The Government’s plan to tackle climate change cannot be “based solely on Green Party thinking”, the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association has told the group’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Tuesday.
Tim Cullinan, president of the farming lobby group, told delegates farmers had seen the party’s “true colours” when it came to the agriculture sector.
Despite comments by “naysayers and sceptics”, the agricultural sector could reach its target to reduce emissions by 25 per cent by 2030 “if we get the right supports and fair measurement”, he said.
“I am convinced that we can get there, possibly ahead of other sectors … We have a plan put in place. I would question the other sectors, what plan they have,” he said.
Mr Cullinan’s speech to delegates at the Irish Farm Centre, in Dublin 12, singled out the Green Party and other environmental groups for criticism.
“The Green Party tail has been wagging the Government dog”, despite having 12 seats compared to 70 seats between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, he said.
The two larger Government parties “need to stand up for our sector”, Mr Cullinan said.
“Two years ago, their MEP Ciaran Cuffe wrote to our banks advising them not to lend to farmers and last year the Dublin Lord Mayor wouldn’t allow the ‘Live Animal Crib’ to continue outside the Mansion House,” he said.
“The banks are still lending to farmers and we had our live animal Crib in Dublin,” he said.
The head of the farmers’ association also criticised environmental organisation An Taisce, who he said seemed “obsessed with shutting down farming” by taking legal challenges in the courts.
He said some environmentalists who targeted farming practically ignored the fossil fuel sector’s impact on the climate.
Mr Cullinan called for farmers to “hold their nerve” in the face of opposition.
He also criticised advertisements taken out by the organisation, Go Vegan World, questioning who was funding the group.
“The Government needs to regulate this space. Any organisation running a political campaign must show where their money is coming from,” he said.
Mr Cullinan said retailers had to be “dragged kicking and screaming” to offer improved prices for farmers of pig, poultry, and potatoes, and needed to “take a hard look at themselves”.
Legislation to set up a food regulator with “real teeth” was “long overdue” and needed to be pushed through, he said.
The proposed afforestation agreement between Coillte and UK-based private investment fund was a “concern” to farmers, he said. The IFA were meeting with officials from Coillte on Wednesday where Mr Cullinan said he would raise the controversial deal.
Speaking at the AGM, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said a voluntary reduction scheme for dairy farming herds was something his department would be considering.
The Minister said if any scheme was introduced it would be based on herd numbers on farms in 2022.
This was to prevent any “unintended consequences” of people “preparing for a scheme by increasing [herd numbers] just to reduce” them later, he said.
Several delegates raised concerns about growing financial pressures facing farmers, during a question and answer session with the Minister.
Stephen Arthur, chair of the IFA’s dairy committee, said current policy was “pitting farmers against farmers”, as well as reducing the numbers of cows on farms by “stealth” through increasing regulations.
Kevin Comiskey, IFA national sheep committee chairman, said he had attended a meeting earlier in the week with a “packed house of angry farmers”.
Prices being offered to sheep farmers were “unsustainable”, with “a lot of anger” directed at the Minister and the department during the meeting, he said.
In response Mr McConalogue said he understood the “challenges” faced by sheep farmers, who had “come under pressure” recently.
In a speech at the AGM, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said change brought on by the climate crisis was “unavoidable”.
“Tempting as it may be, we cannot wish this away or pretend it doesn’t affect us. Nor can we say it is up to other countries to act,” he said.
“On a per capita basis, Ireland is one of the highest emitters in the world and we have been for a long time,” he said.
The Fine Gael leader said that farmers would not be asked “to bear a disproportionate burden of climate change mitigation”.
“This is not the end of farming as we know it, farming practices and land-use are constantly evolving. It is in the interests of Irish farmers to be at the centre of a decade of change, shaping”, he said.