As of today, we have 36 days to go before the Brexit deadline. As if that was not enough worry for many of our farming and rural communities, this morning they woke up to a story on the front page of the Irish Independent suggesting that rural communities and the beef sector in particular, will become the latest pawn in this Brexit debacle. The Irish Independent has reported that the British Government is suggesting the introduction of a range of what it terms are tariff rate quotas to allow produce into the UK without tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The suggestion being picked up from a speech made by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, is that those tariff rate quotas will be particularly attractive to countries like Brazil, with which we are in intense competition in the British market. While we all know and accept there is no comparison between the quality of our beef and beef from countries such as Brazil, that will not make any difference on the supermarket shelves of Britain if their produce comes in on a tariff-free basis compared with ours.
The Tánaiste does not need to be told about the importance of the beef industry in Ireland. Each year, €2.5 billion worth of beef is exported, 52% of which goes to the UK. That is €1.25 billion worth of our economy currently in peril and awaiting clarity over the course of the next 36 days. Leaving Brexit aside, the beef sector is under enormous pressure, and beef farmers are hugely angry and frustrated at what they see as inaction on the part of the Government to resolve the pressure they are under.
Teagasc suggests that average incomes on cattle-rearing farms in 2018 is just over €10,000 per annum. Cattle prices are down in the beef sector by up to €200 per head, year on year. Thousands of farmers are turning out across the country in the hope of getting some sort of knowledge or indication from the Government that it understands where they are at, the pressure they are under and the importance of their sector to the Irish economy but they are not getting any signals of that understanding. All they are seeing is a Government and a Minister that take the attitude that it will be all right on the night and will be fine but no practical measures are being taken to support them. To add to that frustration, the remarks of the Taoiseach about cutting back on beef consumption did not help their case or situation.
I ask the Tánaiste to comment on that story in the first instance. Has he any knowledge, through his interactions on the Brexit issue, of Michael Gove's plans post 29 March? What plans has the Government in place now to assist the Irish beef sector and to assist Irish farmers in the coming days and weeks to get extra supports from Europe to get through this particular challenge? What work is being undertaken to deal with this threat to our sector?