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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.