Farm Ireland

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Alarm bells over Green agenda

Their aims may be noble but Gormley and Co are not our friends

John Shirley

All of us have some 'green' ethos in us. Like motherhood and apple pie, we are all in favour of a clean environment, safe food and an Earth that will continue to flourish. Even Bertie Ahern said that Green Party objectives were aligned with his own when he brought them in as partners into Government.

Green voters are middle class and urban. They have a holistic view of farming and food production. From the start of their term in Government the Greens, through their preoccupation with food and the environment, have had farmers in their sights.

But has the advent of the Greens in Government been good for farming? I fear not.

I have heard some Green members argue that their party has had minimal influence on policy for the past two years. I would argue the opposite. I see a Government following a Green agenda and most of the original thinking coming from the Greens.

Green deputies have key Government portfolios. Environment Minister John Gormley is forever making news. Former minister of state Trevor Sargent is obviously a highly principled man who made an error of judgement that cost him his job, but while in the Department the green agenda was pushed. Some of this was OK. Some is potentially damaging, but he was liked.

The same cannot be said for Minister Gormley. He has alarmed the IFA over his efforts to bring in farm inspectors from county councils under the Nitrates Directive.

Another layer of farm inspections on top of cross compliance, REPS and quality assurance is worse than unnecessary duplication. It shows an amazing lack of awareness of costs and of fair play for farmers. Already some county councils have taken on vets that have little to do other than put down the odd stray dog.

The destruction of REPS cannot be solely attributed to the Greens but here was a chance for them to show their environmental bona fides when REPS was threatened. However, not a murmur was heard from them.

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During the flooding crisis of last November, Minister Gormley incensed farmers by rejecting requests to have river channels cleared despite the benefits already seen from minor clearances and dredging along parts of the River Shannon.

The Greens are resolutely opposed to genetically modified (GM) products. They claim that Ireland and the EU can get a marketing advantage from being GM free. In this stance they are far from being alone. But when you look at GM crops elsewhere in the world you see corn that can be grown with less sprays and lower inputs for higher yields. Surely this is positive for both nature and for commerce?

In the last budget, significant extra tariffs were placed on diesel and petrol under the guise of a carbon tax. This was promoted by the Greens as being environmentally positive. In reality, this is an extra cost on businesses and families.

Again, the Greens are not alone in their opposition to thermal treatment plants (incinerators) but in countries like Sweden these are seen as environmentally positive.

In Sweden waste is removed near the source and used to create energy. In Ireland we are still exporting or land-filling our waste.

Conceivably the Greens could have made a better contribution if they had been in power pre- rather than post-Celtic Tiger. Maybe they could have curbed some of the planning abuses and slowed the property bubble. Now the economy cannot afford to indulge the green agenda.

The most alarming item from the recent episode of resignations by O'Dea and Sargent was the big pay-off that both were due. But at least Sargent gave his €49,000 to charity.

My summing up on the Greens is that their aspirations may be noble but remember the age old adage: 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'.

Irish Independent