Deputy Jackie Cahill: could it be third time lucky for the former ICMSA president?
With the departure of a second Minister for Agriculture in a matter of weeks, some farm interests in Tipperary are asking the question: Will it be third time lucky for Jackie Cahill?
Deputy Cahill, a former president of ICMSA, which represents the country’s dairy sector, had hoped for the portfolio on both the other occassions only to lose out to Barry Cowen and then Dara Calleary.
Deputy Cowen from Offaly was sacked over a drink driving issue.
It was generally felt that Deputy Calleary got the nod because Taoiseach Mícheál Martin had to give a Cabinet seat to the West of Ireland.
However, Deputy Calleary was forced to resign over his attendance at an Oireacthtas Golf Society event in Clifden, County Galway, last week, throwing the job into the spotlight again.
Now that spotlight has turned to his successor with Toaiseach Martin taking on the role in the interim.
Because of the political nature of the appointment neither ICMSA nor IFA would come out in favour of Deputy Cahill, but a source within the agri-sector in Tipperary said that that there were no doubts about Deputy Cahill’s ability to do the job.
“Jackie Cahill has forgotten more about Irish farming and agri-food than the rest of the candidates for the ministerial position put together. He knows how it works and how it could be made to work better,” they said.
The source said that the fact that he was president of ICMSA might possibly work against him in that he might be perceived to be coming from a particular set of policies and views on farming.
“But, on balance, where farming and food production are now, I think that every part of the farming and food sector would welcome someone with that kind of first-hand and in-depth knowledge of the problems and possible solutions,” they said.
“Tipperary ICMSA has always been one of the absolutely key local executives within ICMSA nationally and they produce very canny, shrewd, operators. Jackie is the personification of that process,” they said.
Meanwhile, North Tipperary IFA chair Imelda Walsh, said that the while the appointment of the next Minister was at the discretion of the Taoiseach, a strong Irish Agriculture Minister was needed to ensure that the interests of Irish and Tipperary farmers was best served.
“He needs to be mindful of the importance of appointing someone who can hit the ground running and appointing someone that isn’t going to need a period of grace to get up to speed on the brief. As farmers, we need to see this portfolio get the respect it deserves,” she said.
Her message to the Taoiseach was to appoint an Agriculture Minister that farmers can be confident in and who had a Class A knowledge of the brief, who can put Irish agriculture and our high standards on the European and world stage, who will work tirelessly with Minister Coveney and their European counterparts to ensure we’re not left on the cliff edge with the countdown to Brexit and will fight to ensure a CAP outcome that will serve all farmers well.
However, she said: “While IFA is a non-political association and we don’t engage in suggesting who should receive political appointments, obviously, as a Tipperary person, it would be great recognition of the county to have a local Minister at the Cabinet table holding such an important portfolio as Agriculture.”
She said that as a farmer and chairperson of North Tipperary IFA, she was hugely disappointed to see another Agriculture Minister bite the dust.
She said that, in the first instance, it was frustrating the length of time Government formation talks took from a general election on February 8 to a Government being put in place on June 27
“It is imperative that the Taoiseach appoints a Minister for Agriculture with immediate effect. There are many serious issues on the agriculture front both at home and abroad that demand this position be filled,” she said.
The North Tipperary IFA leader pointed out that we are four months away from a Brexit situation which if not handled correctly will have a devastating impact on agriculture and the country as a whole.
At this pivotal time there were CAP negotiations taking place which will dictate the future of farming, she said.
“We export 90% of the food we produce, with over 50% going into the UK market .
“It is also worth remembering agriculture underpins 110,000 jobs and is worth over €12bn to the Exchequer,” said Ms Walsh.
Should Deputy Cahill get the the Cabinet seat this time round, he will be the first Fianna Fáil Minister in Tipperary since Michael Smith served as Minister for Defence from 1997 to 2004. Among his other portfolios, Mr Smith served as Minister of State for Agriculture under Charles Haughey from 1980 to 1981 and was elected on the Agricultural Panel to Seanad Éireann in 1982.
However, while no one doubts Deputy Cahill's knowledge on farming issues, and generally he is regarded as a tough negotiator, some - including those in Tipperary - question his decision to attend the Cheltenham racing festival back in March at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He later told local radio that, in hindsight, it wasn’t the right decision to go, but has since pointed out that he went at a time when there were no restrictions in place and the then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar had travelled to Washington at the same time.
He has said that he feels the Cheltenham trip will not affect his chances of getting the Agriculture portfolio.
The general consensus is that Mícheál Martin will again have to keep the West of Ireland happy and will appoint Charlie McConalogue from Donegal to the post.