Former minister Walsh dies aged 71

Joe Walsh in 2003. Picture: Billy Higgins/Evening Echo

Former Minister for Agriculture Joe Walsh has died at the age of 71.

The Fianna Fáil politician, from Ballineen in west Cork, passed away overnight at Cork University Hospital following a short illness, RTÉ reported.

In his two stints as a TD, with one term as a senator in between, Joe Walsh spent almost 30 years in Leinster House.

He was first elected as a TD in 1977, losing his seat in 1981 but winning it back in 1982 and keeping it until his retirement 25 years later.

He was first appointed a junior minister at the Department of Agriculture under Charles Haughey in 1987, and became the senior minister there in 1992 under Albert Reynolds.

That government collapsed in 1994, but Joe Walsh returned to the Department in 1997 under Bertie Ahern, and remained there for another seven years.

His tenure there will be best remembered for the Foot and Mouth crisis, where he was forced to cancel many large public events.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said one of his outstanding achievements was his handling of that crisis.

"We will always particularly remember the strength of his leadership in responding to the Foot and Mouth Disease crisis," Mr Martin said.

"That had the potential to wipe out the entire industry."

Mr Martin also paid tribute to Mr Walsh's negotiations during the 1992 and 2003 CAP reforms, as well as his establishment of Bord Bia, while Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was a dedicated representative of the people of Cork South West and a hard-working and committed minister.

He retired from the Dáil in 2007, but returned to public life in 2009 when he was appointed a Public Interest director in Bank of Ireland in the wake of the bank guarantee.

He is survived by his wife and five children.

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