Celt's beef protest story nominated for Agri Award
The Anglo-Celt is in the running for the Best News Story category of this week’s Guild of Agricultural Journalists awards.
There are three stories in contention for the Best News Story category with Hannah Quinn-Mulligan of the Irish Farmers Journal having two nominations.
The Journal’s reporter was nominated for her stories ‘Irish gang behind EU machinery ring’ and also, ‘Over 28,000ac of farmland controlled by vulture funds’.
The Celt meanwhile was short-listed for ‘Farmers running the gauntlet at Liffey Meats’ by Damian McCarney. (See below)
More than 200 entries were received into this year’s awards, which were reviewed by an independent judging panel.
The Agri Guild Awards, sponsored by FBD Insurance are held every two years, aim to encourage excellence in the reporting of farming, food and rural life on the island of Ireland.
This year’s awards will be live streamed to attendees from the RDS Dublin, tomorrow (Friday, December 18) from 3-4pm. The ceremony will be hosted by RTÉ broadcaster Damien O’Reilly and chair of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists, Amy Forde. It will also feature an address from Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue.
The following is the story in full.
Farmers running the gauntlet at Liffey Meats
RELUCTANTLY they sloped to either side of the entrance enabling the lorries to drive between their numbers, and make their way into Liffey
Meats. After a few minutes the logjam had cleared, and the Beef Plan Movement protest in Ballyjamesduff had seemingly stalled on Friday afternoon.
The approach to the scene of the protest had to be made on foot as a herd of trucks, tractors and trailers had stretched from the outskirts of Ballyjamesduff up the Oldcastle Road to the abattoir.
Met Éireann had given the temperature as 23°C, but the rhythmless clang of hooves on metal suggested the cattle inside were suffering. Stays of execution should not be this grim.
The beef men gulped down plastic bottles of water as they continued the protest that had ignited at factories dotted across the country the Tuesday before. Across the road drivers had abandoned their lorry and tractor cabs, and passed the time chatting amongst themselves. Neither side approached the other for the duration the Celt attended.
“This is the first one in this region,” explained Micheál Rafferty. “We’re conscious farmers would have been under pressure to try and get cattle killed, so we didn’t want to be targeting factories all at the same time.”
Many in the Beef Plan Movement feel that this is a decisive time for the future of the beleaguered sector. Peter McPhillips suckler and sheep farm is just a steep windy road away from the picket line. The frustration at how they are being treated was evident in his demeanour.
“Beef two or two-and-a-half years ago was almost €5/kg. Now it’s €3.40-€3.50. The beef still hasn’t come back in the shop, so what’s the issue? All we want is a cut of that. All we want is a fair share, sure you can’t survive. I don’t know why they’re hammering us so much if they want beef in the future.”
Where’s the solution going to come from? The Beef Forum? Minister Creed?He dismissed those avenues: “It probably all comes down to supply and demand and I don’t know where the solution is. I don’t know.”
One man among the row of weary drivers, a Co Louth farmer, agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. He buys in his cattle as stores, and finishes them after a year.
“My own cattle’s on the lorry and they’re here since seven o’clock this morning,” he said.
Having already driven an hour and a half to get to Ballyjamesduff, he admitted to being concerned for the welfare of his livestock, as they needed water – another reason for the protesters to move aside.
The Celt repeated the counter-argument posed by a female protester - the drivers should take the lorries away to look after their cattle’s welfare. The Louth man was having none of it: “I spent a half a day getting them cattle in yesterday, into a shed to hold them. They’ll melt, destroy them. If I took them home I wouldn’t get them in for at least two weeks again, they’d be out of their mind because of the stress.”
He explained his financial plight.
“I’m trying to sell them cattle the last four weeks. Them cattle should be gone a month ago, and they’ve gone overage, over-fat everything’s coming against me.”
What price are you expecting to get here?
“Same as everyone else.”
Is that not killing you?
“It is but what can I do? I can’t keep cattle at home, it’s no good me keeping them at home.”
Another man, describing himself as a beef farmer from Kells spoke up: “We sold our cattle, we’re getting on with our job. We’re doing what we are asked, and I arrived here this morning to meet that and not be able to get in – there’s the problem,” he said nodding to the protesters.
Does he not empathise with their protest?
“Sure we’re all farmers. We took the price, we sold our cattle and try to get on with it and pay your bills.”
But the protesters would say a lot of farmers can’t pay their bills.
“You can’t pay if you can’t sell,” he retorted.
A third driver, also describing himself as a beef finisher, surmised that the protest was counter-productive. By preventing the kill this week, it would cause an over-supply in subsequent weeks as farmers still have to offload their cattle.
“If they stop the kill for one week, it’s 40,000 cattle – that’s 4,000 cattle a week over 10 weeks, so then you have an over-supply, and they [factories] can’t handle it – so what are you doing? You’re adding fuel to the fire.”
He said that the majority of the protesters weren’t finishers - “so it won’t affect them”.
The Celt put these points to Padraig Duffy, a Ballinagh suckler farmer and member of the Beef Plan, that by creating an oversupply in subsequent weeks, beef farmers are only hurting themselves?
“That’s bully tactics, that’s all that is. Bully tactics. Schoolyard.”
What of the point that a lot of those protesting here aren’t finishers – so they won’t feel the pain from the protests.
“We’re getting the worst of it,” insisted Padraig, “because it’s passed down to us. Anyone finishing cattle they’re giving us less because they can’t afford it because they’re not getting paid [adequately] for their end produce.”
The morning had seen the protest proceed peacefully and without incident, but as the traffic jam grew the gardaí became increasingly intent on clearing a path. Many of the protesters were insistent that they were doing no wrong by pacing in front of the entrance.
Some were willing to test the resolve of the trio of gardaí, and resumed their march.
Regional leader of the protest Micheál Rafferty appealed to his fellow law-abiding farmers that they must follow the directions of the gardaí.
“Keep walking,” came a defiant roar.
“Hol’ tight,” was the reply as the men resumed their protest.
After a while the gardaí, growing impatient that their calls had gone unheeded, tried once more.
“There’s one person who’s going to talk now and it’s me – I’m in charge now okay,” said an assertive garda, commanding a respectful hush from the huddle of protesters.
“So we don’t have any say?” enquired one genuine voice from the crowd.
“No you don’t, you’re committing an offence and I’m trying to be very fair to you,” she continued.
Given the final warning, Micheál cajoled the more vocal protesters and eventually the road was cleared for the first of the lorries to make the right hand turn into Liffey Meats.
Each passing vehicle was berated by many in the crowd, some of whom were seemingly filming the drivers pass by. One passing driver was accused of being a “big hypocrite”, another branded a “scab”, a third chided, "You should be f*cking ashamed of yourself”.
After the lorries had passed a certain calm was restored, but some of the protesters sounded rattled by the experience. One, requesting anonymity, insisted that the protest would continue, but in what form he couldn’t say.
The Celt wondered what’s the point of the protest if the lorries can get through?
“We have to obey the law – we were threatened that we were going to be arrested – so do we need arresting?”
Another claimed that those who breached the picket line would be rewarded with an extra 50c/kg, which was contrary to what the beef finishers had earlier told the Celt.
“Last week the price was only €3.50 to everyone,” began one man, as his neighbour finished his point: “To break the picket they’re getting €4. So they’re making a laugh of us small farmers. So that’s why the anger is there.”
“And next week we bring cattle we’re going to get €3.50 again.”
“€3.45,” another contends.
“It’d be less maybe,” the despondent predictions continued.
Cllr Craig Lovett was amongst those farmers protesting.
“Our back is to the wall and we can’t go any place else,” said the Fianna Fáil rep. “We don’t want to be here protesting, but we feel we’ve no other option.”
Have the lorries getting through not completely undermined your protest?
“I don’t think the protest was a fail, but it wasn’t a complete success either. The cattle got in and were killed. We delayed them for so many hours - unintentionally. And any farmer who did appear and did cross the picket line with cattle should be ashamed of his life,” he said, extracting yowls of support from those listening nearby.
Padraig Duffy was confident that a message got through to the factory.
“They will have 300 people or whatever on overtime now to get those cattle killed, so that’s going to hurt them,” he said.
He insisted that the protest outside Liffey Meats would continue at some unspecified time.
“Our enemies are not them men driving those trucks – them men are supposed to be working with us, but we would have appreciated a bit of help,” he said.
They’re unlikely to draw help from the finishers who drove the gauntlet on Friday.
One of the protesters had said that to be effective in Ballyjamesduff they needed weightier numbers. The Celt asked Peter McPhillips why the Movement hadn’t drawn more support.
“People are afraid. People are afraid to join. And the people in the lorries, they’re afraid not to go in.”
After a bankholiday weekend break, the protestors returned to Liffey Meats at 5.30am on Tuesday. Again the lorries made their way through the ranks of protestors with the help of gardaí. The Beef Plan Movement have vowed to continue their campaign 24-7 until they get movement from the factories.