How much do you know about the new Minister for Agriculture – Charlie McConalogue?

Donegal TD Charlie McConalogue has today (Wednesday, September 2) been appointed as the new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Also Read: Charlie McConalogue appointed as new Minister for Agriculture

He will take over the ministerial role following the resignation of Dara Calleary from the position, which happened in the midst of a growing controversy on Friday, August 21, surrounding the so-called ‘Golfgate’ debacle.

McConalogue’s elevation to the rank of senior minister was announced today by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, before the newly-appointed minister travelled to Áras an Uachtaráin to receive his seal of office.

The Fianna Fáil deputy had previously been appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for law reform at the Department of Justice and Equality (in the recently-formed government).

Political Background

McConalogue is a native of Gleneely in Co. Donegal. He was first elected to the Dáil in 2011, as a TD for Donegal North-East at the first time of asking.

In the 2016 general election, he was elected as a TD for the Donegal constituency.

In May 2016, he was appointed as Fianna Fail’s spokesperson on agriculture, food and the marine.

From a farming background, McConalogue studied Economics, Politics and History at University College Dublin (UCD). He first became involved in politics during his time in college.

He worked in Fianna Fáil headquarters for a number of years. He also did a stint working abroad in Australia and returned home from there to work on the family farm before running in the local elections in 2009, when he was elected as a Donegal county councillor.

According to McConalogue, prior to taking on the agriculture portfolio, his key priorities included the development of infrastructure in Co. Donegal “with regards to roads, broadband and a sustainable health service for the people of the county”.

‘Transformative programme for agriculture’

In June, when Fianna Fáil entered into government, McConalogue outlined a number of measures that he wanted his fellow party members to support, in order to implement a “transformative programme for agriculture”.

He said at the time:

“Fianna Fáil entered into these negotiations with an understanding of just how difficult it has been for farmers and their families in recent years.

Beef prices are at an all time low. Brexit and proposed trade deals have left farmers fearing for their future.

“Safeguarding the family model of farming is pivotal to the rural economy. Sectoral supports in beef, sheep and dairy are central tenants of this draft Programme for Government.”

Beef farming

When Fianna Fáil launched the party’s raft of election promises for the agricultural sector at the beginning of this year, McConalogue said one of the projects the party would look at was “reforming the current Beef Data and Genomics Programme [BDGP]”.

Fianna Fáil, at the time, had committed to a €200 per suckler cow payment on a farmer’s first 20 cows. Speaking about this, McConalogue said:

“I think the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme – which Fianna Fáil had in the past – was one which worked very well. It is something which we would work closely with the farming organisations on.

“It [the suckler sector] is a critical anchor and base for our beef sector and it should be supported.

Earlier this year, McConalogue also said that he believed the convergence process under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should continue during the likely two-year transition period.

Speaking at the time about former Minister Michael Creed’s decision to stall the process, McConalogue said it was “not acceptable for the government to now bring a halt to the process towards the accepted minimum during the transition period”.

Brexit

McConalogue has raised concerns over Brexit’s threat to agriculture on numerous occasions. He has said that nothing will compare “to the pressure the sector will be under in the case of a hard Brexit”.

He previously said:

“I am deeply concerned that the UK is still intent on not seeking an extension to the transition period which is due to end on the 31st December 2020.

If the UK continues with this course of action it raises the possibility of a no-deal Brexit at the end of the year which would be extremely detrimental to Ireland and, in particular, our agri-food sector.

He said that when horticulture was one of the first sectors to “feel this pressure”, the government did not step in to support it.

Beef farmers “have been losing their shirts on the prices for finished cattle” since Brexit, according to McConalogue. He added that, due to Covid-19, the agri-food industry has already suffered huge losses.

He is quoted as saying: “The prospect of a no-deal Brexit coming down the tracks is frightening for those who have already incurred significant financial losses this year.”

Rural life

Over the years, McConalogue has also raised concerns over agricultural crime, saying that the government has not done enough to protect farmers and people living in rural Ireland. Speaking on the matter in the past, he said:

“The closure of Garda stations over the past number of years has made life easier for criminals targeting rural areas.

“[The] government has turned a blind eye towards this problem for too long.”

The 42-year-old minister is married to Jackie and they have two small children.

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