Minister Michael Creed faces Brexit storm clouds over agriculture sector

Preparing for his summer break, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed knows the daunting challenges that will face him and the Government when ministers return to Leinster House in the autumn.

Brexit, pay demands and industrial unrest, a creaking health service, budget negotiations, and internal tensions in the minority government are just some of the obstacles down the line.

Sanguine though about the work ahead, the Cork TD knows he is fortunate to be in Cabinet, especially after being on the wrong side of the failed 2010 leadership heave against Enda Kenny.

“I thought the bus had passed me by,” the minister tells me.

But the truth is Michael Creed is one of the most experienced Fine Gael TDs in Leinster House, having first been elected in 1989 when he succeeded his father, Donal, in Cork North West.

Having been brought into Cabinet this time around, succeeding fellow Cork man Simon Coveney as Agriculture Minister, it is a better place since he was taken off the Fine Gael frontbench after being part of the 2010 coup.

“That’s all water under the bridge,” he says.

“I’m not the kind of person that holds a grudge. I said that’s that and move on, it’s the democratic will. It’s like playing football, you lose a match and shake hands and that’s it.”

It’s a soft summer evening, and many TDs have cleared their desks for the break and joined the exodus out of Dublin. I find myself staring at piles of folders on the desk beside the minister as, with rolled-up shirt sleeves, he explains just what’s on his plate.

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Brexit is top of the agenda. And though it may be some time before British prime minister Theresa May outlines her country’s exit plan, there are storm clouds looming on the horizon for the Irish economy and, specifically, farming and the marine sectors, which Mr Creed must steer through any Brexit blizzard.

“There is no upside for this department or the agri-food sector for Brexit or the fishery side,” he says.

Already, there is speculation of modern technology, including automatic licence plate recognition software, being used to operate a soft border with the North when Britain exit the EU. Similar systems work between the US and Canada. However, the real issue is whether fresh tariffs will be applied to produce going across the border.

On top of dealing with Brexit and quelling internal tensions, the minority regime’s survival depends on co-operating with opposition TDs. The system is here to stay and may even be better than the last term, Mr Creed says.

“Big [government] majorities don’t actually serve very often very well.”

But will Enda Kenny serve out a full term as Taoiseach or should the Fine Gael leader step down sooner, as suggested by some party backbenchers?

Cautious but open-minded, Michael Creed says that will be up to his boss to decide. Mistakes are rarely made twice.

“That’s entirely up to Enda Kenny.”

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