Farmers angry at being portrayed as ‘bogey men’ of climate change

Taoiseach accused in Dáil of a ‘cop out’ on Cop26 emissions goals before ink had dried

Farmers are angry at being portrayed as the “bogey men” of climate change in Ireland, the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party has heard.

During a wide-ranging discussion last night ahead of the publication of the Government’s climate action plan, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told his TDs and Senators that communities, especially farmers, would need to be brought along if the Coalition’s plan to cut greenhouse emissions by half before 2030 was to succeed.

Mayo TD Dara Calleary told the meeting of the anger being expressed by farmers in the climate discussion, whom he said felt they were constantly portrayed as “the bogey men of climate change”. Those present said Mr Calleary told the meeting that farmers were guardians of the land going back thousands of years.

“They would be part of the solution and want to be part of it but deserve a lot more respect than they are getting in the debate,” he said.

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Mr Martin said stark warnings heard at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow demonstrated that the planet was in trouble and science was telling us to act now.

“We must engage communities from the ground up,” he said. “A key focus will be on areas such as micro generation, offshore renewables and sustainable transport.

“We must incentivise farmers and partner with them in the whole area of climate action. We want to bring communities with us and have a communities based response. Enabling communities to bid for funding on community climate action has to be part of our response.”

Mr Martin said the planet needs to respond to the threat of climate change now rather than in 10 years time.

Just transition

He agreed there must be swifter action on a just transition for people affected by environmental measures in places such as the Midlands, and said he had met Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan to try to accelerate supports.

Many of the party’s rural TDs and Senators have expressed concern about the impact the Climate Action Plan, due to be published on Thursday afternoon, would have on the agriculture sector.

Amid a mooted 21 per cent cut in emissions for the sector, the party leadership has assured backbenchers it will not mean major cuts in dairy herd numbers, but rather a stabilisation of its size.

Meanwhile, Mr Martin and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald clashed in the Dáil over the carbon tax when he accused her of having an “each-way bet” on climate change and told her to “get off the fence”.

The sharp exchanges occurred after Ms McDonald claimed the Government failed to act and allowed inflation to go “out of control”.

She called for a temporary cut in Vat on fuel and energy to zero to “alleviate at least some of the pressure” households face due to the recent surge.

Ms McDonald said “households have been hammered by more than 30 increases in energy and fuel bills just this year” in addition to facing high rent, insurance and childcare costs.

She said all the Government had done in response was “make it harder for people to light and heat their homes with another carbon tax hike”.

Each way bet

Mr Martin told the Sinn Féin leader it “was about time you got off the fence on climate change”.

“You’re having an each way bet every week in this House on climate change for the last couple of years and on the issue of carbon tax which gives us the funding to help people on low incomes meet increased energy costs,” he said.

“That’s so disingenuous that you seek to exploit measures which we have taken which are not popular, we accept, but which are very important in terms of dealing with the kind of emergency facing the globe and facing this country.

Mr Martin acknowledged that inflation had picked up internationally as well as in Ireland at 5.1 per cent, the highest level since 2003.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary correspondent with The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times