Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Coveney: Agriculture laden with potential

New minister vows to unlock opportunities in sector

Simon Coveney , the new Minister for Agriculture, has a look around Robert's Cove, Co Cork, where his family farms.
Simon Coveney , the new Minister for Agriculture, has a look around Robert's Cove, Co Cork, where his family farms. "I want the farming community to know they have a minister determined to make this one of the most reformative departments in Government."
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

"Agriculture has got more potential than any other sector of the Irish economy at the moment."

That's how confident the new Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, is about the future of the farm sector.

In his first in-depth interview since he landed the top job, the 38-year-old Corkman spoke of his delight about his appointment.

"This was the one I wanted," he said. "It may come as a surprise to many because I come from a predominantly urban constituency, but I've grown up on both agriculture and the marine."

Minister Coveney hails from the prime farming area of Minane Bridge 20km south of Cork city, where his family once owned a 430ac farm.

"None of the family really knew anything about farming," admitted the minister, whose father, Hugh Coveney, worked as a chartered surveyor before he became Minister for Defence and the Marine.

"The original idea was to come home after studying agriculture to run the farm and be my own boss by my mid-20s," he said.

But following the untimely death of his father in 1998, Simon was catapulted into the world of politics when he won the seat in the subsequent by-election.

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"I never saw myself as a future minister for agriculture but I am really excited about it now," he said.

"I believe this is actually one of the biggest economic briefs in terms of job creation in this cabinet. I think we are going to see dramatic growth with fantastic potential for wealth creation and I really want to push that. Ireland can become the bread basket of Europe."

Mr Coveney also believes that his three years spent on the corridors of power in Brussels as an MEP for Munster will serve him well in his new brief.

"I've spent quite a lot of time lobbying in Brussels and I'm actually looking forward to that whole element of the job and building alliances regarding our position on the CAP and Common Fisheries Policy," he said.

Referring to the switch in the title of his department from fisheries to marine, Mr Coveney said: "This is a much broader title that I hope to get seriously involved in. It's no coincidence that the junior ministry doesn't have this [brief]. Marine has never been prioritised to the extent that it should have been, [so] I want to take control of the marine agenda and develop its tourism, sport and research potential."

In relation to Fine Gael's election promise to create a one-stop shop to handle all state payments, the minister moved to ease farmer concerns. "The one-stop shop idea is designed primarily to deal with welfare payments, and single farm payments are not welfare payments," he said. "I'll need to talk to Enda and Eamon about this, but I think it's unlikely [that the SFP will be moved] because there's such a specialist element in following up queries and mapping issues. It's a different skill set and I think that the Department [of Agriculture] does a pretty good job."

Stating that CAP reform and Mercosur talks were the two biggest immediate issues, the minister will have his first EU council of agricultural ministers meeting this Thursday, after meetings with some of the farm organisations tonight.

"I want to hit the ground running," he said. "But I want the farming community to know that they have a minister determined to make a mark and make this one of the most reformative departments in this Government."

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