Monday was Constituency office day. With a busy week ahead including a trip abroad it was good to have the opportunity to look after some Constituency representations with Catherine & Siobhan. Later in the evening I attended the press launch for the 2017 Cork 20 Rally which will be headquartered in Macroom. This is a significant sporting event and will be of great benefit to businesses in the area who I’m sure will have a bumper weekend (apologies). Afterwards I headed to Inchigeelagh for their Fine Gael branch AGM, where a good discussion was had on a range of matters both local and national.
A 5.30am departure from Macroom in order to make Dublin in time for Cabinet. Agriculture is centre stage in the Dáil this week due to a Private members motion being tabled on Wednesday on the difficulties faced in the tillage sector over the past number of months. I brief colleagues on my position and they endorse the approach. Post cabinet I meet with the NTMA followed by Senator Tim Lombard who expresses his support for tillage farmers in his area. The afternoon is dominated by preparations for the IFA AGM later in the evening and Wednesdays Dáil debate. I travel to the Farm centre at 4.30pm accompanied by the Sec Gen, Minister of State Doyle and Jonathan (advisor). After taking questions from the media I then address the meeting before a two hour marathon Q&A with members of the IFA executive Council. Throughout the day I had been in contact with opposition spokespersons on Agriculture to inform them of my proposals on the tillage situation and seeking their support. I learn when I return to the car that the debate is to proceed with each side maintaining their respective positions. I return to the Department at about eight to prepare for what promises to be an eventful Wednesday.
8am breakfast, a flick through the newspapers and straight into meetings with officials. At 10am I meet with the team from Farm Relief Services who have concerns regarding the availability of skilled workers and appropriate training in some instances in the agricultural sector. In the early afternoon I attend in the Dáil chamber for Leaders questions. Afterwards, while an IFA protest congregates I finalise preparations for Private members time. Immediately before entering the Chamber I receive confirmation of a case of atypical BSE in an 18 year old cow. I sit in the Dáil chamber listening to contributions and criticisms conscious of the news about to break outside. My primary concern is that the case will be reported proportionally and responsibly which I’m pleased to note it was. Following the debate I spend a number of hours in my office.
Following breakfast I have an early meeting with Michael Ewing and his team from the Environmental pillar to discuss issues such as the climate change challenge from an agricultural perspective. In the afternoon I attend the Dáil for voting time. Today is a day of goodbyes. Firstly I have lunch with outgoing Bord Bia CEO Aidan Cotter who leaves behind quite the legacy. €11billion in Agri-food and drinks exports in 2016 is where Aidan passes the baton to his successor Tara McCarthy. After a pleasant lunch there is lively “tea party” going on outside my office when I return for the wonderful Geraldine who is retiring after 44 years in the Department. Alas I’m only a side show at this event as Geraldine only has eyes for Minister Coveney who shows up in time to surprise the lady of the hour.
I spend Friday morning in meetings and with the Department Brexit unit. Prime Minister May’s speech during the week certainly quickened pulses across the world. Our considered and multi faceted approach to Brexit continues at the weekend as I travel to Berlin in the afternoon for the ninth Agriculture Minister’s Conference as part of the Global forum on Food & Agriculture.
Berlin is the centre of the Agricultural world for the day as 70 Ministers from around the World including 20 from EU member states attend to discuss the importance of water as a key to future food security. I take the opportunity to meet my EU colleagues and where possible discuss matters Brexit on a one to one basis. These efforts will gather pace significantly in the coming weeks starting tomorrow Sunday when I travel to Brussels ahead of a Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting.
I took advantage of my Sunday in Berlin by meeting with the UK Secretary of State for Environment Food & Rural Affairs Andrea Leadsome. Brexit and Northern Ireland were the main topics of discussion before I made my to the airport for my flight to Brussels and another busy week ahead.