The Minister for Agriculture has warned that the future of the beef sector is now "hanging in the balance" as protests continue outside meat plants around the country.

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, Michael Creed appealed to farmers who are still protesting to step back "for the sake of their fellow farmers".

Minister Creed said collaboration and dialogue are the only way out of the current situation and the only way to secure the future for the beef sector.

He said he understands the frustration of farmers, which has driven some into the prolonged picketing of beef factories

The Fine Gael TD said he had chaired talks between both sides last weekend that culminated in an agreement between the meat industry and seven organisations representing farmers.

He said he believed that agreement had the best balance of immediate financial benefits for beef farmers.

Minister Creed said it was contingent on the cessation of protests and blockades and he said all parties said this would happen.

He said the current situation is doing immeasurable damage to the sector and to its reputation abroad.

The Minister told the Dáil that a beef services taskforce was being set up to provide leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector.

Minister Creed also said a number of actions in relation to market transparency and beef promotion and strengthening the position of the farmer in the supply chain were agreed upon at the weekend.

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He said it involved a two-strand approach aimed at providing immediate financial benefits directly to farmers as well as addressing longer term structural issues.

Minister Creed said the measures offer an immediate financial benefit for farmers by increasing the level of bonus being paid and the number of animals that are eligible for a bonus.

He said it meant that over 70% of all steer and heifers slaughtered would be eligible for a bonus payment on top of the base price paid.

Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on agriculture Charlie McConalogue said farmers had been "trampled upon" for too long and have not been listened to and respected.

Also speaking in the Dáil, he said they have consistently had to put up with a situation where they were price takers while other stakeholders in the industry have continued to make a profit.

He said farmers cannot continue and cannot see a future unless things change and he said there must be fair play for them. 

Mr McConalogue told the Dáil there is a total lack of transparency when it comes to what margin goes to the farmers.

He said the beef farmers' protests have achieved a lot and he said it was essential that there was an outcome for them which can be built upon.

Sinn Féin's spokesperson on agriculture Brian Stanley said farmers had to take to the picket line to save their livelihoods.

Mr Stanley told the Dáil that all the signs were that the protests would continue until the base line price increased.

He said beef farmers were caught in the "perfect storm" with their margins squeezed on top of Brexit and the Mercosur trade deal.

Mr Stanley said the Irish beef sector had been run in a "cartel like" manner for the past two decades.

He said Irish beef farmers were angry and he said there needed to be greater transparency within the sector.

IFA livestock chair calls for end to protests

The head of the Irish Farmers' Association's livestock committee has called for an end to the protests outside factories by farmers.

In a statement this evening, Angus Woods said the protests risk damaging the livelihoods of all farmers and do nothing to improve the income of livestock farmers.

Mr Woods said the blockades do not represent the wishes of the "vast majority of farmers, or the interests of the livestock sector".

He said significant progress was made in the talks between industry stakeholders at the weekend.

Mr Woods added that focus should shift to ensuring factories and the Department of Agriculture deliver on their side of the deal reached at the weekend.

Eroding margins unsustainable - ICMSA

Meanwhile the President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association said the ICMSA has worked with beef farmers involved in protests to try to secure a better deal for them.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland Pat McCormack said his organisation has a "major stake in the game".

He said that the situation has built up following a decade of low and eroding margins, adding that no business can sustain this. 

Mr McCormack also said it was important that a frictionless border remains following Brexit. He warned that costs will escalate if border checks are introduced and the sector would become very uncompetitive. 

The Senior Director of Meat Industry Ireland said the ongoing dispute must end and that the agreement reached at the weekend should be given a chance.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Cormac Healy said many of the issues have now been addressed.

However, he added that beef prices are determined by the EU market, which he described as depressed.

He went on to say that the Irish market was dependent on what was happening across a range of markets, and that the dispute was damaging the Irish industry.

Speaking on the same programme, Terry Bryan, an industrial organiser for the agri-food sector with SIPTU, warned that the beef industry was at risk of self-destruction as the dispute continues.

Mr Bryan called for calm, cool heads, and for people to consider the deal carefully.

The Chief Executive of Supermacs echoed Mr Bryan's call for calm heads.

Also speaking on Today with Sean O'Rourke, Pat McDonagh said there had not been a reduction in beef prices over the last 12 months.

He said that he was prepared to pay more for beef, if it preserved the future of the family farm. He also warned that we must ensure long-term damage is not done to the industry as a whole.