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Brexit – The Event for Irish Farmers

IFA hosted a conference relating to Brexit in Goffs, County Kildare on Monday, April 24, 2017, where some 600 people were in attendance. The discussions focused on the imperatives of Brexit for Irish farmers as well as the agri-food sector. The day began with Damian McDonald, IFA’s Director General welcoming IFA members, the European Parliament, the Ulster Farmers’ Union and all others who attended the event and introduced some of the day’s speakers. Some 40% of Irish food and drink exports go to the UK go this conference was of great interest to all involved in the agricultural industry.

The first session included a discussion from Phil Hogan, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development and another from Joe Healy, the President of IFA. Phil Hogan gave the keynote address on the EU’s negotiation position. His engaging and informative speech gave the audience a clearer image of the current position of the European Union. Commissioner Hogan described Brexit as “era defining” but remains optimistic as he believes that “Ireland can and will get a good result if we work together”.

Pictured are Damian McDonald, Phil Hogan, Damian O’Reilly and Joe Healy before the first panel commenced

IFA President, Joe Healy spoke about the imperatives for Irish farmers in the negotiations, how large of an export market the UK is for Ireland with significant amounts of Irish beef, mushrooms, pig meat, etc, heading there and the potential challenges resulting from the potential installation of borders. He also spoke about how the loss of the British contribution to the Common Agricultural Policy may impact Ireland and potential solutions such as an introduction of tariff free trade for this issue. The first session ended with an interactive Q&A session involving the audience who are hugely concerned about the viability of the farming future in Ireland. Some 300,000 jobs in Ireland are supported both directly and indirectly through agriculture.

Pictured are Mairead McGuiness, Gavin Barrett, Martin Merrild, Rowena Dwyer and Barclay Bell on the second panel

The second session featured a panel including Martin Merrild, the president of Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations (COPA); Mairead McGuinness, the first Vice-President of the European Parliament; Rowena Dwyer the Chief Economist of IFA; Barclay Bell the President of Ulster Farmers’ Union; and Gavin Barrett, Jean Monnet Professor of European Constitutional and Economic Law, UCD. Martin Merrild reminded attendees that Brexit is not just an Irish problem, that other countries also have special trade relationships with the UK, but that he and the rest of Europe understand the unique nature of Ireland’s status. Rowena Dwyer stated that it is possible to maintain UK exports. She also raised an interesting point about the difficulties a soft border with Northern Ireland would pose with cheap food imports. The discussion offered lots of opportunity for audience members to take part and ask questions, as microphones were distributed across the room.

Following lunch, FBD Chief Executive, Fiona Muldoon addressed attendees, speaking about how Brexit will affect every household in the country and with that she said that “the Irish Government must prioritise Brexit above all else”. FBD are “hugely invested in Irish agriculture”.

Fiona Muldoon, CEO of FBD Insurance giving a message at the Brexit conference

Next Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, gave an address on ‘Securing the Interests of the Irish Farmer’. Minister Creed told those in attendance that the Department of Agriculture was preparing for the possibility of Brexit pre the UK vote on June 23. The UK will still be a net importer post Brexit.

Picutred are Sean O’Leary, Minster Michael Creed, Angus Woods, Tara McCarthy, Niall Browne and Jim Woulfe on the fourth panel

The fourth and final session was on ‘What Now for Irish Farmers and the Agri-Food Sector?’ This panel was made up of Minister Creed; Niall Browne, CEO of Dawn Meats; Jim Woulfe, CEO of Dairygold; Tara McCarthy, CEO of Bord Bia; Sean O’Leary, IFA Dairy Chairman; and Angus Woods, IFA Livestock Chairman. Justin McCarthy, the Editor Irish Farmers Journal facilitated the two afternoon sessions. Niall Browne stated that “Dawn Meats export to 48 countries” and that they are diversifying and finding new markets. Tara McCarthy said that 90% of beef exports are part of Bord Bia’s Origin Green quality assurance. Jim Woulfe added that he has sympathy for cereal growers as both last year and this year have been tough periods regarding grain prices. Minister Creed stated that the Government are acutely aware of the scale of whats at stake concerning Irish agriculture and Brexit.

Joe Healy closed the conference with “words are just words, delivery is what counts”. Speaking to farmers after the event they left happy in the knowledge that the Commissioner, Minister Creed and the IFA were all working towards ensuring the best for Irish agriculture and the farmers.