Saturday 14 December 2019

A man of integrity who had a huge impact on our agriculture sector

Joe Walsh pats a mare at Clonakilty Agricultural College. Photo Fergal O'Gorman
Joe Walsh pats a mare at Clonakilty Agricultural College. Photo Fergal O'Gorman

Micheal Martin

I KNEW Joe Walsh for many years, and he was always a larger than life character with a very wry sense of humour. He was a dedicated family man and had an innate sense of what his community in West Cork wanted in their public representative.

He loved Clonakilty and was a great story teller about characters he knew there and across West Cork.

He did immense work ensuring that SWS expanded in Clonakilty to employ hundreds of people.

In the 1980s Joe saw the opportunity that locally made produce would create. West Cork is now famous internationally for its food.

When Joe made up his mind on something it was not easy to change his mind, and we all saw how that played out with his attempts to oust former Leader Charlie Haughey.

Joe had an ability to have cross-party support, and he was liked by all who met him.

He was a very practical politician and that showed when he held ministerial positions, civil servants always respected him as being able to explore solutions to problems rather than let them faze him.

We saw this when Foot and Mouth disease was a huge threat to livestock in Ireland. While cattle were being culled in the UK, Joe introduced practical measures here in Ireland to keep the disease from infecting cattle.

As a minister, he actually implemented all of the commitments in the various Programmes for Government on time, and rightly took pride in that.

Joe was a man of vision who had a profound impact on the development of Irish agriculture and food over a number of decades. He devoted his entire life to public service and did so with immense skill and integrity.

Joe was Ireland's key negotiator during the 1992 and 2003 CAP reforms; he established Bord Bia and facilitated a transformation in the marketing and export strategy for Ireland's food industry.

His political leadership of the agriculture sector in this country over many years helped transform the sector into the economic keystone that it has become for our country today, and the positive effects of his reforms will be felt for generations to come.

I remember discussing Harvest 2020 with him, and he said that if this document is delivered, there will be a very bright future for farmers and the food industry in Ireland.

Joe loved horse racing and was also a keen supporter and strong advocate of the bloodstock industry. He saw the global opportunity for Ireland in this industry.

The French Government honoured him with the Legion d'Honneur and the King of Spain presented him with the Grand Cross of the Agricultural Order of Merit for his services to agriculture.

However, despite the international recognition, I know from talking to him that in his own mind few honours could match his induction into the West Cork Hall of Fame in 1992. After his retirement, I kept in touch with Joe by phone and he always had the ability to sum up a political situation in his dry, humorous way.

He was also a good and loyal friend. The news of Joe's death has come as a shock to me and his many friends and admirers across the country.

I offer my sympathy and prayers to Joe's wife Marie, his children Ronan, Denise, Killian, Brian and Kate, and to his entire family circle.

Ar dheis De go raibh a Anam.

Micheal Martin is Fianna Fail leader, and TD for Cork South Central

Irish Independent

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