Irish beef farmers may feel the brunt of Brexit despite deal - government warns
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Irish beef farmers may feel the brunt of Brexit despite deal - government warns

THE government is considering exceptional aid packages for beef farmers to mitigate the harm caused by Brexit, in spite of the deal, sources say.

While beef prices have remained stable over the past few months, ministers are still concerned about the potential for disruption caused by non-tariff barriers, which are expected to hit beef farmers particularly hard.

The case for intervention is tied to the price of beef: as long as it remains strong, the government won't be in a rush to intervene.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue erred on the side of caution in a statement, saying that while the resilience of the price was "heartening", the government will continue to monitor developments closely.

Research from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine suggests that the non-tariff barriers could result in the sectors buyers demanding a lower price, and farms absorbing a substantial loss to their income as a result.

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In spite of the agreement reached between Brussels and Westminster late last December, the loss to Irish beef farmers could be as high as 13%.

"The Government has been very clear from the outset that agri-food and fisheries will be the most impacted sectors, including in a deal scenario,"Mr McConalogue commented.

"We are committed to working with the agri-food sector to support it to meet the challenge of Brexit."

Additional funding for local food supply chains and rural development initiatives, as well as financial aid for the tillage and horticultural sectors, are among the measures under consideration to limit the economic fallout. 

Calls by the food processing industry for an export credit insurance scheme remain unlikely, however, due to the complications associated with the scheme.

A €100 million investment package has been allocated to modernise the food processing industry and ease post-Brexit diversification.

Funds are also being set aside for the fisheries sector, which could be left worse off than farmers after Britain establishes its new maritime borders.

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The finalisation of Brexit negotiations "does involve the loss of quota and between now and 2026 and we're very much aware that is something that will have a real impact on the fisheries sector", McConalogue added.

It is thought that around 15 percent of the Irish fisheries quota will be made unavailable over the next four years.

As with farming, diversification measures aided by government support schemes are being discussed: these include seafood processors, the redevelopment of small harbours and piers, marine tourism, as well as "adding value to the fish catch itself", Mr McConalogue said.