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Coalition split over eco-clampdown on farmers ahead of no confidence vote

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Finance Minister and President of the Eurogroup Paschal Donohoe with Luxembourg’s Finance Minister Yuriko Backes at the Eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday. Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

Finance Minister and President of the Eurogroup Paschal Donohoe with Luxembourg’s Finance Minister Yuriko Backes at the Eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday. Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

Finance Minister and President of the Eurogroup Paschal Donohoe with Luxembourg’s Finance Minister Yuriko Backes at the Eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday. Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

The Coalition is at loggerheads on a clampdown on carbon emissions from farmers.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are trying to fend off drastic cuts in agriculture emissions, which would dramatically reduce the number of cattle.

Ahead of a vote of confidence in the Government tonight, how two rebel Green Party TDs will vote is still unknown.

Environmental groups are saying the climate reduction targets are the reason the Greens are in the Coalition and they must “hold the line”.

But there are growing tensions over Green minister Eamon Ryan’s demands for agriculture to make up its largest possible share of the cuts.

A dramatic reduction of the national herd of cattle is still on the table as an option to hit that mark.

However, such a move would be unsellable to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers or Independent TDs, who the Government now relies on.

“The gap is very large. Neither can get a win on this because then the other is at such a loss. I don’t see how Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will agree to something that will happen that is so catastrophic and will get such a backlash from backbenchers,” a minister told the Irish Independent.

A deal on the contribution from each sector of polluters was due to be agreed by the Government this week, but has now been pushed back.

Agriculture is the biggest contributor of national emissions, but there is a lack of clarity around how and when it will implement actions to reduce methane. 

A 22pc reduction in emissions is the minimum that can be put forward. Farm groups like the IFA and ICMSA are lobbying hard for the target to be kept this low by Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue. But the Greens are pushing for a maximum 30pc reduction in emissions, with heavy pressure being applied by environmental groups. Such a move would result in a large scale reduction in the national herd of cattle. 

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Within the Coalition, there are also concerns about the credibility of promising to cut by 30pc when they know it is not achievable, as well as the need to bring farmers and the agri-food sector along.

The cuts on the lower end of the scale will still mean: 

  • Reducing chemical fertilisers by 25pc;
  • New types of grass being adopted;
  • Earlier slaughter of cattle from 27 months to 24 months;
  • Changes in farming practices;
  • New technologies being employed;
  • 75,000 hectares of forestry being planted in three years.

A large financial package is also expected to be on offer to farmers.

“You will have to bring all the farmers with you. If we force a change upon them, then you lose their support,” a source said.

But sources on both sides say a stabilisation or reduction of cattle will have to come into the equation if yet higher targets are to be met. On the Green side, there is a view that consumer habits will change anyway, thereby reducing demand.

“It’s not about the Greens versus farmers. That’s too simplistic. There are also EU regulations. We have to meet our targets,” a source said.

As things stand, agricultural emissions, which make up a third of the country’s total, are forecast to increase by almost 2pc by 2030 instead of actually falling.

Talks between both sides are ongoing, but there is not expected to be much movement above the 22pc minimum level as the farming targets are so challenging.

“Charlie has to be seen to do his bit for the IFA. Eamon has to be seen to do his bit too,” a Coalition source said.

Ultimately, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar are expected to come into the talks with Mr Ryan. The Taoiseach yesterday labelled climate change as “the most serious and existential question to face this country” and claimed the Opposition didn’t have the “backbone necessary” to deal with it.

The Government will defeat a motion of no confidence tabled by Sinn Féin tonight. But after losing its majority in the Dáil last week, it will need the support of Independents. Former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry has indicated he will back the Coalition, with a number of other TDs expected to follow suit.

But rebel Green TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello have not declared yet how they will vote. The pair lost the party whip after voting against the Government in the row over the National Maternity Hospital.  

Mr Martin says a giveaway Budget would be paralysed if the motion of no confidence in the Government was passed. The Taoiseach says people do not want a general election, which would then result in lengthy delays as a new government is formed.

“An election would mean no budgetary package over the next while and would lead to paralysis. In my view it is a cynical exercise,” he said.

The Coalition will point to its record in managing the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic performance, inward investment and housing plans. 


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