THE MINISTER’S JOURNAL 28/11/16 – 02/12/16

Monday:

Monday morning began with a few hours in the Macroom constituency.  After catching up with a number of calls I travelled to Limerick to attend the ICMSA AGM as a guest speaker.  I was pleased to join my old colleague former Taoiseach John Bruton who addressed the meeting on Brexit.  Following a challenging year in the dairy sector there was a lively exchange of views expressed, however I must say that the welcome was warm.  I returned briefly to the Constituency before travelling to Dublin to ensure the December traffic wouldn’t prevent me attending cabinet in the morning.  

Tuesday:

A routine Tuesday morning with breakfast in the Department followed by a pre-cabinet meeting and Cabinet itself at 10am which continued past noon.  I attended a quick photocall for an ESB Networks sponsored Farm Safety initiative before chairing a round table meeting of stakeholders involved in the pig sector.  At 3pm I attended the Dáil chamber to pay tribute to former Tánaiste, and Fine Gael Deputy Leader, the great Peter Barry RIP.  After the Dáil had paid its respects to Peter, I returned to the Department to meet with the Directors of Diageo Ireland to hear an overview of their activities in the Irish beverage sector which forms a major part of the Food Wise 2025 strategy as a growth driver.  I concluded Tuesday’s business with a meeting with the Secretary General, Áine and Jonathan on on-going Department business.

Wednesday:

I kick off Wednesday with an early meeting with Peter Heffernan of the Marine Institute before Chairing the Marine Co-ordination Committee which is the inter-departmental group tasked with over-seeing the implementation of the Harnessing our Ocean Wealth strategy.  I’m afforded a short period to prepare for oral questions before attending Leader’s questions where my colleague Richard Bruton deputised for the Taoiseach who is in the US.  Once the Order of Business concluded I field questions on issues such as the the RDP, GLAS, TB eradication, and Climate change.  After about an hour and half on my feet in the Dáil I return to the Department to catch up on calls mainly from Constituents, before again returning to the Dáil chamber for a vote on the Adoption Bill.

leadsome

Thursday:

Struggling with a heavy head cold, I catch the 10am Dublin Heathrow flight for an important day of events in London.  First off is a meeting with the Irish ambassador to the UK, Dan Mulhall who provides a comprehensive overview on the political landscape in the UK post the Brexit referendum.  After lunch we make the short trip to Whitehall to meet with my UK counterpart, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsome.  We had a a good discussion on matters of mutual concern in terms of the UK’s impending departure from the UK.  What I found reassuring from the meeting was the there is no shortage of common ground between us, the UK Government and importantly key stakeholders in the UK such as the major food retailers and the National Farmers Union.  After the meeting I return to the Irish embassy for a media briefing before addressing a very large attendance of Irish food businesses and clients at the annual Bord Bia trade reception.  Regrettably I could not remain to enjoy the festivities as I had to make the 10pm flight back to Cork for a busy Friday schedule. 

Friday:

Friday commences in the Department’s Sea Fisheries HQ in Clonakilty where I take a call from Morning Ireland at 8.30am to discuss events of the previous day.  Afterwards I discuss the coming fortnight with officials, which will be crucial for the prospects of the industry for 2017.  At 10 am I Chair a stakeholders consultation including representatives from the Fisheries Producer Organisations, environmental NGO’s, BIM, the Marine Institute and the Department.  The purpose of the consultation is to discuss the forthcoming Fisheries Council meeting which will set out TAC’s and quotas for the sector for 2017.  Following a two hour discussion business comes to a close with everybody very clear on the significant challenge that awaits us when we travel to Brussels in the coming days.  From Clonakilty I make my way to my Macroom office for a number of meetings and then it’s onwards for a visit to one of the largest secondary schools in my Constituency.  I pay a visit to my Ballincollig office in the evening before making my into the South Mall in Cork City where I was delighted to launch the impressive book on Farming & the Law, authored by Karen Walsh.  My final engagement on Friday involved taking the a trip down west to Baltimore to address the Cork South West Fine Gael Constituency executive who were gathering for political and social purposes.  Unfortunately my head cold has not lifted……a bad case of Minister-flu perhaps!

The Minister’s Journal 21/11/16 – 27/11/16

Monday

After a busy number of weeks, Monday is a welcome opportunity to spend some quality time in Cork. My morning begins with the Westgate Foundation, where Julie Murphy CEO and her team are doing superb work in caring for the elderly in Ballincollig. The addition to their fleet of buses will allow the Foundation to reach more clients through meals on wheels and the range of support services they provide for the elderly in the area. Then it’s back to the office for much of the rest of the day, meeting with constituents and catching up on all things local. Monday ends with the Carrigaline Macra Annual Agriculture Conference entitled “Irish Agriculture – At a Crossroads.”  It is always uplifting to meet with the next generation of enthusiastic and competitive farmers and we touch on issues like climate change, the future of the CAP, market volatility and of course, Brexit and the challenges is presents. We finish up around 11.30pm and it’s onward to Dublin so I’m in the office early for Cabinet.

 Tuesday

A quick catch up in the Department before heading over to Cabinet to plough through a range of priority issues. We finish up around lunchtime and I go straight to a launch of the Succession Farm Partnership Scheme. The Scheme was announced in Budget 2016 but its commencement was subject to EU State Aid approval, which has now been received. The Scheme provides for a €25,000 tax credit over five years to assist with the transfers of farms within a partnership structure, supporting the inter-generational transfer of family farms. A working lunch with Minister of State Andrew Doyle gives us a chance to discuss some of the more pressing issues we are dealing with in the Department. I then head over to a bustling and chilly Dublin Port to record a piece to camera for a video we are doing on Food Safety, giving consumers an overview of what we are doing on a daily basis to make sure food is safe from farm to fork. We’re straight back to the Department for a discussion with the Chief Veterinary Officer Martin Blake on traceability issues and to clear a stack of files with my Private Secretary, Graham before heading over to Leinster House to meet with the Parliamentary Party on Agriculture issues.

Wednesday

I start Wednesday morning in Corke Park for a ‘Future in Food’ event, sponsored by Bord Bia. The event is a good opportunity to highlight the importance of sustainable processing for Irish food and drink companies and to review some of the positive experiences of the Origin Green programme to date. Next, I’m in the Seanad to deal with a number of commencement matters raised by Senators for discussion on the schedule for morning business. Back to the Department for a meeting with Farm Contractors Ireland, who wish to raise a number of key concerns affecting their members. Next, it’s over to the Dáil Chamber for Leader’s Questions and Questions on Promised Legislation. After fielding questions on the Hen Harrier and beef and tillage sectors, it’s straight back to the office for a quick lunch and meeting with the Secretary General. The rest of the afternoon provides a little time to catch up on calls and briefings before heading to our weekly parliamentary party meeting. Afterwards, I have the chance to pop into an Agricultural Affairs meeting to discuss some of the key issues on the ground affecting farmers. Votes on the Finance Bill keep all TDs on their toes until close to 3.00am.

 

 Thursday

Thursday begins with a Cabinet Committee on Brexit. This is a really important opportunity to feed into the wider approach across Government to the challenges presenting post Brexit and to keep Cabinet colleagues informed on how the Agri-food and fisheries sectors are being impacted. Afterwards, I meet with Cecil and the team on the fisheries side to discuss a wide range of issues. This time of year is particularly important for the fishing industry as Ireland’s Quotas will be decided in December at Council for 2017. This year is going to be very challenging but as always, we will put the best arguments forward in Ireland’s interest. Votes in the Dáil continue on the Social Welfare Bill 2016 during the afternoon and I meet with Coillte to discuss a number of strategic developments they are working on. I finally get on the road for Dulhallow to attend the IRD Business Awards, showcasing the hard work, commitment and entrepreneurial spirit of local businesses in Dulhallow.

 

Friday

On Friday, I am in sunny Castletownbere to outline plans for a multi-phased Harbour Integration Development Project for Castletownbere Fishery Harbour Centre. The new project will almost double the length of pier space on Dinish Island to over 400 metres, in addition to providing a fit for purpose Harbour Administration Building and associated works on the mainland, with investment of €21m. I meet with a range of local stakeholders and with the Fishing Producer Organisations to discuss priorities for the forthcoming TAC and Quota discussions. Later that day it’s back to Agriculture as I attend Teagasc Clonakilty Agricultural College Graduation Ceremony in Fernhill House.  It’s fantastic to witness 161 talented students graduate across a range of areas such as Dairy Herd Management and Farm Administration. Onwards to Ballinagree, for John O’Sullivan’s Mayor’s Ball. Great to see a small rural area coming together to fundraise for local community developments.

Saturday

Saturday provides a welcome opportunity to do some further catch up on Constituency work in the office.

Sunday

I have the opportunity to attend the Laochra Óg Hurling Club Poc Fada in memory of Shane Murphy. A really superb community event raising funds for the Children’s Leukemia Association Cork. Well done to all involved!

The Minister’s Journal 13/11/16 – 18/11/16

Sunday

Starting the week with a Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting in Brussels means leaving Cork on Sunday afternoon for a Dublin flight. I arrive in time for a briefing with officials, ahead of a busy couple of days. Council meetings are a chance to have a real input into decisions affecting the Irish agri-food and fisheries sectors but equally, at the moment they are a crucial opportunity to meet with other Ministers and explain Ireland’s position in the context of Brexit.

 

Monday

I start the day with a meeting with EPP (European People’s Party) colleagues. As the largest political grouping at an EU level, it’s a really useful opportunity to discuss the main issues with representatives from other across Member States and often to press the Agriculture Commissioner on Ireland’s interests!  From there to Council, where there are wide-ranging discussions on everything from fisheries to animal welfare, antimicrobial resistence and animal health issues.

 

Tuesday

A second day of Council where fisheries is a key focus and I stress the need to find solutions for mixed fisheries as the discards ban is being rolled out, to protect Irish fishing communities. I also meet with Alain Vidalies, the French Fisheries Minister, to discuss some common issues ahead of the very important December Council, where fishing quotas will be set for 2017.  From an Agricultural perspective, free trade agreements and the future of CAP post 2020 are the hot topics. As a small, open economy, trade is vitally important for our Agriculture sector but not any cost. I am also pleased to note the Commission’s focus on improving transparency in the supply chain. This is something I have focused on for many years and we are now seeing progress in this area at an EU level.

 

Wednesday

Having returned to Dublin late on Tuesday evening, I am in a position to meet with the Taoiseach and other Cabinet colleagues on Wednesday morning, to discuss key issues ahead of the North South Ministerial Council, later in the week. From there, I fly to London for a meeting with the CEO of Tesco. This is one of a series of meetings I have been engaged in, to encourage Ireland’s continued important trading relationship with the UK, particularly following the outcome of the UK referendum result. It is clear now more than ever that our Food Wise 2025 strategy, coupled with the Origin Green programme are of strategic importance in the marketplace. On Wednesday we take another step forward in rolling out the Agri-Cashflow Support Loan Scheme announced in the Budget, as banks and other lending institutions are invited to take part in the €150m scheme, which will offer farmers working capital support at low-cost interest rates of 2.95%.

 

Thursday

Thursday is a hectic day, starting with an early morning catch up with the Secretary General of the Department. This gives us a chance to make some key policy decisions and to ensure we are on top of things. From there, to a launch of the Marine Development Team, which will underpin the work of Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, Ireland’s strategy to double the contribution to GDP to 2.4% a year by 2030. Next, I’m in the Dáil for Leader’s Questions and some of the business of the day, before heading back to my Department to chair the ninth meeting of the Beef Forum. Always a vigorous discussion, the meeting comes at an important time for the industry and is a useful forum for a frank discussion between all stakeholders in the beef sector. I update the industry on our response to Brexit to date, we receive a market update from Bord Bia and the Department following the recent trade mission to Morocco and Algeria, as well as presentations from the IFA and Meat Industry Ireland. From there, it’s back to seafood as I attend the BIM National Seafood Awards, celebrating expertise across the seafood sector, from fishing to aquaculture, to processing and retail.

 

Friday

I travel to Armagh at 8.30am on Friday to attend the North South Ministerial Council. This is an important plenary meeting where I meet again with my colleague, Minister Michelle McIlveen, Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to discuss the common issues facing the agri-food sector both North and South. Following the NSMC, I head to Silverhill Ducks processing facility in Monaghan, with Minister Heather Humphreys, where we opened a new centre of excellence, an impressive 1,700 square metre facility which represents a €3m investment. We finish the day with a public meeting on Brexit in Monaghan, drawing together stakeholders in the agri-food industry to discuss the challenges facing our sector and the measures needed to support businesses through uncertain times. A final catch up with local IFA members before hitting the road for Cork around 7.00pm.

THE MINISTER’S JOURNAL 06/11/16 – 11/11/16

Monday:

I started off Monday morning by spending a few hours in the Macroom constituency office in an attempt to catch up on some work built up while I was in Morocco last week.  Took the road to Dubin at 11am in order to attend a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Brexit.  Given the potential impact of Brexit on Ireland it requires a “whole of Government” approach to deal with it, and this committee offers a forum to monitor and address comprehensively all of the issues involved.  Following the meeting I spend the afternoon in the Department in preparation for a busy week ahead.

Tuesday:

The one benefit of travelling to Dublin on Monday is that it rules out the need of a 5am start on Tuesday in order to reach Cabinet for 9.45am.  Following Cabinet I meet with NewERA (New Economy and Recovery Authority) who provide centralised financial and commercial advisory services and acts as a dedicated source of corporate finance advice to Ministers of the Government with respect to designated bodies.  Afterwards I address an ICOS Conference in the Convention centre before travelling back to Cork City for a meeting with the Norwegian Minister for Agriculture Jon Georg Dale.

dairygold

Wednesday:

Notwithstanding the news from the USA, for me it was a real positive start to Wednesday morning at the Dairygold plant Mogeely where I join Minister Dale along with the management of TINE Norway and Dairygold to launch a strategic partnership for the production of the world renowned “Jarlsberg” cheese brand in Mogeely.  This represents a significant vote of confidence in the Irish dairy industry.  Following the launch I travel to Dublin for the second time in 48 hours where I spend the afternoon in the Department in briefings with officials.

Thursday:

A packed Thursday schedule began with a meeting with Animal Health Ireland.  The AHI functions as a partnership between private sector organisations and businesses in the agri-food sector and my Department.  Following the meeting I walk to Newstalk studios to join a useful and positive panel discussion on Irish farming with Anna May McHugh of Ploughing fame and Peter Byrne of Farm relief services on the Pat Kenny Show.  I return to the Department to meet with SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie and representatives of the Ulster Farmers Union to discuss the North South implications of Brexit.  I spend the late afternoon in the Dáil and then it’s back on to the M8 again to return to Cork.

margaret-richie

Friday:

Friday I had the privilege of visiting Bandon Grammar school in the Cork South West constituency.  Here I spoke to Agricultural science students and made a pitch to them to consider the agri food sector as an area to consider in terms of pursuing their career options.  I was put through my paces during a Q&A session with the students where I faced questions on Brexit, Trump, climate change and milk prices for good measure.  My colleague Jim Daly joined me on the visit.  We took the opportunity to do a tour of the school and see first-hand the excellent work being done there, particularly on the IT side where the school have showed tremendous innovation in engaging with industry to develop a system for the school using cloud computing which minimises the need for expensive investment in hardware.  This is a model which could be used across schools and certainly piqued Jim’s interest as a member of the Joint Oireachtas committee for Education.

THE MINISTER’S JOURNAL 01/11/16 – 05/11/16

Tuesday:

My plans for Tuesday were turned upside down at 10am when I was informed that our scheduled cabinet meeting for Wednesday morning was now being brought forward to 2pm.  For a Minister based in Macroom it’s a case of drop everything and hightail it to Dublin.  I arrive just in time for the meeting.  The change of plan does however allow me to attend the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit on Wednesday morning.

 

Wednesday:

This week’s Minister’s Journal is slightly different to previous weeks in that on Wednesday I departed for a Trade Mission to Morocco.  Admittedly, before becoming Minister I would have held a jaundiced view of the value of Trade missions such as this.  However having travelled to the Far East in September and having had many discussions with those involved in the agri-food industry, there is little doubt that such Trade efforts are crucially important in terms of building relationships in new markets and strengthening bonds in existing ones.  I don’t intend to go into detail on all the meetings that we managed to squeeze in to our three day trip, but you will see from the itinerary below that there certainly wasn’t much opportunity for sight seeing!!

Accompanied by some 10 Irish companies on the mission, along with senior officials from my Department and from State Agencies in the agri-food and fisheries sector, including Bord Bia and Sustainable Food Systems Ireland whom all I must commend for the professionalism and hard work in putting this trip together, the following is a flavour of our week:

Itinerary for Trade Mission

Wednesday 2nd November

PM          Departure from Dublin Airport for Rabat

PM          Arrival at Rabat Airport PM          Briefing of Minister by Official Delegation

Thursday 3th November – Rabat/Casablanca

AM          Business Networking Breakfast

AM          Briefing by Ambassador

AM          Meeting with National Office for Health Security of Food Products (ONSSA) AM          Meeting with Agency for Agricultural Development of Morocco (ADA)

AM          Bilateral with Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries                                                        PM          Depart for Casablanca

PM          Company Site Visit

PM          Business Networking Reception

PM          Debrief for Ministerial Delegation

meat-plant

Friday 4th November – Agadir                                              

AM          Depart for Agadir

AM          Arrive Agadir

PM          Dairy Company Site Visit

PM          Meeting with Regional Representatives

PM          Depart from Agadir Airport for Casablanca Airport

PM          Arrival in Casablanca Airport

 ag-min-morocco

Agri-food exports from Ireland to Morocco last year continued their steady growth and have now almost doubled from around €8 million in 2013 to almost €14.5 million in 2015. 2016 is also looking to be a very positive year so far with almost €13 million in agri-food products exported by the end of July which is almost the entire amount for 2015. We can do better, however, and this trip was an opportunity to raise the profile of Ireland as a producer of top class food and livestock in this region, at both political and commercial level.

North Africa offers enormous potential for the Irish food and drink industry.  Diversification of markets is a key goal of Food Wise 2025 and Africa represents a major potential growth area. This is even more important now as we face the uncertainty which the Brexit decision brings for exporters. As Minister I am determined to be proactive in the face of the threat posed to our agri-food sector by Brexit. Securing new markets and consolidating and expanding existing markets for our exports is a key part of this strategy.

It is worth pointing out that the Companies that travelled with us undertook a comprehensive programme of parallel events during the course of the political events that my team participated in.  The trade mission continued over the weekend to Algeria with senior officials from the Department, State Agencies, including Bord Bia and SFSI, and Irish agri-food exporters.  Events in Algeria included bilaterals with the Algerian State Agency ONIL who manage public procurement of dairy products making them one of the largest buyers of dairy produce in the world. The weekend also mincluded a series of commercial and promotional events including a major seminar, organised by Bord Bia, promoting Irish Dairy called “Food Ireland – Safe, Secure and Sustainable”.

Algeria is the second largest importer of powdered milk in the world, after China, and Ireland already provides 4.5% of their milk powder imports and 23% of cheese imports into Algeria.  These meetings will focus on strengthening trade links and highlight the unique quality and reliability of Irish dairy produce to key players in the Algerian market.

THE MINISTER’S JOURNAL 24/10/16 TO 28/10/16

Monday:

Monday can only be described as novelty at this stage – an entire day in Cork North West!  I spent the early morning in the Macroom office before attending the official opening of the new extension in Kilmurry NS.  I’m still not accustomed to cutting tapes and unveiling plaques with my name on them.  It is a strange privilege to be welcomed as warmly as I am on visits such as this one to Kilmurry NS.  I was greeted by a guard of honour from the Children which was followed by plenty of music and song from all the classes in the school.  There is tremendous credit due to Mrs Creedon, her staff, successive boards of management, parents and of course the pupils for the work that has been carried out at the school.  After a most pleasant morning and some welcome refreshment I was then treated to a private tour of the Kilmurry Independence Museum by Tony Murphy, Jim Murphy and Tim Hartnett.  This facility is a hidden gem.  There is so much to peruse and such a depth of local and national history on display that this museum should be a must see for everybody in the locality and indeed further afield.  At 2pm I travelled south to Enniskeane to meet the management and staff of GP Wood.  The Grainger and O’Callaghan families have been excellent employers in Cork over many decades and are now embarking on an ambitious investment programme which will set them up to be major players in the timber industry for many decades to come.  Monday’s final engagement is a Cork North West Fine Gael constituency meeting, where I make a presentation to outgoing regional organiser Ian Dinan.  Ian has served the Party diligently over the past sixteen years and we wish him the best for the future.  I escape Millstreet just before midnight.

kilmurry

Tuesday:

A 5am alarm call for a 5.30am departure to Dublin to make Cabinet.  After Cabinet there is some preparatory work for Wednesday’s North South Ministerial Council meeting, before launching a website on behalf of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum.  My afternoon is spent in the Seanad discussing Brexit and the implications for the agri-food sector and agriculture.  From there I move to a Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure, Environment and Climate action.  I’m afforded twenty minutes to grab a bite to eat before retreating to the Department for some brief preparation for RTE Prime Time with Jonathan & Áine.  I travel to RTE at 9pm – a quick dab of make-up (to hide the lines) and its lights, camera action at 9.30pm with David McCullagh in the Chair for a debate on…..  yes – Brexit!!  I depart RTE studios at 10.30pm with one outstanding matter to deal with for the day – removing the makeup!!!

Wednesday:

Wednesday is a mammoth day on the mileage front!  First engagement is a meet and greet with the new Macra na Feirme CEO Denis Duggan, accompanied by Derrie Dillon.  Macra is an organisation very close to my heart having enjoyed many years as a member.  Macra get the business and pleasure mix right better than any organisation I’m aware of and is a fantastic outlet for young people from rural backgrounds.  After a run through of outstanding business with the Sec Gen I depart for Armagh for a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council.  In Armagh I meet with the NI Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen, their Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard, while Minister of State Michael Ring joins me on our Governmental team.  Following a wide ranging discussion on a number of topics its back on the road, south bound to Templemore for the removal of former FG Cllr Pauline Coonan RIP, wife of my former colleague Noel Coonan.  From Tipperary it was north-west to Sligo for the night in preparation for my appearance at the “Women & Agriculture Conference” in the morning.

macra

Thursday:

To say I was blessed amongst women at breakfast at the Conference would be a great understatement.  I deliver one of the opening addresses at this superb event which unfortunately I can’t linger and enjoy as I have to rush back to the Dáil in time for voting just after midday.  I make it back to the Dáil from Sligo just in time for the division bells.  Following voting I return to the Department to prepare for my monthly cross questioning on the floor of the Dáil from opposition (and sometimes Govt) Deputies.  After a tough but fair couple of hours in the Chamber, it’s back into the car again for 5pm in the hope of making a meeting in Listowel at 8pm!  It is well after nine when I sheepishly slip into a fairly packed meeting room in the Listowel Arms Hotel for a Kerry Fine Gael constituency meeting.  The Party is dusting itself down particularly in North Kerry following the loss of Party stalwart Jimmy Deenihan at the General Election.  There is however optimism and defiance that this seat can be won back when the time comes!  Following the Fine Gael meeting I meet with the local ICMSA committee before getting back on the road to Cork sometime after 11.

women-agriculture

Friday:

A trip to the Doctor’s on Friday morning – but fortunately not on the grounds of illness.  I meet with local GP’s in the Macroom area to discuss their concerns regarding the provision of health services in the area.  Following the meeting I spend some time in the Constituency office.  I’m looking forward to the respite of a bank holiday weekend.  Next week is a big week with an important Trade Mission to North Africa.  Having travelled from Cork to Dublin to Armagh to Tipperary to Sligo to Dublin to Listowel to Macroom in 72 hours however, that distance doesn’t seem too daunting!

THE MINISTER’S JOURNAL 16/10/16 – 23/10/16

Sunday Night:

On landing in Paris, I received word that my old friend and loyal supporter Jack Murphy from Inchigeela had passed away.  Jack was one of the proudest Uibh Laoire men, and fiercest Fine Gaeler you were ever likely to meet ar dheis dé go raibh a anam.  On a day of loss it was with a heavy heart I met the rest of the team and made our way to our hotel to prepare for a busy Monday.

Monday:

An 8am pre-brief with our Agriculture Attaché in Paris Karl Walshe was my first engagement on Monday.  We have an incredible network of agriculture attaché’s throughout the world that do tremendous work promoting the Irish agri-food sector worldwide.  At 9am I meet one of France’s best known Agri-journalists who writes for Le Figaro.  He is keen to discuss our plans for growing our agri-food sector and in particular the dairy sector which has been in a state of crisis in France over the past year.  After a comprehensive discussion we depart the City for “SIAL” Paris, the world’s largest business to business food exhibition.  On arrival I take part in a Bord Bia presentation and press briefing for both Irish and international journalists before taking to the floor of the convention centre to meet with the Bord Bia supported exhibitors.  It’s thoroughly enjoyable to help these companies promote their products but moreover to hear their individual stories.  Whilst making our way through the exhibit we meet with Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen, French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll who was accompanied by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.  After meeting with almost thirty exhibitors we return to the City centre for a late dinner with the team.  I must commend Ambassador Byrne Nason for her assistance throughout the day particularly as she was occupied in making arrangements for the return of Anthony Foley to his family and his home.

Tuesday:

Another 7am start to make it to the train station on foot in time for our Eurostar to London.  This was my first time travelling from Paris to London in this manner and I must say it was a most pleasant trip.  We are met in London by Mary McCarthy our Attaché in London.  Our first engagement in London is a store visit to a Sainsbury’s in order to see first-hand the type of Irish product they carry and to fully appreciate the nature of their business model.  Afterwards we have time for a quick lunch before meeting with Mike Coupe (CEO) in Sainsbury’s Headquarters.  The purpose of the meeting is to reiterate our intention to maintain strong trading links between Ireland and the UK and to re-affirm our continued commitment to the production of high quality, safe sustainably produced food.  The exchange is positive and helps us build further insight into the mentality amongst business leaders in the UK at present.  Following the meeting I travel to Heathrow to catch a flight to Cork.  I arrive in Inchigeela at 8pm just in time to pay my respects to Jack Murphy and say my final farewell to the big man.  There are very few downsides to being Minister, but one is that your time is not your own.  I would dearly love to stay to attend Jack’s funeral on Wednesday, but unfortunately a packed diary dictates otherwise.

Wednesday:

A 6am departure from Macroom is required to make a 9.30am Cabinet Sub-committee meeting on Brexit followed by another on European Affairs.  I attend Leader’s Questions at noon and take a question on the slurry spreading deadline!  In the afternoon I meet with Andrew McDowell, Ireland’s newest appointee to the European Investment Bank.  We discuss our new low cost Agri Loan Fund as well as other matters pertaining to the sector.  As Andrew departs I notice some familiar faces on the corridor!  The Coachford farm discussion group are in town and I just about manage to find twenty minutes for a chat with them.  However, I’m assured they are more interested in visiting the Dáil bar than doing too much talking anyway!  Once the lads have been safely signed into the Dáil I take a call from the Ear to the Ground Magazine for a wide ranging interview.  A meeting with a Harbour Development group, the FG parliamentary Party and Sligo Oireachtas members complete the programme for another packed day, but admittedly my thoughts turn to Inchigeela on more than one occasion throughout.

Thursday:

After my usual breakfast routine it’s back to the desk for a run through of issues with the Sec Gen and his officials.  Mid-morning I meet with Minister for Communications, Climate Action & Environment, Denis Naughten and this team.  This Department shares many areas of common concern with Denis’s department therefore regular interaction is important.  Another radio interview, this time with Clare FM prior to tomorrows visit to there, is followed by a Brexit Stakeholders consultation meeting.  I travel across the City to attend the removal of the late Fergus O’Brien RIP before heading south to attend a meeting of Fine Gael branches in Freemount.  It’s another 11pm plus finish, but it’s good to be back in Macroom – if only for a few hours.

Friday:

Friday starts with an event in the diary that I never look forward to – a trip to the dentist.  But credit to Paula, the experience isn’t too painful.  We depart for Clare and arrive at Liffey Mills at 1pm just in time for the grand opening of their splendid new facility in Ennis.  From Ennis it’s onwards to the Burren to meet with Dr Brendan Dunford, Michael Davern and their team behind the successful Burren project.  This locally led scheme is a fantastic template for promoting agricultural activity in areas of natural conservation.  I’m really blown away by the enthusiasm of all involved as well as the beauty of the landscape in this precious area.  We make the long trek from the Burren to Whitegate in East Clare, but the journey was worthwhile as I’m afforded a really warm welcome at the Burke family home.  There I have a good chat with the local farm discussion group on a range of issues.  A welcome cup of tea sets us up for the trip to back to Ennis to the Old Ground Hotel where I host a Brexit meeting in conjunction with Clare FG, and the IFA.  There is a good turnout for a Friday night and the discussion goes on until well after 11pm.

Saturday:

A leisurely start to Saturday given that I’m not due at the Millstreet Dairy Show until 1pm.  Again I receive a really warm welcome at Green Glens for this event.  I meet some old faces some whom I haven’t met in far too long.  Unfortunately my stay is curtailed as I must travel to Dublin for the Fine Gael Presidential Dinner hosted by the Taoiseach.  However I am on duty for the event – acting as Master of Ceremonies so there is no opportunity to kick back and enjoy the event.  Unfortunately I am unable to attend the 25 year anniversary celebrations of Macroom GAA winning the Mid Cork Junior Championship in the Castle Hotel Macroom.  In ways I think this is Jack Murphy having the last word on our win against Uibh Laoire back in ’91!  I return to Macroom just before 2am to round off the week.