Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Monday, 14 June 2021

Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union

Impact of Brexit on the Food and Drink Industry: Discussion

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the three guests. Today's session has been extremely enlightening and will obviously have an impact on our report and it portrays and deals with a very grave aspect of Brexit. We all agree with Senator Ó Donnghaile's initial piece that Brexit is one of the great tragedies of our time. I must say, to use that awful cliché, we are where we are and must try to cope.

I am anxious to illustrate where this matter could have real impact. I live in the town of Bailieborough in County Cavan. One of the best employers in the town is Lakeland Dairies. It is a very large employer in the town and it is quality employment on which many kids' education and mortgages depend. The entire commercial life of that town and the wider community depends on the co-op. Somewhere between 46% and 50% of the milk used by the co-op comes from across the Border. Lakeland Dairies manufactures the various powders and Emmet's Cream, etc., so the rules of origin issue would apply there. Lakeland Dairies is a stark example and the Town of Monaghan Co-operative Society is another stark example. I presume that there is potential for Glanbia, which is a major plant in Virginia, County Cavan, to be impacted. Food processing is the major employer in the region and provides quality jobs. I say all that to illustrate the potential for serious impact. I know it is very difficult for the witnesses to analyse. We do not contemplate failure. How can co-operative societies continue their business assuming that we do not succeed? I reiterate that we are not working on the premise that we will not succeed.

Obviously there should be changes in rules of origin at EU level. I support and hope that when we reach the report stage we incorporate that aspect. I would like to think that we would have the committees under the EU-UKTrade and Cooperation Agreement, TCA. They should be up and running and active.

As I listened to Dr. Mike Johnston from the Dairy Council Northern Ireland it struck me very forcibly that people like him should be very directly influencing and advising the political leaders in Northern Ireland in their approach to the protocol. It appears from this vantage point that the political leadership in the North is out of step with the sectoral interests, trade organisations and the Dairy Council Northern Ireland. I ask Dr. Johnston to comment on what can be done to rectify the situation. Obviously we have a role at all intergovernmental levels but I would like to hear his view and get the stark reality for real people in real income and living situations. It would be good to get all of that on to the agenda, remove emotional politics from the debate on the protocol and reduce the debate to clinical hard facts and learn what it would mean to the lives of real people. I ask him to comment on how we could go about achieving that.

If I understood correctly, the veterinary agreement is not relevant to today's discursion. I believe that the veterinary agreement would be a huge factor in resolving the entire issues with Brexit and agricultural exports, but more predictably to the UK in that instance.

The issues that have been raised here today are very real and I know how real they are for our area, etc. Insofar as the witnesses can direct us further, what specific actions can we take? Where do we come in not only in terms of our report but within our respective political parties and within the Parliament? How can we bring about a situation where the TCA committees commence, get the protocol properly negotiated in practical terms and where the rules of origin at EU level are changed? I was disappointed to hear that it is almost an article of faith, if I understood what was said earlier, and that they are not moveable on it. How immovable are they and can we do anything about it?

The community that I come from in Cavan-Monaghan would be very disappointed if I did not make the point that real lives and everything, including incomes, futures of families, mortgages and education is contingent on this in the community. This is not an abstract, academic discussion for the people in the my community and I thank the Chairman for giving me an opportunity to speak.


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