Letters sent to the CEOs of Ireland’s major banks by Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe lobbying them against lending to farmers are far from Government policy, according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Varadkar said: “The MEP in question is absolutely entitled to his own opinion and to write whatever letters he sees fit, but I can confirm that it is not Government policy.”

The Fine Gael leader was speaking during a question on the matter from Bernard Durkan TD in the Dáil on Thursday.

Banks should lend

Varadkar made clear that it is “Government policy that banks should lend to young farmers”.

“We want to encourage young people into agriculture and food production. We want them to invest in expanding and modernising their farms.

“Indeed, younger farmers, in particular, who understand the need to take climate action, know that that costs money and requires up-front investment.”

The Tánaiste asked the Oireachtas to consider how farmers will make such necessary farm investment without the ability to borrow.

Shoulder to the wheel

Bernard Durkan TD said there must be recognition of the agri-food sector which he said has “stood its ground and put its shoulder to the wheel” when called upon.

He called on Government to be clear that it does not agree with any curtailment of bank lending to farmers such as that proposed by Ciarán Cuffe MEP.

“Not only would rural Ireland be punished severely if the pursuit of such a policy was followed, but urban Ireland and the continuity of food supplies to the capital city and every town in the country would equally be threatened.”

Parliamentary party meeting

The Irish Farmers Journal understands concerns about Cuffe’s letters were highlighted at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Martin Heydon is said to have expressed frustration at the letter and the response from the Green Party.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he had raised TDs' concerns directly with Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.

On Thursday, Ciarán Cuffe MEP said “it was wrong to single out young farmers”, but that the basis of his letter was a concern around the environmental impact of Irish dairy expansion.

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'It was wrong to single out young farmers' in bank letters – Cuffe