The Brexit threat to Cheddar cheese
'Nobody else eats Cheddar. It can't be diverted off to France' - Aidan O'Driscoll
Brexit poses a particular challenge to Ireland's Cheddar makers who sell most of their cheese to the UK as "nobody else" eats it, TDs have been told.
Agriculture Department secretary general Aidan O'Driscoll told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the dairy sector is less exposed to the risk of Brexit than other areas, however, an exception is the Cheddar industry.
He said 60pc of Irish Cheddar exports currently go to the UK.
"Nobody else eats Cheddar. It can't be diverted off to France," he said.
Mr O'Driscoll was responding to Fianna Fáil TD Bobby Aylward who asked about the Department's contingency planning for Brexit.
The Agriculture Department's top official said he views Brexit as the most important negotiations since the talks prior to Ireland joining the then-European Economic Community in the early 1970s.
He said that 40pc of Irish agrifood exports go to the UK. Half of Irish beef exports go there, which Mr O'Driscoll said was particularly important as the UK beef market is the highest priced in the world.
He also said the mushroom industry is very exposed by the threat of Brexit.
In terms of the Department's preparations, Mr O'Driscoll said that the day Minister Michael Creed was appointed - more than a month before the Brexit vote - he was provided with briefing materials which included an extensive section on planning for the prospect of Britain leaving the EU.
Mr O'Driscoll said his Department has been since engaged in "intensive" rounds of discussion with the European Commmission.
He said Ireland is seeking to maintain "unfettered access" to the UK market "whatever happens".
Mr Aylward said he was glad to hear that the Department is taking the threat of Brexit so seriously.