Green Party TD Brian Leddin has said it is “shameful and pitiful” that Fine Gael and Sinn Féin have yielded to the “interests of the few over the many” in relation to the proposed EU nature restoration law.
Mr Leddin said when it came to the issue, it seemed “these parties - Sinn Féin and Fine Gael - are tweedledum and tweedledee”.
The Limerick City TD was speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday afternoon, where statements were being heard on the nature restoration law and Irish agriculture. The Dáil was suspended twice briefly during the debate after Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae ignored requests to sit down.
A divide has emerged between the Government parties over the proposed EU law that will require compulsory rewetting of tracts of agricultural lands in Ireland.
Mr Leddin noted that the European People’s Party (EPP) group of the European Parliament, of which Fine Gael are a member, walked out of negotiations on the nature restoration law earlier on Wednesday.
“We see Sinn Féin, the main Opposition party, joining forces with Fine Gael in Europe,” he said.
“When it comes to seriousness on nature restoration, it seems that these parties - Sinn Féin and Fine Gael - are tweedledum and tweedledee.
“It is impossible to tell them apart and it is shameful and pitiful that they have yielded to the interests of the few over the many. I say this with utter dismay because I have regard for my colleagues across this House.
“But it is mind-boggling that politicians are rallying against restoring nature here and in Europe and they’re fighting to defend a broken system, a system of over-production and excessive intensification.”
Separately, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Pippa Hackett said many farmers were already engaging in agri-environmental schemes, including Independent TD Michael Collins who “is an organic farmer”.
Mr Collins said the Minister had raised “private information” about him that “she must have only got from her husband”.
“I am not an organic farmer, correct the record of the Dáil please…the only way you know this is previously when I was, your husband inspected my farm…you’re using that private information from the Organic Trust to point the finger at me,” Mr Collins said.
Ms Hackett said she and Mr Collins had previous conversations about it and that she had asked him “many times how your organic farm is”.
Mr Healy-Rae then stood up and said he had to “defend” his colleague and there could not be a situation where private information was used by a Minister.
Leas-Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly suspended the Dáil when the Kerry TD refused to sit down. It was subsequently suspended for a second time later when Mr Healy-Rae again refused to take his seat.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said there had been “an attempt in some quarters to create fear and concern among farmers” in relation to the proposed nature restoration regulation.
“I recognise this is an emotive issue but what doesn’t help is the peddling of fear in some cases with rumour hearsay and innuendo,” he said. “Facts are the only things that matter here.”
Mr McConalogue said regardless of the final adopted version of the nature restoration regulation, the obligations to deliver were with “the member state, not individuals”.
“Following the adoption of the regulation, Ireland and all EU member states will have two years to develop a national restoration plan,” he said.
“The process of developing a national plan must and will be with farmers and fishers at the centre of this discussion. With this in mind, the Irish Government will, within our national plan, lead delivery of action on State lands.
“This will be complemented by support for voluntary measures by farmers outside these areas. I am sure many farmers will want to take this option on their farm and we will strongly support them financially to do this. But let me be clear, I fully expect that State lands will shoulder the majority of the weight.”
Meanwhile, Fine Gael politicians raised questions about the nature restoration law at the party’s weekly meeting on Wednesday evening.
Concern was also raised about possible voluntary reduction schemes for the national cattle heard.
Minister of State for Agriculture Martin Heydon offered some reassurance saying that Fine Gael is committed to ensuring that any policies in this area protected farmers and rural communities.