New Taoiseach promises to work for decent farm incomes and a sustainable rural future

Agriculture, food and the marine will remain a priority, both as central to rural society and as a major economic pillar, said Taoiseach Micheál Martin as he confirmed his appointment by the President, in the Dail last week.
New Taoiseach promises to work for decent farm incomes and a sustainable rural future
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said farmers are the great custodians of our countryside. Picture: Conor McCabe Photography
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said farmers are the great custodians of our countryside. Picture: Conor McCabe Photography

Agriculture, food and the marine will remain a priority, both as central to rural society and as a major economic pillar, said Taoiseach Micheál Martin as he confirmed his appointment by the President, in the Dail last week.

“I reject the false idea that one can either support agriculture or care for the environment.

“Farmers are the great custodians of our countryside.

“We owe it to them to work with them to ensure decent incomes and a sustainable future for them and our rural communities as a whole.”

On behalf of the Green Party partner in government, its leader Eamon Ryan said Ireland must invest in a completely new energy system, which will mean changing completely how we run our agricultural system, forestry, and fisheries.

“How we look after our land will be central to meeting the challenge we face, and that will create an opportunity for young Irish families to play the front-line role in their own homes in protecting nature.”

The Taoiseach said Eamon Ryan will lead the work of building a sustainable economy, with a major new portfolio, as minister for climate action, communications networks, and transport.

“In addition to climate change and the natural environment, he will oversee other specific areas which are an essential part of the wider climate change agenda,” said the Taoiseach.

“This includes transport as well as communication networks.”

Mr Ryan called for a focus on community, and encouraging a bottom-up recovery in every department of the Government.

“We were seen as one of the best examples in Europe of how the LEADER programme and community enterprise schemes could work.

“The State should not do everything for people but should facilitate community groups to thrive.

“We lost some of that orientation during the past decade and it is time to bring it back at scale and everywhere.”

The Taoiseach nominated Barry Cowen to be minister for agriculture and the marine. Laois-Offaly TD Mr Cowen, aged 52, is from a political Fianna Fáil family in Clara, Co Offaly.

The brother of former taoiseach Brian Cowen, and son of Ber Cowen TD, he has worked as an auctioneer and valuer. A TD for Laois– Offaly since 2011, he has served as Fianna Fáil spokesperson on environment and local government; social protection; and public expenditure and reform.

He has been complimented in the Dáil by his leader Micheál Martin for work and perseverance in promoting a just transition plan (which Cowen said would help his region to deal with the loss of Bord na Móna and the peat briquette and harvesting business). The previous government allocated €31m to the just transition plan in budget 2020.

Also in 2019, Mr Cowen apologised in the Dáil for casting a vote on behalf of Niall Collins TD after they had swapped seats.

Mr Cowen’s constituency colleague Senator Pippa Hackett will be a minister of state in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, responsible for land use and biodiversity.

An organic farmer who runs a 200-acre livestock farm (suckler cows, sheep, hens, forestry, and horses) in Geashill, Co Offaly, with her husband Mark, she was Green Party spokesperson for agriculture, food and the marine. She was elected to the Agricultural Panel of Seanad Éireann in November 2019. She holds a BSc in Agriculture from the University of Essex, a postgraduate diploma from University College Dublin, and a PhD in Equine Biomechanics from the University of Limerick.

More TDs will be proposed by the Taoiseach to serve as ministers of state, and a series of special responsibilities will be assigned to them.

Meanwhile, Community and Rural Development will join Social Protection, and the Islands, under Minister Heather Humphreys.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack welcomed Barry Cowen’s appointment, saying farmers would be reassured by the appointment of someone widely recognised as having a knowledge of, and sympathy with, the farm families of Ireland.

“It was supremely important that our farming and food sectors were led by an individual who understands the nature of the change coming and will help the farming and food sectors make the transition in a way that acknowledges the central economic, social and environmental role the sector already plays in rural areas and who will fight to maintain that”, said Mr McCormack.

Macra na Feirme national president Thomas Duffy said the new government needs to make sure any economic downturn does not force young people to emigrate.

“We need action on farm income, jobs, and climate to protect our future.”

IFA president Tim Cullinan said: “We look forward to working with the new minister to ensure that we harness the full potential of our farming sector.

“The new Minister has to be clear that farming is a commercial activity and that the economic sustainability of farmers is at the centre of the sustainability debate.”

“In this regard, the creation of the new Food Ombudsman will be vital.

“This new body must have the scope to regulate the full food chain and have real powers to ensure a fair share of the retail price gets back to farmers.” But the two biggest threats to farming are the CAP Budget and Brexit negotiations, said the IFA leader.

He also congratulated Senator Pippa Hackett on her appointment.

“We will work constructively to achieve the dual outcomes of food production and climate action with Minister Hackett”.

He thanked Michael Creed for his contribution as minister for agriculture.

Meanwhile, Mr Creed has wished Barry Cowen and Pippa Hackett the very best in their new roles.

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