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Thursday 21 February 2019

Brexit is the political challenge of our time and Ireland needs to hold its nerve - Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was guest of honour at the IFA Annual General Meeting. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was guest of honour at the IFA Annual General Meeting. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Michelle Devane

Brexit is the great political challenge of our time and Ireland needs to hold its nerve, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar added he was determined to secure a Brexit deal that protects the interests of farmers as major exporters and importers to and from the UK.

Mr Varadkar made the comments during a speech in Dublin at the Irish Farmers' Association's annual meeting.

He told those gathered at the 64th AGM dinner that the words of poet Maya Angelou summed up Brexit perfectly.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pictured alongside IFA President Joe Healy at their headquarters. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pictured alongside IFA President Joe Healy at their headquarters. Photo: Steve Humphreys

"While hoping for the best, we must be 'prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between'," he said.

"I cannot offer you the reassurance provided by certainty but I can reassure you that until things are certain we will keep fighting your corner."

Mr Varadkar said 2018 was a strong year for the agri-food sector despite all the challenges farmers faced.

The value of agri-food exports exceeded €13.6 billion, about 11 per cent of all of Ireland's exports.

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He said it was his duty to represent the interests of farmers in the face of Brexit.

"We're very much in this one together and I want you all to know that the Government has your back," he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is greeted by IFA President Joe Healy and Director General Damian McDonald Pic Steve Humphreys
29th January 2019
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is greeted by IFA President Joe Healy and Director General Damian McDonald Pic Steve Humphreys 29th January 2019

"In our actions, in our negotiations, we have kept our word and will continue to do so."

He added: "I know at the moment there is a huge focus on the border at present but I want you to know that every time I enter talks or negotiations on Brexit ... when it comes to Brexit, farmers, fishermen and businessmen and businesswomen and exporters are always at the front of my mind and the need to protect the jobs, wealth and revenues you create, to defend the communities you serve."

Mr Varadkar said the government's objective was to maintain a trading relationship between Ireland and Britain that would mean "no tariffs, no quotas and no new red tape, and also of course avoid the reintroduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland".

He added one of the Government's priorities was to protect the Common Agriculture Policy budget for the period 2021-2027, especially payments to farmers.

The Taoiseach said the Government has alerted the European Commission of its intention to seek emergency aid in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU.

He said the purpose of the aid was to enable Ireland to cope with the impact on its trade, particularly what he described as the exposed beef, dairy and fishing sectors.

Addressing his recent remarks he was cutting down on eating meat, Mr Varadkar said he believed politicians needed to be careful about what they say.

He said one of the most controversial things the late US president George Bush Senior said during his presidency was that he hated broccoli and banned from the White House.

It resulted in farmers sending Mr Bush a 20-tonne shipment of the vegetable.

"I guess the lesson there is that politicians have to be careful about what they eat, careful about what they say and particularly careful about what they say they eat," he said.

He added people were aware of the impact of diets on health and the environment, and discussions about the matter were happening in homes across the country.

He said agriculture accounts for about a third of all of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions and that the agriculture sector had an important role to play in helping reduce the country's carbon emissions.

Press Association





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