Margaret Donnelly: How will politicians square the green circle with farm expansion?

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Photo: Tom Burke
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Photo: Tom Burke
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

There's no doubt that there is an appetite for a greener and cleaner Ireland, but at what cost?

The election results over the weekend that are still ongoing in some constituencies might be a wake-up call for some, or even viewed by others as a trendy, urban, populist vote, but climate change is now top of the agenda for many Irish voters.

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Whether that green wave continues in the next general election is anyone's guess.

But the political scrambling by the Government and opposition parties to cosy up to the Green Party in the past few days should leave no one under any illusion - climate change and the environment are on the menu and beef is off.

The Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is not anti-farming, but has told this publication recently that Ireland is too dependant on export markets and that the country needs a national land use plan.

He also said that the Green Party has not ruled out a carbon tax.

However, agriculture accounts for almost a third of Ireland's carbon emissions and Mr Ryan has suggested that the cattle herd may have to be reduced by a third.

He's also said the climate action report does not go far enough and we're not ambitious enough when it comes to the planting of forestry.

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The Oireachtas Agriculture Committee and the IFA are backing Teagasc's National Mitigation Plan to reduce emissions.

However, one-third of the emissions savings would come from increased afforestation.

That sounds great, but the immediate obstacle is that over 80pc of farmers say they would not consider planting in the future, regardless of the financial incentives offered.

And therein lies the problem.

There's a massive disconnect between farmers and those who are surfing the green wave - their livelihoods don't depend on a sector that produces one-third of our carbon emissions. It's easy to preach about carbon reduction - action is another thing.

While the Government maintains that farming can prosper under a green agenda, there could be some big changes coming down the line for the agri-food sector.

Who will bear the pain of change remains to be seen.

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