The Minister’s Journal 16/01 -22/01

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

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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.

 

Thursday

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.

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Friday

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.

Saturday

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.

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Sunday

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.

 

 

THE MINISTER JOURNAL 09/01 – 13/01

Monday

Happy New Year! After the excitement of spending my Sunday at Aghabullogue Point to Point, I “eased” myself into my first official week of business for 2017 with a number of meetings in my Macroom office. Mid morning I travelled to Millstreet to meet with members of Irish Farmers with Designated Lands (IFDL) to discuss a range of issues pertaining to the problems they face by virtue of their lands being designated as protected habitats for the hen harrier. I spend the afternoon attending to some paperwork built up over the Christmas holiday period.

Tuesday

Made my first trip to Dublin of the year on Tuesday morning. My first engagement was a meeting with Minister Coveney and his officials to discuss Ireland’s obligations under the EU Nitrates directive. 2017 is an important year in this regard with our derogation under the directive up for review. Following the meeting I catch-up with the SG and his team for a briefing on ongoing matters. In the afternoon I attend the first Cabinet meeting of the year before spending the evening reviewing the 2016 Irish food & beverage figures prepared by Bord Bia and being published in the morning.

 

 

Wednesday

An early start to Wednesday to make the short trip to RTÉ to discuss the performance of Irish food & drinks exports in 2016. A 2% increase on 2015 seeing exports exceed the €11 billion mark for the first time ever is an encouraging landmark particularly in light of the challenges faced by the sector on foot of the reduction in the value of trade with the U.K. post the June Brexit referendum. Following the interview I officially launch the Bord Bia report at their HQ where there is heightened interest in the figures from the gathered media who are keen to learn how the Brexit decision has impacted on trade to date. After a number of interviews I return to the Department. In the afternoon I was fortunate to visit the BT Young Scientist Exhibition in the RDS where I was overwhelmed by the the maturity and knowledge of all the pupils I met from many different schools across the Country. Amongst those I met were Jack & Michael from Colaiste Treasa Kanturk who went on to win the best group award.  Later in the evening I meet with Senator Colm Burke who briefs me on the current difficulties in CUMH.

Thursday

First up Thursday morning is a number of press interviews in my office. In the afternoon I chair a meeting of the Marine Coordination Group. I meet with Senior officials in my Department for an update on schemes and payments before departing for the Farm Centre to attend a most pleasant event hosted by the Irish Farmers Journal. Unfortunately I curtail my stay at the event to ensure the Wintery weather doesn’t see me stranded in Dublin for the night. Luckily the journey home is without incident!!
Friday

I spend Friday morning in the Macroom office reviewing constituency matters with Catherine & Siobhan. After lunch I launched a Certificate in Brewing & Distilling in CIT which I believe to be a very useful initiative in conjunction with Taste4Success Skillnet. I conclude Friday with a series of meetings in the Ballincollig office.

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THE MINISTER’S JOURNAL 11/12 – 17/12

Sunday

The week starts with an early flight to Brussels on Sunday so I have a chance to meet with the fishing industry before heading into intensive and crucial negotiations that will decide fishing quotas for 2017. It is a useful chance to go over last minute priorities with the industry and heading into my first December Fisheries Council I am under no illusion as to the importance of the negotiations. We are facing cuts totalling almost €30m in direct and indirect losses to the sector. The fishing industry is fundamentally important in rural coastal communities and I am very keenly aware of the significance of the next few days to families dependent on the sea for their living. I am also very conscious that if we don’t respect what the science is telling us on particular stocks, there will be no fish for the future and it is crucial to achieve an outcome that’s balanced in the interest of all. Some final briefing with the fisheries team from Clonakilty before getting an early night ahead of Monday’s meetings.

Monday

Monday begins with a gathering of EPP (European People’s Party) colleagues, together with Commissioner Hogan. We run through the key issues being discussed at Agriculture Council for the day, ranging from Organics, the food supply chain and climate change. It’s a very useful exchange and allows everyone the opportunity to discuss last minute issues with the Commissioner before Council begins. A doorstep with media on the way back and then it’s straight into the day’s business. We start with the fisheries agenda, giving every Member State a chance to have their input and then it’s on to the Agriculture items. This allows the Presidency and Commission a chance to hear what priorities Member States have in fisheries and they then continue work in the background with officials on what will eventually be tabled as a compromise proposal. Later in the afternoon, we get an opportunity to discuss Ireland’s fisheries objectives with the Commission and the Slovakian Presidency directly, in what is known as a ‘trilateral’. The rest of the day is spent meeting with other Ministers and officials, keeping contact going with environmental NGO’s and the industry as much as possible to keep them up to speed. After a long day, we meet the industry for a debrief and a recap on the day’s events.

Tuesday

The first compromise package tabled on Tuesday morning, gives us cold comfort. Many of the cuts to our most important stocks are still on the table and we are given no guarantee that the Hague Preferences will be delivered. The Hague Preferences insulate Ireland against cuts to stocks when quotas are low. A long day and night follows, copious cups of tea and coffee to keep us going and lots of meetings at official and ministerial level to pursue the best possible outcome for Ireland. The Department officials assisting me and representing Ireland in these negotiations couldn’t fight harder for a good outcome for the country. Before heading into the negotiations I had heard the tales of how the Fisheries Council is the last ‘red-eye’ Council, always finishing late into the night/early morning. And it is. Council concludes in the early hours of Wednesday, with a much better outcome for Ireland. We secure 233,500 tonnes of quota for Irish fishermen, worth €280m. Many of the cuts on the table are reversed and we secure the Hague Preferences. In environmental terms, we take a number of strategic decisions to protect stocks for the future. All in all, a balanced deal. I brief the fishing industry in the early hours of Wednesday morning, along with my team.
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Wednesday
After two hours sleep, I have a chat with RTE’s Morning Ireland before catching a plane back to Dublin. On return to Dublin I make my way directly to a fevered Dáil chamber for Leaders questions. It’s clear that while I was preoccupied with matters fish at a European level, domestically it is matters rent that dominated the agenda. Not to be distracted from my own packed schedule I attend an excellent Macra supported Primary Schools Farm Safety competition. This struck me as an excellent initiative encouraging the youngest in farm households to be the ambassadors for safety and vigilance on farms. On the same theme I briefly meet with some pupils from Pallaskenry college who provided an impressive presentation on their project on Farm Safety. In the afternoon I chair a meeting of the Implementation group for the “Reaching new heights” strategy for Horse Sport Ireland. Wearily I make my way from the Department back to Leinster House to attend the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting and brief colleagues on the package secured in Brussels on what for me was still the same day! Alas I’m not finished yet as I round off the longest day of my Ministerial career to date by attending a Bord Bia event at their HQ.

Thursday

Early breakfast and straight to my office for a 9am press interview. Afterwards I meet with some Oireachtas colleagues to discuss issues pertaining to the sheep sector. At 11am I announce the award of €28 million in funding for research initiatives across a wide range of areas. I’m afforded a very brief opportunity to meet with some of the recipients who outline details of their projects. I reacquaint myself with developments in the Dáil during voting time. Thankfully it has become clear that the rental strategy will progress even if at this stage it appears we might have to remain in the chamber until Christmas Day! Onwards to the City North Hotel where I host an All Island Civic Dialogue for the agri-food sector. I’m encouraged by the large attendance from both sides of the border and the high level of engagement on matters important to the sector. My final diary commitment on Thursday is the Department of Agriculture Christmas Party. I may post a once off blog post on that in the coming days……….

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Friday

It’s a quieter Ag house canteen for breakfast where I’m joined by Jonathan & Áine (advisors) and belatedly by Minister Coveney who assures my that I will see Macroom this Christmas. It’s a long day in the Dáil however and many deadlines are passed before finally the Bill is passed. I finally return home in the early hours of Saturday morning. Who said a week is a long time in politics????

THE MINISTER’S JOURNAL 05/12 – 11/12

Monday:

It was back to Dublin on Monday morning where I was delighted to be the guest of honour at the annual Horse Racing Ireland awards.  It only took a glance at the programme for the event to realise that this was a gathering of not only National leaders in this industry but World leaders.  Being seated beside the great Aidan O’Brien and his wife Anne-Marie did little to help me feel that my position as “Guest of Honour” was justified.  Following events in Leopardstown I returned to the Department office for an evening of briefings in preparation for a monstrous schedule over the next fortnight.

Tuesday:

Cabinet as usual was the first official agenda item of my Tuesday.  Afterwards I squeezed in some lunch before spending three hours or more in the Committee rooms discussing the revised estimates for the year, next week’s European Fisheries Council meeting and the Horse & Greyhound Fund.  Being quizzed for this period of time on such a diverse number of topics is challenging to say the least and I must confess to being war weary making my way to a pre-Christmas gathering of agri-food stakeholders hosted by MII.  At this evet tributes were paid to out-going Bord Bia CEO, Aidan Cotter who has done the State some service during his tenure at the helm of Bord Bia.

Wednesday:

I was joined at breakfast Wednesday morning by my colleague Jim Daly fresh from his appearance on Vincent Brown the previous night, who wishes to discuss a Topical issues debate scheduled for later in the day.  I had just finished my boiled egg in time to do a press interview in the canteen at 8.15am.  Afterwards I made the short trip to Ashtown to officially open the magnificent €3 million Teagasc Research & Education Centre.  I made it back to the Dáil just in time for Leader’s Questions at noon which was followed by a meeting of the Dairy stakeholder’s forum which I had to take leave of to participate in the Dáil Topical Issues debate on the potential of Farmers Markets that Jim put forward.  In a busy evening I was pleased to launch an Irish whiskey strategy in the Irish whiskey museum before rounding off the business of the day by attending the Fine Gael 1916 Celebration in the Mansion House.

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Thursday:

Another early start on Thursday with a trip to Kilashee House in Naas to open the Animal Health Ireland seminar on Johnes Disease.  On return to the Department I was greeted by a number of Senior French Senators and the French Ambassador who wished to discuss matters of common concern including CAP post 2020 and recent problems in the Dairy sector.  As is now routine on a Thursday the early afternoon was spent in the Dáil voting.  At 2pm I chaired a quarterly meeting of the High Level implementation committee for Food Wise 2025.  This is always a useful exchange with the various different sectors of our agri-food economy.  This meeting ran on longer than scheduled so I was slightly late for another press interview.  I rounded off Thursday night with a meeting organised by Senator Joe O’Reilly on an agricultural matter.

 

Friday:

We hit the road for Co. Kilkenny at 7.30am in order to officially open the €58 million Coillte MediteSmartply facility located adjunct to Waterford Port.  The afternoon was spent in the Macroom Constituency office where I attended to a number of local matters.  Friday night I was delighted to address Coachford IFA’s Annual General Meeting where I was welcomed by no shortage of familiar faces.

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Saturday:

Gerard Dineen Kilnamartyra was our host Saturday morning where I was joined by representatives from the Department and Teagasc including Prof Gerry Boyle in preparation for a series of initiatives that will be rolled out in 2017.  After the business of the morning was concluded we were treated to a wonderful spread by Gerard and family.

 

Sunday:

Today I travel to Brussels ahead of this week’s crucial fisheries Council meeting.  There is a challenging week of negotiations ahead and I am acutely aware of the difficulties posed by the proposed quota cuts particularly for Ireland’s whitefish fleet.

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.

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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.