ICMSA president John Comer with Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in the House of Commons.

Mayo farmer addresses Westminster Brexit meeting

A MAYO farmer has told a House of Commons meeting about the 'centuries-old' relationship between Irish food producers and their British customers.

IMCSA president John Comer, from Ballyvary, Castlebar, told the meeting in Westminster that Ireland cannot allow a post-Brexit situation that does irreparable damage to that relationship.

Mr. Comer was part of a delegation of farm organisations from both jurisdictions of Ireland that met MPs in the House of Commons to attempt to get across to the UK parliamentarians the full extent and value of the food trade in both directions and the overwhelming need to safeguard it as the Brexit process begins with the widely expected triggering of Article 50 next month.

Mr. Comer said his organisation wanted to emphasise the facts around the trade from Ireland to the UK and the very long and mutually beneficial nature of our food and agri-exports.

From Ireland’s point of view, Mr. Comer said the statistics were enormous, with over 41% of our total food and drink exports going to the UK - a figure that he estimated at around €4.4 billion.

He noted that Ireland is the second largest suppliers of food to the UK and that in addition to the 52% of our total beef production that goes to the UK market, we also exported some 65,000 head of cattle to Northern Ireland and Britain in 2015. Some 10,000 pigs are exported from the Republic to Northern Ireland each week.

Mr. Comer also stressed that Ireland also imported €3 billion worth of food from the UK and that British exporters would also struggle to find as dependable and steady a market as we had proved to be.

He described the number and complexity of the issues involved as ‘dizzying’ and identified transit across the UK to mainland Europe, all Ireland animal health, cross-border farm holdings, cross-border co-op processing, currency fluctuation and – most important of all – the possibility of tariffs or quotas as just some of the more prominent challenges that we’ll face.

He repeated his conviction that while Ireland must categorically stay within the EU camp in terms of negotiations, it was nothing less than a vital national interest that our centuries old food trade with Britain was preserved as closely to present arrangements as was possible and the Irish government must make it abundantly clear to both the Commission and other member states that we cannot accept a situation whereby any wish to ‘punish’ the UK for Brexit translated into a new deal that damaged the very close relationships that existed between Irish food production and their British customers.