Simon Harris “will engage with farming organisations, listen carefully to their concerns, and work closely with Government colleagues to outline initiatives to support them”, he has told the Irish Farmers Journal.

The new Fine Gael leader, elected unopposed over the weekend, is now the Government’s presumptive nominee for Taoiseach when the Dáil reconvenes in April.

The Wicklow TD highlighted “supporting the farming community” as a priority of Government in his acceptance speech at the weekend’s European election selection convention that saw Nina Carberry and Maria Walsh ratified as Fine Gael candidates for the Midlands North West constituency.

“During my current portfolio as Minister for Further and Higher Education, we have been working with farmers across the country on the climate transition,” he said in his first interview on farming since being chosen to succeed Leo Varadkar. “And they are up for it. They get it. They understand the impact of climate better than anyone.”

“In my current brief, we have worked to introduce farming apprenticeships, and I have prioritised the establishment of new veterinary college places recognising the impact that has for farmers.”


On the nitrates derogation, Harris said: “I am committed to taking every action necessary to retain Ireland’s nitrates derogation. Ireland has been granted a derogation for a very good reason. I will work closely with Minister McConalogue on these matters.”

On the Nature Restoration Law, Harris said: “It must be something which works for farmers and not against them and one that respects rural and coastal communities.”

The Government would continue to take farmers’ concerns on board, he added, in developing any associated scheme in Ireland.