Agriculture Minister Tom Hayes says experience ‘on the ground’ stands to him
The new minister, who took office after the horse-meat scandal broke, has food safety and forestry high on his to-do list
Cards from well-wishers still adorn the office of Tom Hayes who was appointed Minister of State for Agriculture in June, but it was a bittersweet moment for the Tipperary man when he sat behind his desk for the first time. He was director of elections for the man he replaced – Shane McEntee, who died suddenly in December.
“It was sad for everybody that knew him and worked with him,” he says. “No matter where I go, Shane McEntee’s name comes up all the time, what he had done and what he intended to do. He had a lot of plans in place and he didn’t get to realise them.”
Hayes’s appointment came as a surprise to some, with media speculation centred around two names – Meath West TD Damien English and Wicklow TD Andrew Doyle, who chairs the Oireachtas agriculture committee.
Not unexpectedly, Hayes (61) says he wasn’t surprised to be chosen. “My name was mentioned in dispatches,” he says. “I’ve been chairman of the party, I’ve done a lot of service for the party and worked behind the scenes for many years. I’m from a farming background and I always dreamed of it, but I didn’t know if it would ever happen to me.”
From Golden, Co Tipperary, he runs a 140-acre drystock farm and believes his farming experience will stand him in good stead in his new role. “Obviously with politics I haven’t given it maybe as much time as I would like to,” he says, but the farm gets by with the help of his three sons and others.
If he thought he didn’t have enough time on the farm before, he’ll have even less time from next month when the Dáil swings into action with a referendum looming and an early budget.
Farm families have been concerned about proposals to include capital assets in the means test for third-level student grants. On the day he was appointed, he ruffled the feathers of Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn by saying the proposal had been scrapped. Quinn quickly shot back that it hadn’t but the plan does appear to have been put on the back burner for now. Could it resurface? He hopes not.
“I hold the view that it’s very wrong to include the value of land as income, which it’s not. It’s unfair to do it and I think the Government has realised that,” he says.
“I really believe in rural areas there are families who would not get a chance at third-level education if these assets were included.” In his own case, he says that if he was totally reliant on the farm income and capital assets were included in the means test for a grant, then his sons would not have gone to college.