Brexit: ‘I don’t think either government knows what it’s doing’

Brexit Proof Q&A: Eileen Hall, Cavanagh Eggs, Fermanagh

John and Eileen Hall of  Cavanagh Eggs. Photograph: John McVitty

John and Eileen Hall of Cavanagh Eggs. Photograph: John McVitty


Cavanagh Eggs is situated on the Border, with a farm in Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and the road entering it in the Republic. It is owned by Eileen and John Hall, from Westmeath and Monaghan respectively, who bought the site near the company’s namesake village after their wedding.

They now have 70,000 birds across four sites, and supply Asda and Tesco in Northern Ireland, as well as the Merchant Hotel and the Lough Erne Golf Resort.

What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the EU?
At first we looked at the opportunities, then we started thinking about things like tariffs. Brexit is getting blamed for a lot of things like migrants leaving, but the workforce had started to change before that. In the food industry, the money isn’t there to pay big wages, so we struggle for staff.

How is your business likely to be affected?
Our feed comes from the South, so tariffs worry us. At this stage, we hope that Brexit won’t happen. There are other feed providers but we’ve been with our provider for over 17 years.

Are you examining new markets/suppliers and, if so, how practical is that?
It might be the only option because we’d be at a big disadvantage to our competitors in Northern Ireland when it comes to feed. In the UK, all the producers of that would be wheat and grain and other businesses wouldn’t have the tariffs to import from the South.

When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place so far?
We’re focusing more on our local customers and mainland Britain. With eggs, only about 88 per cent of what’s eaten in Great Britain is produced there, so there is scope, and there’s also scope with local markets.

Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?
Northern Ireland is very small so it’s Great Britain we look towards when it comes to exporting, and it’s all the expense that goes with that – shipping and lorries, for example. The South would be a better option for us and we’re just on the edge of it.

We would rather supply the South because it’s cheaper and easier than to go across the water. But if there were tariffs, that would affect us ... If we wanted to sell further afield, we’d have to get the product to London and it would have to be flown to wherever it’s going, so it comes down to price.

What’s your best-case scenario?
The best-case scenario would be no tariffs and where we could trade as we have been. I’m not sure if that’s going to happen, though.

How do you think the governments handled Brexit negotiations?
After Brexit didn’t happen on the date that was originally planned, I switched off a bit from listening to it. I don’t think either of the governments know what they’re doing but the South seems more proactive than in the UK. I don’t know if having Stormont would have made any difference for us.

When do you expect to be Brexit-ready?
We’re taking more of a wait-and-see approach. You’d be putting a lot of money and resources into something that could end up being something completely different.

Are you stockpiling goods and raw materials?
We can’t. We get feed delivered every week so it would just go off. It’s not an option for us – it needs to be fresh.

How might the Irish or British governments, or the EU, help ease the pain of Brexit for your company?
Invest NI has offered money to get Brexit-ready but we felt it was a waste of money and a waste of our time. I know I can just ring and Invest NI will be there to help if I need it. As regards grants, there’s nothing really and I don’t think there will be for the poultry industry in Northern Ireland.

Would you like to see a second referendum on Brexit?
At worst, it would just be the same outcome. It would be good to throw it out there again and see whether there was the same conviction. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain and I wonder would that voice come through stronger this time – a lot of people were led down the garden path.