The newly established agriculture water quality working group had its first meeting on Monday 29 May in Portlaoise, at the request of Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.
The working group includes representatives of the farm organisations, the agri-food industry, Teagasc, private agricultural consultants, local authorities, An Fóram Uisce and officials from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Agriculture, which chaired the meeting.
The aim of the working group is to identify and commit to demonstrative actions that will facilitate the agricultural sector contribute to improved water quality.
The group acknowledged the significant efforts and investments made to date by farmers and the agri-food industry in the implementation of regulatory (nitrates regulations) and voluntary measures (eg the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) and Co-op Sustainability Schemes) aimed at reducing the loss of nutrients from farms.
It was also acknowledged that efforts made by many farmers to date should be recognised and, where appropriate, showcased. Whereas, for those who undermine these efforts through breaches of the regulations, there should be enhanced enforcement activity.
The introduction of the nitrates action programme has improved Irish water quality
Following this first meeting, Minister McConalogue said: "The introduction of the nitrates action programme has improved Irish water quality. However, over the last decade our water quality has declined. Agricultural pressures have contributed to this decline.
"The collective engagement, ambition and commitment demonstrated by leading stakeholders from across the agri-food sector on this working group is a pivotal action that we wish to use to facilitate a reverse in recent negative water quality trends with a view to seeking to secure our nitrates derogation in the longer term," he said.
An interim review of the current nitrates action programme is required this year.
Based on updated water quality data, this review will consider the effectiveness of existing, and the requirement for new, measures.
The review is led by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and guided by the nitrates expert steering group.