‘Brexit negotiations to date have been nothing short of chaotic’

Brexit negotiations to date have been nothing short of chaotic, according to the president of the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) John Comer.

Addressing the association’s annual general meeting in Limerick today, Comer said that Brexit is still top of the agenda, as it was at the same event 12 months previous.

“People are playing politics and the reality is that it will be us – the farmers – who will be hit first and hardest unless the political mess is sorted out quickly.

“We are just 15 or 16 months away from the Brexit date set out and in our opinion, as a country, we are ill prepared and unless action is taken quickly – and some key decisions taken – then we are facing a potential disaster,” he said.

Comer made no apology for pointing out the scale of the “disaster” that’s facing Irish farming and food in the event of this “present uncertainty continuing”.

It is fine to say that we are having trade missions to open new markets – that work is welcome and important – but we’re going to have to be honest with people: opening and developing new markets takes time and there’s no possibility, none, that will replace the UK market.

“This is a centuries-old food trade between us and the British. Our farming forefathers built that trade; they earned it and earned the trust and taste of the British consumers.

“I am very afraid at this stage that Irish farmers are being sacrificed to the political agendas of both sides. Despite all the robust talk from the EU regarding protecting Ireland’s interest, in my darker moments I fear that we could very easily be sacrificed for wider political reasons at EU level,” the president said.

‘Immediate and direct action’

Comer outlined that the government needs to take “immediate and direct action“, delivering decisions at EU level and then introducing additional measures at national level.

“At EU level, agreement on a transitional period is critical and this needs to be delivered promptly to sectors such as agri-food if we’re to have any level of certainty for 2018.

Decisions by dairy and beef processors will be taken shortly in relation to Brexit that will have a direct impact on farmers’ income in 2018 and beyond and an agreed transitional period is indispensable in this regard.

He also highlighted the fact that the ICMSA was disappointed with the “complete lack of response to the Brexit challenge” in Budget 2018.

“Low interest loans – while welcome – are certainly not the solution and we need to see real, concrete measures introduced that will address the twin threat of Brexit and income volatility. I will state very clearly that Budget 2019 is just too late for such decisions,” he said.