Martin denies suggestion farmers ‘soft target’ for climate action

Taoiseach tells IFA agm State ‘coming from behind’ in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has told the Irish Farmers’ Association that climate change cannot be wished away and denied any suggestion that farmers have been a “soft target” for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

At the annual general meeting of the IFA in Dublin, Mr Martin described himself as “a lifelong friend” of farming but was nonetheless uncompromising on what the sector needs to do to reduce emissions.

In response to comments by delegates that farmers were being singled out or scapegoated and the Government would apply “blunt instruments” to achieve the targets, the Taoiseach responded that agriculture would not by a long shot be the only sector to make sacrifices, and that transport would be under enormous pressure.

“We are a country that is coming from behind to be honest. We have done the talk on climate change but the milestones of achievement are not as impressive as the talk is,” he argued.


“Farming is not a soft target. You are not a soft target,” he told the meeting at the Mansion House in Dublin.

In his address, Mr Martin said climate change was a threat to all of us and to our way of life.

“We are at a crossroads for Irish farming and for forestry. Threats and opportunities abound but our choice now is to either honestly address the challenge that climate change poses for the sector, and together harness the opportunities that this changing context presents. Or, as some voices counsel, to resist what I see is quickly becoming irresistible.”

He told the meeting that farmers were citizens with families, members of the community and had a vested interest in safeguarding the future of the State.

“Farmers know their land better than anyone and are well placed to lead in meeting our climate ambitions,” he said.

He said the challenge was to reduce the use of chemical nitrogen while maintaining our position as global leader in grass growth through multi-species swards.

He warned that more would inevitably be asked of the sector if these measures alone proved insufficient to meet the emissions reductions that were required.

IFA president Tim Cullinan was one of several speakers who argued that the lower end of the suggested scale of reductions (a 22 per cent cut in emissions) was as much as could be achieved.

He said farmers accepted the climate emergency but the actions proposed risked creating a global food emergency, especially with population figures increasing.

“Farmers are constantly lectured on sustainability. But sustainability has three pillars – environmental, social and economic,” he said.

“We will not shirk our responsibilities, but we won’t allow our members to be thrown to the wolves.

“I want to warn against imposing solutions without reaching agreement with farmers. Using a blunt instrument to satisfy the Green Party would be a huge mistake.

“We live in a democracy. A party with 12 seats out of 160 cannot rule the roost.”

Mr Cullinan also criticised the delay in creating an office of a food regulator or food ombudsman, something which had been promised by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.

“This week, our poultry farmers were protesting outside Lidl who decided to sell a large chicken for €3.49. They did this knowing that poultry growers are on their knees.

Mr Cullinan said farmers would not not be “bullied or intimidated by legal or other threats. And we won’t stand by while retailers make dirt of our food.”

In his address, Mr McConalogue said that in the context of the climate change debate Irish agriculture was unique in terms of its central place in the economy and the science around the sector.

All of the Government representatives identified the forestry sector as posting large challenges, with the prospect of little new afforestation occurring over the next number of years.

Mr McConalogue and the Minister for State with responsibility for afforestation, Pippa Hackett, said a Bill had been introduced to allow small scale planting on farms without a need for licences. Ms Hackett said the backlog in licensing appeals had been reduced from 1,000 to about 20, and also said the issue around supply shortages to wood mills had also been all but resolved.

“We have made the licensing process simpler,” said Mr McConalogue. “We have to get our planting rates up, and forestry is a viable diversification option that can co-exist with other farm enterprises. We know that we have to improve our processes in the department, but we also need to work together,” he added.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times