An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is “very keen” to explore any flexibilities around the nitrates derogation with the European Commissioner for Environment when he visits Ireland next week.

However, he said he doesn’t want to raise any expectations among farmers.

“It’s important that we don’t do that, but we’ll be exploring with him anything we can do to help farmers make this transition.

“And, also not losing sight of the bigger picture – we really need to hold on to the derogation in the medium term.

Concern

“I’ve a big concern that if we don’t improve our water quality, that we might find we lose the derogation altogether and that would have a very serious impact on farm incomes and the agri-food industry,” he said in response to a question from the Irish Farmers Journalat the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) AGM on Friday.

“Priority one is trying to influence him to hang on to the [nitrates] directive and then seeing if we can get any flexibility around the move down from 250[kg/ha] to 220,” he said.

Credible case

Addressing the AGM, he said that the meeting with the Commissioner will give the Government an opportunity to relay ICMSA members' concerns to him at the highest level.

“The bottom line is that the lack of improvement in water quality is a problem not just for the European Commission, but for Irish citizens. Agriculture is by no means not solely responsible, we have work to do in areas like waste treatment too.

“We must do everything in our power now over the next two years to build a credible case for the retention of the derogation. To lose it altogether would be a disaster for Irish farming and something we can’t allow to happen.

“To do that, we need to ensure that we are taking every step to convince the Commission that our actions will result in an improvement in water quality,” he said.