FINE Gael Senator Tim Lombard has said that Ireland’s agri-food and fisheries can’t be placed at a disadvantage when Brexit negotiations begin.
A report published on Tuesday by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine – of which Senator Lombard is a member –has recommended that Ireland should carefully balance support of the UK, while also maintaining close co-operation with fellow members of the EU to protect the valuable sector.
The South Cork-based senator said: ‘The report notes that Ireland does not seek a position of advantage, but rather the opportunity not to be placed at a unique disadvantage when Britain leaves the EU.
‘Ireland must continue to stress the need for an agreement which recognises the unique situation of Ireland, North and South, in all engagements with the EU and individual member-states to protect our agri-food and fisheries sector. This will maximise our chance for a favourable or least damaging post-Brexit arrangement.’
Some of the key findings and recommendations of the 124-page, entitled ‘Impact of the UK Referendum on Membership of the European Union on the Irish Agri-Food & Fisheries Sectors,’ include:
• Noting that Ireland does not seek a position of advantage; rather, what is being sought is the opportunity not to be placed at a unique disadvantage as a result of Brexit. The Committee notes that, while the UK and Ireland are intensely aware of the need for an agreement which recognises the unique situation of Ireland North and South, it is imperative to stress this in all engagement with the EU and with individual members of the EU27.
• In order to reduce our dependence on the UK market, it is necessary to determine alternative markets. It may be necessary to develop new products in order to enter these markets. It could also be beneficial to determine which markets currently suffer from a lack of competition as these markets may offer Irish producers and exporters an opportunity to produce and sell to consumers who currently face distorted purchasing prices.
• The Committee believes that Ireland should diversify its economic output. It is essential to have a diverse base to resist future shocks. A focus on the most profitable sectors may prove short-sighted, and leave Ireland exposed in the longer-term.
• The Committee recognises the importance of agri-food and fisheries to rural economies. As such, every effort must be made to preserve existing employment, or alternatively, to develop new employment opportunities in these communities.
• The Committee is of the view that funding to support business models which are no longer viable is not an efficient use of State aid and therefore suggests that analysis be undertaken to determine which areas of agrifood are most at risk of employment loss. This would underpin a strategy to diversify production and retain employment in vulnerable rural areas.
Committee chairman Pat Deering, TD, said: ‘In this report, the Committee has focused on establishing the worst-case scenario for Ireland’s agrifood and fisheries sectors; doing so allows for a comprehensive response to Brexit. It is our hope that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will consider carefully our recommendations.’
Meanwhile, ICSA president Patrick Kent has welcomed the Committee’s recommendation that ‘that a re-evaluation of targets set in Food Wise 2025 be undertaken’ as the targets ‘may no longer reflect what is possible, or even what is best, for the Irish agri-food and fisheries sectors.’