Fine Gael TDs and Senators have launched a blistering attack on the environmental and heritage body An Taisce, calling for a review into its State funding.
Describing An Taisce as the “leading threat to the future of rural Ireland”, a group of four former Fine Gael ministers and two senators have strongly criticised the organisation for appealing a High Court decision to grant planning permission for a €140m cheese plant in Kilkenny, which could create hundreds of new jobs.
The statement from former ministers and current Fine Gael TDs Charlie Flanagan, Paul Kehoe, John Paul Phelan and David Stanton, along with Senators Garret Ahearn and John Cummins, is likely to put them on a collision course with Climate Action Minister Eamon Ryan, whose department has given nearly €5.4m in funding to An Taisce over the last eight years.
An Taisce said on Friday it was appealing the High Court ruling to grant permission for the joint venture between Glanbia and Dutch company Royal A-Ware.
In a statement, the National Trust for Ireland said: “We retain a fundamental concern for how this specific development will add to the perilous state of Ireland’s carbon and pollution footprint.
“Dairy production, and the supporting chain of industrial activity and animal husbandry, is a substantial contributor to Ireland already breaching key European metrics for emissions and environmental controls.”
In their statement, seen by the Sunday Independent, the Fine Gael politicians said: “This notice to appeal the decision made by Kilkenny County Council, An Bord Pleanála and now the High Court, doesn’t cast Ireland in a good light locally, regionally or internationally — particularly at a time when we urgently need Foreign Direct Investment and sustainable, well-paying jobs in our rural economy.
“How An Taisce are taking the planning system and Government policy to a second court is beyond comprehension, as is how they are also objecting to housing, and forestry up and down the country. Timber supplies nationwide are running critically low as a direct consequence of this, with direct impacts now evident across the construction sector.
“In taking this further appeal An Taisce is alienating the main group involved in environmental protection across Ireland — our farmers and their families. The Government must now look again at An Taisce being funded by the taxpayer, its consistent opposition of Government policy and possibly their special status under the planning acts.”
The joint statement accused An Taisce of “alienating the profession which has the most influence over the environment they claim they are protecting”, and said it was not too late for the appeal to be withdrawn and to enter negotiations with Glanbia and Royal A-Ware to address its concerns.
“This is a major blow to the thousands of dairy farmers supplying Glanbia. They’re already facing supply restrictions from next year following the delay in developing this plant and a subsequent surplus of milk in the system,” the statement added.
“This appeal is a massive blow to the entire workforce at the company and it must put in jeopardy a much-needed project that would create hundreds of jobs in a part of Ireland which has struggled and consistently lagged behind over the past decade.”
The statement concluded: “The only interests An Taisce seems hell bent on safeguarding are those of a chosen few driving what seems to be a very personal vendetta against farmers, the rural economy and a company like Glanbia which has century-old cooperative roots in every town and village in this region.”
An Taisce could not be reached for comment last night.
Mr Ryan’s department has allocated €675,000 to the organisation this year.