Coveney on Brexit: Meat plant vets could be redeployed for customs

Veterinary officials employed by the Department of Agriculture for inspecting meat plants could be redeployed for customs inspection roles in the event of a hard Brexit in the short term, according to Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

The Tanaiste made the comments while speaking on the topic of Brexit on the Today with Sean O’Rourke programme on RTE Radio 1 this morning.

Speaking about the infrastructure around Dublin and Rosslare ports, Coveney outlined the facilities being organised ahead of March 29, when the UK will formally exit the European Union.

Customs infrastructure

“In Dublin port, and a lot of this was discussed before Christmas, we’re talking about 13 inspection bays for trucks coming off ships; we’re talking about parking for 270 trucks to ensure the trucks waiting inspection don’t halt other port activity.

We’re talking about a dedicated border control post for live animals; we’re talking about a public office with eight counters or hatches and accommodation for staff; we’re talking about office accommodation for an additional 144 staff in the Dublin Port area; we’re talking about new traffic management systems and so on.

Commenting on whether such infrastructure has been put in place, the Tanaiste said that progress is “advancing” in both ports, adding that he is confident that Dublin Port will have the physical infrastructure, human resources and technology in place to fulfil obligations.

He noted that the Government is working with the European Commission to clarify what is needed by March 29, though stressed that both sides are working to “try and make sure that it never comes to that”.

It was quoted to Coveney that Fianna Fail has asserted that only 53 out of the 300 veterinary officials earmarked by the Government have been hired to date.

In response, the minister highlighted that three departments are working on the human resource “challenge”, noting that 3,000 people have applied for jobs as customs officials with the Revenue Commission, while the Department of Health is going to need food health inspectors at ports and airports – which Coveney said: “we could have that done by the end of March”.

Referencing his time as minister for agriculture, the Tanaiste added: “I know that department really well – they are able to gear up very quickly.

‘Redeploy’

“In the case for example of a disease scare, whether it’s foot and mouth or BSE or whatever, they are able to redeploy within that department and they have a large panel of vets also that they can use for sanitary and phytosanitary inspections.

“So I am happy that we will have the veterinary and Department of Agriculture capacity if necessary.

But, probably we would have to use a temporary infrastructure while building more permanent infrastructure, should it come to that.

Pressed on the vet question, the Tanaiste said:

“The point is that what would happen in the short term is that we would be relying from Department of Agriculture, I suspect, on a redeployment process whereby we’ve a large panel of veterinary inspectors for meat factories, for example, that we could dip into if we had to on a temporary basis while a more permanent recruitment process is underway.”