The Taoiseach has said that the British government’s attempts this week to change the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol, show that it does not understand how the protocol is already working for the agriculture sector.

Mícheal Martin, speaking in the Dáil yesterday, said:

“It seems to me that this is something that is not understood by the British government, particularly with its dual regulatory approach in food traceability, which puts a lot of agri-food industries and enterprises at risk if it proceeds with its proposals as announced yesterday.

“The agricultural interests and the meat and dairy industries that I met are very clear about the negative impact that the foreign secretary’s proposals would have on the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland.

“That is what illustrates, more than anything, the lack of real thinking-through of those proposals by the British government,” he said.

Proposed protocol changes

Earlier this week, details of the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol Bill indicated the government’s intention to make four principal legislative changes to the previously agreed Brexit arrangements.

These include:

  1. The introduction of green and red channels to remove unnecessary costs and paperwork for businesses trading within the UK, while ensuring full checks are done for goods entering the European Union (EU);
  2. Businesses would have the choice of placing goods on the market in NI, according to either UK or EU goods rules, ensuring NI consumers are not prevented from buying UK standard goods, assuming that UK and EU regulations diverge over time;
  3. NI would be subject to the exact same tax and spending policies as would be the case for Great Britain. Specifically, VAT would be included in this context;
  4. Brexit-related disputes would be resolved by independent arbitration and not by the European Court of Justice.

Proposals have ‘alarmed and frightened people’

The Taoiseach made his above comments while answering questions relating to the role of the  National Economic and Social Council (NESC) and the work that it does – a question put to him by multiple deputies.

One such deputy, Brendan Smith, said he had previously suggested that a work project be undertaken on the specific challenges faced by the border region, in particular the central border area of Cavan, Monaghan, Fermanagh and Tyrone.

“We are very dependent on the agri-food, engineering and construction products sectors. Our key market is Britain,” Deputy Smith said.

“That alone demonstrates the vulnerability of our local economy considering that the British government proposes to break its international obligations following an agreement, which it freely made.”

He said the dairy, beef and, sheepmeat sectors are all interdependent on a cross-border and all-Ireland basis.

“The proposals made by the British government have alarmed and frightened people in those sectors. They are utterly crazy proposals and a clear message must go back to the British government that the protocol is working in the context of the agri-food and farming sector. We have significant volumes of milk coming south for processing in Co. Cavan, and elsewhere.”