A clear divide has emerged between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party over a proposed EU Nature Restoration Law that will require compulsory rewetting of vast tracts of agricultural lands in Ireland.
At its weekly parliamentary party meeting, two senior figures in Fianna Fáil, Billy Kelleher and Barry Cowen, stated they would oppose the law and its mandatory rewetting targets.
Mr Kelleher, an MEP for the South constituency, briefed the meeting on the current proposals being negotiated in the European Parliament.
He said what was being proposed was that almost a third of previously drained agricultural land be restored, with at least 50 per cent to be rewetted by 2030.
He said that by 2050, the target was to have two-thirds rewetted.
Mr Kelleher said this would have a devastating impact on Irish agriculture in which thousands of farmers have reclaimed land from peatlands for use as farmland. He told colleagues rewetted land would imperil farms and livelihoods and further drive up the cost of land in this country.
Mr Cowen, a TD for Laois-Offaly, said the law if allowed to stand would amount to “European imperialism”.
“The proposals do not reflect the circumstances of Irish land usage, especially now in cities and towns where land is required for housing,” he said.
“The proposals reflect a Europe where neither economies nor populations are growing, unlike Ireland where we remain a driver of development and population in the EU.”
John Lahart and Brendan Smith raised concerns about several aspects of the proposed law and the impact that it will have on agriculture, farm families as well as rural and urban areas.
Rewetting of boglands was one of the central planks of the Green Party manifesto for Government and proposals for rewetting are contained in the Programme for Government. However, Fianna Fáil backbench TDs have argued the new EU law will go much further than anything that has been proposed at a national level.
The Greens also faced strong criticism at the meeting from Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív and Mayo Senator Lisa Chambers in relation to the N17 motorway that runs north from Tuam into Sligo.
Last week, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan announced the upgrade of the N17 would not go ahead. Both Mr Ó Cuív and Ms Chambers expressed shock and disappointment at the decision.
Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was not at the meeting, nor was Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael meeting.
In his absence, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe heard criticism of the new zoned land tax (which could affect farmers whose land has been zoned residential) and delayed passport applications.
There was a presentation to the meeting by former IFA president Eddie Downey on farm succession and the importance of taxation reliefs for the transfer of farms from one generation to the next.