‘We need to try and find solutions together as opposed to tearing ourselves apart’

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney has called for an end to “the standoff” between beef farmers and the factories. He also highlighted the importance of everyone working together – as part of a concerted effort – to find solutions to the crisis.

The minister was speaking during the launch of IFAC’s ‘Food and AgriBusiness 2019’ report which was launched this morning in Dublin’s city centre.

As a result of Brexit and climate change, trade deals and changing consumer behaviour, the report suggests that Irish food and agri-business owners have “much to contend with” and that outside of dairying many customers of agri-businesses who trade predominately are under pressure.

And, it was indeed this very pressure that Minister Coveney alluded to when he addressed beef farmers compassionately earlier and highlighted his recognition of the pressure they were under – and the importance of finding a solution to the difficulties.

With regard to the tensions in the beef sector I want to recognise the pressure on farmers.

The minister continued: “There are a lot of people on picket lines who don’t want to be there and there are farmers who are highly charged because of losing money – but we have to find a way together of ending this standoff.

“We face significant challenges together, potentially linked to a no-deal Brexit.”

A fresh wave of unrest

Meanwhile, the minister’s comments come as a fresh wave of protests mushroom at meat plants around the country.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) also removed itself from negotiation talks that were expected to take place in Co. Kildare yesterday and the factories have indicated that they will shut their doors this week and let staff go because of the difficulties posed to them by the unrest.

The knackeries have also indicated their intention to shut up shop today, Tuesday, September 10.

While I totally understand the anger and frustrations that have led to this action, we have to find a way through negotiation – tough negotiation albeit – between farmers and factories, facilitated by the state and the Government.

He continued: “We have to find a way forward on this and I don’t think shutting down factories is going to solve this problem in itself.

“There is a willingness on each of us now to try and find a way forward that will get farmers and factories back around the negotiating table, talking seriously about the issues that farmers are concerned about.

Also Read: Creed plea to MII: ‘Engagement with your customers is a business imperative’

“These issues include markets and what they should hold for farmers; potentially a regulator for the beef sector; and these are things that Minister Creed is very serious about.”

Collective leadership and working together

Minister Coveney then highlighted the fact that he was very “worried” about the current situation.

I’m worried – I know farmers really well and I am worried about the splintering within farming organisations.

He added: “There was a time when you could negotiate with two or three farming organisations representing farmers – and if you could do a deal with them the deal was done.

“Now the fear is you can do a deal but the deal can’t be sold because there are people – who are at their wits end – not buying into collective leadership and are determined, instead, to express their anger without the structure of farm organisations, and so on…

Also Read: Knackeries announce nationwide closure until further notice

“I think that from a farming perspective that is really dangerous – the more coherent the collective farm voice is, the more powerful it becomes.

We have to be really careful that we don’t allow a splintering – for understandable reasons – over anger and frustration.

“I care passionately about agriculture and farming and we need to try and find solutions together as opposed to tearing ourselves apart.

“There is a danger of that happening and has the potential to spill over into something that could be fundamentally damaging.”