Beef crisis: Irish union leaders head for Holyhead to stake their case

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The Independent Online
Irish farmers' leaders travelled to Holyhead last night to plead for the blockade to end.

Frank Allen, who represents 30,000 dairy farmers, told Welsh farmers they were aiming at the wrong target: "The solution to your problems lies with the UK Government. We will suffer grievously if your action continues much longer."

Mr Allen, president of the Irish Creamery and Milk Supply Association, accused the British Government of failing to appreciate the crisis in farming and make use of EU compensation funds for the industry.

But as Irish companies and the Road Haulage Association threatened to sue the Britain for loss of business, farmers showed no sign of abandoning their campaign.

RHA spokesman, Daniel Hodges, said: "It's not a question of whether farmers do or do not have a legitimate dispute. It's a simple question of whether or not we wish to see a return to the dark days of the Seventies and early Eighties when whole sections of British industry and the economy were effectively held to ransom by anyone with a grievance."

This week's action by farmers was not "helpful" to the association's efforts to secure compensation from the French government for losses incurred during the blockade by French farmers at Calais last year.

The forces policing the farming protests have to deal with competing interests. While their primary duty is to keep the peace, they have to balance the right of businesses to carry on their activity against the freedom of farmers to protest.

Senior police officers have considerable discretion in carrying out their duties, and this can lead to claims of either being too lenient or harsh with protesters. For example, neither North Wales police or Dyfed Powys police have yet arrested anyone at the Holyhead or Fishguard protests. In contrast there were three arrests - and one charge - after a similar protest at Dover.

Yet the Welsh forces insist that they will do everything necessary - including arrests - to ensure that lorries get through.The defining factor is likely to be the level of agreement, if any, between the lorry drivers, port authorities and the protesting farmers over the nature of the demonstrations. If there are such deals officers are likely to take more of a back seat.

Police in North Wales said they are considering criminal damage charges over the tossing of beef burgers into the sea by demonstrators at Holyhead.

More protests were planned last night, with new pickets expected at Plymouth.