EU rewetting proposal could ‘destroy the fabric of rural Ireland’, Galway meeting hears

More than 350 farmers attend public meeting in Ballinasloe on Sunday raising concerns

An EU proposal, which would see tens of thousands of acres of Irish farmland rewetted over the next 25 years, could “destroy the fabric of rural Ireland”, a meeting in Galway has heard.

More than 350 farmers attended a public meeting in Ballinasloe on Sunday, July 7th, where concerns were voiced about the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law, which will be voted on in the EU Parliament later this week.

The event was hosted by Independent TDs Marian Harkin, Michael Fitzmaurice and Michael McNamara – whose joint motion, seeking written assurances that rewetting would be voluntary and farmers would be compensated for their land, was heavily defeated in the Dáil.

Proceedings were briefly interrupted when a member of the audience refused to stop heckling Birdwatch Ireland spokesperson Oonagh Duggan, disrupting her presentation and making “cuckoo” noises.


The meeting was addressed by all the major Irish farming organisations, as well as legal experts and local representatives.

Speaking after the meeting, east Galway farmer Seamus McEvoy said that his farm may no longer be viable if the legislation is introduced.

“This will impact me directly. I farm the type of land that stands to be rewetted. We drained 30 per cent of our land in the 1980s,” Mr McEvoy said.

“The reason that we drained it, was to make it more productive, and that land plays a major role in our farm now. If we had to give up that 30 per cent, that would greatly affect the viability of our farm.”

Roscommon farmer Robert Towey described the legislation as a “diktat from Europe” and said it would have long-term negative impacts on the mental health of farmers.

“This is going to have far-reaching effects for rural Ireland, I think it should go to a referendum,” Mr Towey said.

“People need to make a living. We can’t eat carbon credits. For me, living in Roscommon, which has the worst rate of mental health problems in the country, this is a serious worry.

“This is not just a debate about farming. There are long-term consequences which could destroy the fabric of rural Ireland.

“If we don’t have a thriving rural Ireland, we don’t have our rural communities. If that happens, that’s it. Turn the lights out, we’re done.”

The proposed legislation requires all EU states to take “restoration measures” on 30 per cent of all drained peatland before 2030, with one-quarter of that land being rewetted. That figure will rise to 70 per cent by 2050, with at least half to be rewetted.

Ms Harkin, who represents Sligo-Leitrim, described the proposal as “a flawed piece of legislation” and said it should be sent back to committee stage to be redrafted.

Clare deputy Mr McNamara said he believed trust among the farming community was low and highlighted a number of successful eco-farming projects, including the Burren Project in Clare, which saw their funding cut by the Department of Agriculture recently.

Mr Fitzmaurice, who represents Roscommon–Galway, said the voluntary nature of rewetting needed to be enshrined in the legislation. “We need a legal guarantee. If you are saying something out your mouth you should be willing to put it down on paper,” he said.

Speaking in Co Clare on Sunday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he supports having a law at European level to restore nature.

“We need to turn the tide on biodiversity loss, but we need to have a law that’s sensible – one that respects farmers, respects our rural communities, one that doesn’t actually make climate action, like installing renewable energy, harder, for example,” he said.

As data compiled last week by the US National Centers for Environmental Prediction revealed that the seven days to last Wednesday made for the hottest week on record globally, Mr Varadkar said: “All of the systems that took generations to build up, we now need to change in less than a generation and that’s what we’re going to do.

“What Ireland does on its own won’t reverse climate change but what we can do is set an example for other countries – we can be a successful, prosperous country with a high standard of living and reduce emissions and achieve net zero and that’s what we have to do.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times