Mixed messages from the Irish cattle markets mean it is still hard to judge the likely impact of the Republic's exports on pre-Christmas beef prices in Britain. News of a fairly big order from Egypt sounded dramatic at first but proved to have been discounted within the Irish trade. Other hoped for Middle Eastern business has not materialised, and some of the Continental markets are difficult. Finished cattle prices in Ireland are continuing to slip. Yet numbers in the slaughter halls remain slightly lower than a year ago. As producers there have the option of holding stock back for a subsidy in the New Year, and live exports persist in helping to support the slaughter cattle price at well above the 1999 level, there seems little chance of an Irish avalanche crashing into the British beef market. {{MEAT }}