1986: Enforcement of prohibition on liquid milk imports into NI (but not buttermilk) #20YearRule

A slim green file available to peruse at the Public Records Office deals with the vexed issue of milk being illegally imported across the border from the Republic of Ireland and sold in Northern Ireland shops.

No, it’s not a file from post-messy Brexit 2026 that has fallen through a hole in the space-time continuum, but a 1986 file labelled AG/15/60A [selective scans] now released under the 20 Year Rule.

The Department of Agriculture wrote to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State on 6 March 1986 requesting the minister’s agreement that the department prosecute “retailers who persistently sell in NI pasteurised milk produced in the ROI”.

A shop “in the border area of the Province” was persisting in selling imported milk despite three letters over 18 months.

“The Department is concerned that unless firm action is taken in this instance, such illegal sales could increase thereby damaging the credibility of our import regime. As you will be aware the UK’s prohibition on imports of pasteurised milk is the subject of a Commission challenge (ECJ Court Case 261/85) and we would obviously wish to avoid jeopardising our chances of a successful defence.”

A pencil note on the draft letter says that the Minister’s approval was received.

The file contains typed and handwritten notes about shops in Newry selling ‘DEALGAN’ branded cartons, as well as other retailers in County Fermanagh who were selling imported milk.

Some shops were also selling imported buttermilk. [Ed – but not the Devil’s?!] While buttermilk was not covered by the import regulations, the Animal Health team was to be informed.

Officials purchased samples of milk cartooned by NCF Sligo Dairies on 20 March 1987 and tested the contents.

“The sample was compositionally satisfactory for semi-skimmed milk. The product however should have been described as semi-skimmed milk, not low fat milk. The statement of calories was strictly not in the prescribed form which should have been kjoules per 100 mls and kcals per 100 mls.”

A much thicker file AG/15/107 deals with papers about the Exportation of Milk and Quota Implications. Together the files are a small reminder of what could lie ahead if regulations are not aligned and trade negotiations with the EU falter.

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