Feast day to remember for ministers
MINISTERS will be wining and dining their way around Europe in the run-up to St Patrick's Day to promote the merits of Irish food.
Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith jetted off to Italy last night on a mission to persuade Italians to buy more Irish beef, even as rumours circulate that his department could lose this food promotion role in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle.
Prior to his departure, Mr Smith came out fighting for the merits of a "farm-to-fork" approach that would hold the entire food chain together, an attitude he will be stressing during his five-day trip to Italy.
This comes as the Irish Farmers' Association warned against moving responsibility for the food industry away from the Department of Agriculture and into a new wing of the Department of Enterprise responsible for driving jobs growth -- a move they said would be retrograde and counterproductive.
Although neither Mr Smith nor his department would comment directly on this proposal, he claimed his department had driven a shift in the food industry from being farmer-focused to consumer-focused and this was set to continue in the new 2020 strategy being drawn up.
He also stressed that multinational food companies with bases in Ireland were increasingly influenced by the quality of the primary produce and the flexibility of Irish farmers -- a clear signal he does not want to see the link between farming and the food industry severed.
Mr Smith will attend trade events as well as meeting supermarkets buyers, including Coop Italia, the largest retailer in Italy and its biggest buyer of Irish beef.
Ireland exports over €300m worth of food and drink to Italy each year.
Meanwhile Irish beef, lamb, oysters, crab, smoked salmon, farmhouse cheese, Guinness, Baileys and Jameson will all be on the menu for Justice Minister Dermot Ahern when he attends a Bord Bia lunch in a top Parisian restaurant Brasserie Flo on St Patrick's Day.
Food promotion body Bord Bia -- which has also been threatened with amalgamation into Enterprise Ireland -- will host a lavish buffet for 300 guests that night at the Parisian monument Tour Montparnasse.