The decision by Stena to open up a live export route to the UK represents a highly significant boost to the beleaguered livestock sector.

This is according to ICSA Ireland president Patrick Kent. “Stena are open for business on the Rosslare to Fishguard route from this week,” he said.

“This is the first time in many years that there will be a regular live export route from the Republic to Britain. While it has been possible to transport livestock from Larne to Stranraer, the economics of that did not add up when the final destination was Southern England.”

Kent said the news could not have come at a more opportune time as Irish livestock producers struggle to get cattle killed.

“While the live export trade for weanlings has shown some positive signs with Greece emerging as a potential alternative market to complement exports to Italy, the fact remains that suckler farmers are very concerned about the outlook.

“As our nearest neighbour, the British market is potentially a good market for cattle, particularly given that British beef prices are the highest in Europe. The differential between Irish and British beef price is of the order of €250 on a typical R3 steer.”

Mr Kent added that exporting cattle to Britain was not only sensible because of the price differential but also on other economic and welfare grounds.

“Compared with exporting to Europe and North Africa, the UK is a much less costly option in terms of transport costs while at the same time, the relatively short journey means that animal welfare is not a problem. In fact, if we could export significant numbers to the UK, then there would be less need to go to places like North Africa. Also, it must be borne in mind that the British beef finisher has significant cost advantages in feeding cattle due to having ready and close access to cereals and other food by-products.”

Meanwhile the news was also warmly welcomed by ICSA Munster vice-president John Halley, suckler chairman Dermot Kelleher and beef chairman Edmond Phelan.

They said that the challenge was now there for exporters to find UK customers.

“We are delighted that the ICSA efforts have yielded some progress but there are still concerns that there will be some resistance to this in certain quarters. However, the alternative to competition for live exports is that we accept the current situation in the cattle trade and advise suckler farmers to wind down operations. This is the first bit of light at the end of the tunnel in some time and we must capitalise on it.”