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Wednesday 19 December 2018

Michael Creed talks about growing up on a farm, getting back to nature and the highlight of his term in office

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed can't remember a more testing period, at least during his 30-year political career, than recent times for Irish farmers.

"It has been very challenging; I can't recall a more difficult period weather-wise. People have compared it back to the early 1970s. My memory of all the summers in the '70s as a child is that they were all great, though," says the Cork native.

"I don't recall anything, certainly in my political career, where it was as challenging a year."

This political career reached its first major milestone in 1989, when Minister Creed was elected to Dáil Éireann for Fine Gael, following in the footsteps of his late father Donal, who also served as a Minister of State.

Hailing from a typical mixed farm in Macroom and the only son among six sisters, the Minister says it was all hands on deck when it came to keeping the farm afloat, especially since his father was also a full-time politician.

"Family farms are all about family labour," he says. "Our farm was a classic family farm existence; that being said, my late father was in politics as well and that added a dimension to the operation."

Having worked as a secondary school teacher, the Minister later began farming and was an active member of Macra na Feirme.

However, when the opportunity came to run for office in 1989 he jumped at it.

Although his father never pushed him into politics, he feels that it was an "inevitable" path for him to go down.

"My father being in politics didn't put me off the career. Like any career it has its upsides and downsides. He always said to me that it was my choice, but I suppose it was inevitable," says the 55-year-old.

"Very often teachers' children become teachers and doctors' children become doctors, and politicians' children are sometimes bold enough to put their name forward for public office.

Debate

"So yes it was always a political household, there was always debate and arguments. It was a good grounding for a career in politics."

During his early career Minister Creed was a spokesperson on various issues for Fine Gael including Health, Sport and Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, and this meant farming ultimately had to take a back seat.

"Our farm is now let but I like to get out in it," he says. "I occasionally make forays into cutting timber for the home fires. The great outdoors is fantastic.

"I was raised on a mixed farm and then politics intervened and I have had to leave that behind me - for the moment anyway."

In 2002, Minister Creed lost his seat in the Dáil; he was soon brought back to his roots when he was elected mayor of Cork County Council in 2005.

He regained his Dáil seat in 2007, but he fondly remembers his year as mayor.

"I was down in Offaly for the launch of the Ploughing recently and was talking to Councillor Danny Owens, who is the Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, and I was saying to him that one of the most enjoyable years I had in public life is the year I was mayor of Cork County," he recalls.

"Local government and local politics is often denigrated but an awful lot of serious engagement goes on at that level. There are really committed councillors that do an awful lot of work that rarely gets recognised. I really enjoyed my time there."

In 2011, in the aftermath of supporting a no-confidence motion in Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, Minister Creed was left out of the cabinet.

However, five years later Minister Creed got the nod from Taoiseach Kenny and was appointed Minister for Agriculture in a cabinet reshuffle.

Under his watch, there have been challenging harvests, heavy flooding, unprecedented snowstorms and a record-breaking drought, but Minister Creed still feels that there have been many positives during his office, with one event in particular standing out.

"Every day is a highlight and every day is a real privilege but if you see something where everything came together, that was gaining access to the Chinese market for beef," he says.

"I have to say that was a campaign that was under way long before I arrived in here and many people played a really important part, some of whom never had their names up in lights.

Market access

"The market access unit in here has been sterling in its efforts in terms of engagement with authorities, and to see that come together was really something fantastic, and I think it has the potential to deliver."

Minister Creed splits his time between political life in Dublin and family life in Macroom with his wife Sinead and their three children, Ruth, Odhran and Darragh.

Despite his schedule he is still regularly "dragged to underage GAA matches" by his children, a passion all the family shares, even though the Minister admits his own playing career was "nothing remarkable".

The Minister plays down the difficulties involved in juggling political life with the domestic duties.

"There are so many careers where people are away anyway," he says. "I don't want to make any big deal about it.

"Two of my kids are in primary school and my eldest just started secondary this year. Kids are resilient and demanding and they are a lot of other things as well, but they get on with it."

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