President’s Report: March

President Liam Edwards

As I head into my second year as president, I firmly believe Irish food is in a good place and is ready to explode onto the world stage. However, we are aware of the battles ahead and if last week taught us anything, you just never know what is around the corner. On Monday the 5th of March, we had our AGM, conference and President’s Dinner in the truly world class Adare Manor. I would like to thank all those who attended and I hope you will all agree that there was a great line-up of speakers on the day. The following is an extract of my speech on the night.

I can’t start my speech and not mention the events of the last week. We know that when something like this happens, our industry is one of the hardest hit but we are resilient. In our industry, after a bad night we usually end it a few drinks, so what better place in Ireland to end this bad week than the surrounding of Adare Manor. Over a year ago I was approached to take on the role and I think my predecessor, Mr Grey, might have undersold the job a little when he said: ”You be grand. This is a walk in the park and a couple of trips to Dublin.” But the opportunity to be Cork’s first President and represent the food capital of Ireland was too good of an opportunity to miss!

I really don’t have to do an awful lot. I can honestly say you would all be paying over 9% vat if it wasn’t for our CEO Adrian Cummins. Having worked side by side on the vat campaign (well
mostly standing behind him), I think Pascal decided it would be easier to keep the vat at 9% than to listen to him. Having taken this job 10 years ago, I believe we are heading the right direction with the right man. We have become a major voice in the industry due to the continued growth of our membership. I would like to thank my fellow council members. We have healthy discussions during our meetings and I feel critical decisions are made for the good of the industry. I would like to give a special mention to one of my past Presidents, Brian Fallon, who continues to provide such an input into the association and I know from a personal point of view he made it a lot easier for me when I joined the council.

I would like to take this opportunity to make an announcement. I feel to give this Association its best representative I would need a Vice President. With that in mind, I would like to announce Mark McGowan from Scholars Townhouse, Drogheda, as Vice President for the coming year. I look forward to working closely with him for the next 12 months. In 2017, we saw two billion euros spent on food and drink and I think tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland are finally seeing the value of food tourism in this country. We have seen great success with the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland Ancient East which has attracted new markets to this country. The biggest market out there for us is food tourism and we have never seen the relationship between producer and restaurateurs stronger. We have seen local food provenance come to the fore and wonderful food incentives around the country.

On a global stage, I feel our top Irish culinary talent is not getting the recognition credit it deserves. To really compete with our European counterparts, the relationship our industry has with the fishing industry needs to improve. This industry is close to my heart. My own mother-in-law knows all about what fisherman do to earn a living with her 4 sons involved in commercial fishing. I know every one of our chefs would love to visit their nearest harbour and pick a box of fish that still has a pulse. However, like their our own industry, they are over-legislated and bound by red tape and I would like to see Börd Bia work closer with ourselves. I think we owe it to the fisherman of Ireland to educate and to promote fish. This has to go further than a few adverts in papers and I think we need the see more variation of fish on our menus.

There are positives in our industry again but as an association, we must also look at rural Ireland and counties that have struggled since Brexit. We continue to represent them and I know there is one question that every restaurant in Ireland ask themselves most days. Why do the government make it so hard to keep our doors open? We have seen the cost of insurance cripple our industry. The government need to intervene sooner rather than later. Yes, they have kept vat at 9%, but excise duty and wages remain the highest in Europe.

Every year we highlight the shortage of chefs in our industry, however, we have yet to get any positive response. We need a national hospitality and tourism education authority as we are still paying the price of the ludicrous decision to remove cert without a national centre to train our staff we will never achieve our full potential. We need staff and we need them now, we know we are not going to get these training centres overnight but what they can do now is look at the red tape that is involved in work permits and give us the opportunity were tap into other countries to fill our vacancies. It is safe to say we have a lot of battles ahead.

I’m not finished with the government yet. While reading the 2040 project recently, food and education don’t seem to be in any one sentence together. I would urge the government to introduce food education into our schools. It could seriously prevent diet-related illness such as obesity and diabetes. We know putting calories on menus is not the answer. Food education would teach our kids the values of food and its nutrition. Thank you for your support and have a great night