Candidates in the Ireland south constituency for Friday's European election were divided on the role of agriculture in tackling climate change during Sunday night's debate on RTÉ television.

As sitting Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fine Gael's Andrew Doyle fielded the most direct questions on dairy expansion and its impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Minister Doyle replied that Ireland has some of the lowest emissions per unit of milk or meat produced and said: "In actual fact land solutions for climate change, carbon sequestration, are really where we should be focusing. I firmly believe as someone who is a farmer that instead of pillorying farming we should be looking for solutions."


His views on this topic were aligned with those of Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher, who said: "We can't ask just one group to make all the sacrifices. Agriculture has its challenges but it's not just about penalising agriculture. It's about being innovative, inventive and coming up with solutions." He mentioned biomass and biogas energy and finance to change farming practices. "I don't think we should be promoting a reduction of our herd as a simple easy solution to our herd," Kelleher added.

More beef, more meat, more eggs in one basket

Independent candidate Diarmuid O'Flynn disagreed and said that the current policy is "more beef, more meat, more eggs in one basket". Meanwhile, "we have this ridiculous situation at the moment and we have Michael Creed, minister for agriculture in China trying to expand our beef market, while at the same time we've just signed the Mercosur deal bringing cheap beef from Argentina," O'Flynn said.

Trade deals

Minister Doyle was quick to remind him that there is no deal signed with Mercosur at this point. Sinn Féin's Liadh Ní Riada also pointed this out and said that the existing CETA trade deal with Canada would be "flooding the market with beef". A deal with Mercosur would favour those who are "cutting the rainforest to produce something sub-quality to what we have," she added.

Debate host Miriam O'Callaghan asked Green senator Grace O'Sullivan about the impact of cutting greenhouse gas emissions from dairy, which provides many jobs in Ireland south. O'Sullivan said she was not about cutting jobs, but the current policy was unsustainable for family farms.

We want to diversify farming in Ireland

"We want to diversify farming in Ireland," she said, including fruit and vegetable production. On climate change, "a just transition means no one will be left behind. This government will have to look at our greenhouse gas emissions which are going through the roof in transport, in agriculture and in different sectors".

Solidarity-People Before Profit candidate Adrienne Wallace advocated for support for small and medium-sized farmers so that they can convert to organic farming.

Carbon tax

Independents for Change candidate Mick Wallace said any carbon tax should be imposed on the guy who is taking it out of the ground in the first place".

Labour candidate Sheila Nunan supported the Oirechtas climate action committee's resolution that increases in carbon tax on fossil fuels should be "ringfenced for those who are in fuel poverty" to help them tackle climate change.

Click here for a list of all candidates in the election.

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