Martin says politicians entitled to comment on planning as he defends An Taisce remarks

Taoiseach pitting farmers against environmentalists, says Social Democrats TD

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.

She asked the Taoiseach to explain how increasing the herd, which would increase emission fines, could be a positive step for Irish farming. “Farmers deserve more respect,” she said.


Ms Cairns said the Taoiseach had previously told her it was inappropriate for Government members to intervene in planning issues when she raised the proposed development of the site of the mother and baby home at Bessborough, Co Cork.

Mr Martin rejected her comments and said politicians “every day of the week write to planning authorities. They are entitled to make observations. That’s a fact”.


Defending his stance on the environment, he said the Government has brought in a landmark climate change Bill. “I want to bring people along with us,” he said.

On Tuesday Mr Martin said An Taisce should withdraw its appeal of the High Court judgment to approve planning permission for the manufacturing plant in Belview , in south Kilkenny.

He said the project was of “immense economic importance” to both the industry and the region.

“Many, many jobs depend on it and there has to be balance in terms of how we all behave in society” he said.

The Taoiseach added that an appeal would create unnecessary tensions and division but his own comments prompted a series of responses from a number of Green Party TDs, including Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman, who said on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that it is “generally” better for politicians not to get involved in the planning processes. He said that politicians should leave the processes to “play out”.

Mr O’Gorman said An Taisce has a long track record in seeking compliance with environmental standards and the heritage body was best placed to decide whether it will continue its appeal.

On Tuesday Green Party chairman of the Oireachtas Housing Committee Steven Matthews expressed disappointment at the Taoiseach’s comments about An Taisce.

Mr Matthews said it would be preferable if politicians did not cast judgement on live planning matters.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the Taoiseach's approach to An Taisce "was reminiscent of Donald Trump".

Mr Martin’s comments had been sparked by rural Independent TDs’ criticism of An Taisce and calls for State funding to be withdrawn from the organisation because it was a “serial objector”.

In the Dáil on Wednesday the Taoiseach said “our planning system is there to vindicate citizens’ rights” and “that can never be tied to the provision of funding to any organisation”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times