With a coalition on the cards, do we know who the next agriculture minister will be?

Unless you’ve been living under a proverbial rock for the past two weeks, you’ll be aware that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party are voting on a proposed Programme for Government – to open the door to a coalition government involving those three parties.

It is thought that, come Friday (June 26), we will have a clearer picture of what lies ahead and, more particularly, whether such a coalition government will assume power.

While the Programme for Government has been positively received in some quarters, its acceptance among grassroots party members is by no means assured. Not only are there some in both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael reluctant to sanction such a coalition, but a notable proportion of the Green Party’s membership appear to have misgivings.

With that in mind, it may be somewhat premature to place a bet on who the next Minister for Agriculture will be – or even what party he or she will come from.

Remember; with a coalition government as the option that’s presently on the ‘menu’, it’s clear that every existing Fine Gael minister cannot retain his or her portfolio – certainly not with a cohort of upwardly-mobile Fianna Fáil and Green Party figures with eyes on cabinet.

But, if we were to speculate on the likely identity of the next Minister for Agriculture, we should factor in one key criterion from the outset. Reliable sources have indicated that, in the event of the proposed three-party coalition going ahead, the job would go to either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. The Green Party – we understand – is not in the running for the agriculture brief.

What of the current minister – Michael Creed? While nothing is confirmed at this tentative stage, few expect that Creed will be back for another term in the role.

If that is the case, from whence will the minister emerge?

Fianna Fáil

Sources within Fianna Fáil have indicated that the party is interested in filling this portfolio – from within its ranks. Fianna Fáil’s current spokesperson on agriculture, food and the marine is Donegal TD Charlie McConalogue; he is thought to be personally interested in the job.

However, stiff competition (from within Fianna Fáil) is likely to come from Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill, a former president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA). It is believed that he would also ‘throw his hat in the ring’ if the opportunity arose.

Elsewhere in Fianna Fáil’s Dáil contingent is former Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith – from the Cavan-Monaghan constituency. He served in the position (then referred to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) from 2008 to 2011.

The party has several other TDs from rural-based constituencies – ‘dark horses’ – who might also canvas for the role.

Fine Gael

Within the Fine Gael camp, apart from the incumbent – Michael Creed – there doesn’t appear to be another TD that could be backed (in a gamble) with any degree of confidence, let alone certainty.

Of course, the current Tánaiste; Minister for Foreign Affairs; and deputy leader – Simon Coveney – served as Minister for Agriculture from 2011 to 2016 (under Enda Kenny).

Minister Coveney will almost certainly have to vacant his current position of Tánaiste when a new government takes power, as Leo Varadkar is set to occupy that role under the ‘revolving Taoiseach’ system, which would see Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin initially assume the top role.

While, in recent times, the positions of Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs have often been held by the same person, it is not cleat yet if Coveney will also have to vacate his current ministerial position.

It’s no secret, of course, that the agriculture brief is not as far up the pecking order as the likes of foreign affairs, finance or justice. But could the formation of a three-party coalition government (along with the ensuing cabinet reshuffle) see Coveney return to agriculture?

The two other Fine Gael name that have been mooted – albeit tentatively – are those of Meath East TD Helen McEntee (who’s father, Shane McEntee, was Minister of State for Food, Horticulture and Food Safety); and Cavan-Monaghan TD Heather Humphreys – the current Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

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