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 as more pickets took place at other ports.

A thousand farmers gathered at Millbay Docks, in Plymouth, in one of the biggest demonstrations so far.

They waited for four Irish lorries which arrived from St Malo in northern France aboard the Brittany Ferries vessel Quiberon - and then discovered they were carrying broccoli from Spain to Dublin.

But the protest organiser, Devon National Farmers' Union vice-chairman Richard Haddock, said after the last lorry drove through the massed ranks of farmers: "It was definitely not a waste of time.It proved that beef could come through this port. The Irish lorries are running through it."

In Wales, Frank Allen, president of the Irish Creamery and Milk Supply Association, told 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, who represents 30,000 farmers, accused the British government of failing to appreciate the crisis in farming and make use of European Union compensation funds. But as Irish companies and the Road Haulage Association threatened to sue the Government 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."

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 discretion in carrying out their duties. Neither North Wales police or Dyfed Powys police have yet arrested anyone at the Holyhead or Fishguard protests. In contrast there were three arrests after a similar protest at Dover.

Yet the Welsh forces insist that they will do everything necessary - including making 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.