‘There is a lot of ran­cour in Bri­tain – they’re fail­ing to bring the na­tion with them’

Irish Independent - Business Week - - INTERVIEW -

A timely in­vest­ment gives LacPa­trick dairy pro­cess­ing ca­pa­bil­ity on both sides of the Bor­der – and may prove to be a vi­tal de­fence against Brexit as in­dus­try veteran D’Arcy looks to a global fu­ture, writes Colm Kelpie D’Arcy is sim­i­larly em­phatic.

“How could one be any more com­fort­able, be­cause there are no an­swers.

“The great thing about Brexit, is that every­thing is be­ing played out in pub­lic. There seems to be a fairly co­her­ent Euro­pean po­si­tion. Mon­sieur Barnier seems to be a fairly strong char­ac­ter and has sup­port in terms of his ap­proach, whereas, un­for­tu­nately, within Bri­tain there is a lot of ran­cour and dis­quiet and al­most open un­der­min­ing of what­ever po­si­tion the leader takes. They’re not bring­ing the na­tion with them.”

He’s equally scathing about the lack of an Ex­ec­u­tive in North­ern Ire­land.

While the DUP and Sinn Féin have so far been un­able to break their year­long im­passe, North­ern Ire­land re­mains with­out a po­lit­i­cal voice to ar­tic­u­late any po­ten­tial Brexit im­pact.

“Eng­land is not an agri­cul­tural-based coun­try in the sense that the amount of GDP as­so­ci­ated with agri­cul­ture is very small, rel­a­tive to say, fi­nan­cial ser­vices,” D’Arcy says. “It pales into sig­nif­i­cance. From an English per­spec­tive, fi­nan­cial ser­vices will be crit­i­cal in all this ne­go­ti­a­tion, and I don’t think food and agri­cul­ture fea­tures.

“In North­ern Ire­land, if you strip away the civil ser­vice, the pub­lic ser­vice, the only sig­nif­i­cant in­dus­try is agri­cul­ture and food. It is of core, key fun­da­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance and im­por­tance to the North­ern Ir­ish econ­omy, and par­tic­u­larly the ru­ral econ­omy.

“I don’t know if that has been prop­erly un­der­stood by the Bri­tish par­lia­men­tar­i­ans who are de­vel­op­ing their strat­egy for Brexit.”

Be­yond busi­ness, D’Arcy has ex­per­tise on Bor­der se­cu­rity, hav­ing served in the Army dur­ing the Trou­bles, be­fore re­tir­ing as a cap­tain.

He served in Castle­blaney and was on Bor­der duty.

Can the Bor­der be se­cured from a cus­toms point of view? “No, it’s daft,” he says.

Tech­nol­ogy, he adds, may be able to work for large busi­nesses, but the prob­lem is with the smaller firms.

“The prob­lem arises for the small builder that is build­ing a house in Augh­na­cloy, and the fol­low­ing week he’s go­ing to be build­ing in Mon­aghan,” D’Arcy says.

“He needs to get a strip of metal. You can buy that up in the North and it’s go­ing to be 30pc more ex­pen­sive than in the South be­cause of a tar­iff. So he’s go­ing to buy that in the Re­pub­lic, go up and put it in the North­ern house.

“That is smug­gling and that is un­der­min­ing the builder or the steel pro­ducer of that lit­tle strip of steel in North­ern Ire­land, who has to pay this tar­iff. Yes, you can con­trol it for th­ese [big] op­er­a­tors. But for the vast mass of peo­ple, it’s not go­ing to work. It will just give rise to dis­lo­ca­tion.”

Not­with­stand­ing the Brexit wor­ries, 2017 was a busy year for D’Arcy. As well as the open­ing of the new LacPa­trick fa­cil­ity in Ty­rone, D’Arcy has also over­seen an over­haul of the board struc­ture, re­duc­ing the board from 26 to 15 and set­ting up elec­toral ar­eas across the sup­ply base as well as a 60-per­son coun­cil.

The av­er­age age of the board has come down, D’Arcy says, and the chair and mem­bers are now elected for a fixed term.

It’s an all-male board though, which D’Arcy says re­flects the na­ture of the in­dus­try. He’d like that to change.

“It’s fair to say there are some good fe­male farm­ers com­ing through, and some good wives who are very ex­cep­tion­ally qual­i­fied in their own do­main that would make fan­tas­tic board mem­bers,” he says.

Al­though there is no gen­der pol­icy as such for his own board, he’s a fan of quo­tas for boards more gen­er­ally.

“There should be a bal­ance on the board. Fe­males’ way of think­ing on a lot of things is quite dif­fer­ent and of­ten much more thought­ful than the male way on a lot of dif­fer­ent is­sues. I’m not say­ing that in a sex­ist way, but there’s a lot of stud­ies that show the best de­ci­sions are of­ten ar­rived at by a mixed team of peo­ple that con­tains fe­males and males op­er­at­ing in mu­tual re­spect.”

So, what’s the fu­ture for LacPa­trick? Fur­ther ex­pan­sion into new mar­kets and prod­ucts, D’Arcy says, al­though for now the fo­cus is to gen­er­ate re­turns for the in­vest­ments that have been made.

“We have out­stand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties com­ing in front of us, not to men­tion fur­ther de­vel­op­ing our ex­ist­ing mar­kets in west Africa and the Mid­dle East,” he says.

The global eco­nomic re­cov­ery is also help­ing, he adds.

“The food in­dus­try is ac­tu­ally in an ex­cit­ing phase at the mo­ment.

“Yes, there are chal­lenges, but the world pop­u­la­tion is in­creas­ing. There is cer­tainly a move­ment back to dairy as a key nu­tri­tional el­e­ment in your diet.

“Con­sump­tion is in­creas­ing. Uniquely, at this point in time, we have the Amer­i­can mar­ket, China and Europe all com­ing into a pe­riod of fairly sta­ble, and sus­tained growth, all in uni­son.

“So there are a lot of pos­i­tive in­di­ca­tors.”

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