A WEEK is said to be a long time in politics, but the turbulent fortnight that Laois-Offaly’s Barry Cowen put down as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine must seem like an eternity.
This week he was dramatically sacked by Taoiseach Micheál Martin in circumstances that still need to be properly explained after the controversy over Cowen’s three-month driving ban in 2016 for being over the alcohol limit for driving on a provisional licence just kept rumbling on and the hapless midlander was dumped to cap what was, to say the least, an inauspicious start for the new coalition government.
On Wednesday, the Taoiseach announced that Cowen has been replaced by Mayo TD Dara Calleary (aged 47), Fianna Fáil’s deputy leader and the party’s chief negotiator in the coalition talks, who joins the senior ministerial ranks after suffering the ignominy a fortnight ago of being excluded and was given the consolation role of government chief whip and subsequently a junior ministry in the areas of gaeltacht and sport.
In some respects, having an agriculture minister from the western seaboard is good news for West Cork farmers, as his constituency mirrors here in several respects and he would have a greater appreciation of and empathy with smaller farmers. The farming organisations welcomed Calleary’s appointment, with ICMSA president Pat McCormack saying it was important ‘that any circumstances around his appointment did not obscure the fundamental nature and scale of the challenge that he faced.’
While congratulating Dara Calleary on his appointment, opposition politicians took the Taoiseach to task over the sacking of Barry Cowen, with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald telling him: ‘The way these matters have been handled have called into question your judgement.’ Her Labour Party counterpart Alan Kelly said that there are ‘deeper issues’ about the questions put to the Taoiseach that he did not answer.
Meanwhile, Senator Tim Lombard has been appointed as the Fine Gael spokesperson on Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the Seanad, while TD Holly Cairns of the Social Democrats, who pipped him for the third seat in the Cork South West constituency in last February’s general election, is her party’s agriculture spokesperson in Dáil Éireann.