However, ICMSA president pours cold water on suggestion calling it ‘ill thought out’
A CALL by Cork East labour TD Seán Sherlock for the establishment of a citizens assembly on the future of food and agriculture has been described as “ill thought out” by a leading farmer representative body.
Deputy Sherlock made his call following what he described as the “foot-dragging” by Government on agreeing sectoral climate targets, following a protracted debate over which emission ceilings should be met by key sectors of the economy.
The end result of this was a compromise 25% cut on agriculture emissions and a 75% cut for the electricity sector, with transport emissions to be cut by 50% in order to meet the target of an overall 51% cut in carbon emissions by 2030.
Deputy Sherlock said that while it was clear each sector has a role to play in cutting emissions, the cuts across the agri sector would need to at the higher end of the scale proposed – closer to 30% than 22%.
He said that while this was not an insurmountable challenge, no sector should fell that the targets are being foisted on them.
“The cost of living crisis impacts farmers also and we need specific programmes identified to support farm families,” said Deputy Sherlock.
Deputy Sherlock said there needed to be a national conversation on the future of Irish agriculture in order to “take the next steps together, free of political short-termism”.
“A citizens assembly, bringing a range of voices together from NGO’s, environment groups, industry, business, agriculture and civil society representative groups would consider everything, from our food strategy to innovative and green ways of farming,” said Deputy Sherlock.
“There is only one possible economy in the future. That is an economy that operates on a carbon-neutral basis. As we take the next step in achieving this goal, we need to bring everyone together. A Citizens’ Assembly on the future of Agriculture in Ireland would achieve this for all,” he added.
The proposal has been called into question by farming and rural groups, who have questioned whether such an assembly would have the necessary expertise to discuss agricultural issues.
Eddie Punch, general secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmer’s Association (ICMSA) told the PA agency that the idea was “ill-thought out”.
“After a couple of weeks where everybody seems to have an opinion about farming, farmers are, I’d say, a little bit raw after being lectured about how they’re destroying the climate for the last few weeks,” said Mr Punch.
“Farmers are interested in farming more sustainably all of the time. But they’re also interested in producing food, they’d like to produce energy as well if they were given any chance by the Government, and they of course have to put bread on the table for their families as well.
“I suppose the concern with a citizens’ assembly is that what you end up with… (is) a lot of people who don’t necessarily have a stake in agriculture, who don’t have an understanding of what it is to farm.”
He added that this does not mean people who aren’t farmers shouldn’t have a view on farming, but that there are problems with asking people who do not farm to come up with solutions on how to improve the industry.
“Most of the farming they are doing today is the result of years and years and generation after generation of trial and error to see what works best. And that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement – but it also means you can’t suddenly turn all these cattle farms into carrot-growing farms. What I’m saying is that it is an incredibly complex set of decisions to be made by 130,000 farmers,” said Mr Punch.
“Farmers are open to change all the time, but the notion that 100 people gathered in a hotel in Dublin for eight weeks, randomly selected, most of whom have never grown anything in their lives or don’t know anything about farming, the notion that they could chart a better course than people who have given a lifetime of experience to farm as best they can, I think it’s an ill thought-out proposal, to be honest.”
He added: “Farmers might be lucky to be 20% of the people presenting to the citizens’ assembly.
“What I’m saying is you can’t come up with grandiose plans for agriculture if you don’t have a fund in place to make it happen.
“There’s an immense amount of complexity in this which has huge financial implications and, quite frankly, I don’t think a citizens’ assembly has the ability to take all those things into consideration.
“And even if it does, unless the Government says ‘We’re going to put €20 billion on the table, and based on what you come up with, we’ll allocate it’, maybe… but we’re into the realms of football fantasy league then at that stage.”