Only the Departments of Agriculture, Finance, and Public Expenditure and Reform emerged from last week’s cabinet reshuffle with the continuity afforded by ministers being left in place.
But agri-food was given a starring role by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as he promised a relentless focus in the remaining months of his Government on restoring the economy for rapid job growth to return to full employment.
He estimated that with the right supports, 25,000 jobs can be created in the next seven years in agri-food — one of the specific sectors to be targeted for particular attention, over and above the existing action plan for jobs.
Hence the as-you-were in the reshuffle for Minister Simon Coveney, even if he has been allocated the additional responsibility of the defence portfolio.
It was noticeable in the reshuffle debate that the opposition didn’t target agriculture — proof in itself that the Government’s management of the sector is seen as relatively successful.
In the context of a cabinet reshuffle, problems like low cattle prices for 100,000 farmers don’t register in the big picture of government, beside the many casualties of the economic collapse and rescue.
But the Taoiseach made it clear that agriculture is one of the favoured areas for progress — and it may be significant that some ministers who had rural problems are gone.
Two days before the reshuffle, 4,000 protesters gathered outside the Dáil to support the existing community-based structure for the LEADER rural development programme, which is being replaced by the now former environment minister Phil Hogan’s alignment policy.
After his local government reform, new building regulations, a new water service, and dealing with climate change and with pollution from septic tanks, rural dwellers may be more comfortable to see him continue to bring about change away from home, as Ireland’s EU commissioner.
The agriculture portfolio is one of the targets.
After years of waiting for better broadband, country people still live in hope that the departed communications minister Pat Rabbitte’s plans to bring better internet to 1,100 towns and villages in rural areas will come to fruition. There were rural problems also for Jimmy Deenihan, who moves from the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht to become a minister of state. He got bogged down in protection of the environment, incurring the wrath of farmers in upland areas and fo turf cutters.
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