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Mon 7th Jul 2014

By Shane Ross
CORPORATE hospitality featured again — in even more lavish style — at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel on Tuesday.
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) was holding its annual bash, showcasing Irish food at its best. The feast aimed to boost the food industry by inviting every single TD to sample its wares. It certainly boosted consumption figures.
Oireachtas members turned up in their droves. The Dail was abandoned as we TDs and senators poured into the Shelbourne ballroom, full to the brim with tables adorned with 
mouth-watering delicacies.
Pairs for voting purposes had been sought from party whips in their dozens, as a feeding frenzy took over just up the road from Leinster House.
The hungry Oireachtas members were delighted that the IFA — a relentless pressure group — had taken the foot off their throats for a special promotion, distributing largesse instead of giving out stick.
Rural TDs outnumbered their urban colleagues, as might be expected where mostly rural produce was on display. Independent TD Mattie McGrath promoted Tipperary by devouring black pudding from Inch Country House (in Thurles), while downing a glass of Bulmer’s cider (from Clonmel).
Later he mixed lobster with pig’s tongue, spiced beef from Dan Ryan of Thurles and prime beef from Nenagh’s Richard Coughlan, before he leaped into a picture with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Kerry’s hardest-working TD, Michael Healy-Rae.
Healy-Rae, who makes his own sausages, fled the photographer for the Dingle Peninsula and Beal Organic Cheese tartlets table, followed by a visit to every other Kerry food stall.
Healy-Rae was not the only double-barrelled TD in evidence. Dun Laoghaire’s Mary Mitchell O’Connor was welcomed as a representative from Dublin, but reminded guests that she was originally from Co Galway . She grew up on her father’s beef farm in Milltown and was at the bash to support beef farmers.
She admitted that it might surprise people to learn that she “knows a good bullock from a bad one” and “loves to go down to Galway and walk the fields and the land”.
Could there be a vacancy in Agriculture for the talented school principal this week?
The Taoiseach joined in the spirit of promoting local produce when he gobbled up cheesecake pots from Castlebar, while his close neighbour from Galway, Independent TD Noel Grealish, dispensed with his latest diet when he guzzled away at jellied oysters produced by Fjord Shellfish from Galway’s Derrylough.
No one was forced to listen to the IFA’s good news message — that Ireland is producing world-class food that would put the global competition to shame if marketed properly.
It was a soft sell, but it was clear from the premier league produce on display why our food exports now stand at a record €10bn a year with a short-term target of €12bn. The industry boasts 300,000 jobs. It works in tandem with Good Food Ireland to promote tourism.
IFA insiders hint that there is another agenda at play. They want our next European Commissioner to win the Agricultural portfolio. Enda deftly promised that he would have a word with new Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. Last week’s clear winner is in the Taoiseach’s debt since he cast Ireland’s vote in Juncker’s favour against the wishes of his close ally, David Cameron.
Phil Hogan, frontrunner for the European gig, was nowhere to be seen. Yet, apart from the absence of our next Commissioner, other great ambassadors for the food industry were peddling their wares on Tuesday.
Darina Allen of Ballymaloe was in the Shelbourne, showcasing wild mackerel and raspberry tartlets. Her brother Tom O’Connell, the chef who runs O’Connell’s Donnybrook restaurant, was plugging delicious prime Irish Hereford beef. The Queen’s “Irish fishmonger” — Pat O’Connell  from the English Market in Cork — earned a mention for his organic salmon in the Taoiseach’s speech. Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin promptly made a beeline for his local celebrity’s stall.
All the public relations spin about how Ireland produces enough food for 40 million people, all the poor-mouthing about grants and the perils of farming, all the sheep standing beside placards outside the Department of Agriculture will have less impact on Oireachtas members than last Tuesday’s positive demonstration of Michelin-star style food from Irish farmers.
We know they can do it. Go on. Go out, go abroad and market the produce, stuff a few empty European bellies. And farmers, stop whingeing.


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