Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher welcomed Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue’s suggestion on Sunday that Ireland will seek to lessen the impact of the proposed EU nature restoration law on farmers by seeking to reach targets on State-owned land.
Minister McConalogue stated that Ireland could meet each of its rewetting targets under the proposed EU law on State land, taking the onus off farmers to rewet.
However, Kelleher warned that this will only work if the European Parliament agrees to seek to lower targets than it is currently.
The council of environment ministers negotiating the proposals want the headline 2050 peatland targets to require an area equivalent to 50% of a member state's drained, farmed peatland are restored, with half of this rewet.
Parliament is currently seeking an area of 70% restored, with two-thirds of this rewet.
Farmland v bog
Kelleher put forward figures showing that the difference between the two proposed targets could be as much 80,000ha of land.
He claims that with the lower targets, rewet bogland can meet the targets up to 2040.
If the targets are raised by parliament, the State could run out of peat extraction sites to rewet and have to turn to farmland to fill even more of the remainder of its target.
“It’s clear that the Government understands that the Commission’s original proposal goes just too far for Ireland. As such, parliament’s current position is even more problematic for Ireland,” the MEP said.
“In an analysis my office has carried out into the three current proposals - council, commission and parliament - the Bord na Móna rewetting numbers would only cover Ireland’s overall commitments under the 2030 and 2040 council and commission versions.
“Under the parliament’s position, additional private agricultural land would need to be rewetted.”
He stated that he will attempt to sway parliament towards the lower targets sought by the ministers, but acknowledged “this may not be possible”.
Not just rewetting
Kelleher also expressed concern that the non-peatland elements of the proposed law are not getting enough focus on the debate.
The proposal sets out targets for organic matter in tillage soils, increased grassland butterfly index scores and improvements in the populations of birds.
Forestry and waterways will have even further targets set.
“Additionally, while much of the debate in Ireland has centred about peatland rewetting, I am concerned that more discussion has not taken place on how other elements of the nature restoration could impact on housing in Ireland.
“We can restore our habitats in a meaningful way, but we need to do it in conjunction with farmers and communities.
“We are talking about their livelihoods and that needs to be understood by decision makers in Brussels,” he added.