Warning of ‘backlash’ from rural Ireland to climate plans at Fine Gael meeting

Former minister worried about impact of carbon budgets on party support

Former Fine Gael minister Michael Ring is said to have expressed concern at the ‘Dublin-oriented green agenda’ at the meeting held to discuss the climate action issue. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Former Fine Gael minister Michael Ring is said to have expressed concern at the ‘Dublin-oriented green agenda’ at the meeting held to discuss the climate action issue. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Former Fine Gael minister Michael Ring has warned of a “big backlash” against Government’s climate action plans in rural Ireland.

Mr Ring, a former minister for rural affairs, told a private meeting of his party on Wednesday evening that he is worried about the impact the plans will have on support for Fine Gael.

The Irish Times understands that after hearing contributions from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and others on the climate action plans, Mr Ring said he thought he was at a Green Party meeting.

The Government is set to publish its Climate Action Plan next week.

This will coincide with the United Nations Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The Climate Change Advisory Council here this week set out carbon budgets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 51 per cent by 2030.

Sectoral ceilings for agriculture, transport and other areas are to be included in the action plan, with farming expected to have an emissions reduction target of between 20 and 30 per cent over the next decade.

There is concern among Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs that cutting the national cattle herd will form part of this, though the Green Party has insisted any reduction will happen naturally as farmers diversify.

Mr Ring is said to have expressed concern at the “Dublin-oriented green agenda” at the meeting held to discuss the climate action issue.

The Mayo TD sought specifics on the impact on jobs in rural Ireland.

Climate shamed

Sources said Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan said there was a lot of hyperbole around climate action and it was making those who derive their money from the land feel climate shamed.

Senator Tim Lombard claimed the dairy and beef sectors would end up going the way of the former sugar beet industry here under Fianna Fáil Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue’s tenure.

Senator Seán Kyne spoke about energy security. He said it is going to be a number of years before the Celtic interconnector would be in place and politicians opposed to fossil fuels would also be complaining if their constituents couldn’t keep warm in a blackout.

Carlow-Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan said there should be interim fuel measures for agriculture and haulage. He asked how existing farmers and new entrants will be able to expand and develop their businesses.

Ireland South MEP Seán Kelly is said to have made the point that if one sector doesn’t do its bit, then the others all have to do more.

Assurance

At a press conference earlier on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar acknowledged that members of his party who are strong advocates of the farming community would want assurance that emissions targets can be achieved without negatively affecting farm incomes and reducing food production.

He said this is the intention of the Government’s climate plans and it is “not about reducing the herd”.

Mr Varadkar said the lowest cuts will be sought from agriculture as it is a “special case” because it is about food production and “making sure that rural Ireland has a strong future”.

It is understood he made similar points at the Fine Gael meeting later in the evening.

Mr Varadkar also urged TDs and Senators to defend his party’s record on climate action, pointing out climate change is real and can be seen in extreme weather events. Ireland is a significant contributor to emissions on a per capita basis, he stressed.

There needs to be a change in how electricity is generated away from fossil fuels to renewables, and this could take 20 or 30 years, he said. He also said there are opportunities from climate action, including energy security, new jobs and the potential to sell energy generated by renewables to other countries.

Furthermore, he reminded those attending of Fine Gael’s record on climate including the original action plan put forward by former minister Richard Bruton, a ban on fracking and the cessation of further oil and gas exploration in Ireland.