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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.