FOUR trucks carrying a total of 200 cattle opted not to enter ABP’s Ferrybank plant on Sunday morning as local members of the Beef Plan Movement maintain a 24-hour vigil at its entrance.
The protesting beef farmers, who have been joined by dairy and sheep farmers in recent days, in addition to agricultural contractors, are attempting to highlight years of decreased earning levels in their sector.
Dissatisfied with the approach taken by both Government and the IFA in recent years, the movement, chaired in Waterford by Kilmacthomas farmer Pat Kirwan, claims that processors and retailers have “eaten” into farmers’ pockets and left many “on their knees”.
“The past three to four years have been soul destroying,” Mr Kirwan told the Waterford News & Star outside the ABP plant on Wednesday afternoon last. “And it’s getting worse every day. Our beef price is dropping all the time. It’s on the floor at the moment and there’s no sign of an uplift. The losses we’re continuing to run up can’t be maintained, and that’s why we’re here today and many other plants around the country. Enough is enough.”
Mr Kirwan, who has been farming for 40 years (“I was in dairy and then I got into beef”) is adamant that there is money in beef, “but we’re not getting a fair share of it”. He added: “The processors and the retailers have too much power and they haven’t engaged in this process so far. They don’t want to listen to us. We’re only getting less than 20 per cent of what we produce and they’re getting the other 80 per cent between them. We’re told that the price of beef is depressed but it hasn’t actually gone up half a per cent in the shops while we’re down over 10 per cent.”
The Beef Plan Movement, which was established last October, represents both beef and suckler farmers, was borne out of a frustration with the IFA’s perceived lack of intervention. “We feel abandoned by the IFA; they haven’t helped us in any way. Why they haven’t helped us, I don’t know. One problem that I see with the IFA is that the factories pay their wages so they can’t complain to the factories. He who plays the piper calls the tune, as the saying goes.”
The IFA’s stance was defended by Waterford IFA Chairman Kevin Kiersey during an interview with WLR’s Damien Tiernan on Thursday last.
“We have had discussions with these factories,” he said. “And the problem is by protesting at the meat factories and stopping cattle getting into factories isn’t going to rectify the problem. The problem is a European-wide problem. The issue is at Europe’s gates, to stop the imports, to lessen the amount of beef in Europe so that the prices can increase. If you have beef coming in from Brazil that’s paying full tariffs and still undercutting the price of European beef on the supermarket shelves, something has to be done about it. And if we felt we could get something by protesting at the factory gates, by closing the factories down, if we thought that would help, we would be there, but we don’t believe that that’s the right way to go about it…closing factories won’t do us any good because all it will do is it will leave a backlog of cattle to be killed”.
Acknowledging that the Beef Plan Movement’s founders were unhappy with the IFA’s position, Mr Kiersey said: “We have dealt with this in a practical way and you must bear in mind that there is €100 million coming to beef farmers and that was got by the IFA. The IFA got that money out of the Irish Government and out of the EU Commission…and that will be delivered to farmers.”
Pat Kirwan said that many beef farmers across the country “feel depressed” about their situation but admitted that the support received in recent days has boosted protestors’ spirits.
“We’re delighted with the way our people kept their composure so early on Sunday morning (5.30am approximately). And we can’t praise the Guards enough the way they’ve handled things. They’ve been outstanding.”
Mr Kirwan added: “We’re going to stay watching this situation 24/7, so having more and more people protesting from different sectors has been really pleasing. In my opinion, no-one involved in farming isn’t affected by this. Beef is the biggest industry in the country after all, and I do think the message we’re trying to make is getting out there. Beef is vital not only to the rural community, but all of Ireland.”