SOME 300 farmer delegates from all over the state gathered in the Castletroy Park Hotel in Limerick for the annual general meeting of the specialist dairy farmers’ organisation, the 16,000-member strong, ICMSA.
The panel of speakers, comprising ICMSA president John Comer, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and former Taoiseach and EU Ambassador to the US John Bruton, guaranteed a full house.
Mr Comer told the delegates that the preservation of our food exports to the UK on a tariff-free basis must be our guiding principle right throughout the Brexit negotiations expected to begin early next year. He noted that Ireland’s food trade with the UK was centuries old and currently valued at just short of €5 billion per annum and told the attendance that it was impossible to overstate the dangers presented to our ‘flagship’ food sector’s exports to the UK by a new system of tariffs, customs-clearance and the persistence of sterling devaluation relative to the euro.
The effects of these impediments to our vital food-producing sector could be of the most serious order with Mr Bruton comparing the threat offered to that experienced during the ‘Economic War’ with Britian during the mid-1930s
Mr Comer told the AGM that Ireland could not ‘stand idly by’ while decisions that went to the very core of our State’s economic prospects were debated without reference to the critical importance and ancient commercial ties between Irish food production and their UK markets. He told Minster Creed that this reality needed to be communicated to the EU Commission and other member-states ‘early and often.’
The Minister, for his part, spoke about the general situation and fielded many questions about the prospects for some stability and recovery in milk price as well as numerous attacks on the hugely-disliked QPS Beef Grid pricing system operated by the meat factories.
John Bruton’s account of the likely progress, direction and pace of the Brexit talks was masterful and anyone who heard it is immeasurably better informed now than before.
He laid out clearly where the negotiating quicksand was and made it abundantly clear that we must be thinking in terms of, perhaps, 20 years before a final position can be achieved.