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Farming 'must not be sacrificial lamb' in Greens coalition talks

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Green Party leader Eamon Ryan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be expected to live up to promises that the national herd will be protected and agriculture must not become a "sacrificial lamb" in any deal to slash carbon emissions, farming organisations are warning.

It comes as talks continued last night about a possible coalition involving the Green Party, which wants more ambitious plans for cutting greenhouse gases if it is to do a coalition deal with the two Civil War parties.

There is concern in rural areas that this could involve culls of cattle to help achieve average emissions cuts of 7pc a year.

Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinane told the Irish Independent it was not his organisation's job to decide who goes into government.

But he reminded Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael of commitments their leaders made to the IFA at its AGM in January.

"Both Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar gave a clear commitment that in the event that they were to go into government with the Greens, that both of them would protect the national herd."

He said he "absolutely" expected both parties to live up to that commitment.

Mr Cullinane argued that new scientific evidence suggested methane emissions from the bovine herd did not have the same long-lasting impact as carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels and transport. And he said agriculture could actually help as farmers were eager to become involved in renewable energy and grassland was an "excellent sequester of carbon".

Separately, the president of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA), Colm O'Donnell, has written to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan telling him any attempts to cull "environmentally sustainable traditional suckler herds will not be tolerated".

Mr O'Donnell last night said it was "crucial that the agri-food sector does not become the sacrificial lamb as the target to solve all our emission reduction projections".

He said the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) recommended the national bovine herd should reduce by up to 500,000 cows and this should be suckler cows as they're not as profitable as dairy.

He said he hoped the Green Party would defend suckler cows reared in "an extensive sustainable farming system", arguing they increase biodiversity.

Green Party spokesperson Pippa Hackett last night said her party had "not proposed to cut the national herd" while "any future government" may have to consider a "targeted reduction" if "we can't meet the reductions necessary by other means".

She said: "Our policy in agriculture is to reduce emissions, regenerate biodiversity, and to improve animal welfare, while securing a viable future for farmers and for rural areas."

She said a "holistic approach" needed to be taken which would include supporting farm diversity into areas like horticulture and tillage, rewetting bogs, planting trees and managing land in a way that maximises sequestration.

Teams from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party discussed justice issues when they met last night.

Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton has been added to Fine Gael's team for talks.

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