Next week will see the long-awaited visit of European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius to Ireland.
As with everything relating to the changes to the nitrates derogation, there is a degree of confusion as to exactly what is up for discussion and renegotiation.
Will MEP Colm Markey’s assertion that Sinkevicius is open to a delay that would effectively mean the lower derogation rate for 2024 would be 235kg/ha rather than 220kg be upheld?
Is the Government on the same page on this, or is this another example of a Fine Gael MEP/TD/Senator leaving Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue on the ledge? Taoiseach Leo Varadkar did just that at the Fine Gael think-in back in September, when unilaterally announcing the Government would invite the commissioner to Ireland, even as his agriculture minister was telling the agriculture committee that the door was now effectively closed.
We now know that Minister McConalogue invited Commissioner Sinkevicius to Ireland back in August in the detailed letter he sent pleading Ireland’s case against a derogation cut.
The very fact that the commissioner is coming to Ireland is a plus.
Remember, this isn’t the Agriculture Commissioner, Sinkevicius is the Environment Commissioner.
Perhaps the fact that the Nitrates Directive is decided across two departments, and indeed two wings of the Commission, is part of the problem.
Varadkar returns to Limerick this Friday for the ICMSA AGM. Both he and Minister Eamon Ryan can expect the derogation to be the main topic coming from the floor.
McConalogue questioned the derogation maps in his letter to the Commission, which hardly will improve relations with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Meanwhile, the IFA is accusing the Department of being “materially non-compliant” with the Nitrates Directive in its midterm report, describing its conclusion as “irrational and unreasonable”.
It was always said that when Brussels comes to Ireland, or when Irish farming goes to Brussels, our great strength was that everyone put the green geansaí on.
Farmers, politicians and Department officials would all be singing the same tune, although perhaps the farm organisations were higher-pitched on the streets even as the Government was negotiating in more dulcet tones.
Now, it seems we have 40 shades of green geansaís.
There’s still a week for some choir practice, across two departments, and maybe buy some honey lozenges for next Thursday’s flying visit.
Farmers who put cows in calf in a 250kg regime, and are now poised to calve them down in a 220kg one, where neither they nor any of their neighbours will be able to keep either cow or calf, deserve no less.