No cull of national herd to meet climate change targets, Varadkar insists

‘We are proud of the fact that we are able to produce nine times as much food as we need and we will continue doing that’

Independent TD Michael Collins said farmers with suckler and dairy herds were worried. File photograph: Alan Betson

There will be no cull of the national herd, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has insisted, saying that "Ireland would not be Ireland" without its beef industry and dairy sectors.

He said in the Dáil that “we anticipate herd stabilisation over the next number of years”.

Mr Varadkar was responding in the chamber to Opposition concerns that the estimated seven million cattle in the State would have to be reduced to meet methane reduction targets.

Independent TD Michael Collins claimed the members of the Climate Action Advisory Council "are making it clear there will be a cull of cattle in this country".

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Mr Collins said he was concerned about what he described as the difference of opinion between Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Tánaiste Mr Varadkar on the culling of cattle, and “the effect this will have on rural Ireland and agriculture, particularly dairy and suckler herds”.

He claimed Mr Ryan “is totally delusional and continues to be in denial about this”.

Calling for a full Dáil debate, he expressed concern that 50,000 jobs would be put in jeopardy. “People with suckler and dairy herds in this country are worried about what the outcome will be.”

But, insisting there will be no cull, Mr Varadkar said Government expected “herd stabilisation”.

Some farmers might increase the number of animals they keep “while others may decrease the numbers because they decide to diversify into other areas”, including forestry or “engaging with carbon farming”.

He said “a 10 per cent reduction, not 30 per cent, in bovine methane can be achieved over a 10-year period.

“Let there be no doubt that the Government believes that Ireland without its beef industry would not be Ireland.

“Ireland without its dairy sector would not be Ireland. We are proud of the fact that we are able to produce nine times as much food as we need and we will continue doing that.”

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae described Mr Varadkar’s description of stabilisation of the herd as misleading language.

“It’s outrageous and he is coding the farmers of Ireland by coming out with that type of statement. Stabilisation means a cut.”

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said Mr Healy-Rae was out of order.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times