Theopinion poll shows more than half of farmers want a Brexit minister and a similar percentage do not believe the Government is doing enough to prepare for the UK’s exit from the EU.
A quarter of respondents believe Brexit has already impacted on agriculture here and two-thirds believe Brexit will have an effect on farming in the future.
However, despite a majority wondering what will happen next, the 25% that feel Brexit has affected farming in Ireland already contrasts with the 33% of respondents who thought the same in last year’s poll, possibly reflecting a changing view on how the UK is dealing with its break-up from the EU.
ICMSA president John Comer said: “The farmer support for a specific Brexit minister can be interpreted as a sign that farmers want this handled not as part of a portfolio like foreign affairs, but as a stand-alone issue that requires — and gets — a full ministerial focus. We have too much at stake and generations of Irish farmers and agri-sector employees have worked too hard to have €4.5bn worth of exports to our traditional British markets jeopardised by our not giving this issue the absolute focus it will require.”
He added that this was not a commentary on Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, but rather that the appointment of a Brexit minister would send a signal as to how seriously the government was treating the issue.
Kevin Hanrahan, Teagasc economist, said: “Some commentators and members of the public believe that a soft Brexit is more likely now. I wouldn’t be so sanguine. There is still a chance that the process could end in a no deal between the EU and UK equals a very hard Brexit.
“This would have negative ramifications for almost all elements of the Irish agricultural [and non-agricultural] economy.
“The general economy is doing very well and rural areas are benefiting from this and farm families with off-farm sources of income are generally speaking benefiting from this dynamic.
“If Brexit goes badly and economic growth slows as a result, farm families, like non-farm families, will be negatively affected.”
Mr Comer said the poll findings demonstrated “the very real anxieties felt within farming about where this issue is going to go and the influence that Ireland, as opposed to the broader member states, can have”.
He said the ICMSA had repeatedly called for Ireland to state that the preservation of food trade with the UK was a national strategic objective and its preservation on a continued tariff-free basis was non-negotiable.
“All parties have to understand that that is what Ireland has enjoyed, and earned, and that is what we intend keeping,” he said. “That has to be not the maximum we aim for but the minimum we will accept.”