The Minister for Agriculture must provide clarity to farmers on the issue of nitrates derogation, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
Tim Lombard, party spokesperson on Agriculture, said the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee made great strides with the EU Commissioner towards reaching more engagement and ultimately flexibility for farmers on the matter last week, only to hear from the Minister in recent days that negotiations would not reopen.
Senator Lombard said: “The Minister for Agriculture will attend a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine on Friday morning to discuss Water Quality and Nitrates and I hope the Minister takes this opportunity to provide clarity, detail of the pathway forward and his planned engagement with the EU Commission between now and September 30th to explore the options and flexibility within the framework that the Commissioner has indicated is there.
“There is uncertainty around the next steps regarding our nitrogen derogation following comments made by Minister McConalogue over recent days where he said negotiations on changes to a nitrates derogation will not be reopened.
“The Minister’s comments were very definitive and are at odds with what myself and my Oireachtas colleagues from the Agriculture Committee were told at the meeting with Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius on Thursday evening last.
“It was a tough but good engagement, and the Commissioner was clear that there was still scope for engagement and that ‘flexibility is possible’.”
Ireland’s nitrates derogation provides farmers an opportunity to farm at higher stocking rates when they take extra steps to protect the environment.
The current derogation is due to expire on 1 January 2026, and the derogation limit is due to reduce to 220kg per hectare on 1 January 2024 in certain areas, due to environmental issues.
Senator Lombard continued: “On the issue of the EPA map which defines the red areas which will need additional measures, it was made clear that it is up to the Irish authorities to implement and submit the mid-term review to the EU Commission by September 30th.
“Flexibility around areas requiring additional measures as defined by the EPA map versus the entire country was not ruled out by the Commissioner.
“Those of us present at the meeting were told ‘There is a possibility of flexibility and this is what the Commissioner also told the Minister and this is where we can still explore how to apply and where to exactly apply this flexibility’.
“Based on our meeting with the Commissioner, I believe there is scope for further engagement here particularly for areas outside of the ‘red zones’ on the EPA map. The map is based on the criteria set out by the European Commission and clearly identifies areas which do not require additional measures.
“Having met with the Commissioner, I don’t understand Minister McConalogue’s reluctance to engage and explore any options or flexibility that would help Irish farmers.
“On Wednesday last, the Minister himself spoke about how it ‘may be possible to make some very minor adjustments to the current mapping based on scientific parameters’, but his more recent comments appear to even rule this out.
“When the Commissioner is talking about flexibility, the Minister has to grab the opportunity to make the best case possible for Irish farmers. Why slam the door shut when it is slightly open?
“You may be sure if this was for example Germany and the auto industry, the relevant Minister would be doing everything possible, including meeting in person, to fight for the industry.
“We need the same fight for our farming and dairy industry,” Senator Lombard concluded.