Beef cattle producers have had a difficult year and I have acknowledged that at all times. The Department and I have done everything possible to assist the trade, cattle producers and Bord Bia, at political and diplomatic level, in respect of access to all outlets and markets.
The reality is that, while prices have not been good in recent months, the market remained stable. We were running ahead of 1996 prices until the blockade of British ports and the recent scare regarding beef on the bone which depressed prices by 3p per lb. In the run up to the tender on 12 December, the Department made extraordinary levels of contact with the Commission to ensure that a reasonable tender would be accepted and that the threat to release intervention beef on to the market did not happen.
The volume of the tender, 2,330 tonnes, was a record high for this time of year. For example, at the November tender, no tonnage was accepted and at the previous one, only 374 tonnes was accepted. The 2,330 tonnes represents approximately 40 per cent of the tender offered which, in the nature of the way tenders are made, is the proportion accepted by the factories. If the entire tender had been accepted, the factories would have been more surprised than anyone. The level of tenders and the price at which they are pitched is a matter for the industry and the factories. In this case, the Department made the highest level of contact possible with the Commission. In my view this proved quite effective and worked out in a relatively satisfactory way in that, since 12 December, prices in marts and quotes in factories have risen by 3p to 4p per lb.