IRISH FARMER groups have given an enthusiastic welcome to their new minister of agriculture, but left her in no doubt as to the importance of the tasks that lie ahead.

Mary Coughlan, TD for Donegal South West, was given the agriculture brief by Taoiseach Bertie Aherne in Wednesday’s reshuffle.

She replaces Joe Walsh, who stood down after 15 years‘ service at the department of agriculture, and is the first woman to take on the job.

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers‘ Association said it was confident that Ms Coughlan would bring enthusiasm and a new approach to the brief.
 
“The new Minister will have to immerse herself in the problems confronting Irish agriculture from her first minutes behind her desk,” said a spokesman.

“ICMSA will draw her attention to the necessity of increasing farm incomes through the reduction of costs and the maximisation of returns from the market place.
 
“One of her first tasks will be to ensure the continuation of live exports – on foot of the decision by P&O to exit the Rosslare–Cherbourg route.”
 
The spokesman was confident she had the ability to deliver.

Irish Cattle and Sheep Association president Malcolm Thompson said the new minister faced a huge task in ensuring that the changeover to decoupling is capitalised on, in order to deliver better farm incomes.

“The new Minister must be passionate in advocating the rights of farmers to a realistic income.

“Minister Coughlan will also have to be proactive in making Ireland the recognised centre of excellence in Europe for quality food,” he added.

Other key issues included the need to deliver modulation money to suckler and sheep farmers, the need to defend Ireland‘s disadvantaged area status under new EU rural development policy and the establishment of a beef strategy board to improve relations with the meat trade.

At 39, Ms Coughlan is the youngest member of the new-look cabinet.

She was formerly minister at the department of family and social affairs, overseeing things like state pensions and child benefit schemes.

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