Farming representatives are to challenge Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue over the Government’s decision to reroute €49 million in environmental incentives to another department at a meeting on Friday.
Initially provided to help decarbonise farming practices, revelations that the money would be switched to fund welfare fuel subsidies has prompted an angry backlash among the agricultural sector.
Details of the decision, published in The Irish Times, were contained in budget documents and have prompted irritation given that farmers believed all such funding was to be ring-fenced for green initiatives.
"There was many things that could have been done with that money but unfortunately it hasn't come back to where we would have liked it," said Tom McCormack, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, who is to raise the issue with Mr McConalogue during a broader post-budget meeting. "We would be hugely concerned about it."
The Department of Agriculture has promised that the full €1.5 billion package in decarbonising incentives for farmers will be delivered over the course of future budgets, but the decision to divert €49 million in funds has spooked many in a sector already suspicious of environmental reform and its effects on farming families.
Tipperary TD and chairman of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee Jackie Cahill said that while the money would reappear in 2023, the decision is likely to be raised by committee members when Mr McConalogue appears before them to discuss budget measures.
Like others, he said it went against previous guarantees and was a source of irritation given that it could have been spent on something.
“We were told that the money would be ring-fenced for environmental agricultural schemes. That’s not happening in 2022 so there’s disappointment in that,” he said.
“The money has been taken out of one department for the year and given to a completely different department; farmers would be very disappointed in that. They would say if it can happen once, it can happen again.”
Although satisfied that the money will be made available to fund its original purpose in 2023, Mr Cahill said he began receiving calls from farmers about it on the night of the budget.
Opposition politicians too were quick to point to a perceived lack of investment in the sector next year. Sinn Féin agricultural spokesman Matt Carthy said the move was "insult to injury" given the dearth of budget investment in new schemes.
“Most farmers see this as a slap in the face because there is an overarching sense that carbon tax is a con job,” he said, adding that farm families now “in a state of crisis” could see nothing invested in sustainable practices next year.