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.
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.
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 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.
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 provides a welcome opportunity to do some further catch up on Constituency work in the office.
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!