Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said it is neither appropriate nor legally possible for him to intervene on the question of beef prices after a day of protests by farmers at the Department of Agriculture in Dublin.

The farmers have accused the minister of siding with the beef factories in the ongoing row over beef prices.

They said his focus has been diverted from his job because of the speculation about a Cabinet reshuffle.

Irish Farmers' Association President Eddie Downey said he was very disappointed with the minister's response.

He said it is totally inadequate and does not address the two key concerns at the heart of today's protest which were the removal of road blocks impeding the live export of cattle to Northern Ireland and what they claim are abuses by factories of the Quality Payment System for beef.

Mr Downey said that the farmers would continue to raise the issues in an attempt to get the minister to focus on the problems facing farm families. 

The IFA staged a protest outside the department building on Kildare Street in Dublin and gardaí tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent the farmers from unloading bales of hay at the department.

Mr Downey said Mr Coveney has sided with the factories and is letting farmers down in relation to their attempts to get a fairer price for their beef.

He said the minister's attention seems to be focused on his pursuit of a future role in Cabinet rather than dealing with the issues that are putting farmers' livelihoods under threat.

In a statement issued by Mr Coveney today he said he is "aware of the importance of the beef sector and sensitive to the concerns of farmers at this time". 

Mr Coveney said "current downward pressure on Irish beef prices is of course replicated in the UK, which is our main export market and in other key EU markets."

Mr Coveney added he has already "committed to facilitating further engagement between stakeholders on the development of the industry, but it is neither appropriate nor legally possible for me to intervene on the question of price".

IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns said livestock farmers have suffered severe financial losses this spring and can take no more.

He said farmers are "sick and tired" of listening to Mr Coveney telling everybody how good things are and singing the praises of the processing industry, while beef prices have plummeted and livestock farm incomes are on the floor.