It’s Budget week, and not having travelled this road before as a Minister, I am admittedly nervous as we depart Macroom early, Dublin bound.  I phone Andrew Doyle (Minister of State) en route for a final run through of the agenda for the Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting in Luxembourg where he is deputising for me.  The day is dominated by phone calls between my office, the Department of Finance, and DPER regarding the slightest of margins.  At this stage every Euro counts.  Áine (policy advisor) is keeping an open line to Finance as I continue to go through each expenditure item, line by line with officials.  The real drama however is happening elsewhere.  The SBCI (Strategic Banking Corporation Ireland) board are meeting to sign off on the Agri-Loan fund we have been working on for a number of months.  This will be the centre-piece of our strategy to assist farmers through income volatility.  There are audible gasps of relief throughout the fifth floor of Ag House when word filters through that there’s a green light for the scheme!  At 5pm it looks as if we have all the detail – now it’s about shaping the message.  Jonathan (Press Advisor) gets to work on draft one of the Department’s Budget day Press release.  It’s simply not possible or indeed worthwhile to include every detail of every measure in our Budget day messaging.  The key is to communicate the details that are going to be of major significance to our stakeholders.  The significant policy initiatives contained in our Budget are directed at farm incomes and Brexit mitigation measures.  This will be our message on Budget day and is taking shape by the time Andrew returns from Luxembourg to contribute his views.  It’s getting late when we decide to park the process until the next morning to allow fresh eyes reflect on where we are at.


7am and most of the team are already at their desks.  The detail of our budget has remained intact overnight, and our PR has over-gone a few tweaks and is now, bar any shocks in Paschal or Michael’s speeches, ready to go.  The Ag house canteen is popular amongst Oireachtas members.  I have breakfast with Denis Naughten and his team (Ross & Suzie).  As we leave I’m met by Simon Coveney on his way in.  All are satisfied that their respective budget’s are delivering the best possible outcome given the limited resources at hand.  It’s straight to Cabinet before returning to the Department.  Time is limited.  The Budget speech begins at 1pm.  Our Department Press Conference is at 4pm.  I have one last run through the detail with the team before rushing to the Dáil chamber to be in position for Minister Noonan’s speech.  One would think that was that, but as the official budget documents are circulated I can’t help but notice that some of the measures agreed in our Budget do not appear.  I text back to the Department, but what I don’t realise at the time is that they are in continuous contact with Finance & DPER as the Nation listens attentively to Michael.  I’m quickly informed that all is as it should be and the more detailed documents contain all the items that we have been working hard for over the previous number of weeks.  Speeches over and now it’s time to face the press.  Our Press Conference takes place on the fifth floor of Ag house – directly across the hall from my office.  I have a few moments to gather my thoughts and to run through the choreography with the Sec Gen, Ultan (Press Officers), Jonathan & Andrew before making the walk across the hall.  Our Press release is issued (eleventh draft) and the details of Budget 2017 for the Department of Agriculture Food & Marine are revealed to all.  Press interest focuses on our low interest Agri Loan fund of €150 million.  Our Budget is generally well received by the Farm bodies and the Fisheries Producer organisations.


An early start again Wednesday morning in preparation for a number of local radio interviews which I take from the office.  I chat to Patricia Messenger live on C103 at 11.10am before sitting in on the Taoiseach’s Budget speech at noon.  The afternoon is spent catching up with Department business and preparing my own Budget speech which I deliver sometime after 7pm in the evening which only allows me a fleeting attendance at the weekly Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting.


An 8.30am breakfast meeting at Bord Bia Headquarters kicks off Thursday.  The Budget may be over – but in reality it’s just beginning.  I hold three conference calls with three separate Irish banks to discuss our Agri-loan product we are putting forward in conjunction with SBCI.  I’m encouraged by the interest shown in this initiative and I am confident that they will take up the baton in bringing this product to market as soon as possible.  I don’t usually stay in Dublin overnight on a Thursday, but due to a commitment in Athlone on Friday morning, I take the opportunity to catch up on some calls and prepare for the Conference in the morning


7.30 am Friday I travel to Athlone to address the National Rural Network Conference.  There is no time to delay afterwards as I must return to Macroom, before then travelling to RTE studios in Cork for an interview with Mary Wilson on Radio One’s Drivetime.  From there it’s off to Ballincollig to an Active Retirement Ireland launch in the Lakewood Clubhouse before rounding off Friday with a speech at the annual Ballincollig Tidy Towns awards.  I must commend the work the Ballincollig Tidy Towns Committee do year and year out to maintain and improve the aesthetic of the area.  They certainly keep us politicians on our toes at election time!


I travel to Newmarket to celebrate the expansion of Ayrton Group’s business there with promoters Kieran & Helen Linehan.  A tremendous family occasion and certainly a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon marking a good news story for employment in the area.



It’s County Final day in Cork but unfortunately there will be no match for me as I have to travel to Paris, to attend the world’s largest business to business trade show ‘SIAL’ on Monday – more on that next week.  Just before boarding I learn of the sad passing of Anthony Foley RIP.  My thoughts go to this family, friends and Munster colleagues.


THE MINISTER’S JOURNAL 03/10/16 – 09/10/16


The Monday morning papers brought little in the way of joy following the British PM’s confirmation that she intends to press ahead with the invocation of Article 50 by the end of March.  Notwithstanding all the work that has been carried out to date in my Department and across Government in preparation for this eventuality, the revelation of a commencement date for the process certainly focuses the mind on an autumn Monday morning.  I made the short trip to Clonakilty to meet Susan Steele and her team in the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, who briefed me on their activities.  Great credit is due to them for the work they do, with limited resources.  Whilst in Clonakilty I also get the opportunity to meet with the Marine and Fisheries section of my Department as well as some exiled souls in the Agriculture wing of the National Seafood Centre.  The afternoon is spent in my Macroom Constituency office, before heading to Dublin.



Cabinet is the first agenda item on Tuesday morning which just about finishes in time to allow me get to the National Dairy Council & Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards.  Nobody does dairy better than we do – nobody! These awards recognise the cream of the dairy industry if you pardon the terrible pun.  Congratulations to the Power Family from Waterford on taking this year’s top award.  From the milking parlour to the trawler in the afternoon with a comprehensive and wide ranging meeting with the Country’s Fisheries Producer & Processing Organisations.  A cabinet sub-committee follows before sitting down with some of my colleagues in the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party to discuss matters agriculture from the Budget to Brexit.  Another late night Budget meeting concludes a busy day in the office.



My usual morning routine whilst in Dublin involves hitting the office between 7 – 7.30am and having a quick look at the newspapers before having breakfast in the Department canteen on the 7th floor of Agriculture House, which quite possibly boasts one of the best views of east Dublin City.  The morning is spent running through the format and content for a tillage stakeholders meeting I am hosting later in the day.  At 11.30am David McLaughlin and his troops from Young Fine Gael drop by to outline their priorities for Agriculture & Rural Ireland.  I must commend their document which is well thought out, with many eye catching proposals which certainly merit consideration.  After attending Leader’s Questions in the Dáil, I retreat to the Department to sit down will all the stakeholders involved with tillage in this Country to discuss the present challenges and future opportunities for the sector.  What follows is a constructive, at times passionate but always focused discussion on where the difficulties lie and what can be done to move this important indigenous industry forward.  I confirm early payment of 75% of the BPS & Greening (17th October) which should provide some help in terms of cashflow and there are other proposals put forward that could assist the sector in the short to medium term.  I leave the meeting briefly, ironically to take a topical issues debate in the Dáil on the very issue we are discussing in the Department but I do manage to return in time to conclude the meeting.  My final meeting of the day is back over in Leinster House for the weekly Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting.


My officials are prepared and ready for action at 8.30am for another run through our Department’s budget.  I have been really struck by the professionalism, dedication and passion of those I am fortunate to work with here in the Department.  We plough through every line of expenditure euro by euro, cent by cent.  We break at ten as I sit down with the Irish Alliance for Racing and breeders headed up by Anne Marie Crowley (married to Aidan O’Brien) who was still beaming from their incredible exploits at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.  It’s back to the books afterwards for the entire afternoon.  Thursday concludes with a specially arranged Cabinet meeting at 7.15pm(ish) before making the trip back to Macroom.



I am on record as saying that I am finding it difficult to strike the right balance between Constituency work and my Ministerial duties since being appointed.  Therefore today is a welcome opportunity to get stuck in to matters Cork North West.  Luckily Catherine & Siobhan in the Macroom office, and Rita in Ballincollig have kept the show well on the road in my absence.  I meet constituents in the Macroom office in the morning before heading east to Ballincollig for the afternoon.  Seems to be lots of bunting and flags on display in Ballincollig – it’s clear to see County final fever has well and truly hit the town (Village).


No official engagements in the diary!! This is a rarity – but not unintentional.  This being my first budget as a cabinet Minister I am keen to make sure that I secure the best budget possible for primary producers and the agri-food sector at large.  I spend most of my Saturday sifting through the files of documentation I’ve been presented with and working out the finer details of our budget presentation etc.  In the afternoon I attend the Rebel Óg, Minor County Semi-final where O’Donavan Rossa Skibbereen overcome Macroom in a lively encounter.  I round off Saturday by attending the Ballinagree Development Group fundraising Concert in the St John the Baptist Church, Ballinagree where we (my wife Sinead & I) were treated to a stirring performance from Soprano Cara O’Sullivan and notably a choir of children from Rusheen, Ballyvongane, Muinefluich and Ballinagree National Schools.



THE MINISTER’S JOURNAL 26/09/16 – 02/10/16

Since being appointed Minister for Agriculture Food & Marine on May 6th, I constantly find myself recounting details of my week to people I meet.  It was put to me by one such individual (who I won’t name for their sake) that I should document my week in a blog, to provide an insight into my work as a Minister.  So here is the first edition of “The Minister’s Journal” which I hope will give you a little flavour of the work I do on a weekly basis.



An early start on a stunning autumn Monday morning took me north to Killybegs, County Donegal.  Hailing from a Constituency without an inch of coastline as I do, it was great to be invited aboard the fishing vessel “Vigilant” by Mark Gallagher who provided a most engaging insight into life on the sea.  Back on dry land; I had meetings with the KFO and fish processors in the area before I was honoured to cut the tape on the new €30 million UFI Fishmeal plant and the €2.9 million Small craft Harbour.  From the pleasantries of the openings, it was onwards to a sobering meeting with some Donegal IFA members, facilitated by my colleague Minister of State Joe McHugh TD.  The difficulties in the Tillage sector are to the forefront of my thoughts at present and will dominate my workload in the coming week, as I chair a meeting of stakeholders on Wednesday.



A Corkman in Croke Park is a rare thing these days, but I was happy to lineout early to open the Atlantic Stakeholders Conference.  I hot footed it across the City for Cabinet before again returning to Croke Park for a bi-lateral meeting with the EU Commissioner for Fisheries, Karmenu Vella.  The afternoon was dominated by Budget preparations.  If I had any doubts about how challenging the Budgetary process is for a Minister, I need only sift through the stack of pre-budget submissions on my desk.  The demands far exceed the fairly modest fiscal space that exists for 2017, and that is not taking account of the competing demands from other Ministers.  Tuesday evening is spent taking questions from members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture on the estimates and the HRI.  Three or so hours in the hot seat and it’s well after 9pm before the Committee adjourns.  A late budget meeting follows before clocking off at 11pm.



7.30am and it’s a case of “on the road again”, this time to Ireland’s Ancient East and the farm of Justin Walsh (who has relatives in Kanturk and Coachford – Small world!!), nestled by the Hill of Tara.  The purpose of the visit is to launch a consultation process for Ireland’s first Farmed Animal Health Strategy.  Disease prevention and eradication can potentially save millions for a Country such as Ireland, with a dependency on an agri-food sector.  I’m confident that this strategy, once completed and adopted can enhance our reputation as one of the safest suppliers of food in the World.  I sat in on Leaders Questions before catching up with Minister of State Andrew Doyle for a lunch meeting on tillage, climate action and the budget.  I had an embarrassing moment when the Department’s IT system began filtering out correspondence from the Oireachtas system, which caused me to be late for a Topical Issues debate on the difficulties being experienced in the tillage sector.  Thankfully the leas Ceann Comhairle and Deputies Fitzmaurice and Rabbitte were understanding and accepted my apologies.  Brexit, Brexit, Brexit is ringing in my ears everywhere I go, and is central to every decision that is now taken in this Department.  Members of the Food & Drinks Industry Ireland dropped in to brief me on the latest developments their members are experiencing as a result of the UK referendum.  Currency issues are proving the most immediate threat to Irish companies trading with the UK, but a comprehensive analysis of some of the potential pitfalls that lie ahead was also provided.  My final engagement on Wednesday was to help launch Bord Bia’s state of the art Consumer Insight Centre the “Thinking House”.  Innovation and new product development is one tactic we can use to Brexit-proof our SME’s.  This facility can help our food producers stay to the fore-front in that regard and great tribute is due to Aidan Cotter and his team in Bord Bia for delivering this facility.



Food Wise 2025 is our road map in the Department in terms of shaping the future of our agri-food sector.  We aim to reach a figure of €19 billion in exports by 2025 from the €11 billion figure we now stand at.  This is the entire industry’s document with hundreds of detailed actions that are scrutinised to ensure implementation.  Therefore on Thursday morning I chaired the quarterly meeting of the high level implementation committee which brings together all the stakeholders involved with delivering on the strategy.  IFA President Joe Healy led his team into the Department in the afternoon to deliver their pre-budget submission, followed by the UK’s Food & Drink Federation, who are seeking to build on our joint interest in preserving our special trading relationship with the UK.  It was certainly beneficial to receive a UK perspective on developments.



It was certainly a case of Back to School with four school based engagements on Friday.  First up was a visit to Millstreet Community School to meet with the 5th & 6th year Agricultural Science Students.  Then it was onwards to Canovee to officially open the impressive new extension to the National School before heading back east to Carriganima to help raise the “Digital School of distinction” flag.  I must commend the staff, parents but most notably the pupils of all three schools I visited.  A quick visit to pay tribute to Tom Kelly, who is retiring from years of service in the Macroom Social welfare office, before returning to my Macroom Constituency office to try and catch up with some of the calls waiting for me.  Rounded off Friday by attending the McEgan College awards night.



Having started the week in Killybeg’s it was fitting to finish in Dingle, Co. Kerry.  Captain Nigel Collins, briefed me on the tremendous work he and his colleagues are doing in the Harbour centre, which is both a leading fishing port and tourist amenity, side by side.  I managed to catch the first half of the All-Ireland Final replay before participating in the ceremony for the 9th All Ireland Blas na hEireann food awards as part of the Dingle Food Festival.  The success of the festival was clear to be seen in the thronged streets where hundreds basked in the October sunshine.  Congratulations to all the Award winners including Stonewell Cider Company who took away the major prize of the weekend as well as Artie Clifford and his team for all their work in making these awards so successful.  Rounded off a busy day with a quick stop in Boolteens, to meet with my colleague Brendan Griffin TD.  He assures me that Dublin’s three in a row will meet a major obstacle in a young Kerry team in 2017.       





Cork North West T.D. Michael Creed has today welcomed the inclusion of five schools from the Cork North West Constituency in the Summer Works scheme for 2016.  Freemount Mixed National School, Scoil Abán Naofa, Baile Mhic Ire, Scoil Naomh Eoin Baiste, Ballincollig, Scoil Naisiunta Naomh Mhuire Farran, and Freemount Mixed National School Charleville will all receive money to improve and upgrade existing school buildings. Commenting on the allocation Deputy Creed said:


“This funding is now being allocated for vital gas works and electrical upgrades in schools. The majority of works will be carried out in schools over the summer months, so as to minimise disruption to students, teachers and other school staff.


“The capacity of schools to take responsibility for delivering small and medium-scale projects is a key component of the Summer Works Scheme. The projects approved have been assessed as being priority projects by the individual schools themselves. These works are deemed to be absolutely necessary and we have been able to provide Boards of Management and Patrons with the funding necessary to address the schools’ needs”



“The Scheme provides support for schools to undertake important upgrading and maintenance work during the summer months. While the sums of money involved are modest, this support is hugely beneficial to each and every individual school.  Furthermore this scheme empowers school management to engage local contractors to carry out the works and therefore is a boost to the local economy”.


Cork North West TD and Dáil candidate Michael Creed has this morning welcomed confirmation that the tender for the construction of the new Macroom Fire Station is to be issued next year. Commenting on the provision of funding for the project in the Fire Stations Capital project 2016-2020 Deputy Creed said:

“This is a most welcome development for the provision of emergency fire services in the Macroom area. The present fire station in Macroom is antiquated and a new station has been mooted with many years. I am pleased that this is now a reality and that the construction of a new building on an already procured site will be put to tender next year.

“The site which has been purchased for the station is the same site where the new Garda Station which is due to be constructed during the period of the Justice department’s Capital Investment plan 2016-2021.

“This outgoing Government has put in place an unprecedented package of investment for the Macroom area. The upgrade of Macroom hospital, the new Fire & Garda Stations as well as the commencement of the Macroom bypass programme will see this area transformed over the next number of years”.


Cork North West TD Michael Creed has warmly welcomed the inclusion of Macroom Community Hospital in the Department of Health’s Capital programme and the provision of €5.8 million toward the refurbishment of the facility. Commenting on the allocation Deputy Creed said:

“I am extremely pleased that Macroom Community Hospital has been included for funding in the Department of Health’s Capital Investment plan and that €5.8 million is to be provided for the refurbishment of the hospital which is to be completed by 2019.

“This is a most welcome development as the hospital seeks to meet the standards set out by HIQA inside the 2021 deadline they have set out. I understand that there is a design team in place and that work is underway on a planning application for the required works.

“There have been elements who have sought to make political capital by engaging in scaremongering about the future of Macroom hospital. Today’s investment programme forever silences any suggestions that the hospital does not have a future.


Cork North West TD Michael Creed has this morning welcomed the 2016 allocations to Cork County Council from Transport Infrastructure Ireland. Commenting on the allocation Deputy Creed said:

“Cork North West and in particular the Macroom area is the major beneficiary from next year’s allocations. 85% of the total spend in Cork County on National Primary routes will be allocated to the Macroom area. Specifically the Macroom Baile Mhuirne bypass project and resurfacing works in Lissarda. This is major investment in the area and I am grateful to the TII and to my colleague, Minister for Transport Pascal Donohue for heeding my requests for this investment.

“There is now significant momentum behind the Macroom-Baile Mhurine bypass project and next year’s allocation moves the project ever closer to the issuing of tender documents, the award of a contract and the ultimate commencement of construction as committed to in the Capital Investment plan 2016-2021. It is important that this momentum is maintained and not derailed post General Election 2016 because of commitments of opposition party’s to other projects in the County.

“Lissarda village has long been in need of resurfacing and I am pleased that these works will finally be carried out in 2016.