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Tánaiste expects controversial €200m cheese plant to meet climate concerns as sod is turned

The plant is expected to create 80 full-time jobs and take in milk from 4,500 farmers.

Agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and junior minister for agriculture Martin Heydon at the launch in Belview today
Agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and junior minister for agriculture Martin Heydon at the launch in Belview today
Image: Eoghan Dalton

THE TÁNAISTE HAS said a controversial €200 million cheese plant in Co Kilkenny has taken the steps required to lessen its environmental impact while also providing food security in Ireland’s response to Brexit and other global challenges.

Leo Varadkar said efforts are being made to try and make it harder to seek judicial reviews on major projects, as happened with the plant when An Taisce took a challenge against its construction

He was speaking at the sod turning ceremony for the plant, located outside Waterford city near Belview port, which is a joint venture by Glanbia and Dutch company Royal A-ware as part of a strategy to diversify the Irish export market.

Speaking about the plant’s potential environmental impact, Varadkar said: “I think it can be and will be a sustainable development. We need to take action stop climate change, but we also need to produce food to assure food security.

“One thing that is definitely happening in the world at the moment this the world’s population is continuing to increase.”

When asked whether there were concerns that the plant may cause issues such as a decline in water quality, Varadkar said the plant had received permission following a number of thorough reviews.
“This proposal went through a very stringent planning process and An Bord Pleanála, which is independent, heard all the arguments, gave it permission and it was then judicially reviewed in the courts. Those arguments were heard again and legal experts and planning experts decided to grant permission for it and that’s why it’s happening today,” he said.

It is expected to create 80 jobs once opened, with over 400 jobs set to be created during construction.

Varadkar added that the cheese plant will help Ireland to make sure it has affordable foods.

“So the challenge really is to marry the two and make sure that we reduce our emissions but also do it in such a way that we protect food production and protect the incomes of farm families in particular,” Vardakar said. 

He added that Glanbia has sought to ensure it is more environmentally sustainable by including photovoltaic panels and wind turbines to improve the site.

The facility, which is expected to produce cheese for global markets by 2024, will yield over 50,000 tonnes of continental cheese per year – taking in around 450m litres of milk from Glanbia’s suppliers. 

It faced a challenge from An Taisce, the environmental NGO, after it raised concerns about the assessment of the environmental impact of the plant. 

It unsuccessfully challenged An Bord Pleanála’s decision to allow the development via the High Court and, later, the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court quashed the case in February, allowing development to begin. 

Varadkar said efforts are currently being made by the Attorney General to examine the planning system in light of the dispute over the Belview plant.

“What we want to achieve is a planning system and planning laws that are more fit for purpose. It’s not about stopping people from objecting or stopping people . . . but it’s about making sure that decisions are made and they’re made quickly.

“Because holding up a project for years has an impact on jobs, has an impact on a company’s performance. It has an impact, for example, on the number of homes that are being built, so we see at the moment a lot of very important industrial complex housing projects [and] climate action projects that are held up in the planning process.”

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He said the timelines for a decision from An Bord Pleanála would also need to improve, which would require extra resources for the authority.

There also needs to be changes to judicial reviews as the Tanaiste claimed the bar to seek a review in Ireland is “very easy” relative to other countries.

Agriculture minster Charlie McConalogue, who was also at the sod turning, said there is a danger that projects that are held up in the planning process will have an impact on jobs and cause a company to withdraw its plans. 

“So while people do have to have the right to [object], it’s really important we can’t run projects into the ground so that they don’t happen. And that was the risk here. That was the thing that we all were concerned about.

Thankfully, it hasn’t. And we’re here in this very joyous day in relation to seeing this project kick off.”

He disagreed that Irish farming needs to reduce food production, saying that the reduction of emissions should be the target.

“No one I’ve met wants to reduce food production, no one thinks that’s a good idea. Everybody agrees that not just for agri-food but across society we have to reduce emissions.”

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