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Pain in the Head

NI Protocol debacle can't be allowed to become 'huge headache' for farmers - Coveney

The minister discussed the issue at the Ploughing Championships, where 90,000 people descended on Co Laois today.

BREXIT AND THE tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol must not be let become a “huge headache” for the farming sector, Minister Simon Coveney has said.

The uncertainty of the future of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which means goods moving between the UK and Northern Ireland are checked at ports and can then move freely between the North and Republic, is among issues that farmers have discussed today at the National Ploughing Championships.

More than 90,000 people attended the first day of the event today, which has returned to Co Laois in full for the first time since before the pandemic.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the Championships this afternoon, Coveney described the “huge disruption around Brexit and the decision by our closest neighbours to leave the European Union”.

“We had the pandemic, which was tragic and really difficult to deal with, and now we have war on the continent of Europe… through each of these crises agriculture has got stronger,” the minister said.

He said that “agriculture has more than survived the pressures of Brexit so far, maintaining a strong market share in the UK”, but that “we have work to do to make sure that the aftermath of Brexit doesn’t become a huge headache and problem for the agri-food sector in the years ahead”.

“What I mean by that is we cannot allow Northern Ireland, in the context of the protections of the Northern Ireland Protocol, to become vulnerable again by the collapse of that Protocol.”

Under the terms of the Protocol, which were devised between the UK and EU as part of their Brexit deal, goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are inspected at Northern Ireland ports and can then be moved around the island, rather than being checked between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Before the summer, the UK parliament was pushing through a piece of legislation, led by now-Prime Minister Liz Truss, that would override parts of the Protocol to scrap customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Coveney said today that it “may seem like a sort of an abstract political issue that’s out there and doesn’t impact on farm businesses – trust me, it does”.

If the Protocol doesn’t work, well, in Northern Ireland’s place in the EU single market becomes challenging, and, and are all Ireland food industry in terms of how it functions, not just the dairy side, but also how we buy and sell cattle and so on how we buy and sell sheep, and poultry and pig products and so on, becomes a much more difficult issue to manage.

“These are the kinds of political things that the government needs to deliver far agriculture and the agri food sector,” the minister said.

Speaking to The Journal, Labour leader TD Ivana Bacik said the “main thing is to bring the UK and EU together around the negotiation table in good faith”.

“Unilateral actions like the British action in bringing forward legislation to amend the protocol, that was really unhelpful,” Bacik said.

I just hope the new prime minister, now the period of mourning is finished, once we’re through that, that she’ll bring a more conciliatory approach to bear, because I think the EU has put forward ways and means to reduce the red tape around checking of agricultural exports.

“But we need to see good faith negotiation from the British,” Bacik said.

Similarly, EU Commissioner Mairead McGuiness said there is “an opportunity now that the UK are coming out of their period of mourning for Queen Elizabeth the Second” and following the election of the new British prime minister.

Speaking to Newstalk FM at the Championships, McGuiness said: “I think the British prime minister and ourselves as the European Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen, we’re on the same side.”

“We’re focusing on energy, on inflation, on interest rates. We’re working together against Russia, we’ve put sanctions in place. We need to resolve the Protocol issue,” she said.

“I think now maybe an opportune moment where given all of this change and all of the challenges we might find that space politically to solve the problems.

“When I’m here today, I’m hearing voices from north, south, east and west And I suppose for agriculture in particular, agriculture is an all-Ireland activity,” McGuiness said.

“The farmers in Northern Ireland are very happy to have access to the European single market, even though the United Kingdom has voted to leave. We have to find a way to deal with those issues that are causing problems in some communities.

“I do think where there’s a will, there is a way.”

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