Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has indicated that plans for large-scale “rewetting” of farmland are “going too far” and stressed that changes in the proposals are likely – a move likely to raise alarm in the Green Party which is committed to the practice.
With opposition to the proposals, which aim to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas by flooding vast tracts of agricultural lands, growing in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the Green Party stressed that no landowners would be forced to take part in rewetting.
A Green Party Government spokesperson pointed to growing evidence of biodiversity decline and said: “We don’t believe this should be a divisive issue. We’ve had a common approach in the European negotiations. Ministers Ryan, McConalogue and Noonan have worked together in terms of the Irish Government approach. No one will be forced to participate in any schemes but instead, farmers who wish to do so will be paid to play their part in restoring our natural world.”
The proposed EU Nature Restoration Law would see 35 per cent of land previously drained for agriculture “rewetted” by 2050. Rewetting is a key part of climate action plans, but land use policy is proving one of the most difficult aspects of the Government’s climate plans.
Asked about the plan in the Dáil on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said the proposed EU law was at an early stage.
“I want to make it very clear that it is a proposal at this stage. We all understand the need to protect nature, restore biodiversity loss and allow nature to regrow ... but there are aspects of it that go too far, particularly if it comes to taking agricultural land out of use for food production,” he said.
“In urban areas, there are issues where it might become harder, for example, to turn a grass pitch into an all-weather pitch. There is a long way to go before this regulation is right. Negotiations are ongoing.
He said that the issue would be discussed in the Dáil next week and TDs could suggest ways that “the legislation can be improved and what compromises can be made in order that it is fit for purpose. I share concerns people have across rural and urban Ireland about some aspects of it going too far and not fully recognising how we use land in Ireland.”