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Snippet Contents:

As the UK and Ireland often found themselves on the same side in debates on critical decisions, a valuable ally will be lost in terms of future arguments. As my colleagues have mentioned, huge issues arise for this country with regard to the North and the South, the common travel area, the absence of customs and trade barriers and, of course, the Good Friday Agreement. From the agricultural perspective there are issues relating to bio-security and veterinary check and inspections, which are very important. All of these issues will require sustained argument and planning to achieve our objectives, which should be clearly spelt out.
What will happen following Brexit will remain a matter of conjecture and speculation. We are in a vacuum until the trigger is pulled next March. After that, I foresee a further period that will create grave uncertainty. We know how important trade is to our economy at all levels. That must be the focus of significant attention, and I acknowledge that the Taoiseach has set up interdepartmental groups to work on that. More than €1 billion worth of goods and services are traded between Ireland and the UK every week and 40% of our exported goods arrive into the UK market. Our food, drinks and agriculture industries are highly dependent on the maintenance of this trade in a free flowing fashion. The imposition of trade tariffs would have a disastrous and negative impact.
With regard to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and I am the Labour Party spokesperson on agriculture, the UK makes an €11 billion contribution to the EU budget. That is significant. The loss of this funding will have a significant impact on our CAP benefits, which will become the subject of renegotiation in 2019. We receive €1.2 billion in single farm payments, so that is another area that undoubtedly will be the focus of attention at the relevant time. There are a number of mushroom producers in my constituency. That industry sustained significant losses immediately. Three major mushroom producers have gone to the wall and two more are in the departure lounge, as it were, due to that impact. I was disappointed that some emergency measures were not brought forward in the budget. I believe that if the mushroom industry is assisted now in a short-term manner, it will be in a position to survive and continue. There were over 600 mushroom producers in the country ten to 12 years ago, now there are just over 60. The number has declined, although they have increased in scale. The industry involves high volume production but very little profit, and the currency situation has impacted it significantly in a negative way.
I cannot understand why we have not done what was done five or six years ago, whereby the PRSI rate for people in the industry could have been reduced from 8.5% to 4.25%. That would have had a significant impact. I implore the Taoiseach to ensure that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, examines this as a temporary arrangement to ensure the survival of the mushroom industry. A total of 85% of its exports go to the UK, so it will be significantly affected over the next couple of years. We must help it now. It is no use crying crocodile tears when it collapses.