Ministers fly to Britain as fears grow over Brexit
Irish 'ground war' in the UK as our farmers set to lose €800m a year
Irish ministers will fly to the UK to campaign on the ground against Britain leaving the European Union, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
The unprecedented move comes as fears grow over Irish farmers losing out on a massive €800m-a-year in beef and dairy exports if Britain votes in favour of leaving the EU.
Acting foreign affairs ministers Charlie Flanagan said he will target Irish communities in Liverpool, Manchester and the north-east as part of the Government's campaign to keep Britain in the union.
However, Mr Flanagan insisted he will not tell people living in the UK how to vote but rather inform voters of the "serious risks" involved in Brexit.
"I'm not telling people how to vote," he told the Sunday Independent. "The Irish Government is providing information and making it clear that our position is that it is in the best interest of British-Irish relations, for a number of reasons, that the UK would remain," he added.
The Government has yet to decide which ministers will join Mr Flanagan in the UK. But he has already held meetings in London with business groups and British-Irish organisations seeking to stay in the EU.
The minister, a Laois-Offaly TD, said the risks associated with Brexit for the North are particularly worrying and insisted there is a real possibility border controls would have to be introduced on the island.
"A vote by the people of the UK to leave the EU will undoubtedly destabilise a number of factors including many in relation to Northern Ireland," he said. "As far as the Border is concerned, these are issues that would have to be considered in the context of the entire EU and not just exclusively between the UK and Ireland," he added.
Mr Flanagan's comments clash with those of Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, who said borders will not be affected by a Brexit, for which she is campaigning.
Meanwhile, a new report produced by economists from Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority in Ireland, found Brexit could mean a reduction in the value of Irish agri-food exports of anything from €150m to €800m per year.
The Irish Farmers Association national chairman, Jer Bergin, said the UK is the number one export destination with more than 50pc of Irish beef and dairy products going to the British market.
"Impact on our trade with the UK is clearly a huge problem," he said,
"If they exit, issues like tariffs on food imports, border controls, additional costs, a free trade policy in the UK and the impact on sterling come into play. It will be a significant hit," he added.
The Teagasc report suggests that, if voters decide to exit, the UK would have greater scope to adapt its agricultural policy to its own requirements.
There is also a possibility that if Brexit occurs, the UK may eliminate import tariffs, allowing more beef, dairy and lamb imports from South America and New Zealand to enter the UK market at much lower prices.
The report's author, Dr Kevin Hanrahan, said greater competition would be "bad news for Irish farmers".