Farm Ireland

Sunday 19 November 2017

Independent view: New ministers have pedigree to be success

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The appointments of Simon Coveney as senior minister and Shane McEntee as junior minister in the Department of Agriculture have been warmly welcomed by the farming community.

It had been a wide-open contest, with many of the new crop of TDs in power more than qualified for the posts. But it appears that Denis Naughton's decision to go against his constituency neighbour and leader Enda Kenny during the heave will leave him in the deep freeze for sometime yet.

Andrew Doyle had also performed well, both as party spokesman on agriculture and in the election itself by helping to win a record three out of the five of seats in Wicklow. But despite remaining loyal to Mr Kenny, the harsh realities of geography and a perceived lack of experience ruled him out.

And when Fine Gael's heavyweight Phil Hogan got what he wanted at the Department of the Environment, Mr Coveney was an obvious choice. He will have a natural feel for the brief, which has been expanded to include marine. Apart from a heavy involvement in sailing events throughout his youth, Mr Coveney also studied agriculture in Gurteen and in Britain.

Mr Coveney's brother, Patrick, is also no stranger to farming as he heads up the €300m Greencore company.

Fortunately for Simon, it appears that any wranglings between that company and farmers are confined to the past after Greencore's ill-judged exits of both the sugar and malting businesses over the past six years.

Indeed, luck appears to be on the new minister's side as he ticked enough of the boxes on Mr Kenny's checklist to make him an obvious choice for the job.

At 38, Mr Coveney is still young enough to fulfil Fine Gael's promise to reinvigorate the Dáil with fresh, young faces. His family's ongoing stake in farmland in the heart of Munster's prime commercial farming area will appeal to the sizeable farming voter base in that area. How much of a feel he will have for the smaller, part-time farming that characterises the west coast remains to be seen, however.

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But, most importantly, he is recognised as having bags of ability. This is ultimately what kept him in the running despite having failed to support Mr Kenny during the heave last year.

Mr McEntee is the other new minister with responsibility for food, horticulture and food safety. He has always been one of the new Taoiseach's most vociferous supporters and will be seen as a safe pair of hands, having deep roots in some of the key rural institutions of farming, GAA and pubs.

Balancing Mercosur talks, CAP reform and ambitious growth targets for the sector within the constant shadow of crippled State resources will present both men with the biggest challenges of their political careers to date. On behalf of farmers everywhere, we wish them the very best of luck.

Indo Farming