McConalogue: ‘Brexit poses major threat to agri-food sector’

The threat posed by Brexit to the country’s agri-food sector was top of the agenda during a Dáil debate on the issue last Wednesday, April 3.

Charlie McConalogue – Fianna Fáil spokesperson on agriculture – told those gathered that while the total share of Ireland’s national exports sent to Britain is 17%, the figure has varied between 36% and 40% for agri-food exports over the last few years.

McConalogue pointed out that this indicated how exposed the agri-food sector is by any disruption to east-west trade.

As the minister well knows some of our sectors are particularly exposed; the beef sector in particular is in the eye of the storm.

He continued: “We saw the impact on the horticulture sector 18 months ago when Brexit was first decided upon. The resulting turmoil in the sterling exchange rate wiped out some of our mushroom sector and put massive pressure on the horticulture sector as a whole.

“That is nothing compared to the pressure the sector will be under in the case of a hard Brexit.”

‘Feeling the pressure’

The Fianna Fáil spokesperson went on to say that when horticulture “was feeling this pressure” 18 months ago the Government did not step in to support it.

He pointed to the fact that one business went to the wall, as a result, and warned “that could not happen again”.

“It was unfortunate and unacceptable that the sector was left to fend for itself at that stage. There were job losses as a result of the lack of sufficient support to get the sector through its time of need which, thankfully, did ease as sterling stabilised,” added McConalogue.

There is still a lack of clarity about what measures will be in place in the event of a hard Brexit.

He added: “Beef farmers have been losing their shirts on the prices for finished cattle in recent months. The minister needs to respond via immediate emergency aid that recognises that the beef market is being undermined by poor prices and the backdrop of Brexit.

“Support from the minister needs to be forthcoming immediately. There is capacity for this given the permitted increase in the minimum state aid from €15,000 to €25,000. In particular, the minister should work with the European Commission to ensure immediate support for our beef sector, which is already suffering.”