The Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) has warned its call for the Department of Economy to establish a processor capital grant for the region’s food manufacturing sector is now an “urgent priority”.

It follows the announcement of a €100 million capital investment scheme in the Republic of Ireland with a 30% support rate for food manufacturing companies.

Also Read: Government announces €100 million Brexit scheme for food processing sector

Wales, Scotland and England also already have similar schemes in place with support rates of between 20% and 40%.

‘Competitive disadvantage in the starkest sense’

NIFDA’s executive director Michael Bell said the fact that Northern Ireland companies cannot avail of such funding puts them at a “significant competitive disadvantage”.

“We have spent three years lobbying for this grant and despite our best efforts the process was halted last summer following the rejection of a proposal submitted to the Assembly,” said Bell.

“There were 15 or more business cases submitted to Invest Northern Ireland. Most of these cases were delayed while our competitors are marching on with the backing of their respective Governments and repositioning themselves with our customers.

“Our closest competitors also benefit from significant funding for food export marketing, which again we do not have.

This is competitive disadvantage in the starkest sense. This weakness is obviously further magnified with Covid-19 and Brexit.

“A capital grant scheme will drive innovation, productivity and enable the Northern Ireland Food & Drink Industry to win value-added business.

“This is a priority that is also understood by our farming community and the UFU have been steadfast with NIFDA in highlighting this weakness to the Department of the Economy here in Northern Ireland. This is our most urgent and clear ask.

“We, therefore, call on Minister Dodds to urgently address this strategic weakness our industry has been subject to here in Northern Ireland.”