MARY COUGHLAN has been named as the new Irish minister of agriculture, replacing Joe Walsh who has retired after 15 years in the job.

Announcing a major cabinet reshuffle in the Dail on Wednesday (Sept 29), the Taoiseach  Bertie Aherne ended weeks of speculation as to who would take over from Europe‘s longest serving agriculture minister.

Mrs Coughlan is from Co Donegal in the north-west of Ireland and her previous role was as minister for social, community and family affairs.

“She will be new to the department, but coming from a rural constituency, she will be well aware of the current issues,” said a spokesman for the department of agriculture.

She is the first woman to hold the post of agriculture minister in Ireland.

Mr Walsh had announced his intention to retire in mid-August.

He was first appointed minister of state for the development of the food industry in 1987, a post he held for five years.

After a two year break, he returned to the department of agriculture in 1994, looking after Irish interests during the Agenda 2000 reforms and last year’s mid-term review.

In a recent press interview he said his greatest achievement was to oversee the transformation of Irish farming from an industry dependent on intervention to one ready to embrace the free market.

His worst experience was watching BSE ravage the country‘s beef trade.