Charlie McConalogue, the Coalition's third agriculture minister in seven months, is not one for soundbites, controversy or provoking rows within his own party.
But this weekend he is delivering a clear rebuke to those that have been discussing Micheál Martin's leadership of late. He wants them to stop, describing the recent intervention of Barry Cowen as "unhelpful" and a "total distraction".
Three Sundays ago Cowen, one of McConalogue's more recent predecessors in agriculture, told this newspaper the Taoiseach should step down as Fianna Fáil leader before the next election and possibly as early as next year.
McConalogue didn't like what he read. "I think for all TDs, including Barry, any discussion like that is an entire distraction," he says. "I think any discussion like that will undoubtedly get airtime and get headlines and print space, but it's not what the party is about. At the moment, the party has to be about delivering on our platform and all of us need to be behind that."
Martin should "absolutely" be allowed to become Tánaiste when the Taoiseach's office rotates to Leo Varadkar next year, the Donegal TD says, and Fianna Fáil should focus on delivering in Government before "preparing for the next election, when that time comes, with Micheál Martin as leader".
Perhaps McConalogue, unassuming and widely-respected inside and outside his party, is revelling in his new-found notoriety having briefly plunged the Cabinet into chaos just before Christmas when he tested positive for Covid-19. While ministers were free from isolation once they tested negative, the Inishowen-native was forced to quarantine in a spare room at home for 10 days.
"I didn't have any symptoms at all. So I was very lucky," he says. "It definitely wasn't the Christmas that we had been expecting. It was pretty challenging because we've two kids, a four-and-a-half-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old, particularly when they're at an age where it's very hard for them to understand. But we managed them and most of the challenge was on my wife… I got away light probably: no Christmas chores."
Holed up in a room until New Year's Day, he read work documents, newspapers and Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan's superb book on the FAI scandals, Champagne Football.
He is coming up on five months as Agriculture Minister, outlasting the two previous incumbents, the aforementioned Cowen and Dara Calleary whose swift departures within 54 days of the Coalition taking office left many thinking the role was a poisoned chalice. "So far so good," he chuckles.
As a farmer himself and Fianna Fáil's agriculture spokesman for four years, McConalogue was well-placed. But he faces the unenviable task of trying to implement the greenest Programme for Government in the country's history while being the minister for a sector responsible for 35pc of greenhouse gas emissions in the State.
"Farmers are the core of everything we do," he says, promising a collaborative approach but realpolitik dictates that farmers - many of whom struggle to make ends meet - will have to be financially incentivised to go green.
He secured €79m in the Budget for measures that will encourage farmers to plant trees on their land, promote biodiversity and use more organic farming methods. "I am very clear that there is significant potential for farmers to gain from this," he says. "That's the way we should see it." Ag Climatise, a plan to make the sector climate neutral by 2050, sets out dozens of actions farmers can take including using genotyping technology to improve breeding and new types of feed additives.
But the document is silent on what climate experts have argued would be the most effective action: reducing the national herd. McConalogue talks instead of a "stable herd" of 7.2 million cows being maintained in the coming years. His position is that there will be no reduction, and no culling.
"There are significant measures there, which can make a real difference in the time ahead and help lower emissions generally and also lower our methane emissions in a way that actually would see emissions from agriculture reduced and with a stable herd that is possible."
He believes the public narrative is "often about demonising agriculture" and not recognising what farmers do. "There has to be a wider understanding that we do have to feed the world. We do that very well here. Ninety pc of what we produce is exported and it's based in a pasture-based, grass-based production system, which is unique among many international food producers. So it's important that we recognise that domestically and that there is a recognition from the public that farmers are very much up for the journey ahead, and continuing to produce quality food, but with a focus going forward, in terms of the environment and the climate change."
His more immediate priorities are dealing with the fallout from Brexit. His own department's analysis of the recent EU-UK deal on fishing rights indicates a total loss to the Irish fisheries sector of €43m or 15pc of the value of all fish caught by Irish vessels, compared to France, which only lost 8pc. "I am not happy that our burden is heavier than other member states proportionate to the overall size of their fleet. Like with every other aspect of Brexit, unfortunately, our proximity to the UK and to Britain, means that we were much more exposed across all sectors than any other European country."
Without a deal, he argues that all of the Irish fleet would have been blocked from UK waters where it picks up around a third of all of its catch and it would have meant EU vessels coming into Irish waters. "I think we did as well as we possibly could," he insists. "I certainly would have liked a better outcome."
He is disdainful of the UK's attitude, noting recent comments by Jacob Rees-Mogg that fish delayed for export because of the new regime were happier because they were "British" fish. "God bless," he says witheringly. "I just think it betrays a total lack of understanding of the impact that Brexit has had on trade."
McConalogue is tight-lipped on how much of the €1.05bn in EU funding Ireland recently secured to deal with Brexit will be diverted to him to aid the fisheries sector, but notes: "There is a clear commitment and clear objective that both the agri-food sector and the fishing sector will be fully supported to meet the impact."
He acknowledges there has been "some disruption" to supply chains as a result of Brexit but is reasonably sanguine about the overall impact. "I don't believe anybody has any reason to worry about shelves or what's going to be available to them. There's been some disruption initially but I think it is adjusting itself."
This year he hopes to set up a new Food Ombudsman which, he says, will ensure farmers "are getting a fair crack of the whip" by providing price transparency in the beef market.
"We need to have structure in place, which shines a light in relation to what is happening in the market, what prices are available internationally, and ensuring that farmers are getting fair play in terms of the massive part they play in that."
A "robust and productive" ombudsman will be able to take enforcement action against trading practices deemed unfair under EU law, but it will not be able to set prices.
The new watchdog has in part been prompted by the beef protests of 2019 which were best encapsulated by the then-taoiseach Leo Varadkar being famously labelled "a vegan" by disgruntled farmers upset over the price they were getting for their product.
Varadkar denied he was a vegan although had admitted to reducing his meat intake to help reduce his carbon footprint. McConalogue isn't worried about the proliferation of veganism, arguing that farmers will always respond to consumer-demand, even if it is plant-based.
For the record, he isn't among the growing cohort of those shunning meat. "I love all meats really. I love food in general but I suppose rib-eye steak would be my first choice meat," he says.
In the fallout from the 2011 general election, the late political commentator Noel Whelan noted in his book Fianna Fáil: a biography of the party that the party was at its lowest ebb since it was founded.