Craft Council to seek special protection for Irish industries
Connemara marble and Donegal tweed could be eligible for special status as EU considers expanding scheme
The Design and Craft Council of Ireland (DCCoI) is working on plans to secure special EU protection for a number of Irish crafts.
The organisation has identified three uniquely Irish crafts which it believes should qualify for Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.
It is a form of official EU protection available to qualifying EU agricultural products but the European Commission is considering expanding it to other industries.
The Waterford blaa is among the Irish goods to have already achieved that status, while, in Europe, Parmesan cheese is among the best-known protected products.
DCCoI is working with Irish producers to prepare a detailed feasibility study examining the business opportunity for Donegal tweed and Connemara marble so that the Irish submissions can be in the first group for consideration by the EU should the PGI system be expanded. Aran knitwear is another craft which the body may seek the status at a later date.
DCCoI chief executive Karen Hennessy said: "The European Commission has been looking at this space, and looking to introduce it beyond agricultural products.
"We've become interested in seeing how this could impact on some of our clients," she told the Sunday Independent.
"What has happened for agricultural products is where they have got the PGI status, it has facilitated fairer competition and consumers have been better informed. It has combated counterfeiting and has promoted quality products."
Typically businesses which qualify for PGIs are in regional areas. "It has delivered tangible benefits for producers and consumers and that's around the local infrastructure and local employment," she added.
Almost four in five (79pc) of craft businesses are based outside Dublin and the council is hopeful PGI status would boost demand and employment in the regions.
"This is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on what is happening in the regions but also a protection of those heritage or traditional skills sets that are in the regions."
Ms Hennessy said the plan is in its early stages and would need to be pushed on at Government level, which would submit proposals to the European Commission.
However, the DCCoI has already had some engagement on the issue at European Commission level. It is working with marketing and business consultant Muiris Kennedy, who is a specialist in the area of PGI. He previously worked on securing protection for blaa bread rolls from Waterford.
"We see the potential for our clients but it is going to have to be government-led and we are acting as a catalyst," she said.
It will also require a number of producers to come together to push for the plan. "The EU will require a collective approach," said Hennessy.
The DCCoI has discussed the matter with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Employment, under whose remit it falls, and it is supportive of the initiative. "But we have to do a bit of work at this stage to make it happen," she added.
PGI is not a trademark owned by one company and carries no costs for the producers who gain its protection.
The European Commission has published a Green Paper on the possible extension of geographical indication protection for non-food products. Irish craft businesses will attend trade fair Showcase next month. Buying teams from more than 2,580 retailers from across the world, including Ireland, the UK, USA, mainland Europe and the Far East will attend the expo.
The event generates sales orders of more than €20m during four days. It runs in the RDS, Dublin, from Sunday, January 20, to Wednesday, January 23, and is for trade buyers only.