TDs and An Taisce repeatedly locked horns during an Oireachtas agriculture committee meeting on Tuesday over the Climate Action Plan, with both sides determined to land body blows.
The role of An Taisce in blocking planning permission for Glanbia’s new processing plant was quickly raised by Fianna Fáil Senator Paul Daly, who demanded to know why the charity felt its role included planning submissions.
An Taisce spokesperson Ian Lumley explained that in the context of planning and agriculture, it would raise concerns around ammonia and other areas such as water quality.
“Ireland has exceeded the EU mandated threshold for ammonia since 2016, so clearly we haven’t had a regulatory regime in place for that,” Lumley said.
“Whether it may be a smaller scale application for a dairy production facility or a larger processing facility, we would simply be raising issues and making recommendations as to how those public health and other legal protection obligations can be met.”
Lumley said An Taisce had sought to engage with farm organisations over the years at an earlier stage on agricultural matters but had been disappointed by the lack of constructive engagement.
“Instead, we’ve had the agricultural sector importing so-called exports in from the US with very dubious claims on carbon sequestration, or using this common argument that if we don’t continue producing, then somebody else will.”
He said that argument was “ethically unsound” and suggested that Senator Daly take a look at his Fianna Fáil colleague TD Jim O’Callaghan’s informative video on the climate and environment.
Lumley also alluded to arguments around biogenic methane emitted from cattle, which Teagasc and others say should be treated as a separate target in the Climate Bill, but Lumley stated there was no “magical solution that methane will evaporate”.
He also raised concerns that Ireland was relying on a green image which he said has also been raised by Teagasc, and said the EPA had essentially called it “green-washing”.
His comments were met with a tirade of criticism from senators and TDs at the meeting, who questioned whether he was out of step with rural Ireland and the legitimacy of An Taisce to become involved in policy decisions.
Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy repeatedly asked Lumley if he could name a country that had higher standards for their farmers in terms of environmental obligations.
The issue of slurry spreading and low-emission slurry spreading (LESS) was raised by Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard, who asked how much change An Taisce would like to see happen in the sector.
“I don’t know the calculation in terms of [what] the trailing shoe or LESS would have but it is one part of the emissions profile,” Ruaidhri O’Boyle of An Taisce responded, adding that the EPA or Teagasc would have more figures on it.
This elicited a stern response from Senator Lombard, who said he was “really disappointed with the quality of the answer” given that a major area of concern for An Taisce was ammonia emissions and trailing shoe and LESS systems had made a huge impact on reducing those emissions in the sector.
Another representative keen to lock horns with the group was Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, who criticised the group’s understanding of rural Ireland and said they needed to engage more positively with the farming sector.