Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said politicians are entitled to comment on planning issues as he defended his remarks urging heritage organisation An Taisce to withdraw its appeal against the construction of a €140 million cheese factory in Co Kilkenny.
Mr Martin was speaking in the Dáil as Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns questioned the appropriateness of such remarks “from a Taoiseach”. Ms Cairns said he was pitting the farmers against environmentalists in his approach.
The factory is a joint venture between Glanbia and Dutch cheesemakers Royal A-ware and the Cork South-West TD said the Netherlands had reduced its herd by 190,000, while Ireland’s had increased by 500,000.
Meanwhile, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue weighed into the controversy over An Taisce by saying it is time to “move on” and draw a line under the matter.
Echoing the Taoiseach’s comments, the Fianna Fáil Minister implied that An Taisce’s appeal against planning permission for the cheese plant could damage Ireland’s reputation in attracting foreign direct investment.
Mr McConalogue’s intervention will be viewed as increasing tensions between the Green Party – which has strongly supported the environmental organisation’s right to appeal – and the two larger parties in Government, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
“Now appears to be the right time to draw a line under the situation and move on. Further disruption and conflict will not serve our sector or, indeed, our country well as it could impact on our reputation as being an open and FDI-friendly country,” Mr McConalogue said Thursday.
He said the plant was a “Brexit-mitigation” investment aimed at using the current milk pool to diversify into new product ranges such as soft cheeses. He also contended farmers had shown “leadership” on climate change measures.
The Green Party has already signalled it will resist any efforts by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Ministers to apply pressure on An Taisce to back down.
The Greens have also strongly objected to rural TDs from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who have said State funding should be withdrawn from the national trust, which has a role in the planning process in terms of environmental protection.
Green leader Eamon Ryan was due to speak to Mr Martin over his comments in the Dáil on Wednesday, when he said the appeal should be withdrawn.
Stephen Matthews, a Green Party TD who is the chair of the Oireachtas Housing Committee, defended An Taisce’s right to appeal and criticised the “pile-on” from Government TDs.
“People have a right to appeal. They should be allowed to carry out that process. An Taisce has been doing really good work up and down the country for many years. If they believe this case should be appealed and believe the assessment is flawed on scientific and environmental grounds, they have that right.”
Planning permission for the Dutch-style cheese plant and other works at Belview Science and Technology Park, Gorteens, Slieverue, Co Kilkenny, was granted by An Bord Pleanála in June 2019, when it was hoped that it could become operational by the end of 2022.
An Taisce has also defended its right to object, saying it has a “fundamental concern for how this specific development will add to the perilous state of Ireland’s carbon and pollution footprint”.