As the row over beef prices reaches national crisis proportions, DAN DOONER spoke to protesting farmers outside the Kepak plant in Athleague on Wednesday…
“The IFA need to f****** come down here and talk to these men. They say they represent farmers and can attend talks and agree to whatever but they should be down here on the back of a lorry addressing these farmers. Who do they represent?”
The sun shone in Athleague yesterday (Wednesday) but the mood was dark among those present at lunchtime.
The frustration and anger among local farmers outside Kepak has grown over the past few weeks but nevertheless they have vowed to continue their blockade until an acceptable base price for their produce is agreed.
The peace and tranquility was later shattered by the sound of a vehicle approaching. Men leaned from their plastic chairs to have a look. A delivery for Kepak perhaps? No, just a fellow farmer in a Massey Ferguson en route to feed his stock.
“That man still has to feed his cattle. That’s about €180 he won’t get back. You see?”
The hard work on farms continues despite the ongoing row with factories. Their demands are simple, they say.
“Kepak tried in the early stages to turn farmer against farmer,” one man tells me.
He is adamant that despite some reports, no Kepak worker has been abused by those protesting.
“The only people (that have been) abused here are farmers,” he adds.
When I first arrived, those inside the marquee, while entirely welcoming, had been reluctant to speak to a member of the press. There seemed to be a sense that stories have become twisted along the way, that their demands are not being heard.
They said that this is a protest by independent farmers and as such no one individual is elected to speak for the whole group. They’re not looking to offend anyone, they quickly added.
Minister Michael Creed’s open letter to farmers hasn’t helped the mood. President Michael D Higgins’ comments at the National Ploughing Championships also caused some confusion among those present yesterday.
Speaking of the ‘Ploughing’, this is supposed to be a week when the Irish agricultural sector proudly displays its might on the national stage. Instead it’s independent farmers coming together around the country to flex their muscle.
“The National Ploughing Championships was started by farmers, small guys. Now, look at it. It’s been taken over by big businesses,” said one farmer, who then highlighted the suffocating impact farmer protests have had on big business across rural Ireland in the last few weeks.
“No other union or organisation (in this part of the country) could do what these men have done…”
While those I spoke to had sympathy for factory workers affected by the protests, they felt that responsibility for closures and lay-offs rested firmly on the shoulders of factory management.
The bottom line from Athleague is that these farmers aren’t going anywhere until their bottom line is adequately addressed.
“We’ll continue until an acceptable base price is agreed. We are determined… and we’re not going anywhere!”