Tom Hayes a surprise appointment as new Minister of State

Tipperary South TD will fill the vacancy in Department of Agriculture left by the late Shane McEntee

Tom Hayes TD was appointed the new Minister of State at the Dept of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, pictured at Government Buildings with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Simon Coveney, TD. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Tom Hayes TD was appointed the new Minister of State at the Dept of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, pictured at Government Buildings with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Simon Coveney, TD. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Thu, Jun 6, 2013, 01:00

Two senior Labour Ministers have taken issue with claims by a newly appointed Fine Gael Minister of State that two key Government policy plans have been dropped.

In his first radio interview after being appointed Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture, the Tipperary South TD Tom Hayes said proposals that capital assets should form part of the means-testing for student grants had been dropped.

Farming groups have opposed the change, saying that farming families with valuable working capital but with very small incomes would be adversely affected.

Mr Hayes also suggested that plans to sell off State forestry assets had been shelved.


‘Minister for half a day’
Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn responded to the comment later yesterday afternoon by saying that he had been a Minister for Education for 2½ years while Mr Hayes had been a Minister for half a day.

Dismissing the suggestion that the capital assets element of the means test would be dropped, Mr Quinn said that reports going back to the 1990s had said that household income in itself should not be the only component.

His fellow Labour Minister Brendan Howlin rejected Mr Hayes’s contention that plans to dispose of assets of the State forestry company, Coillte, were no longer being pursued. He said he and Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney would be bringing proposals to Cabinet in relation to Coillte in the near future.

“We set out what we would sell and a very strict evaluation was conducted by NewERA, which did Trojan work looking at all State companies,” said Mr Howlin.

On RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Hayes said the inclusion of farm assets in means tests was very unfair.

“That idea has been dropped by Minister Quinn and it is only fair that it be dropped.”

He said the best way of doing it was by a means test that would be based on income.

Mr Quinn confirmed yesterday that the new regime for means-testing would be introduced in 2014, as scheduled.

Mr Hayes succeeds as Minister of State the late Meath East TD Shane McEntee, who died suddenly last December.

While not a complete surprise, Mr Hayes was not considered a front-runner for the position, which has lain vacant for six months and has been the subject of considerable speculation. The new Minister will have specific responsibility for food, horticulture and food safety.

Mr Hayes (61) is from Golden in Tipperary and is a former chairman of the Fine Gael party. He has proven a popular figure within the parliamentary party and served in the Seanad for four years before he was elected to the Dáil for the first time in a byelection in 2001.

His victory in that election temporarily bolstered the stature of new Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan during a period of great volatility for the party.

To be approved
Taoiseach Enda Kenny formally nominated Mr Hayes at the Cabinet meeting yesterday but his appointment had to be approved by the Government as a whole.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Kenny said: “Tom Hayes has a deep understanding of the agriculture sector and I am confident that this, along with his political and farming experience, will equip him very well for this important and challenging role.”