FARMERS’ CRY FOR HELP MUST BE HEEDED

31 October 2014 No Comments by The Northern Standard

farmers
The significant escalation of protest over the current extremely difficult situation pertaining in the beef sector marked by this week’s 24-hour demonstrations by the Irish Farmers’ Association at meat factories in Co Monaghan and throughout the State has certainly heightened awareness of the issue at hand.

While the sight of protesting farmers has not been an uncommon one across the country over the years, the action taken this week by the IFA is of a deeper and more serious order than the norm, reflective of the very testing circumstances many of their members have been plunged into because of the slump in factory prices for beef that has now been consistent for nearly 12 months.

Given that a similar form of action, prompted by similar motivations, 15 years ago resulted in the wrath of the law descending on those who engaged in it, and effectively led to a change of national leadership in the country’s main farming organisation, the blockade mounted by the IFA at factories this week would not have been an action taken lightly or in “knee-jerk” fashion.

That it was deemed necessary is reflective of a genuine crisis situation in an important sector of economic activity in our county and region as well as nationwide, one that cannot be allowed to go unaddressed at a point in time when a tentative economic recovery is being nurtured.

The need for a solution is pressing, but sadly the gap in perception as to the causes and responsibility for the crisis and its resolution that exists between producers and processors is profound – it will not be easy to locate a common ground of argument upon which a sustainable and mutually acceptable way forward will be identified.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney will, we imagine, have spent much of yesterday’s Beef Forum meeting, at which the conflicting parties gathered for talks, working to establish a framework for negotiation in circumstances where the demonstrations of the previous days will have antagonised the representatives of the factories, who have complained that the action taken by farmers was counter-productive in that it led to losses in the region of €10-€15 million as a result of the disruption to plant activity.

This is a significant hit, but one the processors are in the main probably in a better position to sustain than many of their suppliers are to cope with the debilitation in their financial means and consequent difficulty in sustaining viability that the fall in beef prices over the past year has afflicted them with.

Farmer anger with the €350 per animal price gap that has opened up between what factories in Britain and the Republic are paying for cattle is understandable, as is their puzzlement over why UK price increases are not reflected in the prices the factories are offering them, despite the fact that the British market accounts for more than half of our beef exports.

The representative body of the processors has conceded the argument that the past year has been a trying one for the Irish farmer, but has also pointed out that prices for beef would have risen significantly over the previous five years. There is a “grin and bear it” implication to the factories’ stance that beef farmers in dire financial straits will not appreciate – but perhaps there is also the kernel of a solution to the crisis, or at the very least the possibility of a pricing mechanism being agreed that would afford some protection to producers when the market for their product takes a dip.

The Minister, in his oversight of the current discussions, would contribute meaningfully to resolving the impasse between the parties if he emphasised the necessity of their agreeing a new pricing policy that would take more realistic account of the inevitable fluctuations in the marketplace that will continue to arise in a free economy.

If factories agreed to pay a little more during times when market conditions were weighted against their suppliers, and the farmers agreed to accept a little less when the forces of supply and demand tipped the balance in their favour, might there not be some form of safety net for the beef sector, an assurance that even when trading conditions were at their most difficult, those engaged in it would still not be in a loss-making situation?

The practical outworking of this admittedly simplistic formula might be difficult to agree, but at least an agreement to the principle inherent in such a proposal should be possible.

This would be a foundation of good faith between parties whose current deteriorating relations do not at this point in time promise any immediate relief to the beef farmer experiencing stark economic difficulty.

What we saw at the gates of beef factories this week was not merely a militant gesture of farmer defiance – it was more a cry for help.

The processors should recognise it as such, and acknowledge too that it is in their own best interests, and the interests of maintaining and expanding our export markets for agricultural produce, to work with the farming organisations to repair relationships and come up with some formula that will ease the current, and avert any future, crisis situation.

REMEMBERING

The realisation that the 40 years since the occurrence of the fatal bombing that occurred in Monaghan Town on May 17 1974 has somewhat dimmed the event’s prominence in the collective memory is a sobering one.

It was the prompt for townsman Brian Clerkin to initiate a project that has resulted in the production of a new publication officially launched in Monaghan’s Market House last week.

The intent of the initiative was to address the questions in the minds of younger people around the context and impact of the event, and the excellent booklet produced is the fruit of this venture towards greater understanding.

The conversation around the Monaghan bombing will inevitably be inconclusive until the need for the survivors and families of this terrible event, and the bombings that occurred in Dublin on the same day, to obtain justice and some degree of closure is addressed.
But it is important that the conversation is an ongoing one, and the Monaghan Bombing Community Links Project is a significant contribution to the act of remembering that represents a key element in any advancement towards peace and reconciliation.

In a week when talks resume aimed at finding a resolution to outstanding differences between the main political groupings in Northern Ireland, it is timely to be reminded that addressing the legacy of the past must form a core part of the way forward in democratic progress and continued peace-building on our island.

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