The owners of up to a dozen meat plants have been granted temporary High Court injunctions restraining groups of protesters from blockading their factories and intimidating staff and suppliers.

Lyndon MacCann SC, counsel for Dawn Meats and Brian O'Moore SC, for Anglo Beef Processers (ABP) told Mr Justice Senan Allen that the actions of threatening and abusive protesters could jeopardise a multi-million euro meat deal with China.

Mr MacCann, who appeared with barrister Stephen Walsh, and Mr O'Moore, who appeared with Eoghan Casey BL, told the court that a Chinese delegation was due to visit the meat factories in the next few days to carry out inspections of processing and hygiene with a view to increasing exports to the Chinese market.

They said the potential new deal with China had taken years to set up and, if cancelled because of the actions of protesters, could take several more years of negotiation to put it back in place if at all.

Some workers were paid off today and more faced being laid off by tomorrow, they added.

Mr Justice Allen was told that a peace agreement hammered out with the help of the Minister for Agriculture had broken down at two of the main meat plants of both Dawn and ABP and was expected to spread to other plants if not restrained by the court.

He heard that both companies were seeking temporary injunctions restraining a number of named protesters, and anyone with knowledge of the making of the court's orders, from continuing their blockade.

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Mr MacCann, instructed by Arthur Cox Solicitors, said Dawn Meats was a sheep and cattle processing business processing 300,000 tonnes of meat annually, operating several sites in Ireland and the UK and employing over 7,000 people in 12 countries and exportsw to over 50 countries.

He said trucks delivering carcasses and animals had either unlawfully been denied access or were significantly delayed in making deliveries.

The court heard that the chief concern of the protesters was the fall in the price of Irish beef due to market forces related to Brexit and an increased supply of beef in Europe. 

They were attempting to force the beef processors to pay higher prices to farmers for their cattle.
Mr MacCann said Dawn Meats had no objection to anyone exercising their right to protest peacefully and in accordance with law but Dawn was suffering a daily loss of turnover of €1.5 million.  Many farmers, willing to supply the meat plants, were being prevented from doing so.

Mr O'Moore, who was instructed by A&L Goodbody Solicitors, said that a particular worrying aspect of the blockades was the intimidation and abuse being hurled at suppliers and staff and even Government inspectors.

 "Some hauliers have been advised not to return and one was told his company would be burned out if he did return," Mr O'Moore said.

The judge said he was satisfied on the evidence placed before the court in sworn affidavits to restrain the named protesters, or anyone acting in concert with them, from impeding, instructing, hindering or in any way interfering directly or indirectly with access to or egress from all of the two meat companies plants.

The court's orders in the case of Dawn Meats apply to premises at Grannagh, Co Waterford; Meadow Meats, Rathdowney, County Laois; Hazel Hill, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo; Ardnageehy, Charleville, Co Cork and Greenhills, Beauparc, Slane, Co Meath.

The ABP plants covered by the court's restraints are APB premises at Bandon, Co Cork; Nenagh, Co Tipperary; Rathkeale, Co Limerick; Cahir, Co Tipperary; Clones, Co Monaghan and at Ferrybank, Co Waterford.

The proceedings, which were heard in the absence of the defendants, were adjourned until Friday.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said companies were left with no alternative but to seek legal action.

In a statement they said that the ongoing illegal blockades were putting Irish jobs at risk, putting exports to existing customers at risk and damaging the industry's ability to win new markets for Irish beef.

Last night, a picket was placed on the Slaney Foods plant in Bunclody, Co Wexford.

Farmers there told RTÉ News that a 24-hour protest would be in place until measures to ensure better cattle prices are agreed.

Directors of the Beef Plan Movement restated last night that they are not involved with the organisation of the latest pickets.

As the group announced it was rejecting the outcome of the recent talks, it called for a resumption of discussions.

A source at the Department of Agriculture said Minister Michael Creed is happy to facilitate further talks.

It is understood that officials from the minister's office will today begin scoping out if there is a basis for further talks.

However, the ongoing protests may be an impediment.

With the Beef Plan Movement saying it is not involved, it is unclear who would act on behalf of the farmers who are now protesting.

The group said yesterday that it would not endorse the outcome of last week's talks involving the Minister for Agriculture aimed at securing better beef prices for farmers.

Several senior figures in the movement remain under threat of legal action from meat processors if they are involved in pickets at meat plants.

Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers' Association has rowed in to the dispute.

In a statement, IFA President Joe Healy said that further talks without addressing beef prices directly would be "a complete waste of time".

Mr Healy claimed an improvement in market conditions in Europe meant a price increase should be possible.

Additional reporting: Fran McNulty