The days are over when calling farmers out on to the streets serves any useful purpose. At one level, the media no longer regard actions of this kind as having any real news value.
But, more fundamentally, it is now equally obvious that the meat and dairy processors do not view farmer protests at their front gates as any form of threat. And why should they, when all that’s required is a quick phone call into IFA headquarters to say that the collection of all producer levies – the finding lifeblood of the farm lobby groups – will be halted forthwith?
The IFA says that it is serious about solving the beef crisis. So why then has it not endorsed the example set over the past number of weeks by the livestock industries in Northern Ireland and Britain? Across the water, the meat processors have agreed to give an agreed period of notice regarding the introduction of carcass specification changes while in Northern Ireland the Livestock and Meat Commission is committed to introducing a Redmeat Industry Protocol. This proposed measure will provide a vehicle whereby all redmeat stakeholder groups can bring much greater transparency to bear within the production and processing chain while, at the same time, giving any individual grouping the means it can air grievance that it has on any of these matters.
All of this seems to represent a pretty constructive way forward. Adding to this momentum is the attempt being made by the North’s Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill to have the EU agree an exemption to the current beef regulations for the island of Ireland. This approach would, in one fell swoop, sort out the nomad cattle issue, which is such a pressing matter for weanling producers in the west of Ireland. Looking further down the track, this proposed amendment would also facilitate the export of live cattle from the Republic of Ireland across the water.
So, yes, there are signs that a solution can be found to the current beef crisis. But for some reason the IFA has been reluctant to endorse or, at the very least, acknowledge that new thinking has been brought to bear on this matter.
One thing that can be clearly discerned from all of this is the growing annoyance on the part of farmers at being used as pawns in a game which has no end point. Or to paraphrase the old ‘Duke of York’ nursery rhyme: they are heartily sick of being marched up and down hills.