‘Beef and sheep sectors need strong focus by government’ – Harkin

The beef and sheep sectors, together with a range of small business, need and deserve immediate strong focus by the government in responding to the challenges posed by Brexit.

This was the focus of independent TD Marian Harkin when addressing Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in a debate in the Dáil on the Brexit negotiations.

The deputy emphasised the value of the beef and sheep sectors for her constituency and asked what steps the government was taking amid the many challenges facing them.

Harkin told the Dáil that 250,000t of beef are exported to the UK from Ireland every year and the possible imposition of tariffs would “totally undermine” that trade and would “collapse the market”.

UK exports of beef

Deputy Harkin said the UK currently exports 100,000t of beef to the EU but if the UK did not adhere to current environmental, sanitary and phytosanitary regulations it was highly likely that those volumes would not continue post-Brexit.

In these circumstances, Harkin asked what measures were in place for Irish beef to replace UK beef on the EU market.

She said a new campaign in the UK which is directed against the importation of beef from Ireland and other countries, to be replaced by UK production, needed to be factored into Ireland’s plans for the beef sector.

“Despite the recent support measures for the beef sector, such as the beef exceptional aid measure (BEAM), and beef finisher pandemic payments, the estimated losses in the sector, as a result of Covid-19 and Brexit amounted to €273 million,” she said.

Risk to sheep trade

Deputy Harkin said that the extensive cross border live trade in sheep was at risk by the fact that, as yet, there was no measure in place to ensure the same food standards, animal health, sanitary and phytosanitary regulations and measures to prevent Ireland becoming a back door for UK produce to the EU market.

The Sligo-Leitrim deputy has called for immediate action to combat problems which would arise for exporters using the UK land-bridge to access EU markets. 

She has also highlighted the immediate need to increase direct sailings to the EU, not just to the French ports but also to ports in Northern Europe such as Antwerp or Hamburg.