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.