Friday, 6 September 2019

Questions (1440)

Brendan Smith

Question:

1440. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has secured agreement from the European Commission to ease the state aid limitation on the provision of support for the agricultural sector due to the difficulties that will arise from Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36494/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Our practical preparations for all potential scenarios, including a no-deal Brexit, continue to be progressed and refined through the whole-of-Government co-ordination structures that have been in place for some time.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Government will implement a range of economic responses that will seek to mitigate the impact on vulnerable sectors and groups. This approach will include:

- Targeted supports for vulnerable but viable sectors and enterprises;

- Labour market and activation interventions to support employees affected;

- Continued increased capital investment in accordance with Project Ireland 2040 which will act as a stimulus to the economy;

- Continued engagement with the European Commission and other Member States in respect of financial supports and flexibilities under State Aid rules and the Common Agricultural Policy.

I and my officials have been working very hard for quite some time to sensitise other Member States and the European Commission to the potentially very severe impacts of Brexit on the Irish agri-food and fisheries sectors, and to the likelihood of specific supports being required in order to deal with these impacts. The institutions of the European Union are very well aware of the likelihood of a significant impact of a disorderly Brexit on Ireland’s economy. This has been part of the discussion from the beginning, and indeed, this is explicitly recognised in the Commission’s own communications on contingency planning.

I have stressed the need to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on farmers and processors, including through traditional market supports and exceptional aid under the CAP's Single Common Market Organisation regulation, as well as increased flexibility under State Aid regulations, which has already been the subject of discussions with the Commission. Commissioner Hogan has clearly stated the EU’s readiness to respond and support Ireland, and we will remain in contact on these issues as the situation evolves.

As regards state aid, my Department operates the State aid rules and regulations governing the agriculture sector, where the state aid limits under the agriculture de minimis regulation recently increased from €15,000 to €20,000 per undertaking over a rolling three-year period. This figure can be increased to €25,000 in certain circumstances. The increase in the de minimis threshold limits allows for greater flexibility and efficiency, notably in times of crisis and situations demanding a swift response by the public authorities.

I have said that the State will not be found wanting when it comes to supporting the Irish agri-food sector and farmers when it comes to Brexit. The increase in the agriculture de minimis limits is an important step. I am continuing to explore options under the State aid rules with the European Commission to support the agri-food industry at this time.

With regard to increases or exemptions to state aid limits applicable to other sectors, this is a matter for the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation, who are the competent authority for the implementation of the general State aid rules and regulations in Ireland.