The message to local politicians at the Northern Ireland Food and Drink’s Association’s (NIFDA) Annual Dinner was loud and clear – a local voice fighting for local business interests is essential if the economy has any chance of surviving and thriving in a post-Brexit world. The organisation also strongly backed the draft EU withdrawal agreement, saying that it was vastly better than a ‘no-deal’ scenario.
The event was held in partnership with Danske Bank at Belfast’s Hilton Hotel on Thursday 15th November and was attended by around 270 industry leaders and political representatives. Now in its 22nd year, the event provides a unique opportunity for the food and drink industry to discuss how the industry can overcome challenges and continue to grow. John Paul Scally, CEO, Lidl Ireland, was the keynote speaker at the event.
Current NIFDA Chair and Chairman of Irwin’s Bakery, Brian Irwin, used the event as an opportunity to call for politicians to align with business during this critical time:
“We need to face the harsh realities that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit would bring to Northern Ireland and do everything we can to avoid it. Whilst the draft agreement may not be perfect, it provides an essential insurance policy in the interim period. Now more than ever, we need the Executive to fight our corner. We are currently facing many pressing issues such as labour shortages, the lack of a local food marketing body, and limited ability to invest in productivity improvements in order to keep up with competing regions. All these issues, and more, require a local voice and local powers to move forward with adequate funding and delivery programmes.”
Speaking at the event, Ciaran Rafferty, Corporate Banking Manager at Danske Bank said:
“Despite the uncertain times that we are living in, we continue to be inspired by the local food and drinks industry and its drive to bring new, innovative products to the marketplace. From smaller artisan brands, to bigger corporates, innovation is hard wired into the industry locally, and it is this innovation that should help the industry navigate through 2019 and beyond.”
Brian Irwin continued:
“Credit is due to the industry for continuing to innovate and grow during extremely uncertain times, and NIFDA is committed to supporting the agri-food sector through events, programmes and lobbying of government on key issues. However, never before have we faced such turbulent times and we simply cannot put up with a vacuum where there should be strong and decisive leadership which is actively listening to and supporting local businesses.
“Northern Ireland is, of course, uniquely affected by Brexit, and many of our lobbying efforts in the last two years have been focused on how to best address the specific challenges facing the agri-food industry. We are currently involved, along with 20 other business organisations in Northern Ireland, in fighting the case for regional flexibility when it comes to immigration policy. The voice of business is growing louder, and the pressing needs of our economy must be prioritised over historic differences.
“We deserve to have leaders that will champion and support our industry, and our region, through the challenges of Brexit – to exploit the opportunities that lie beyond,” he concluded.