North-South Implementation Bodies: safefood Ireland

We are continuing our series of meetings with the North-South Implementation Bodies, established under the Good Friday Agreement. We will hear from safefood about its work and the importance of ensuring food safety, food hygiene and healthy eating across the island of Ireland.

I welcome the witnesses from safefood Ireland, Mr. Ray Dolan, chief executive officer, Mr. Paul Gibbons, vice chair, Ms Patricia Fitzgerald, director of corporate operations, and Dr. Gary A. Kearney, director of food science.

I remind members and visitors in the Gallery to ensure their mobile phones, tablets and so on are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference with the recording equipment in the committee even on silent mode.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I invite Mr. Ray Dolan to make his opening statement.

Mr. Ray Dolan

I thank the committee for inviting safefood Ireland here today. The Chairman has already introduced everyone, but I would add that Mr. Paul Gibbons is an environmental health officer in the Border area so he may be able to answer some of the questions with a first-hand perspective.

Our opening statement deals with the potential implications for safefood, the food safety promotion board, from Brexit. safefood, one of six implementation bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement, is a food safety promotion agency, and as such, has no food regulatory role nor involvement in mitigation of the potential implications and consequences to the efficient and effective post-Brexit operation of the food control framework on this island.

Its mandate covers both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and, accordingly, we must operate in two jurisdictions that may have two different legislative frameworks post-Brexit for various aspects that may impact the effective operation of food safety and nutrition promotion. These frameworks include food law, public health, employment law, taxation, pension law, data protection law, human rights, freedom of information and controls on movement of people, goods, services and capital, the four freedoms of the single market. It is expected that the political, legislative and operational consequences of Brexit for safefood will only become apparent towards the completion of the withdrawal agreement and-or transition period. safefood has identified potential Brexit issues that may have implications for both its legislative mandate and the framework within which it operates, and general operational processes which I will outline here.

The Border will represent a barrier to safefood's effective working. There has been much commentary and speculation as to the effects of Brexit in regard to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and the potential significant risk to both community cohesion in Northern Ireland, and the cross-Border and North-South dimensions of the ongoing peace and reconciliation process. The Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement registered with the UN, with Ireland and the UK acting as co-guarantors, and is financially supported by the EU. For all parties, the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland is a key priority.

One of the most valuable outcomes of the EU cross-border programmes has been the facilitation of multi-level cross-Border networks where partnership working has effected a real change in culture for civil society organisations.

safefood has operated in both jurisdictions for over 18 years, running programmes of food safety and public health nutrition promotional activity for both consumers, food producers, regulators, public health professionals, scientists and academics. It has not only focused on enhancing knowledge and encouraging positive behaviour change, but also developing cross-Border working, partnership and collaboration. The possibility of a hard border or barrier will make the achievement of our objectives far more challenging in terms of encouraging and fostering multidisciplinary and multisectoral collaboration. For safefood, a hard border will actively discourage partnership, joint working, be a barrier for those who wish and choose to collaborate, and a reason for those who do not value North-South co-operation to obstruct meaningful work and mutual benefit.

In the absence of any legislative changes, safefood would still continue to function, however the costs of North-South working and co-operation would increase as a result of the likely emergence of new practical and policy impediments to meaningful collaboration, and the necessity for two different strategic and tactical approaches to public health promotional activity, North and South.

I refer to the general North-South partnership working and potential implications for safefood. Common EU legislation, policies, guidelines and approaches have supported safefood’s ability to deliver its remit and functions of promoting food safety and healthy eating across the island of Ireland. Promoting North-South co-operation, which is an inherent part of our work, may be adversely affected once Brexit is complete and certainly the introduction of a hard border will be seen as a major obstacle to joint working. It will be far more difficult to initiate and sustain effective North-South working relationships.

As a North-South body, safefood has successfully operated in both jurisdictions since inception and an open border has facilitated openness, awareness of others working in similar fields and opportunities for various organisations to partner and work together for mutual benefit. safefood has firmly established itself as constructive working partners with organisations across the island of Ireland and have established a strong network of stakeholder relationships. With an approved staff count of only 30 and a challenging work portfolio, these relationships are key and essential to achieving safefood’s legislative mandate and objectives.

At present, staff based at the Cork headquarters often travel to and from work in Northern Ireland, which is a significant journey and sacrifice. safefood is alone among all the North-South bodies in not having a staffed Northern Ireland office. The introduction of a hard border post-Brexit will, in the absence of a staffed Northern Ireland office, pose a tremendous challenge to both our capability and capacity to identify and provide local and regional public health promotional services across Northern Ireland. We anticipate that a hard border will only accentuate present challenges faced by staff and the core need to have a sustainable and valued safefood presence in Northern Ireland.

The future regulatory landscape in the UK is not clear other than the passing of the great repeal Bill for all current EU legislation. There is strong potential for regulatory divergence in food safety legislation and standards between the EU and the UK, but the timescale is uncertain. The final political decision around access to markets and possible tariffs will be a key determinant.

There may be a hierarchy of standards in the UK. For instance, UK-based food producers exporting into the EU will need to comply with EU law but those supplying the domestic UK market may not. Furthermore, as the UK produces only 54% of the food it requires, it will need to import significant quantities of food, perhaps from non-EU regions across the world where standards are typically not as robust as those set in place by the EU. This aspect is particularly relevant given the porous nature of the Border on the island. The key question is whether the final negotiations will agree on food safety regulatory equivalence or alignment.

Any divergence in legislation, policies, guidelines and approaches governing food safety and public health nutrition in the two jurisdictions, North and South, will be a challenge for safefood in delivering its remit and functions which will become more complex. At present, food safety legislation has its origins in EU directives and regulations and, therefore, most organisations involved in the food chain, North and South, comply with the same standards set by regulators. The agrifood sector is very significant in both economies and any divergence in food safety standards, affecting for example, manufacturing, labelling, packaging standards and certification between the UK and the EU will lead to complications for the food sectors on the island of Ireland and to confusion and concern among consumers.

Significant divergences in areas of food safety will pose immediate challenges in regard to safefood promotional programmes and activities for food producers and processors, and science and academic communities generally. Opinions vary on the degree and nature of these potential legislative divergences. Food labelling aspects include the removal of country of origin labels and producer name and address have been mentioned, in addition to possible changes to labelling of various types of meats and substitute ingredients together with new guidance on aspects such as fresh pure and natural, vegetarian and vegan.

The UK may review use by and best before date periods to make what it considers to be sensible and practical guidance. However, the most practical changes will come in the area of interpretative nutrition information, including traffic light labelling. A very realistic example of potential divergence in the area of public health can be found in the August 2016 report, Childhood obesity: a plan for action, published by the UK Government which states:

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union will give us greater flexibility to determine what information should be presented on packaged food, and how it should be displayed. We want to build on the success of our current labelling scheme, and review additional opportunities to go further and ensure we are using the most effective ways to communicate information to families. This might include clearer visual labelling, such as teaspoons of sugar, to show consumers about the sugar content in packaged food and drink.

Were this divergence to be significant and the need for safefood to develop jurisdictional specific programmes realised, there would be significant additional operational costs if safefood had to develop two separate versions of media promotional campaigns, resources and advisory guidance. Such activity would require substantial additional external support and assistance in view of the staff cap and notably the increase in opportunity costs. Regulatory stability in the UK will be essential, as will non-tariff barriers such as border delays, transport of ingredients back and forth for single finished food products etc. It should also be noted that the UK will now have to set up specific food standard validation functions currently exercised by the EU, such as risk assessment and communication from the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, surveillance from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control etc. Will these functions be as robust and acceptable as current EU models?

I refer to data and information sharing and the potential implications for safefood. Data and information exchange, which is essential to safefood’s evidence-based promotional role, has worked well between state agencies and organisations in both jurisdictions. This willingness has been facilitated by enhanced North-South working relationships and through our shared membership of EU, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland public health and food safety families and bodies such as the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland, the HSE, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the Food Standards Agency in the UK, and the EFSA. In addition, safefood’s well-developed research function accumulates significant volumes of raw and aggregate data and information from research projects completed by various academic and other institutions in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK. Currently, EU data protection laws put restrictions on movement of data outside of the European Economic Area and, accordingly, significant divergence in data protection legislation in the UK could pose an insurmountable obstacle for the type of data and information sharing that forms the key evidence base that underpins all our consumer and food supply chain messaging and guidance, and indeed our priority legislative function.

I refer to external activities and administrative issues. When procuring goods and services, will one EU tendering process be replaced by a dual EU and UK tendering process? Will there be any issue with retaining our website address which is at the moment? Will mutual recognition of qualifications continue post Brexit? Will the legal status of contracts entered into with UK organisations before and after the exit date be affected? Will the basis, contractual and otherwise, of the commissioning of research by safefood be impacted? Will changes in the common trade and travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland impact on staff and the board and committee members and speakers at events travelling between and working in Northern Ireland and the Republic and vice versa? I mention the risk of currency fluctuations between the euro and pound sterling and whether the cross jurisdictional North-South pension scheme which supports all six North-South bodies can continue to exist.

Does anyone else want to come in? I will open it up to members. I call Deputy Brendan Smith.

I welcome Mr. Dolan and his colleagues and I thank him for the detailed presentation. It is great to have an all-Ireland body here that is doing good work in a quiet manner. The genius of the Good Friday Agreement was bringing people together to work together in new areas where such co-operation on all-Ireland basis would not have been envisaged. Such co-operation is also taking place on an east-west basis and further afield with the other 26 members of the European Union, apart from Britain and Ireland.

Mr. Dolan outlined very clearly the practical difficulties that will emerge for an organisation like safefood. He outlined that it is a small organisation but it carries out very important work. When I served as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food I was very familiar with safefood's work and it is so important to get the message across. I like the phraseology Mr. Dolan used about the open Border and the fact that people work on an all-Ireland basis. That natural evolution of the work emerged without people shouting political slogans or waving flags of any sort. It was down to actions being carried out on a practical basis to contribute to a better society and a better Ireland in an all-Ireland context, which is the really heartening thing that has happened with all of these bodies. It has happened in the private sector as well where the Good Friday Agreement gave us the environment for businesses to be established on an all-Ireland basis. If we take the area of food, which is safefood's speciality, we have so many food industries today that were exclusively North or South in the past and thankfully today a huge number of them are all-Ireland businesses.

I hope I would be right in differing with Mr. Dolan on the hierarchy of standards in Britain. I have two contradictory views on that. I do not think the British consumer will allow a dumbing down of standards in food production. Britain exports substantial amounts of food too, so I would hope that they will not want to lose the markets that they have because of the high regulatory standards that they work to today as well as we do. We know to our cost that over many decades Britain had a cheap food policy that killed our farming sector for many decades. I sincerely hope that they do not go back to that but I presume that is where Mr. Dolan is coming from. It is not that they would deliberately try to implement a cheap food policy because I will not suggest that about any government or country, but imports from other countries where the standards are much lower than ours have to be a worry and there is no doubt about that. We have often heard people talking about climate change, environmental protection and all of that, and at the same time those people were advocating that we reduce the production of food in Ireland and western Europe, with that food production being replaced by food produced in less environmentally friendly and less sustainable systems such as South America, with all of the attendant environmental damage that would cause. That difficulty is there if food comes into Britain and comes over the Border then, but I sincerely hope that the British Government, its agencies and people would not agree to a dumbing down in food standards.

The message that Mr. Dolan gives out today is important for the great co-operation that happens every day without anybody talking about any political ideology from any tradition. I welcome the engagement and I complement the Cathaoirleach and the support staff on arranging for him to make this presentation. The public at large are not made aware often enough of what has flowed from the Good Friday Agreement and the practical work that is going on daily basis, being carried out by Mr. Dolan and his colleagues and safefood's sister organisations as well. I know that is in a structured way from the organisation that evolved from the Good Friday Agreement but it is happening in many other ways as well in the private sector and other public agencies. safefood might come back on the hierarchy of standards. I sincerely hope that my gut instinct that they will not go for a dumbing down of standards in Britain is right because they will not be buying our food products if they do.

Mr. Ray Dolan

I totally agree with everything the Deputy said. The difficulty is with the food that would come in from South America, but it gave me great encouragement in the past six months to be in London and meet the chair of the Food Standards Agency. She was really gung-ho about the standards that had been achieved over the years under EU legislation and she was going to do everything in her power to maintain those, whatever the outcome of Brexit was going to be.

I thought that was very encouraging. She was definitely on the same page as us.

I welcome the witnesses. It is great to see a presentation such as this. I remember attending some of the first consultative forums relating to the issues that will be affected. That was at an early stage and food was clearly an issue. I remember it being played down but it has clearly come to the fore with people such as the witnesses raising the core issues. I come from a Border constituency and am too long in the tooth not to remember the more recent horse meat scandal, foot and mouth disease in the Cooley Peninsula, BSE on an ongoing basis and even the reintroduction of a case last week in Scotland. Every time we see this, it reminds us of the importance of food safety. I acknowledge the witnesses' role in food safety and public health and nutrition programmes. That comes on the basis of having spent 35 years as a primary school teacher and seeing the programmes that the witnesses have brought into schools and that they have brought home to families.

The witnesses mentioned barriers to effective working. The idea was that there would be no barriers. Barriers or potential barriers seem to be the order of the day. The breakout sessions that came through the consultative forum included the agrifood people. To what degree are food producers contacting the witnesses for advice? That feeds into the local enterprise offices, LEOs. Many have started to realise lately that they have to make an effort and make changes or to be ready for changes.

I raised the subjects of external activities and administrative issues at the previous meeting and Mr. Dolan referred to them. I am interested in his take on the tendering process. How do the witnesses see the ability for people to tender for food production working if there is a real Brexit? Will there be a reintroduction of a British standard as opposed to the European standard that we have? While we all want to see this dovetail and it is to be hoped everybody will sing off the same hymn sheet, there will always be a difficulty. To what degree has that been examined?

I wish the witnesses well in their endeavours. The document they presented is typical of what many other companies, small or big, have to do, to be ready and to make sure that nothing is missed. I remember being pooh-poohed by a Minister when I flagged this as something which needed to be looked at seriously, and I am glad the witnesses have taken it seriously.

Mr. Ray Dolan

I will take the Deputy's second question first and then might hand over to Dr. Kearney. With regard to procurement, we do not know. Most of these issues are common to many organisations. They are not unique to us but we do not know what Brexit will look like. We hope the standards we spoke about earlier will be very similar but we do not know. With regard to processors, last year, we started to conduct workshops for small and medium enterprises, SMEs. That is Dr. Kearney's responsibility and I will ask him for his comments. We do not see many processors come through the front door, but when we put these workshops together, and we have them dotted around the island, North and South, they certainly come through the front door in their droves. They are a wonderful example of how partnership works but also of the ability to communicate with processors. Dr. Kearney might like to comment.

Dr. Gary Kearney

As part of our role in promoting food safety, we hold quite a number of workshops, especially with food SMEs across the island. The focus of those workshops is not on legislation, guidelines or anything relating to that, because our sister agencies look after that element. We focus on education relating to food safety, such as food hygiene, allergens, what to do if one receives an adverse report, how to interpret microbiology results and so on. As members will appreciate, some food SMEs might only have one or two people involved and so will not have the necessary knowledge. We fill that gap. This year alone, we held 12 different workshops across the island. They did not raise the issue of Brexit. They tend to approach the Food Safety Authority of Ireland or the Food Standards Agency. We work with LEOs but food safety is just one of a dozen different things that a food SME has to think about it. It is a core element. If they get food safety wrong, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. We try to upskill the food SMEs and increase their capacity to provide good food safety in the production of their food.

We are a promoter. We do not have a big stick. We are facilitators and try to encourage various organisations to come together. We have done that for the guts of 20 years. That is why an open border is fantastic. It creates awareness of others working in the same field and develops a strong network across stakeholders. We get various organisations working together. Not to labour the point, but one example is when we got a number of food microbiology laboratories together from the two jurisdictions which had not liaised or worked together before. We developed an agenda related to them, stepped back and moved along. Not long after that initiative, laboratories in Northern Ireland were auditing those in the South voluntarily. It was all about developing working relationships relating to common areas and mutual benefit. It is not just doing it for the sake of doing it. There is value in it. We try to do that with the workshops. We bring various partners in, such as our sister agencies. Those people can give value to those small companies which produce food.

The witnesses are very welcome. I see they are one of the six implementation bodies under the Good Friday Agreement. I know first-hand the partnership and collaboration. Dr. Kearney rightly referred to the relationships. One can never put a value on these things. Those relationships have built up in the past 30 years and we see it in politics where relationships cross borders, including between Ireland and the UK. Those friendships and relationships endure through difficult times. One can never put a value on the work the witnesses have done in the past 20 years but it is very positive. The possibility of a hard border will make achieving the objectives far more challenging. It could discourage partnerships and joint working and create a barrier for those who wish to collaborate.

The witnesses said they were concerned about any divergence in food safety standards, manufacturing, labelling and packaging standards, and certification in the UK and the EU. Could we bring that out in terms of one product? What issues regarding one product, whether butter or something else, could occur if there was a hard border? Do the witnesses have a product for which they can determine a day-to-day issue that would happen with a hard border?

Dr. Gary Kearney

There are two elements there, the hard border and the regulatory divergence. A hard border will not stop safefood from fulfilling its mandate and doing well, as we have for 20 years. The convenience that people might experience when going from the North to South or South to North might be impacted if there is a hard border. It might make the building of sustainable relationships take longer. It is a challenge but we have had many challenges and will get over that challenge. It might be at a slower rate, especially when developing new relationships. We have great networks already in place and they will continue. One would not want a hard border when developing new networks.

Senator Feighan asked how particular foods could be affected. We do not know what the United Kingdom is going to do in the way of amending the existing food standard legislation so my answer involves a bit of speculation. The United Kingdom could, for example, decide to remove best-before dates, which could be for very good reasons because these dates are related to quality and not safety. If one eats a tin of beans six months after the best-before date, it might not taste very good but it will be safe, whereas use-by dates are critical for perishable foods. However, to remove them would not dovetail with EU legislation and I do not know what would happen in that scenario. From a promotional point of view, nutritional standards are represented by a nutritional pyramid in the Republic but a plate in Northern Ireland and the UK. We deal with the two different approaches by just getting on with it. We can work around the issues relating to our promotional activity but if labelling is significantly different it would be a matter for Government and the regulatory agencies.

Today's presentation is another example of the challenges thrown up by Brexit. Every presentation we have had has thrown up a new area which we had not been thinking about and this is extremely challenging as we still do not know if we will have a hard deal, a soft deal or no deal. I do not envy anybody trying to work in that environment.

We have a long way to go in respect of the labelling of food and the witnesses seem to be suggesting that it could become even more problematic now. Are we, or is Northern Ireland, going to be more exposed to genetically modified foods? In what areas do the 30 staff of safefood work? Can the witnesses give me some detail on the health promotion it has been involved in throughout the island of Ireland? What does it do in the area of the environment? I was at a presentation in the audiovisual room yesterday to which the Green Party had invited a number of environmental activists from the Six Counties. It was frightening to hear some of the things they said about the River Faughan and things like applications for a pig farm which, in the absence of the Executive, are not being dealt with. There are some alarming developments, such as the arrival of a Canadian gold mining company, which could have an impact on the environment and, indeed, on food production.

Mr. Ray Dolan

Our headquarters are in Cork and two thirds of the staff are there, working in corporate services and operations, food science, human health and nutrition. In Dublin, ten people work in marketing, communication and PR. On the point about partnerships, it is difficult to get staff to go to a meeting in Belfast, Armagh or Newry and then back to Cork. When building relationships with new people it is difficult to get them to go to Cork and that is why we have the Dublin office. The flight from Belfast to Cork ceased after a crash some years ago, which has been a big disadvantage to us as we used it quite a lot to go and come back on the same day.

Mr. Paul Gibbons

I work in environmental health and food safety regulation. I am based in Monaghan on the Border. There are concerns along the Border and when there is a price differential in products on either side of the Border there are people willing to exploit it. We have concerns over genetically modified food, chlorinated chicken and a raft of other products that may be legal in the UK and, by virtue of being allowed on the northern side of the Border, could find their way into the Republic and into the European food chain. That is one of the main challenges for us as the regulator and, while a backstop has been committed to which will mean an alignment of standards on the island, it will depend on how the negotiations go over the next few weeks. If the backstop is not implemented there may well be a hard Brexit, with all the associated threats to food safety on the island. This is the main threat to the areas along the Border after next March.

Mr. Ray Dolan

Dr. Kearney might tackle the question on genetically modified organisms, GMOs.

Dr. Gary Kearney

I am not au fait with UK policy on GMOs and I cannot speculate on whether the UK will go in a different direction from the European Union post Brexit. The UK philosophy around animal welfare is very positive, however, so we hope there will be a meeting of minds.

I was asked about the campaigns we run. Our public food safety campaigns focus on helping those in the domestic kitchen and the four Cs, which are, cooking, chilling, cleaning and avoiding cross-contamination. We use various advertisements on radio and other media as promotional tools to get the message across. We had a good collaboration with the Northern Ireland Food Standards Agency on a campaign to advise people not to wash raw chicken. The basis for this was unknown up to a few years ago but it was a very efficient campaign and the results indicated that one in four of us, who used to wash our chicken, has stopped doing so.

We also do work to focus on people who are vulnerable. A lot of us can survive a bout of food poisoning but some, including the elderly, very young children and people who are immunosuppressed, find it more difficult. We are developing a handwashing campaign for the preschool sector, which members will hear about next month. We will provide staff in that sector to tutor children in developing the core skill of handwashing and to take it home and get their parents to continue the lesson. Handwashing is one of the most important things we can do to avoid food poisoning. Young children are like sponges and can be advocates on our behalf for good public hygiene.

Mr. Ray Dolan

One of our campaigns is a community food initiative, a local initiative which is aimed at community groups. We fund them, which is not very expensive, to help them increase awareness of food and show them where in a supermarket one can get the cheap cuts with high nutritional value, as well as how to cook them well. Improving people's access to safe and healthy food has proven a wonderful success in communities.

I do not know if safefood is involved in the initiative with some supermarkets in which food which is just past its sell-by date is taken for use. It is still safe to take and it is a good thing to do this as the wastage of food is terrible. The Healthy Ireland survey came out yesterday. In all our constituencies, not least my constituency of Dublin Central, some parts of the community are much more unhealthy and more liable to smoke, to binge-drink and to be overweight. There is a lot of room for education in this area and a need to increase awareness.

Can the witnesses expand on the staff cap? Mr. Dolan spoke about the lack of an office in the North. Does he think one should be facilitated? A number of members attended the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly last week. Britain is a bridge for goods going to and from Ireland and we are dependent on Britain to a large extent in this area. Does safefood have concerns over this? Does it get involved in such issues? Has safefood looked at the costs of technological checks for food? The witnesses said safefood will continue to function but that the costs of North-South co-operation would increase as a result of the likely emergence of new practical impediments to meaningful collaboration.

Has Mr. Dolan a price? Has he an idea of the funding in relation to that?

Those were the questions that struck me. As for the GMOs, in Britain they are all talking about new trade. The big worry is that if there is such trade with the United States, most of the foods there are GMO foods and that is where there will be leakage.

Mr. Ray Dolan

I will answer some of those questions. What I mean by the staff cap is that in 1999 there was approval for 30 staff and it is still 30 staff. With the Brexit situation, if it was a difficult or hard Brexit, we would need probably a few additional staff. At present, we run 99% of our campaigns on the island of Ireland and we take the consumers as one. If, however, one must tweak one's campaign, there will be a cost to that. Instead of having one radio advertisement, one will have to have two radio advertisements. Where one had one television advertisement, one may have to have two so that the information is applicable to the jurisdiction in which one is airing. There will be a cost to that. We are waiting to see what kind of a Brexit turns out before we can do that.

Has safefood had discussions, for instance, with the Irish Government with regard to staffing needs etc., pending what is coming down the track? Whose structure does safefood go through? Is it both Governments?

Mr. Ray Dolan

Both Departments of Health and then the North-South Ministerial Council. Unfortunately, with no Executive in the North, the North-South Ministerial Council is not sitting, there is no Minister for Health in the North and there is no approval mechanism. That is not a problem. That is just a fact of life. It has been on and off like that for the past 18 years. One just works around that. What we are saying is that the time will come, sooner rather than later, depending on what we see as the type of Brexit it is, when we may have to sit down with both Governments and say what is needed to reshape the organisation. We have been in existence for 19 years and there has been change. Technologies have changed. Specialties have changed. The skills of a food scientist recruited in 2000 or 2001 have completely changed by 2018. It would be a welcome opportunity in that regard.

On a Northern Irish office, we have struggled with this from day one. I would say it is difficult to put a business case together. It is difficult to get acceptance. In the face of an attitude suggesting "if it is not broken, why fix it?" and that we are working quite well in the North while based in the South, I would say there is no appetite for it. That is not anyone's fault. Depending on the colour of Brexit, as it were, we may have to revisit that and a stronger business case may have to be made for it.

What of the technology checks in respect of food etc.? Have costs been estimated? Is it even possible?

Mr. Ray Dolan

The regulators are working on that and are looking into the cost of that. In truth, that is not something that is coming our way.

Dr. Gary Kearney

We are food safety promotion, not regulatory. The Government and the regulators will look at that. I suppose it is all about whether there will be regulatory equivalence or regulatory alignment post Brexit and it will flow from that as to how things will pan out.

For us, there might be two different standards. In terms of our food safety promotion, we will have to tackle it in two different ways. That is just a fact of life for us. I suppose much of the effects, both positive and negative, on safefood will be post Brexit.

It will not be simple, which is the way it is portrayed.

Mr. Ray Dolan

We hope it will be but it may not be.

As there are no further questions, on behalf of the joint committee I thank Mr. Dolan and his colleagues for appearing before the joint committee today and answering the questions so comprehensively. This, particularly the staff issue, is an matter that we as parliamentarians might be able to raise at a future date.

I propose we now go into private session for a short period to deal with business of the committee. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee went into private session at 3.45 p.m. and adjourned at 3.49 p.m. until 2.15 p.m. on Thursday, 8 November 2018.