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
Some 10,114 were carried out in 2009, compared with 7,189 in 2011. He says there were 5,963 inspections last year and 1,194 in the first three months of this year. Is that enough? “If there is need for more then that can be dealt with . . . but we are living in very difficult times and the whole department is under pressure to keep costs down so we need to have the best service at minimum cost.”
On the question of whether anyone will be prosecuted over the horse-meat scandal, he says if people break the law they must be held responsible. “There is no room in the industry for people that do irreparable damage to our industry.”
Perhaps though the area of responsibility closest to his own heart is the greyhound sector. He follows greyhound racing and, as the owner of a share in two coursing dogs, he robustly defends hare coursing.
“I attend many coursing meetings and the standards in coursing are so high that there is not this cruelty that is being portrayed in the media,” he says. “People should understand that the animals are so well looked after. I wouldn’t be in favour of any cruelty to animals . . . and if anyone has any other ideas for protecting animals, I’ll be only too willing to look at them.”
He adds he would gladly take anyone to a coursing event and talk them through it. “It’s part of a culture in a rural part of the country that people have been part of for generations and nobody is more protective of the welfare of animals than the people that are involved in those sports.”
Greyhound sector review
He says the whole greyhound sector provides 10,000 full- and part-time jobs and is worth an estimated €0.5 billion to the economy, according to Bord na gCon.
He is commissioning a review of the sector and says there is huge potential for growth. “We need to look at the whole structure of an industry that can create a lot of part-time jobs and be good for our tourism industry. The terms of reference will be signed off shortly and we’ll advertise then for outside people to look at the industry, warts and all.”
So he has a big “to-do” list but how hard will it be to put his own stamp on the department with such a prolific senior minister as Simon Coveney? “I think we will complement each other. I’m on the ground. I attend marts. I know the industry upside down from a practical point of view and I think we can work that to both our benefits. When the next election is called, I have no doubt that we will have left our mark.”