THE Minister of Agriculture has been accused of abdicating responsibility over what farmers call a “crisis” in the beef sector.
The criticism comes after the Department of Agriculture said on Monday they cannot legally have any role in determining beef prices.
Beef prices are at their lowest point in years, with many farmers claiming they are struggling to survive and will be forced out of business without government intervention.
Minister Michael Creed’s spokesman has said it is not the department’s role to “comment on commercial decisions taken by private entities in an open market”.
The Beef Plan movement has held about 18 protests at factory gates across the country to protest pricing, with little to no tangible results. Members of the Dail Rural Independent Group have made a direct plea to the minister to formally intervene in order to avert further destabilisation of the beef sector.
The rural group members say they are concerned that the absence of a beef roundtable-like forum in which grievances and positions can be constructively aired may lead to long-term challenges for the beef and suckler sector.
TD Mattie McGrath says beef farmers are experiencing enormous frustration at the apparent unwillingness of the minister to take a more hands-on approach to the crisis.
He said: “As rural TDs, we are witnessing almost unprecedented anger among beef farmers at the way in which this entire crisis is being addressed. There is a palpable sense, especially in the Beef Plan movement, that the minister and indeed the government are just not fully appreciative of what is at stake here.
“Our entire indigenous beef sector and all that goes with that in terms of the local economic impact is being threatened. The minister needs to act and address this issue.
“There is little point talking about supports if at the same time you are allowing conditions to prevail where there will be no market to speak of in a few years’ time.”
Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) treasurer Tim Cullinan described the minister’s statement as “appalling inaction”.
Mr Cullinan accused the minister of adopting the role of by-stander in the cattle crisis, with his refusal to take action despite the escalation of the issue and the growing severity of the crisis on beef farmers.
“By refusing to take his responsibilities seriously, the minister is making himself irrelevant. If he cannot, or will not, do the job he was elected to do, then the time is rapidly approaching for him to consider his position,” Mr Cullinan said.
The government has pointed out that an additional €120 million was available this year through two measures specifically targeting the beef sector: the €20 million beef environmental efficiency pilot (BEEP) and the €100 million beef exceptional aid measure (BEAM).
“These measure were introduced in recognition of the fact that there has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed beef prices since last autumn, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance,” a spokesman said.