In an event celebrating 50 years of Irish agriculture since Ireland joined the EU, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue said its membership has been “massively important” for Irish farming.

Speaking at the event, Minister McConalogue said: “I think we have seen a radical transformation of Irish agriculture, but there’s no doubt that 50 years in the EU has been massively important for Irish agriculture.”

Ireland joined the European Economic Community, now the European Union, 50 years ago in 1973, which was the focus of a conference held today (Friday, October 27) at the Teagasc Research Centre in Ashtown.

Minister McConalogue spoke on the access that Ireland is provided by the EU for trade with other member states, and said “without it, Irish agriculture would not be in the position that its in.

“We’re a food exporting nation, 90% of the food that our farmers produce within the farm gate is sold abroad, and we’re very fortunate in relation to our climate and our capacity for grass-based agriculture in particular, and that leads us to be very productive.

“But that means then that we’ve lots of food for other people to avail of, and other markets, and the EU has been massively important in terms of being a common market.”

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is an integral part of Ireland’s farming practices since joining the EU, and the minister said that it has allowed Ireland to develop through the supports provided through it.

50 years in the EU

Ireland’s position in the EU was reflected by the presence of Marc Fesneau, the French Minister for Agriculture at the event, who said Ireland and France have “similar challenges” that include food safety, climate, and generational renewal.

Minister Fesneau said: “Within the EU, Ireland and France are trusted partners, particularly when it comes to agriculture.”

Prior to Ireland joining the EEC in 1973, Minister McConalogue said “Ireland’s agricultural sector was reliant on Britain” as a trading partner.

However, he said Ireland being in the EU now means the country is “working with 26 other member states working towards the same goal”.

Minister McConalogue

The extent of the relationship between Ireland and other EU member states was addressed by Minister McConalogue, who discussed the issue in the context of the reduction of Ireland’s nitrates derogation.

“We very much appreciate the support France and other European colleagues has given to Ireland on the maintenance of the derogation because we only have a derogation with the agreement and support of EU member states.

“We recognise the derogation is not a derogation from achieving the ambition of the nitrates directive. There is an obligation on us to make progress in relation to water quality.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine also commented on the plans for Nestlé to cease operations at its Wyeth Nutrition infant formula factory in Askeaton, Co. Limerick and what it would mean for the dairy sector.

“Wyeth is not something that gives me concern to the wider dairy sector.

“What remains very constant is the massively important nutritional value of dairy products, and also the exceptional capacity we have to produce it in a way that is safe and sustainable,” the minister added.