An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that although he is not in a position to make promises on the outcome of a highly-anticipated visit by European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius on Thursday, flexibility will be sought on the 2024 derogation stocking rate cut.

The “two main areas” on the agenda for the visit relate to nitrates, but fisheries will also be discussed, An Taoiseach told the Irish Farmers Journal at a Fine Gael special conference on farming in Maynooth on Saturday.

Although flexibilities for 2024 will be explored, the visit will also lay the groundwork for Ireland’s case to keep the derogation beyond 2025.

Government’s scene setting for these negotiations comes just after An Taoiseach warned that losing the derogation would spell disaster for farmers and the agri-food sector.

The best defence for retaining the derogation will be a situation of improving water quality, An Taoiseach maintains.

The purpose of the visit is “first of all, to explore any flexibilities that might be available to Ireland,” he said.

“I don’t want to raise expectations in that regard or make promises that can’t be kept, but of course we are going to explore any flexibilities that might help our farmers to adjust to the change in the derogation.

“But perhaps most importantly of all, we are really setting the scene for what will be our defence of the derogation itself.

“We are one of only two countries that have a derogation, we need the support of the European Commission and 27 member states that don’t have a derogation, bear in mind, most of them, to keep that derogation.

“Losing that altogether would be a disaster, quite frankly, for Irish farmers and for our food industry, and we are already thinking ahead as to what we can do to defend that and that means making some changes, it means making sure we improve our water quality and working with farmers to make sure we can do that.”