Farming is not solely responsible for Ireland’s water quality, but is “going to be part of the solution”, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking at the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) AGM this Tuesday, he said the meeting he held on Ireland’s nitrates derogation with European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius did not get the desired outcome, but did set out a clear path for the future.

“The bottom line is that a lack of improvement in water quality is a problem for all of us. Agriculture is not solely responsible, we have a lot of work to do in areas like waste treatment, but of course agriculture is also going to be part of the solution.

“It is still my view that having the Commissioner visit Ireland back in November was important because we must do everything in our power now over the next two years to build a credible case for the retention of the derogation,” he said.

Climate change

On climate change, An Taoiseach said new approaches, new ways of doing things and an openness to a significant amount of change is needed to meeting rising challenges.

“We will not wish this away or pretend it doesn’t affect us. Nor can we say it is up to other countries to act. They won’t if we don’t and our emissions per head are among the highest in the world and have been for decades,” he said.

An Taoiseach added that farmers should be treated fairly in relation to climate change mitigation.

“I want you to know that your sector will not be asked to bear a disproportionate burden of climate change mitigation. That would not be fair.

“I believe that we have to work together to make sure that you’re at the heart of any solutions, because if we can’t convince farmers to come with us, well then we won’t achieve anything at all. Irish agriculture is far too important to our economy and to our society for anything else.

“We are very keen that farmers be part of the solution not blackguarded or climate shamed,” he added.

All sectors

Farm incomes should be protected while also adding new income streams such as renewable energy production, carbon farming, forestry, organics and agri tourism, An Taoiseach said.

He continued that every sector needs to engage in reducing emissions, not just agriculture.

“I know that you have been taking actions for many years to reduce your carbon footprint, increase biodiversity and improve water quality.

“Of course, agriculture is only part of the picture. Every sector will have to adapt and make changes to reduce our emissions.

“Our housing stock, our industry, big and small, our transport network, our energy system, the whole of Irish society will have to end its reliance on fossil fuels.

"This means system change," he said.

CAP 2027

Referencing the next CAP, An Taoiseach said the environment will continue to be a focus.

“While it is not possible to know what a new CAP will look like, we can be absolutely certain that there will be a focus on climate and the environment.

“There must also be a focus on food security and price stability. We don’t talk about this enough, in my opinion. We should not take it for granted.

“We will not be thanked in 10 or 20 years’ time if Europe’s climate policies only result in more imported food from other parts of the world. Also, at EU level we will continue to fight the good fight for balanced and fair-trade agreements and that applies to Mercosur as well.

“Colleagues, I can assure you that Ireland will again argue for a well-funded CAP to protect farm incomes and the family farm,” he said.

VAT reclaim

The VAT reclaim issue is something that can be resolved, An Taoiseach said.

“I understand you [the IFA] have a meeting planned with the Revenue Commissioners in a couple of weeks.

“Based on past experience, my advice to you is to bring as many individual worked-out examples as to how you feel their interpretation of the rules has changed and we are determined to take it from there and resolve this issue,” he said.


The new forestry programme, An Taoiseach said, is viewed by the Government as a significant opportunity for farmers.

“Our commitment will give certainty to those involved in the sector for the years ahead. We need to plant millions of trees - 400 million by 2040 in fact.

“It’s not just about agriculture or about climate, it’s about the housing crisis. We need to build a lot more new homes in Ireland.

“We need farmers planting trees so we can build more of these new homes with timber rather than concrete,” he said.