Thursday, 11 April 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I thank Deputy Harty for those questions. I would have liked a much longer time to reply because I have a lot of personal interest in this area given that I am a former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and a farmer.
We know that Ireland is more exposed and more vulnerable to a no-deal Brexit or the wrong outcome from Brexit. Ireland exports more than €1 billion worth of beef to the UK and dairy products worth more than €1 billion. We also import food and drink worth billions of euro from the UK. Should this trade be subject to tariffs in the future, or to other non-tariff trade barriers, it would be very damaging to the Irish agricultural and food industry and to Irish farming. We are conscious of this and we have been for many months. Hardly a Cabinet meeting passes without the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, raising these issues and the challenges that emerge from them.
I want to reassure farm families. There are 130,000 farm families in Ireland, nearly 100,000 of whom get some farm income from beef and 70,000 of whom get all of their farming income from beef. I want to reassure them that if Ireland faces a no-deal Brexit - which looks less likely today than it did last week - we will be ready to support Irish farm families and the food industry through what will be a very difficult period of change and disruption. We are working with the European Commission and Commissioner Hogan has been very strong on this also. There will be a significant support package to help farmers through the disruption of a no-deal Brexit, which would be considerable for Irish agriculture.
On the issue of CAP, I was involved in trying to finalise the Common Agricultural Policy the last time around. There is a really competitive environment for EU funds now. With the UK likely to leave the European Union and in the medium term no longer contributing to EU budgets, and with increasing demand for more money in EU budgets at the same time, especially in respect of security, external relations, climate and the promotion of technology and research, we have seen some pressure on the CAP budget and on other regional budgets. The Government has made it very clear that it is a priority for us in the new multi-annual financial framework, MFF, to protect the CAP budget. We have said that we will contribute more to EU budgets as long as the CAP budget is protected. We have developed a strong alliance - and the Minister, Deputy Creed, has worked very hard on this - across the European Union to protect the CAP budget. A significant number of countries are now part of that coalition to do this. As the debates continue on the MFF I can assure the House that the CAP budget will be a big priority for us.
The third issue raised by Deputy Harty was on climate. The agriculture and food industry has a responsibility to ensure we respond to the emissions challenge facing the sector, as faced by other sectors also. We need to do that in a way that continues to protect farm incomes and to protect the agriculture and food industry as part of the broader economy. This is what we will continue to do, as the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton and the Minister, Deputy Creed, work together from a climate change perspective, as well as an agricultural perspective.