Independent TD Mattie McGrath has given a cautious welcome to the initiation of negotiations between beef farmers and representatives of the meat processing industry.

Deputy McGrath made his comments following a significant breakthrough in the dispute which has seen farmers in the beef sector pushed toward the edge of viability.

“The process which began yesterday evening must be welcomed even if it is occurring almost 12 months into the crisis.”

The fact that the Minister for Agriculture and other significant players like Tesco and McDonalds have also come together to try and resolve this matter is a testimony to the depth of the problem which exists, he said.

“The fact that Minister Coveney is now also talking about the establishment of price negotiation bodies to represent the interests of beef farmers directly with the factories, and that he is doing this in order to create an equal playing field is a long overdue recognition of the David versus Goliath nature of this protest.

“While farmers are critically important to the Irish economy this crisis has revealed that the power to destabilise a whole sector lay overwhelmingly with the meat processing industry. That industry’s relative strength in terms of its capacity to set prices and alter specifications vastly outweighs the capacity of beef farmers to impact those decisions toward a more economically just outcome.”

He said it can only be hoped that at the end of this process a more fair and equitable pricing system will have been agreed upon and that the ability of the meat processing industry to chronically undervalue farmers produce will have been limited.

“On a related issue what also needs to happen is for the Competition Authority to be seriously beefed up in terms of its ability to bring some kind of fairness to these disputes because at the moment it is seriously under resourced,” he said.