Ulster Unionist European Parliament candidate Danny Kennedy has said the announcement that a €100m Brexit compensation fund has been established for beef farmers in the Irish Republic has come as a bitter blow for local producers in Northern Ireland who are still facing total uncertainty.
Danny Kennedy said: “I think it is hugely significant this week a €50m support package for Irish beef farmers was secured from the European Commission.
“I am told that as part of the terms of the deal the Irish Government will also match this with a further €50m of their own State funding.
“The purpose of the fund is supposedly to compensate the Irish beef sector which has seen prices fall, impacted partly by the uncertainty of Brexit. Beef finishers could be in line to receive around €100 per animal if the full level of compensation is to be paid.
“Whilst far be it for me to pass judgement on what the Government in the Republic are doing to support their farmers, I think this is the clearest example yet of how beef producers on our side of the border are being totally failed by the current Brexit negotiations.
“Even before Brexit beef had been under pressure for some time and even though in the Irish Republic the overall outlook of their beef herd has received huge focus, the reality is that suck cow numbers across Northern Ireland are back to their 1988 levels. There was a 5% drop in the number of cows here last year alone.
“Suckler cows and beef cattle are a hugely important component of the Northern Ireland agricultural sector, but there does need to be an urgent recognition at the political level that it, along with the local sheep industry, is facing a potentially seminal moment.
“I do believe that Brexit can deliver a number of benefits for our farmers, but the simple truth is that if we either leave the EU with a bad deal or a crash-out deal, then they will ultimately be among those who suffer the most.
“There is simply no doubt that a no-deal Brexit, where the UK would be forced to revert to WTO rules, would have catastrophic consequences on the Northern Ireland red meat sector.
“In a previous report commissioned by our own LMC it was revealed that reverting to a WTO open-door trade policy would seriously threaten the viability of beef and sheep farming across Northern Ireland. Those two sectors alone would stand to lose a shocking estimated £230 million a year,” he said.
“That’s the difference between many thousands of farms surviving or not.
“Our agri-food industry simply cannot afford to crash out of the EU, and those politicians claiming otherwise, urgently need to look at the facts and listen to industry leaders. Instead of peddling utter fantasy, they should be looking around them to see what other countries – such as the Irish Republic with their new €100m fund - are doing to support their farmers’.”