Fine Gael MEP criticises EU parliamentary group for leaving talks on nature restoration law

Move comes amid Coalition tensions on controversial law, with Fianna Fáil Minister saying EPP is not showing ‘political leadership’ on proposed law

A prominent Fine Gael MEP has said he is “not happy” that his party’s group in the European Parliament left talks on a controversial proposed law on nature restoration.

MEPs have been thrashing out the parliament’s proposals for nature restoration and bog rewetting.

Last week, Fine Gael’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) withdrew from negotiations in the European Parliament, citing potential effects on farmers and rural communities.

The proposed European Union legislation aims to protect at least 20 per cent of land and sea areas by 2030, but has run into stiff opposition.


The targets being considered by the parliament go beyond those proposed by EU member states through the European Council and others suggested by the European Commission.

Ireland South MEP Seán Kelly said there were “major concerns regarding the proposed restoration law even though I agree with the measures in terms of what they want to achieve”. He said it would be “impossible” to confine rewetting to State lands under the parliamentary proposals.

He said on Sunday he was not happy that the EPP had walked away from negotiations, adding: “I don’t believe you should walk off the pitch.”

He confirmed he would be encouraging the group to return to the talks.

However, Damien Thomson – a political adviser for the Left Group in the European Parliament – said later it would not be possible for the EPP to return to the talks as negotiations came to an end last Wednesday.

He said the deal struck by the other political groups will be put to a vote at the environment committee on June 15th.

Mr Thomson raised concern that it’s “highly likely” the legislation will be completely rejected because there is not enough support to get legislation through the environment committee.

Mr Kelly had made his remarks on RTÉ radio and on Sunday night he said the interviewer did not specifically mention the environment committee talks in his question to him.

He said that while these talks have ended the proposed law “will still have to go to Plenary” in the European Parliament and that Groups and MEPs can table amendments at that point as well.

Mr Kelly said if passed at the plenary stage it would also have to go to Trilogue and he would encourage the EPP to participate in this.

Trilogue is the informal negtiations between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission.

The EU proposals for nature restoration has caused some tensions within the Coalition here.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Fine Gael leader, has said “any right-thinking person” would understand the need for a nature conservation and restoration law given the “phenomenal biodiversity loss” that has occurred.

However, he said the law “as currently drafted goes far too far”.

Green Party TD Brian Leddin last week told the Dáil it was “shameful and pitiful” that Fine Gael and Sinn Féin had yielded to the “interests of the few over the many” in relation to the proposed nature restoration law.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, a Fianna Fáil TD, said he disagreed with the EPP pulling out of negotiations.

He said: “Putting your hands up and walking away is not the way to do it and is not political leadership. It was really, really disappointing to see the EPP take that approach at European level. I’d strongly urge them to re-engage.”

Mr McConalogue also suggested in an interview with the Sunday Independent that Ireland’s land restoration targets could be met from rewetting State-owned lands under the proposals being negotiated by ministers from EU member states at European Council level.

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher, meanwhile, said the proposals under consideration by the parliament were currently “very extreme” and would require levels of rewetting over and above publicly owned lands.

He said: “My view is we have to get the parliament’s position very close to the council’s position before I could support it.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times