Barry Cowen: I'm Minister 'for the whole country' - not just the Midlands

Barry Cowen, newly appointed Minister for Agriculture and the Marine and President Michael D. Higgins at Dublin Castle.

The new Minister for Agriculture and the Marine has defended the lack of Cabinet positions in the west and north-west of the country.

“It's always a great challenge to get a geographical spread across the Ministries, but ultimately this is a national government," Barry Cowen told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

"I'm Minister for Agriculture and the Marine, not for the Midlands, but for the whole country.”

Mr Cowen said that the government will build on “the already strong environmental credentials” that the Irish agriculture sector has held over the last number of years.

“I think the best way in which this government can move in relation to agriculture and the marine, the best future is aligning its production systems with consumer sentiment and environmental ambition, investment in technology and innovation that improves economic and environmental efficiency and that is the path that we would hope to pave for this sector in the hope that it will continue to thrive and continue to play the huge role that it does throughout the country.”

There was unity among the three parties in recognising the huge contribution that is made by agriculture and its impact on the economy, he said and it was imperative that the country’s strong environmental credentials be recognised, he added.

“I, as Minister in this government, need to maintain and continue to drive the ambition within the sector.

"My ambition is matched by the ambition that is contained in the programme for government - today I will be meeting my counterparts throughout Europe and we'll be making that point to the Commission and to other member States.”

The Minister was asked about the health of his brother, the former Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his reaction to the Cabinet appointment.

“My brother, no more than anybody else's brother, was hugely proud and delighted to see my appointment.

“It is particularly poignant for him, but he continues to make progress. He is very much involved with me in my career, he helped and assisted me even through his illness, he's making a steady recovery thankfully and hopes to be home with us in the coming weeks and months and we look forward to that.”