‘Maybe we should all be less worried about Brexit’
Brexit Proof Q&A: Gerry Darby, manager, Lough Neagh Partnership
Gerry Darby: ‘If the British, Northern Irish and Irish governments get their acts together, the Lough Neagh Partnership could get the best of both worlds.’
Gerry Darby is the manager of the Lough Neagh Partnership, based in a marina on the shores of Lough Neagh, employing 12 people to represent sand traders, fishermen, farmers and businesses in the area.
What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the EU?
Quite disappointed. Not particularly shocked. I am interested in European culture and thought of all the ties we have and then we wake up one day and then we are out.
How is your business likely to be affected?
We are concerned. I have 12 staff. We have half a dozen big environmental programmes to help with protection of the lough. They are based on EU designations. Lough Neagh is the biggest special protected area we have. The question is the EU thinks it is important, will the UK government think the same? That is the big one. Also, a lot of our programmes are EU-funded and, if that goes, where do we get the money from to survive?
Are you examining new markets/suppliers and, if so, how practical is that?
We are examining new funding based on Brexit. We are working more closely with councils and UK lottery funding. We are looking at indications the UK government is giving to farmers so we are trying to work out what payments will go to farmers, how they may benefit and how we can help them.
The Northern Ireland government needs to be set up so they can take a more integrated approach. Brexit has forced us to ask Stormont to look more closely at Lough Neagh. Our partners are going to have a problem, such as the eel fishery which can sell eels within the EU – but what will happen to them?
Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?
I can see opportunities for greater tourism development on the lough from non-European places. Farmers, our main clients, under the new UK indications from Michael Gove may get more funding for environmental management. It could be made a higher priority so we could develop new programmes. There may be more simple, less bureaucratic approaches to our work but I am not holding my breath on that.
What’s your best/worst-case scenario?
Best case is the UK government will focus more on the provision of grants to farmers based on environmental protection. If the Northern Ireland government gets set up, they may have more focus on Lough Neagh.
Worst case is no EU designations, our special designated status will be lost. EU funding not being replaced with equivalent UK funding is another concern.
How might the Irish or British governments, or the EU help ease the pain of Brexit for your company or sector?
If the British, Northern Irish and Irish governments get their acts together the Lough Neagh Partnership could get the best of both worlds. We could develop links outside the EU and continue to increase our linkages with existing EU partners.
How do you think the Irish and/or British governments has handled the Brexit negotiations?
In the end, a practical pragmatic arrangement was found but it doesn’t seem that much different to Theresa May’s option. It is the best compromise that could have happened. I think we just have to work with it and not focus too much on the negative.
Looking ahead five years, how do you think your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?
The business will diversify its income sources and be less reliant on European funding. It will make us think more about generating our own income. We have set up our own little investment company. We have just taken ownership of two new boats. It will make us be more efficient and less grant focused.
Would you like to see a second referendum on Brexit?
No, I wouldn’t. The die is cast and democratic decision has been taken and we have to all move on. One thing for sure, the sun will keep coming up and going down and maybe we should all be less worried about Brexit. You have to be positive and look at the opportunities.