Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Brexit Stephen Donnelly TD has warned that without a national response to Brexit, the jobs and livelihoods of farmers, agri-food workers and rural communities could be badly hit.
Speaking from the Ploughing Championships, Deputy Donnelly said, “This year’s Ploughing Championship will see close to 300,000 people visit Tullamore to enjoy the best of Irish farming and agri-food, but Brexit poses one the greatest threats the sector has ever faced.
“Food and farming is one of Ireland’s successes right now – exports are up, including impressive growth in the US market. Brand Ireland is strong. But Brexit could damage this badly. The UK Government insists it is leaving the Customs Union. This means there is a real possibility of border controls being introduced for Northern Ireland and Britain.
“They are talking about regulatory divergence, meaning different food and safety standards over time. They are discussing the possibility of pulling funding for CAP. This would mean reductions in payments to Irish farmers. And they are talking about ‘no deal’ with the EU on Brexit. In this world, the ESRI estimates a potential reduction in dairy trade with the UK of 60%, and a staggering 85% for beef – this would be catastrophic.
“Despite this the Irish Government insists Brexit hasn’t happened yet. It has given Bord Bia a paltry level of extra staff. It has allocated just €5m to Brexit this year. It promised to provide a detailed sectoral plan, but over a year after the Brexit vote, they can’t even give a timeline for when we might see it. Enterprise Ireland is working with some of the bigger companies, but farmers and many smaller companies are not being engaged with.
“We are all working hard to secure as soft a Brexit as possible, but we must put plans in place now for a worst case scenario. It takes years to break into new markets – waiting until 2019 to see what happens isn’t acceptable. Farmers and agri-food companies must get adequate supports now. That means adaptation funding and access to low-cost finance. It means providing support to find new markets and developing new relationships with purchasers across Europe and beyond, for Irish produce. It means better supports for Bord Bia, including marketing.
“The sector supports 270,000 jobs, and nearly 40% of Irish food exports go to the UK. Over 400,000 pigs are exported live to the North for processing annually, with almost 400,000 lambs imported to the South for processing. Over 800 million litres of milk are imported across the border from the North annually, much of which is processed and exported from the South.
“Bord Bia estimates that sterling falls in 2016 reduced exports to the UK by €570m. This year sterling has fallen much further, with some forecasting it reaching parity with euro. And yet, most people in the sector are not being engaged by the Government on Brexit. This simply isn’t acceptable. The Government needs to step up its efforts and help prepare farmers and the agri-food industry in preparing for Brexit.”