An Taisce’s High Court challenge to An Bord Pleanála’s decision to approve the construction of a new cheese plant by Glanbia at Belview has become the hottest of political footballs.
The knock-on effect has seen Ireland’s largest milk processor put the brakes on its suppliers’ expansion plans, at least on a temporary basis while the court ponders the quandary. But who is An Taisce, and why is it involving itself in this?
An Taisce is Ireland’s national trust, founded in 1948. While it would be associated in the public mind with protecting Georgian Dublin, its mission statement paints a very different picture: “An Taisce is a charity that works to promote environmental awareness and action in the context of the climate and biodiversity emergencies,” it says. “We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues.”
As climate change has become the defining issue of our times, An Taisce has become more outspoken.
In 2019, there was a row with the IFA over the resource pack developed for primary schools by An Taisce. IFA president Joe Healy said the Green Schools initiative was “a very positive programme”, but that An Taisce crossed the line by including dietary advice in it.
“It is not consistent with dietary advice given by the Department of Health, the competent authority, on balanced diets”, added Healy. John Gibbons, An Taisce’s climate change spokesperson described the IFA’s reaction as “hysterical”.
It uses all the right buzz words and makes claims that it will address environmental wrongs at some distant point in the future
Last month, An Taisce was part of the environmental pillar that resigned from the Agri-Food 2030 committee. Dr Elaine McGoff, An Taisce’s natural environment officer, described the strategy document as “a masterclass in greenwashing”.
“It uses all the right buzz words and makes claims that it will address environmental wrongs at some distant point in the future, but when you really look at what it is saying it will do and where it intends to go, it is clear that these environmental claims have no substance. We need urgent action by Government, not vague aspirations from an industry-led committee,” she said.
An Taisce argues that the environmental impact of the agricultural activity arising from the production of the estimated 450m litres of milk needed to supply the Glanbia plant
Viewed in this context, the argument that Irish dairy production’s natural and lower carbon footprint justifies dairy expansion when viewed in a global context is predictably dismissed.
An Taisce argues that the environmental impact of the agricultural activity arising from the production of the estimated 450m litres of milk needed to supply the Glanbia plant at Belview should have been assessed by An Bord Pleanála.
Since the Glanbia announcment on production limits, there has been significant political criticism of An Taisce’s court challenge.
First out of the blocks was Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher. “It appears to me that certain NGOs feel that they, rather than the Irish Government, should set government agri-food policy”, he said, pointing to Government support for plans to increase Ireland’s dairy output to 9.49bn litres by 2027.
Then came the Tipperary TDs. Mattie McGrath called An Taisce “naive” and said it was “acting the maggot”. Perhaps more significantly Fianna Fáil’s Jackie Cahill, who is chair of the Oireachtas agriculture committee, rowed in. Cahill supplies and is a board member of Centenary Thurles Co-op, which is a corporate member of Glanbia Co-op, which process most of its milk. He described An Taisce’s actions as an “extremely cynical move to delay the process as much as possible”.
Then four Fine Gael TDs, all former ministers, released a joint statement. Charlie Flanagan, Paul Kehoe, John Paul Phelan and David Stanton are all in the Glanbia heartland. Calling on An Taisce to withdraw their action, they said “it is clear that the court action taken by An Taisce chose a clear anti-rural economy bias and is vexatious”.
An Taisce responded by saying it would refrain from further comment “out of respect for the legal process”. Legal submissions were presented to High Court judge Richard Humphreys last month. He will take some months to examine them. A lot now rests on his decision.