Coalition leaders fail to reach deal on carbon cuts in farming sector

Talks to continue overnight ahead of Cabinet meeting tomorrow

A key meeting of coalition leaders on climate targets for the agriculture sector has failed to identify a solution to how much the agriculture sector should cut emissions.

However, talks will continue overnight and into Wednesday morning in an effort to strike an agreement ahead of Cabinet tomorrow.

“It’s not over the line yet,” a source said. However, the leaders and line ministers are set to continue talking overnight

Earlier, Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan said a deal on carbon emissions cuts for agriculture is “anything but nailed down” and may not come today or Wednesday.


The Limerick County TD also said he finds it “offensive” that people in the farming community who he represents are being blamed for everything “from the melting of the polar ice caps to the smells in the local area”.

His remarks come as efforts continue within the Coalition to reach a deal on carbon emissions ceilings for agriculture.

Cuts of between 22 per cent and 30 per cent for the farming sector have been recommended by the Climate Change Advisory Council.

While Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has been pushing for cuts at the higher end of the scale, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators have been arguing for it to be lower. Sources close to the negotiations said on Tuesday that the potential range for agreement - or a ‘landing zone’ - had narrowed to between 24 and 26 per cent; however, others briefed on the talks urged caution on any numbers being circulated.

However, they expressed scepticism that a deal was close, with a growing fear that there may be a further delay, potentially until September. With Mr Ryan in Brussels on Tuesday, talks at ministerial are not underway this afternoon, sources said.

Coalition party leaders have been meeting this evening for their usual pre-cabinet meeting. While some, in Government believe a delay in agreeing a target would not be harmful, this view is not universally shared. One coalition insider, speaking privately, warned such a step would increase pressure and scrutiny, as well as risks exacerbating divisions among the Government parties, over the weeks to come. “All it does is divide the country, sets Fine Gael against Green, rural against urban, during four weeks when there’s nothing going on.”

Mr O’Donovan – who represents a rural community – said: “No one area can carry this burden on their own.

“We still have to produce food in this country and we have to produce food in a way that’s carbon efficient”.

He said that if Ireland produces less food it will be produced elsewhere with less efficiency resulting in “a greater level of damage to the environment”.

Mr O’Donovan argued that agriculture is being singled out as “the only sector of the economy that has to make sacrifices” and said this is “not the way you bring people with you.”

He added: “I find it really offensive to some of the people I represent that they’re being blamed for everything now from the melting of the polar ice caps to the smells in the local area.”

Asked who was blaming farmers Mr O’Donovan said there has been “wall-to-wall coverage” and “speculation” on the issue in recent days.

He dismissed suggestions in some reporting that a percentage emissions cut for the agriculture sector has been agreed saying: “from what I know from as late as yesterday it’s anything but nailed down.”

Fine Gael leader, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, said on Monday night that it may be possible to reach a deal this week but it also could be September.

He told Virgin Media: “We may be able to sign off on a set of figures for all sectors on Wednesday. It might be September.

“It is not going to make an enormous difference in the greater scheme of things whether its Wednesday or five weeks time. It is more important that we get it right.”

Mr O’Donovan said: “There absolutely will be a deal.

“There has to be a deal but as the Tánaiste said last night that doesn’t necessarily have to come today or tomorrow and I wouldn’t expect that it will come today or tomorrow.”

He added: “if it’s worth getting it’s worth fighting over and I expect that there will be a deal…

“I don’t really have a problem with the date of it. I’m more concerned with the outcome of it.”

He declined to say it he thought the cut should be closer to 22 per cent saying: “I wouldn’t be picking numbers out of a hat”.

“My concern is about the sustainability of the Irish family farm - particularly those that are milking less than 100 cows that would make up the vast majority of Irish farmers - that they will continue to have the support of their Government”.

Earlier Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said more time for talks could be required to reach agreement on targets for the reduction of carbon emissions.

Discussions were ongoing, he told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland. “We would like to see an agreement reached and approved by Cabinet tomorrow, that is the objective, but it may be the case that it will take a further period of discussion in order to reach agreement.”

On sectoral greenhouse gas emissions ceilings, he said it was about delivering and “about ensuring that we set targets that are realistic, that are deliverable and that we can actually start to see emissions coming down in Ireland”.

Referring to recent Environmental Protection Agency statistics showing emissions continuing to rise, Mr McGrath said: “So we want to make practical progress and have targets here in agriculture and in the other areas that can actually be achieved over the years ahead so the sooner we reach an agreement the better.”

The Government has promised that emissions sectoral ceilings for six sectors will be announced by the end of this week. The decision was to be made in mid July but was delayed after agreement could not be reached between the three Coalition parties.

The Climate Change Advisory Council has recommended a range of cuts between 22 per cent and 30 per cent for agriculture. Significant numbers of TDs and Senators in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have insisted on the final figure being at the lower end of the scale, while Green Party TDs have consistently called for it to be close to 30 per cent.

The Cabinet sub-committee on climate change met for more than two hours on Monday afternoon in an effort to find a solution. It was attended by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, in addition to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue. However, the meeting ended with no final agreement.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times