Unionist leaders have pressed the Irish government to scrap a controversial plan to label Northern Ireland food differently from that produced in the Republic.
The proposal by the Irish Food Board, known as Bord Bia, is designed to discourage Southern consumers from buying food produced north of the border by preventing it being labelled as Irish.
The plans were discussed at the North-South Ministerial Council meeting in Farmleigh yesterday attended by the First and Deputy First Minister as well as Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Delegates also discussed economic issues effecting both sides of the border such as a road bridge linking south Down and north Louth.
It emerged at yesterday’s meeting that the Irish Government is to consider scrapping the plans to label imported Northern Ireland food differently to promote Southern produce, following complaints from local politicians.
It is understood that the issue will require further discussions by ministers before a final decision is made but a senior Executive source said: “We think this is effectively a dead issue. The Irish food board has already suspended this idea and it is now likely to be dropped.”
First Minister Peter Robinson and his DUP colleagues, as well as Ulster Unionist Employment Minister Sir Reg Empey, want the entire plan to be axed.
The official communique which followed yesterday’s meeting said: “Ministers recognised the importance of cross-border trade for the food industries and noted that relevant ministers are discussing these issues.”
Plans for a new road bridge linking south Down and north Louth at Narrow Water near Warrenpoint — first revealed in the Belfast Telegraph — are also making progress, the gathering heard.
Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane, who raised the issue with Irish Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, said: “Despite the current difficulties we all face I am hopeful that this important North-South infrastructural project can be progressed. Bridge designs are currently being considered.”
There were no public clashes - unlike the last meeting last December, when Mr Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were frosty over the transfer of policing and justice powers, but the absence of Health Minister Michael McGimpsey, came under fire from Sinn Fein and the SDLP.