SDLP Agriculture Spokesperson Patsy McGlone MLA has led a delegation to meet with the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to discuss the challenges facing the Agri-food sector in the mouth of Brexit. The delegation included MLAs John Dallat and Mark H Durkan.
The MLA for Mid-Ulster commented, “As has been well evidenced, agriculture and the agri-food sector could be worst affected by Brexit. Food standards, environmental issues and climate change require the utmost attention as Brexit hurtles down the tracks. The industry as a whole requires much more support and preparation and we were glad to hear that some initial work has taken place with Invest NI. However, when we see the government south of the border running multiple Brexit-awareness roadshows for business, the North really needs to get its act together – a situation not helped by having no Ministers and local Executive of course.
“In today’s meeting, we made very clear that cross border co-operation between DAERA and the Department for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the Republic must continue given the all-island nature of the sector. Indeed just last month the SDLP, with NIAPA and the Ulster Farmers’ Union, arranged a meeting with Minister Michael Creed TD, which we found helpful, and necessary, given the all-island nature of the agri-food industry in Ireland where food crosses the border, often a number of times, to be processed and transported to other markets. DAERA advised us of their ongoing collaboration at senior civil service level with their southern counterparts.
“We reiterated our concern about workforce shortages, including low-skilled workers and professionals, in particular those in the veterinary profession, which make up a large percentage of the Agri-food labour force in the North. We pressed the importance that this gap post-Brexit must be plugged to ensure the sector can keep up with demand. The Department advised us that they were recruiting more vets, had indeed made representation to Westminster that vets should be on the Shortage Occupation List to ensure capacity to deliver ongoing standards in animal health, welfare, food safety and standards and conduct export certification.
“We discussed in further detail issues around food security and supply chain and practical arrangements on transport, ports, tariffs etc. and that DAERA has been making the Westminster Department, DEFRA, fully aware of the unique circumstances we face socially and economically in the North, where day and daily people do busy and work unimpeded, on both sides of the existing border. Anything which hinders that movement of goods, people and services, can only but be bad for our local economy and society as a whole.
“My colleague Mark H Durkan highlighted the need for climate change legislation given the IPCC latest alarming report on global warming. Regrettably, despite being a devolved matter, no legislation can be introduced without a Minister in place and although the EU is renowned for being a champion of sustainability and environmental issues, in the mouth of Brexit without EU incentives, our local situation may set to get worse.
“In response to a query from John Dallat, we were also informed that Michael Gove – the Westminster Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is currently consulting on proposals to establish an Environment “watchdog” Agency. Minister Gove has allowed the option for devolved regions to join with that Agency, if they wish. However, that too, as regards a Northern Ireland Executive, will be inevitably placed on the long finger until we can have a local Minister!
“The SDLP will continue to engage with Departments North and South and to ensure that standards – food, economic, environmental and social -are protected from the worst excesses of Brexit.”
Note to Editors: Photo (from L to R): John Dallat MLA, Patsy McGlone MLA, Dr. Denis McMahon DAERA Permanent Secretary and Mark H. Durkan MLA.