Farmers north and south being kept in dark, Oireachtas committee told

Brexit presents a very serious threat to farming across Ireland, a special Oireachtas committee was told yesterday
Aoife Moore

FARMERS from both sides of the Irish border say they are being kept in the dark about agri-trade post-Brexit, a committee has heard.

Victor Chesnutt, from the Ulster Farmers Union, speaking to an Oireachtas committee on Britain's exit from the EU, said it was essential that free-flowing cross-border trade is protected.

"The industry is completely integrated, so it goes without saying to rip this apart makes no sense at all," he told the committee.

"We have a deal on the table but we need clarity, for instance Northern Ireland produce processed in the south, can it go out in EU trade deals to the rest of the world?

"Because if it can't, companies in the south might not want it, they need to be able to access those trade deals.

"We're getting conflicting clarification from producers and the government, we're waiting for clarification on that and the same the other way.

"On qualifying goods, pigs going to Cookstown to be slaughtered from Republic of Ireland, and processed into UK market, is that a qualifying good?

"These are the things we need the answers to."

Mr Chesnutt added that the dangers to agriculture are not limited to the border counties.

"This is not just a border community issue, this is the whole island of Ireland, we are completely integrated, as far as the north is concerned, for the prosperity of agriculture, we need to do something sensible to get this worked out."

Mr Chesnutt added that his group, which represents farmers in Northern Ireland, and had backed Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement, said the situation had "gotten very political from the start".

"We did get some quite nasty criticism but we stand by the decision," he said.

"We moved on from there, now we have a new deal on the table, some say we've the best of both worlds in this deal, but we're not so sure of that, that's something we need clarification on."

All representatives speaking to the committee were clear that the sector has already begun to see the effects of Brexit.

"Brexit presents the most serious threat to Irish farming and our agri-food sector in the history of the state," Joe Healy, the president of the Irish Farmers Union, said yesterday.

"With €4.5 billion of our food and drinks exports going to the UK, no other member state and no other sector is as exposed in these negotiations.

"The UK is the market for 50 per cent or 290,000 tonnes of Irish beef exports.

"For the beef sector, the threat from Brexit is frightening.

"The reality is, even before Brexit, massive damage is already being done to Irish agriculture.

"In the past year alone, Brexit uncertainty and the devaluation of sterling have had a very negative impact on Irish agriculture, with losses in the beef sector alone at €200 million up to the end of September 2019."

The committee also heard that farmers had lost confidence in the industry, and that a major concern is a fall in funding for CAP payments after Britain leaves the EU.

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