Government delays unveiling aid package for farmers facing turmoil


Dublin talks: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar greets European Council Donald Tusk. Photo: Getty
Dublin talks: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar greets European Council Donald Tusk. Photo: Getty

Philip Ryan and Ciaran Moran

THE Government is delaying plans to unveil a package of emergency financial supports for farmers and small business owners who will be severely affected in the event of a disorderly Brexit.

The measures were aimed at providing much-needed relief for farming communities, especially the beef industry - which faces being wiped out if the UK crashes out of the EU.

However, the Cabinet is now putting off plans to announce the vital emergency aid package in the wake of on-going Brexit chaos in the British parliament.

It is understood the package of financial measures has been drafted, but yesterday it was decided they should not be discussed by ministers at Cabinet this afternoon, as originally planned. A senior source said the Government wants to see the "severity" of the Brexit the country is facing before publishing the supports.

"We want to see how things play out in the coming days before we decide how much funding might be need for the supports," the source said.

The change of strategy follows on-going confusion within Westminster over support of Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal agreement.

However, the delay in unveiling the State's financial aid is likely to cause concern among the farming industry.

During his state visit to the US, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that the Cabinet would today sign-off on crucial 'no-deal' Brexit supports for the sectors facing financial turmoil.

"On Wednesday at the Cabinet meeting, we will be in a position to sign off on a package of support for business, for farmers, for the agri-food sector, for exporters, for anyone who may be adversely affected by a no-deal Brexit," Mr Varadkar had said.

"The package of supports that we will put in place for hundreds of millions of euro and will support and protect incomes and jobs in those most exposed sectors, particularly in the agri-food sector and will also help other businesses and other exporters to be orientated away from the UK markets to other markets," he added.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney also told the Cabinet he would provide them with details of the no-deal Brexit plans for farmers facing financial ruin.

€500m aid package

Ireland is in line for a major share of a €500m package in EU farm supports if a no-deal Brexit happens, EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has said.

The sign off will come following a stark warning from the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed when he signalled to his fellow EU agriculture Ministers that if Irish beef, in particular, loses its competitive position in the United Kingdom market, it could be dumped on the EU market.

However, Commissioner Hogan said that 'regrettably' the EU a lot of experience in agriculture of dealing with a market disturbance.

"We have experience from foot and mouth disease and the BSE outbreak. We have been preparing for the consequences of a no-deal Brexit,"he said in Brussels on Monday.

“We are prepared for all scenarios – but we cannot show our hand until we know the outcome of the negotiations,”  Mr Hogan told the Farming Independent.

But he again urged Irish farmers not to panic as he believes – even in a no-deal scenario – demand for premium Irish products like beef and cheese in the UK will remain steady.  

“We have had assurances from the UK that they will maintain EU food standards as a minimum. The British shopper is a discerning individual and they will not suddenly abandon quality Irish produce because of price increases due to tariffs,” the Commissioner said.

The Agriculture Commissioner said the EU has a five-point support plan for the farming sector in the event of a no-deal Brexit. 

This includes intervention buying, aids to private storage, a relaxation of state aid rules to support farms, mobilising low-interest loans from the European Investment Bank, and additional promotions in emerging markets.

Mr Hogan said the global figure for market supports is €500m but there will be an emphasis on keeping product moving rather than a return to the bad old days of large intervention stockpiles. He said expanding markets in China, Japan and Mexico are among the possibilities here.

Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed told a meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers on Monday that an outcome which results in a disorderly Brexit, will have a profoundly negative effect on both the Irish and the UK economies. 

"The Irish agri food sector will be uniquely affected, with beef particularly exposed. The impact is likely to be immediate, and without support, at least in the short term, many of our beef farmers will struggle to survive.

"If Irish beef loses its competitive position in the United Kingdom market, there will inevitably be knock on consequences, with significant displacement to elsewhere in the European Union," he warned.

He said the full suite of measures under the Common Market Organisation Regulation will be required, including the more traditional market support measures, and the exceptional measures provided for under the 2013 reform, in order to provide a targeted measure to provide vital liquidity on family farms facing an unprecedented challenge.

Irish Independent