John McCann MBE, Managing Director of one of Ireland’s largest salad and vegetable producers Willowbrook Foods, has called out the need for political stability in Northern Ireland, describing the local agri food sector as being ‘in grave peril’ should the current impasse continue.
Willowbrook Foods has been experiencing a steady period of growth, increasing its presence in both the Irish and UK markets and taking its first step into international export markets. However, John believes the sector overall is beginning to rapidly feel the effects of the political situation.
“One of Northern Ireland’s richest economic assets, its agri food sector, is in grave peril due to the current stalemate in our government and the associated lack of decision-making and proactive support,” said John McCann MBE.
Mr McCann’s comments follow an initiative led by NI business groups last month proposing solutions that will ensure decisions crucial to the prosperity of the region are taken.
“I welcome and echo the message put forward by a wide range of business bodies in May that called for the immediate introduction of practical solutions to address this situation.
“From an agri food perspective, the lack of investment incentives and ongoing uncertainty are seriously hurting our sector. Exporting into the Republic of Ireland is a major part of our growth strategy and we are carefully considering establishing a southern presence in order to protect the future of our business.
“We can sit back and watch a thriving, hugely valuable industry begin to fail, or we can demand more from our political representatives. They must either hand over power to the civil service to make key decisions or immediately find a solution that will see our elected representatives return to power,” said John McCann MBE.
Mr McCann believes that Northern Ireland has become a less attractive place to work, particularly for foreign nationals, many of whom are employed within the agri food sector:
“A large proportion of our valued employee base are not originally from Northern Ireland and have chosen to make a home for themselves and their families here.
“We have worked hard to make Willowbrook Foods an attractive, stable place to work for people of all nationalities and I am hugely frustrated that our politicians’ stubbornness, alongside the impact of Brexit, risk making Northern Ireland a less appealing place to live and work,” John said.
“I have already written to local MLAs calling for action and am this week writing to Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill to reiterate my concerns.
“The hard-working farmers, growers, producers and manufacturers of Northern Ireland have worked too hard and too long to let this ludicrous situation destroy livelihoods,” said John McCann MBE.
Willowbrook Foods supplies bagged salads, prepared vegetables and meal accompaniments into the retail, catering and foodservice markets across the UK and Ireland.