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