When the Green Party joined Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in a coalition in June, the overwhelming feeling was relief that we had a Government at last.

We were knee-deep in a pandemic, over four months from the February election, and the caretaker Government had no mandate. Sinn Féin and some other left politicians said the new Government also had no mandate, as it didn’t reflect the will of the people, and would bring no change.

For farmers and the agri-food sector, the question being asked was how would this Government approach farming. Would the Greens be a friend or foe of farming?

Super Pippa

The announcement of Green Party TD Pippa Hackett as a minister of state in the Department of Agriculture took many by surprise. As a farmer herself, it made a lot of sense.

While it isn’t unprecedented (Trevor Sargent’s stint in Agriculture House was with responsibility for Food and Horticulture), Minister Hackett’s role will give her responsibility for mainstream farming.

The Laois TD has been given a super-junior role, which means she sits at Cabinet, and she was given responsibility for land use and diversity. This includes the forestry sector, which gives her the lead role in trying to sort out the unholy mess that sees a backlog of 5,000 felling licence applications clogging the system, largely due to blanket appeals to felling applications.

Legislation has been passed and personnel resources have been increased, but sawmills are starved of domestic timber and the response from these initiatives needs to be fast and effective.

Pippa Hackett has served as the Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity since June 2020.

The twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity are fundamental to the Green Party, and assessments of the condition of our hedgerows and our soil are part of Pippa Hackett’s workload.

Overall, the minister has received a positive reaction from farmers to date, but it is a guarded welcome.

Sectoral targets

The biggest battle ground is likely to be sectoral targets for farming. For those who remember the Green Party’s last term in Government, this carries a sense of déjà vu.

Exactly 10 years ago, then Minister for the Environment John Gormley, in an interview with this paper, outlined his plans for climate change. These were to include sectoral targets and had ambitions to go beyond the mandatory targets the EU had imposed for 2020.

John Gormley. \ Paul Sherwood

The Oireachtas Agriculture committee rejected this proposal.

This seemed an unlikely straw to break the back of the Green Party's involvement in Government.

The party had weathered the economic storm of the 2008 crash, had endured the bailout and the IMF’s intervention. It had voted for the draconion budgets that were all the Government deemed the wrecked economy could cope with.

However, climate change was an overriding concern for the Green Party. It still is.

Ten years later, the Green Party again finds itself in Government in a very economically challenging moment.

Brexit was meant to be a generational issue for Ireland, still so economically linked to the UK. It may still prove to be all that, but right now COVID-19 has come along and had a much more significant impact on both our economy and our society.

And the issue of sectoral targets, not least for farming, is again raising its head. The 2019 report from another Oireachtas committee, this time the Climate Change Committee, fell short of imposing prescriptive sectoral targets.

The current committee wants that revisited, publishing no less than 78 amendments to the report. One of these proposes setting five-year targets for methane from farming, as opposed to the 2050 target currently in place.

Almost everyone now acknowledges the scale of man-made climate change, and the scale of the challenge it poses.


The differences are in the pace of progress made towards carbon-neutral farming.

The farm lobby want to be allowed make incremental improvements, harnessing current technologies and best practices and researching other solutions.

That has also been the position of the many men who have held the role of Minister for Agriculture over the last decade.

Critics say that won’t go far enough, fast enough. They would say that if John Gormley had his way, the national dairy herd would not have been allowed the unfettered increase post-quota that has raised net-emissions from farming.

How this debate plays out may define the Green Party’s participation in this Government.

Other issues

There are some other vexed questions that have not emerged as flashpoints yet. Live exports, particularly of calves for veal, is one. Brexit will affect the landbridge route through the UK to France and the Netherlands.

A trial flight is planned for the spring. That may heighten the heat around exports, which the Green Party is opposed to in principle.

Many rural people will also be watching whether the Government makes a move in relation to coursing, or hunting or greyhounds in particular.

Internal divisions

Going into Government proved a problematic decision for the Green Party. Some remembered how the party was decimated following its last stint in office.

It has taken a decade to rebuild the party, and many of the younger Greens, ideologically further left, wanted no truck with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Saoirse McHugh, the Achill native who proved a trailblazer in the European elections, was the most high-profile of many defectors after the party approved entering government.

These divisions are reflected within the parliamentary party.

Dublin TD Neassa Hourigan has already resigned the party whip. She was one of two TD’s to refuse to support the CETA EU-Canada trade deal. She raised concerns that it could open the door for multinationals to legally challenge European environmental legislation.

Interestingly, she also said there was a “very compelling case that CETA will damage the Irish economy and particularly the agriculture sector”.

Farmers would not have expected her to champion their interests.

Early days

It’s still pretty early to form a judgement on this Government. The dominance of COVID-19 has meant there hasn’t yet been an intense media focus on farming and the Greens.

One word of warning for those who oppose the Green Party’s stance on agriculture - if the party were to leave this Government, it would most certainly fall.

That would precipitate an election, and the Government that follows may be more left, and more green, not less.