The Minister’s Journal 06/02 – 10/02

Monday

A day of “looking after the ranch” operating between the Macroom and Ballincollig Constituency offices. Monday night’s schedule involved a media interview and the Ballincollig Fine Gael branch AGM before traveling to Dublin.

Tuesday

Following breakfast and a glance at the papers it’s clear that matters arising from RTE’s Prime Time Investigates will be very topical at this mornings Cabinet meeting. It’s early afternoon before the meeting finishes and I have an opportunity for a catch-up with my advisors before attending a meeting of the Export Trade Council. Tuesday evening is spent in briefings with officials and attending votes in the Dáil chamber.

Wednesday

The team and I make the short walk across the road to the Department of Jobs Enterprise & Innovation for an important meeting with Minister of State Pat Breen and the Health & Safety Authority on Farm Safety. Hopefully I’ll have much more to report on this front in the coming weeks. I return to the Department reception for a photo call for the Irish Independent Zurich Farmer of the Year launch. I sit in briefly for Leaders questions in the Dáil before traveling to the City North a hotel for our second All Island Civic dialogue on Brexit, this time discussing Horticulture forestry cereal animal feed and the prepared consumer food sector. The experience of these dialogues has been positive in the main with stakeholders offered the platform to express their concerns surrounding Brexit and therefore contributing to our Government preparations.

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Thursday

With Brexit shaping our every action in the Department, scoping Trade opportunities is a priority. This morning I was pleased to welcome ambassadors from the Association of South East Asian Nations to discuss strengthening and building trade links. After a positive meeting with the Ambassadors I attend in the Seanad chamber to respond to a commencement motion regarding GLAS payments. After Christmas lunch with the team in my office (better late…) I meet with the IT division in the Department to discuss ongoing payments etc. Following voting time in the Dáil I departed the Capital to make the long journey south go Gaeltacht Mhuscraì, agus criunniu chinn bliana FG Baile Mhuirne – Cuil Aodha.
Friday:

Scoil Bhride Ballydehob is my first stop of an inspiring, poignant yet upbeat morning of events in the Mizen area. Safety awareness on the farm and at sea is the theme of a series of events organised by the community. From Mizen Rovers GAA, to the corporate sponsors, the Emergency services to the schools the power of this collective effort to deliver such an important message certainly left an impression on me. Great credit is due to the organisers particularly Jonathan and Nellie! I spend the afternoon in the Constituency office and round off the week with some down time shouting on a rampant Munster in a freezing Musgrave Park.

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Ministerland 30/01 – 04/02

Monday
As days go these times this was as routine a Monday possible. I spent the day in the main attending to Constituency matters. Later in the evening I attended the Macroom Fine Gael branch AGM before traveling to Dublin late.

Tuesday

At 8.30am I attended the launch of Ireland’s newest whiskey brand “Roe & Co”. Our drinks industry is one of the real growth drivers in our export figures in recent years and I’m confident that this innovation by Diageo will prove another winner on the world stage. I return to Government buildings for Cabinet followed by a brief meeting with Áine and Jonathan. My next engagement takes me to IBEC HQ for the launch of the Beef Health Check initiative in association with Animal Health Ireland. In the afternoon I meet with officials from the Departments Sea Fisheries section to prepare for Wednesdays events.

Wednesday

I spring into February with an early morning announcement of the 2017 allocation to our Fisheries Local Actions Groups, in Dun Laoghaire. The FLAGs initiative is co funded through the Europe Maritime Fisheries fund and provides funding to locally based projects in coastal areas. From Dun Laoghaire I travel directly to the Dáil to attend Leaders questions. After lunch its back to matters maritime as I host a Brexit sectoral dialogue for the seafood sector. The potential challenges for this particular sector were laid bare over the course of an engaging afternoon of discussions. I attend the weekly Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and a number of votes in the Dáil before rounding off the day in preparation for Oral questions on Thursday.

 

Thursday

After my usual breakfast ritual I sit down with RTE’s Emma McNamara for a good conversation on the exposure of our Agri food sector to
Brexit. Afterwards I travel to Clondalkin to officially open the impressive Ballyowen Equine centre. I’m joined at the event by the Tanaiste, Oireachtas colleagues and local councillors but we are left in little doubt that Deputy Gino Kenny is the hero of the hour as a key driving force behind this Department of Agriculture funded facility. I return to my office just in time to greet the new Sudanese ambassador. Thursdays voting time leads directly on to Oral questions where I face ninety minutes of scrutiny on a range of issues including GLAS payments, the ANC review, the future of the beef sector and the new €150 million Agri Loan Fund. After questions a I make a hasty departure from Dublin in order to attend the Fine Gael Fermoy district AGM as guest speaker. I return to Macroom after midnight which is an improvement on the previous weeks 3am arrival.

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Friday:

It’s celebrate Cork day! First on the agenda is a meeting with the new President of UCC Professor Pat O’Shea and a briefing from the academic management and staff of the UCC school of Food Science and Engineering. From UCC it’s onward to the Tyndall institute for a briefing on some of their projects in the area of Agri technology. I depart the City somewhat in awe of the talent, innovation and commitment of those involved in our Agri-food sector whom I’ve just encountered. This feeling is compounded after I spend the afternoon in a significant food processing plant in the outskirts of the City. To confirm my sense of admiration in our sector I attend the annual Cork Chamber Gala dinner to witness Dairygold claim the 2017 Cork Company of the year award.

Saturday:

No lie in for the management and board of Carbery this Saturday as they make time to meet me at 9.30am to discuss a range of matters. Deputy Jim Daly is my host in Bandon where I take a gauntlet of meetings from tillage farmers to the Irish Show Association to IFA members from the Islands of Cape Clear, Sherkin and Bere. After emerging from the scrum I have the honour of officially opening the latest venture of the renowned Barrett family Coppeen at their new Barrett Agri facility. As for the rugby….the less said and all that.

The Minister’s Journal 23/01 -27/01

Monday

As is routine for Council of Ministers meetings in Brussels, I begin the day with a breakfast meeting with fellow Agriculture Ministers from the E.P.P. Group. This is always a useful opportunity to discuss matters in a more informal setting with some of The E.U’s most influential Agriculture Ministers and of course Commissioner Hogan who also attends. After breakfast I make the short walk to the Council building for the AgriFish Council meeting where international trade, the current market situation and the future of the sheep sector are all items up for discussion. After a long day of discussion it’s a late evening flight back to Dublin for an extremely busy week ahead.

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Tuesday

An early start to Tuesday for an appearance on TV3s Ireland AM programme for a chat about the Governments comprehensive Rural Action Plan. From Ballymount its back into the City for Cabinet in Government buildings. Early afternoon I take a call from LIT campus radio who are keen to discuss the Rural Action Plan. I spend the evening in meetings with officials, Premier horse care Ireland and my advisors.

Wednesday

After breakfast I sit down with senior officials with responsibility for the GLAS scheme and the Departments IT functions. Every resource available so being thrown at ensuing the earliest payment of the 9,000 or so outstanding applicants. Next up is a photo call for an important launch being made early next week. I attend Leaders questions in the Dáil in the early afternoon. Before settling in to an evening of pre-briefing for a packed Thursday I meet with the Secretary General to discuss ongoing Departmental issues.

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Thursday

If I were to be paid per mention of the term Brexit today, it’s fair to say my Salary would come under some serious scrutiny. First up are members of the Environment, Rural Development and Agriculture Committee of the Welsh assembly who wish to discuss our Agri environment schemes and unsurprisingly Brexit. No sooner have my Welsh colleagues left the room but Commissioner Phil Hogan and his Cabinet arrive to discuss a number of agricultural items and unsurprisingly Brexit. My schedule of meetings is broken up by voting time in the Dáil but when I resume I meet with a significant operator in the Northern Ireland dairy industry who wish to discuss- unsurprisingly – Brexit. I attend two Cabinet subcommittees in the evening the first on Economy Trade & and Jobs and the second on; unsurprisingly; Brexit. I leave Dublin in great haste to travel to Kiltegan Co Wicklow for a well attended public meeting hosted by Minister of State Andrew Doyle. No surprises as to what the item up for discussion is…….I depart Wicklow late and return to Macroom at 2.45am for the first time in 11 days.

Friday

I have little opportunity to acquaint myself with the family as it’s off to Fermoy to Teagasc Moorepark for the launch of Teagasc’s Grass 10 initiative. I take the opportunity following the launch to take a tour of the facility and be briefed on some of the ambitious plans being developed on the campus. I round off the week with a few hours in the Constituency office followed by a pleasant evening in Clonakilty to pay tribute to Noel O’Donovan who is moving on from Cork County Council. Noel has been a most admirable member of the Council over the past number of years. I wish him well on his next posting.img_0257

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 a  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.