significant disruption.

“It’s a hugely serious issue," he said.

Healy said that the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed requested that both sides stepped back – the factories from legal action and the farmers from protesting.

“We gave an undertaking to step back. We can’t get a step back for illegal blockading. We have nothing against peaceful protests."

Nobody is objecting to peaceful protest, but we have blocking which has seen factories closed.

“We need to see a step back from illegal blockading. Nobody is objecting to peaceful protest, but we have blocking which has seen factories closed.

“If you look, and the point has been very well made, there is a serious issue in the sector, there is price pressure. The sector exports 90% of the beef it produces and the price that is being paid is at the average being paid in those markets. There is beef market depression,” he said.

More layoffs

Healy said that some plants have been closed for 10 days and that factories have made every effort to maintain employment. He said there is a fear, as operations grind to a halt and with product not coming in, that more layoffs are likely. Healy put the figure at “several thousand more”. He said some 10,000 people are employed directly in factories.

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