Ireland cannot restore nature without farmers being on board and the country cannot go back to the days of imposing designations on farmers, Minister of State with responsibility for heritage Malcolm Noonan has said.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal in his constituency in Kilkenny last week, he said he can see why farmers would be concerned about the EU’s nature restoration law, which contains targets for Ireland to rewet swathes of drained peatland.

“From a farming point of view, I can see why farmers would be concerned about it. I think it’s important that we find a position that works for farmers. The big challenge and the big unknown is how it’s going to be funded.

“It’s hugely costly. If farming is going to be involved, it’s important that there is a long-term funding mechanism so that there is certainty there for farmers and that their incomes aren’t affected and that they have a viable income from nature restoration, from actions for biodiversity and carbon,” he said.

Minister Noonan said that the Wild Atlantic Nature Life project is the type of approach that is seen as the way forward, “where we have results-based payments for farmers and landowners and they are receiving a good sustainable income from being involved in these activities”.

However, he warned that while these schemes are really useful, they have a shelf life.

“We have to look at the afterlife of LIFE in the sense of longer-term funding streams, longer-term stability for farmers to know they have a longer-term funding mechanism there for biodiversity or carbon action on farms,” he said.

Strict protection

Under the EU’s biodiversity strategy, 10% of land in Ireland must be strictly protected by 2030.

The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has previously warned that strict protection would be the “mother of all designations”.

He confirmed that the Department has identified land that would fall under this definition, but that it might not all be farmland.

“I think the 10% is achievable. We’re conscious that strict protection rings alarm bells with farmers, but we’re also conscious that we can’t go back to the old days of imposing designations,” he said, adding that there needs to be significant support on the ground for farmers, particularly around biodiversity.

“There’s quite an amount of protection already through Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Natura lands. It could be expansion of Natura lands that could be seen as part of it,” he said.

We really want to see rural Ireland thrive, we want to see farming thrive

The Kilkenny man said he is mindful of farmer concerns around new designations.

“If the regulation is imposed without discussions around the funding mechanism, it’s not going to work. From that perspective, the European Commission needs to engage with member states on it. It’s still quite vague how we are going to achieve this,” he conceded.

When asked if payments to farmers for actions such as rewetting or biodiversity should be time-limited, the minister said those lands are still performing an eco-system service.

“That land is still performing a function and an important function for nature. There needs to be a longer-term mechanism to support landowners to maintain biodiversity value, to connect habitats.

“The connectivity of the habitats, on a significant scale, is what we need to achieve to reverse biodiversity loss and turn the tide,” he said.

Food undervalued

Food is undervalued in Ireland and globally it is undervalued, he said.

“I think now we’re into a whole new realm of farming for nature, biodiversity and carbon,” he said.

Minister Noonan said that the multiples need to absorb some of the costs of food inflation, something he said they are not doing currently.

Specifically for the horticulture sector, he said the difference in a couple of cent per kilo would make the difference between a farm being viable and not viable.


“From that perspective, they need to take greater responsibility. I think that they tend to play hardball in terms of pricing and setting prices. Farmers are price-takers in all of this, and yet the multiples are still making significant profits.

“There has to be a balance and I think it’s important that they can absorb some of the costs, particularly the input costs that are there for farmers now. I’ve no doubt it’s hugely challenging for the consumer, but farmers are struggling too,” he said.

Emissions target

Farming’s 25% emissions reduction target is achievable, according to the heritage minister.

“But there is no doubt it’s going to be incredibly challenging. These are onerous targets, but the reality is they have to be met. We’re facing into a major crisis… this is now a global problem that we have to address collectively and Ireland has to play its part.”

Should there be a payment for the burden of having a designation?

Minister Noonan refused to comment on whether farmers should receive a payment for the burden of designated land, but said he appreciates where farmers are coming from on the issue.

Historically, he said there hasn’t been enough engagement with farmers on designated land.

Was our last forestry programme flawed?

“I think so, yeah. I do think that Minister Hackett in her role, [stating that] the right tree in the right place has to be the way forward.

“Absolutely, there has been a lot of inappropriate planting that has gone on around the country.”


He welcomed the fact that the Department is upping its game in terms of inspections and taking a very stringent approach.

“I think there’s only a small number of farmers that are maybe irresponsible or not aware fully of the implications of their actions” in relation to water quality, he said.

Does the Green Party get farmers and the way that they operate?

“I think so, I’m not sure if we always did. We’ve been on a steep learning curve in the last number of years, in particular. We absolutely understand the plight of farmers, particularly when it comes to farmgate prices, to global commodity markets, towards maintaining and sustaining family farms.

“I think perhaps there has been a misunderstanding between the Greens and the farming community. We’ve certainly shown, particularly in this term in Government, that there is nothing to fear from the Green Party. We really want to see rural Ireland thrive, we want to see farming thrive.”

Would you like to stay on as heritage minister?

“I love what I’m doing and I’ve a lot of work to see through, but that’s a decision for others.”

Favourite book?

Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie.

Favourite film?

Cinema Paradiso.


Playing music.

Lyons or Barry’s?

“I drink Clipper Tea. They’re unbleached tea bags.”