I thank all the speakers who supported our motion and who came and gave of their time. Disappointment has been expressed about many who did not come. Agriculture is our primary industry and we must mind it.
I learnt a great deal during the time of the protests and it was not just the blockades in Cahir where I was much of the time. I thank Bob Wilkinson, a man in his 80s, young Daniel Long, and Alison de Vere Hunt, who travelled to Dublin for the talks and who was not treated nicely in the Minister's Department. I have said that to him before. I also thank Superintendent Denis Whelan, the gardaí in Cahir Garda station, and the workers who went in and out of the factory and were so peaceful and respectful of what was going on. Many of them brought food to feed the farmers and their families. I thank the many companies that brought food and the many women who baked scones and apple tarts and cream. There was a joyous atmosphere there. The weather was great. It went on longer than it should have.
We should not have had to have been there because this crisis has been coming. The Minister sleepwalked into it. When we got the mandate to talk to Fine Gael about the programme for Government and we agreed to include the issue of producer organisations, the Government did nothing about it. As Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and others have said, this is a Dublin-centric Government. The Taoiseach, who should be sitting where the Minister is now, said that we must eat less beef. Is that a man to be heading our country? We know what his interests are. Deputy Healy-Rae was right to point that out. Time and again the Government was warned.
In recent days when my colleagues and others were working very hard to get the gates opened and the cattle going in, there were rumours that Meat Industry Ireland, MII, met the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to get the Garda to move the rest of the people away. We were negotiating, and while I acknowledge the Minister took a phone call from one of the Healy-Rae brothers on Saturday to try to get it stood down, he did not take a phone call or a text from me at the start of the protest. He ignored it and hoped it would go away. He was on his holidays and wanted to stay on his holidays. He could be on holidays every day because this is the most useless, toothless and fruitless Government that ever sat in this Chamber. It has no respect for rural Ireland, no respect for na daoine beaga or for any of the organisations, although some are too cosy with the Government. MII placed injunctions on the Beef Plan Movement, which had to go to ground. Then the Government told us it had no one to talk to. Independent Farmers of Ireland came forward and sent people to talk and, thankfully, we are where we are. The Minister cobbled together an agreement. It is a tús maith. It is a good start and we have to work to it.
The Minister of State said that all the stakeholders, all the usual suspects, will be put onto this task force. I do not want all the stakeholders. They can meet the Minister every day of the week, Bord Bia, Teagasc, and Department officials. This should involve MII, with a truly independent chairperson - someone like Kieran Mulvey. He does not have to know agriculture. The less he knows about it the better. He is someone who will not be fooled or have the wool pulled over his eyes. It has to include the farming groups, Veterinary Ireland, and MII, and it must have standards. There should be no threatening. It is shameful to say that Mr. Healy from my own county was using bully-boy tactics and incensing farmers when I saw the farmers and the workers saluting one another and giving tea and whatever else. I sympathise with the workers who lost their jobs or who were temporarily laid off. That should not have happened. I am an employer, like Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, Deputy Michael Collins, and many more. We would keep our workers for a few weeks certainly. Where is the good faith and the goodwill?
One day when I was there, a lorry with a 40 ft container arrived and a vet came to plead with the lads to let him in to inspect it. He told us that was Polish beef going into the factory. It left. Three weeks later another lorry came and we were told it was a load of pork. That lorry was followed because bringing in pork from Poland is dangerous due to swine flu and other infections. That would have been devastating. Everyone at the gates was filmed by powerful cameras all day and night. As if that was not bad enough, some of the lads came out of the factory to intimidate the protesters and make videos. We were all told we were caught on video. That lorry was followed. I know where it went. It came back saying it went to the wrong factory. I want the Minister to investigate those issues. That could cause unbelievable damage. It is reckless. We do not know what is going into the meat.
One thing that has come out of this protest is that the public has got a greater understanding of how the farmer is being blackguarded, when the fact was put on the posters that only 2.6% of the €10 goes to the farmer and what else goes to the retailers and the factories.
Where does the fifth quarter go? I salute Mr. Seamus Maye and the fabulous investigation of the fifth quarter he has carried out. The problems in that regard are staggering. The Government allowed a certain mogul in the industry to take control of offal only a couple of years ago. Every bit of offal is controlled by a big beef baron and nobody else can go anywhere with any of it. When individual plants were making deals because they wanted to get going and fulfil their contracts, as we all did, the heavy hand came in again. The moguls rule. The biggest beef baron in the country - everyone knows who I mean - said the plants could not sell their offal and instead could dump it wherever they liked. Such cop-on has been allowed. The Competition Authority is a disgrace. It has done nothing but tell farmers they could not negotiate the price. What is the authority meant to be? If I was running a business up a boreen on the side of a mountain and was doing something to cause unfair competition, the authority would fine me and close me down. It will not touch the people I have outlined, however, because there is too much money involved, too much big business and too many people who were friends with one another when they were growing up.
The IFA has given the Government an easy ride in the past eight years. Of course it has, given that most of its members are in the Government's party. Fair dues to the beef industry of Ireland and independent farmers. Circumstances have changed and will never be the same because the genie is out of the bottle and people know what is going on. They know that farmers have been blaggarded. When the animal is put in the trailer, as Deputy Michael Healy-Rae noted, farmers tend to it. If the cow is inseminated, farmers nurture the little calves, work with the cow the whole way and look after it. They are accused of all kinds of bad practices but they look after their animals and respect them, their land and their families. All they want is a fair price for their work, rather than cartels being formed, money being creamed off elsewhere, and the blaggarding that is going on.
I call on the Minister to insist that the Cahir factory is reopened. Everything was allowed in by the protestors except cattle or beef, while cattle were allowed in for the Chinese visit. Of course the Chinese delegation was allowed in because it would have been reckless otherwise, and meat was allowed out when it had to be brought out. All the maintenance crews were allowed in to keep the factory ready and in pristine condition, but now we are told it will take a couple of weeks in some places to start killing again. That is blaggarding and it must stop. The power must be given back to the producer. What are we here for? Rural Ireland will be wiped out. As has been noted, with all that is taken away from us, we will lose beef farmers and producers. They spend every penny in the rural economy, in the schools, shops, GAA clubs and the whole lot. Ní neart go cur le chéile.
What are we trying to do under the Government? It is a disgrace how it has treated everyone else. Any small person is in the way. It is all about the large supermarkets, Larry Goodman and company, and the rest of them, and to hell with na daoine beaga. The Government does not want them at all. It should go back to its roots. It will have to go back soon enough looking for votes and will find out the hard way. I thank the gardaí and everyone in Cahir who helped to keep the peace, normal trading and the work going on, even though some people were turfed out. We were on the cusp of a settlement in Cahir on Monday, 16 September but it did not happen, although it should have. We were again on the cusp on Wednesday, 18 September, when most of the farmers who wanted to stand down walked away. A group stayed on, as was their prerogative. The factory knew on Thursday that the matter would be settled on Friday but what did it do? It announced another 100 job losses on Friday morning.
It was such contempt, such waving, teasing and mocking of the protestors. The factory had a monopoly for 35 years and it got away with it, since Charlie Haughey bailed it out and left it alone. At least he made beef deals and with the Purcells sold exports to Libya. He did something for the country and did the State some service, but the Government has done nothing. It has watched it being destroyed, rural Ireland being decimated and farmers being driven to protest this week, but for several weeks the Minister would not even engage. When he did engage at first, he had MII dictating what would happen, who could be in the room and under what conditions. It is time the mask was removed from MII and that it respected producers. Many workers at the factories are annoyed at what happened and some of them are annoyed with me, which I fully accept. They are entitled to be, given that I was in the middle. If we did not have producers, the workers would not be kept at the factories. That is what we do not see in the picture.
I watched a wonderful exposé on RTÉ last night about what happened at the atrocious event in County Cavan. It is time that RTÉ and the rest of the media broadcast an exposé on what is taking place with the cartels in the beef business. It is beyond time but it will not happen, as it will not in the case of the multiples, because as we see when we open the Sunday newspapers, there are pages and pages of advertisements. Money talks. It is time the Minister answered the questions about beef from Poland and, worse again, the pork from Poland. Did it come into Cahir and, if so, why? What is happening in that regard? We demand respect. We do not want a taskforce with all the usual suspects taking up places, eating their dinner and taking up time. We want the producers, farm families, the organisations and MII. There must be an independent regulator, with teeth and power, and it must gain respect. Respect has to be earned and he or she who earns it will get it. Previously, the regulator was the Secretary General of the Department. I do not know the man but how could he be independent? He is not independent.
We want independence on the taskforce. We in the Rural Independent Group, en masse day in, day out, will call on the Government to ensure that the taskforce is meaningful, and that it will have respect and teeth. We will not be fobbed off. The fobbing-off is over, as the Minister will soon learn.