Beyoncé-loving McConalogue faces the toughest battle of his Agriculture gig

As the Common Agriculture Policy negotiations and the thorny issue of cutting carbon emissions come to a head, McConalogue will be front and centre in the push to bring farmers along in the process to develop Ireland's CAP plan
Beyoncé-loving McConalogue faces the toughest battle of his Agriculture gig

Charlie McConalogue will have his work cut out to achieve the best CAP plan for the environment that also keep farmers, who almost pride themselves on being a remarkably difficult group, pleased. Photo: Denis Minihane

Charlie McConalogue would love to go to a Beyoncé gig with the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

"I don't know if Paschal would like Beyoncé as much if he had to go with me. I would definitely go and see a Beyoncé concert if the opportunity arose."

These days, regardless of Covid restrictions on stadium pop concerts, the Minister for Agriculture has little time as he juggles his portfolio work with rearing a young family.

The Donegal TD has held senior spokesperson roles including education and agriculture in opposition and now occupies one of the most influential seats around the Cabinet table, but he remains a notoriously private politician.

However, as the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) negotiations and the thorny issue of cutting carbon emissions both come to a head, McConalogue will be forced out front in the coming months.

Charlie McConalogue speaking with Seamie English, Oola, Co. Limerick, and his grandson Jack English during his visit to Cahir Mart, Co. Tipperary. The Minister said: "My focus is to ensure that the funding is strong, and then to engage with farmers over the development of our national CAP plan." Photo: Denis Minihane
Charlie McConalogue speaking with Seamie English, Oola, Co. Limerick, and his grandson Jack English during his visit to Cahir Mart, Co. Tipperary. The Minister said: "My focus is to ensure that the funding is strong, and then to engage with farmers over the development of our national CAP plan." Photo: Denis Minihane

CAP and climate change are the only issues on the minds of farmers at Cahir mart when he visits.

One mart-goer firmly tells the minister: "Listening to the media, it's like they are insulting us at times, because even last night they were on Prime Time and they were saying the first thing that will have to be hit is agriculture. Do they not realise that we are feeding them first of all?

He asks the Minister:

Farmers have been minding this environment for thousands of years, do we get any credit for what we do?

Pat Carroll, who sits on the IFA's Dairy Committee, also approaches McConalogue to raise worries about the proposed changes to the CAP system which aim to equalise payments but will see some farm incomes take a hit.

"You take a €5,000 cut on a family farm, that's €100 a week off their income. You tell me any family that can take €100 a week of a cut from their living expenses? Nobody else in society would be asked. 

Charlie McConalogue at Cahir Mart, Co. Tipperary: "There's sacrifice involved in being a politician, or being a public figure." Photo: Denis Minihane
Charlie McConalogue at Cahir Mart, Co. Tipperary: "There's sacrifice involved in being a politician, or being a public figure." Photo: Denis Minihane

"Politically you have to come forward with solutions to replace that income, otherwise you are telling the next generation to stay away."

McConalogue listens to the concerns, not giving much away with his usual quiet demeanour and cautious approach that has largely kept him out of the headlines since entering Leinster House a decade ago. But who is the six-foot-four Fianna Fáiler from Gleneely?

"I'm somebody who's very much driven and passionate about public service, and about working on behalf of the public. That's why I entered politics in the first place. Because I think it's a noble pursuit. Outside politics, I'm somebody who doesn't seek the limelight," he says when asked.

Unlike some of his colleagues in Government, you won't be seeing him posting family trips to the beach with his wife and their two young sons on social media, although he admits there is a pressure to do so. "There's sacrifice involved in being a politician, or being a public figure. You're very much out there, there's sacrifice involved for your family.

Charlie McConalogue (left) speaking with Sean O'Sullivan, CEO, Cork Marts, during his visit to Cahir Mart, Co. Tipperary. Photo: Denis Minihane
Charlie McConalogue (left) speaking with Sean O'Sullivan, CEO, Cork Marts, during his visit to Cahir Mart, Co. Tipperary. Photo: Denis Minihane

"I've seen a significant change in the 10 years I've been in politics in terms of what it means to be a politician and the impact that can be there, how it can influence and have an impact on the family around you. So I'm very conscious of the fact that I'm the one that's involved, that's a choice I've made, it's not a choice that anyone around me has made. I'm quite protective of that." 

He says it is an unfortunate side-effect of what he does.

"But I'm also conscious that if you bring that aspect too much out to the front, you're bringing that more into the equation, you know, so I do keep my personal life very much separate from the political life."

He adds: "There's undoubtedly an appetite and a pressure in general on politicians to do that. Like if you look at what gets traction for politicians, it's bringing that personal side into the equation.

Charlie McConalogue (left) speaking with Pat Rossiter, Cahir, and Tom Beary, Ballylooby, (right) during his visit to Cahir Mart, Co. Tipperary. CAP and climate change are the only issues on the minds of farmers at Cahir mart when he visits. Photo: Denis Minihane
Charlie McConalogue (left) speaking with Pat Rossiter, Cahir, and Tom Beary, Ballylooby, (right) during his visit to Cahir Mart, Co. Tipperary. CAP and climate change are the only issues on the minds of farmers at Cahir mart when he visits. Photo: Denis Minihane

"You'll get a lot more hits for it and there's no doubt the public do like to see that as well. They'd like to know more about the politician, know more about their life, who they are. But from an individual's point of view, that's not a free pass, that's not something that you do without consequences, either."

Before public service and fatherhood took over, McConalogue says he was someone who loved his own space, he enjoyed playing sport, especially soccer until his "knees decided otherwise".

"You don't get that anymore, because between politics and family, you know, your next priority after giving the time to work then is giving the time to the two boys and my wife.

"Very much - for better or for worse - now the pastime I have and the things that I do are going to the playground and going to the beach, or going wherever it is the two kids decide at the weekend that they might want to go," he jokes.

Charlie McConalogue speaking with an IFA delegation during his visit to Cahir Mart, Co. Tipperary. Many farmers are worried about the proposed changes to the CAP system which aim to equalise payments but will see some farm incomes take a hit. Photo: Denis Minihane.
Charlie McConalogue speaking with an IFA delegation during his visit to Cahir Mart, Co. Tipperary. Many farmers are worried about the proposed changes to the CAP system which aim to equalise payments but will see some farm incomes take a hit. Photo: Denis Minihane.

Away from the playground, he will have his work cut out to achieve the best CAP plan for the environment that also keep farmers, who almost pride themselves on being a remarkably difficult group, pleased. Some have already raised concerns that the new CAP scheme will mean financial loss for some farmers, an aspect of the plan that was repeatedly raised on his recent mart visit.

A consultation on Ireland's draft proposals for the 2023-2027 strategic plan will run until August 27, before the Minister sets down the final details.

"There are then a number of issues which have still to be decided upon as part of the development of our national CAP plan that will have implications at farm level, and we are very much deciding how that funding is distributed.

"My focus is to ensure that the funding is strong, and then to engage with farmers over the development of our national CAP plan, to engage with them as to how different decisions will impact because it is such an important part of farmer income. And then to reach as fair an outcome from the process possible," he says.

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