Opinion

Ireland’s post-Brexit future is being thrashed out right now in Brussels

No doubt the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, told the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) leadership that she was very aware of their Brexit concerns when she visited Northern Ireland a few days ago. But she didn’t hang around for very long.

Two hours after arriving, she was back on a plane heading for Wales.

Meanwhile, the crunch talks on how Ireland is going to be dealt with in a post-Brexit world have just gotten underway in Brussels. Such is the perceived importance of how the ‘Irish issue’ will be reconciled within the Brexit process that special talks teams have been established by the UK and EU-27 in order to thrash this matter out.

And they have been given until June to come up with a final report.

Given the significance of all this, I sincerely hope that the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), UFU and every other stakeholder group within Ireland’s farming and food sector are ready, willing and able to have the greatest possible impact on this specific talks process.

We can talk about the farm support measures that will be available after Brexit until the cows come home.

But if the Irish border issue is not settled to everyone’s satisfaction, the implications for agriculture throughout Ireland could be disastrous.

And the sector most exposed in this regard is dairy. It’s not good enough to come up with Brexit solutions that guarantee frictionless cross-border movement of product. If levies become an issue, in any sense of the term, the impact this could have on farmgate milk prices will be more than significant, once the UK leaves the EU.

The Brexit talks are now entering their most important phase.

Farming and food are the two sectors which will be impacted to the greatest extent by this entire process. In the meantime, elected politicians in Northern Ireland have gone to ground for reasons that defy logic.

Leaders are supposed to lead. Given this reality, I would truly love to hear someone from the hierarchy of the various stakeholder groups state clearly what the best Brexit policy for farming and food in Ireland really is. In my eyes, this would be a proactive step forward.

As a further gesture of faith to farmers, these same leaders could then actually commit to getting such an arrangement secured.

Or is the real plan to let the faceless civil servants in London and Brussels pull together some sort of final deal which everyone can whinge about afterwards?