18 January 2000
Irish abattoir pickets go it alone

By FWi staff

CONFUSION surrounds a blockade of meat processing plants by Irish farmers, who are now apparently continuing their action without union backing.

Angry farmers are still manning picket lines, despite an official decision by the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) to drop its action.

And, in a dramatic twist, following its climbdown all but three of the of the IFAs 68-strong ruling council resigned immediately.

They deny this was a ploy to avoid liability for hefty fines owed for ignoring earlier calls to lift the blockade, reports Reuters news agency.

The demonstrations were sparked by an attempt by processors to pass on higher inspection charges to producers.

The decision to picket more than 20 factories was also influenced by growing frustration over poor cattle prices.

Leaders of the 85,000-strong IFA decided to end the seven-day action when they were threatened with the prospect of daily fines of IR500,000 (UK390,000).

Already they had faced daily fines of IR100,000 for their action which has brought the countrys beef and lamb industry to a standstill.

But following a High Court decision yesterday (17 January) to increase this five-fold, the IFA decided to call off the action.

Despite the apparent union retreat, farmers on the picket lines on Tuesday said they would maintain their protests as individuals, ignoring the ruling from their leadership.

It is also thought the resignations could hamper efforts by Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh to broker a solution.

The IFA has accused the meat processors of operating as a cartel to keep prices artificially low and say they have made big margins on a record cattle kill at the expense of producers.

This attempt to increase veterinary charges from 3.74 to 5.50 across the board was seen by many as the straw that broke the camels back.

The increase was proposed in response to moves by the department of agriculture to cover the full cost of meat inspection from individual plants.