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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.