It's all tea and China on top official's farm visit
HE savoured a cup of tea and a home-baked scone with jam and cream, but beef was what was really on the menu as a senior Chinese leader was taken on a visit to a Wicklow farm.
In a carefully orchestrated diplomatic gesture designed to tempt Eastern appetites, Liu Yunshan – First Secretary of the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China and Member of the Standing Committee – visited Kilmullen House farm in Newtownmountkennedy, together with Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food Tom Hayes.
Officials here have long been making advances towards China in the hope that it will open up an expansive market for Irish beef.
Our food and drinks exports to China have soared 40pc in the last year alone, but so far, they are not buying our beef.
The visit by Liu Yunshan – the most important Chinese official to come to Ireland since the current premier in 2012 – was seen as an encouraging step in the lengthy diplomatic process that could end in big gains for Irish farmers.
A large delegation of Chinese and Irish officials descended on the eighth-generation family farm yesterday to soak up the sunshine, to examine the spotlessly clean cattle and sheep and – a particular favourite – to pose for photographs beside the pink rhododendron bush.
Arriving at the farm amid an enormous cavalcade of cars, the Chinese politician was greeted by farmer Tom Short and his wife Geraldine as he arrived.
He said little but listened intently to Mr Short's description of how cattle are tagged at three days and feed on the green grass that gives them a special flavour and are fed silage during winter.
After the Chinese delegates had departed, Mr Hayes said the event had been a "really important visit for Ireland" and, turning to the Short family, said: "A very special thank you for what you're after doing for our country today."