Group of Fine Gael TDs and Senators claim farmers and rural Ireland being ‘scapegoated’

Former justice minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Hugh O'Connell

A group of Fine Gael TDs and Senators, including four former government ministers, have claimed that farmers and rural Ireland are being "scapegoated" over climate change.

Fine Gael TDs John Paul Phelan, David Stanton, Charlie Flanagan, and Paul Kehoe, who are all former ministers in the last government, along with Senators John Cummins and Garret Ahearn, have criticised the “false narrative” around agriculture and its impact on Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions.

Their joint statement comes as talks between Agriculture Ministers Charlie McConalogue and Environment Minister Eamon Ryan to set an exact target for reducing agriculture emissions by the end of the decade are set to continue into next week.

While Mr Ryan is pushing for a reduction of 30pc by 2030, Mr McConalogue is under pressure from the farm lobby and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers to resist any emissions reductions beyond 22pc.

“Other sectors of our economy are producing higher emissions yet the prevailing narrative being taken by many commentators in the media, environmental NGOs and others is that culling animals is the only way to save the planet,” the Fine Gael group said.

“It is right to set ambitious targets for carbon emissions reduction but the key to delivering on those targets is both that they are achievable and that those in the sector can buy into the process by knowing that they are underlined by fairness.

“The false narrative so common in the Irish debate on climate change places all the blame on both farmers and rural dwellers, this is just not accurate.”

The group claimed that research and innovation in the sector was having a “huge impact” on emissions, pointing to changes in cattle diets, investment in solar panels, lower emissions slurry spreading systems, and the pasture-based grazing system which, they said, is “one of the most sustainable in the world”.

“We are not climate deniers. But what we urgently need is fair play for rural Ireland. Burden sharing is important. Farm families and all rural dwellers cannot and should not be scapegoated," the group said.

The six-strong group of rural backbenchers also called for changes to planning rules to allow more solar panels to be installed on farm buildings as well as commercial and residential dwellings on farms and for farmers to be paid for electricity generation from solar power.

They said there has been no substantial Government support to introduce anaerobic digestion and commercial methane production from agriculture said added that even those farm families who have invested in solar, “are being branded the bad guys yet again”.