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Climate Change

Cairns accuses Irish Farmers' Association of 'denying reality' in defence of wildlife activist

Politicians have reacted to the sudden departure of an environment activist over a blog claiming that farm organisations were “lurching to the far-right”.

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS LEADER Holly Cairns has accused the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) of “denying reality” in its approach to climate change.

She was responding to a controversy between the IFA and environmental NGO the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT), which saw a veteran IWT campaign officer resign over a blog post which accused farming organisations of “increasingly lurching to the far right”.

Pádraic Fogarty, a prominent environmentalist who had been involved with the IWT for 20 years, had named the IFA, the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Organisation and the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association as among the groups over which he had concerns.

Fogarty announced his resignation yesterday morning after the IWT edited the blog post to “remove political references that could be perceived to be divisive”.

The article, titled ‘Drift of the farm orgs’ remains on the IWT’s website with a disclaimer that it does not represent the views of the IWT.

The IFA said this evening that it was committed to climate action.

The country’s biggest farming organisation said it had sought a meeting with the board of the IWT to “discuss what appeared in the original blog” last week, prior to the post being edited.

Also speaking on Monday, Cairns said she was disappointed to see Fogarty depart. She claimed the IFA and the government were “walking farmers to a cliff edge” through “intensive” dairy practices.

“It’s the responsibility of governments and of organisations to take responsibility for this and the IFA claim to represent all farmers. In my opinion, they don’t always [represent all farmers] and when they deny climate science, you can imagine somebody in Pádraic’s position to get very frustrated,” she told radio station WLR FM.

“I think that they’re basically denying reality and walking farmers to a cliff edge,” Cairns added.

‘Docile’ campaign

Fogarty’s departure has had a mixed reaction from politicians. Some said the debate around how best to tackle rising emissions from agriculture had become increasingly “polarising”, while others claimed that the environment movement had become “docile” in its approach to climate.

Jackie Cahill, Fianna Fáil TD and chair of the Oireachtas Agricultural Committee, insisted farm organisations were “not scaremongering” and were reacting to a “very real threat to the farm structure”.

Cahill is a former president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association of dairy farmers.

“We have to accept we have a legally set target to meet but some people who claim to the environmentalists are doing nothing to help us meet that target,” Cahill said.

“A lot of us have been preached at enough now and some of those environmentalists would want to take a look in the mirror.”

Green Party chief whip Marc Ó Cathasaigh, told The Journal that farmers have found themselves in a difficult situation and that the debate had become too tense.

“It’s because they were asked to make huge changes in 2012 when the milk quota were lifted, and they’ve been asked to make huge changes again – but in the other direction this time. So they’re getting mixed messages.”

The Waterford TD said significant investment was made by many in the sector in order for herds to be expanded post-2012, with debt incurred as a result.

“If they’ve taken on substantial debt, well then the question has to be asked how do they pay that back, and if farmers are going to be asked to farm in a different way, then we still have to be clear on what the CAP package is and how that will be structured.”

When asked by The Journal whether he would agree with Fogarty’s contention that farm organisations needed to show greater leadership, the Waterford TD declined to comment.

His party colleague in Cork City Council, Dan Boyle, said Fogarty was “justified” in his stance.

Boyle said that “information is being fed into the public sphere in a dishonest way with alterative facts being presented” against research by bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The idea of the idyllic situation, of us working together, finding common cause – I haven’t seen that work.

“As someone involved in green politics for over 30 years, if anything the environmental movement has been very docile,” Boyle said. “We’re seeing constant prevarication and opposition to appropriate action.”

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore said there’s a “lot of fear” within the farming community which she claimed had not been handled well by the government.

“I don’t think they’re really getting the message out to farmers about what needs to be done to solve the biodiversity and climate crisis,” Whitmore said.

The Wicklow TD said there is a “gap in communication and engagement” with farmers which has created “a vacuum of fear” in the community.

“I think that is being exploited by certain people within the political sphere, with an idea for the next local or general elections, and I think that’s where we’re getting into dangerous territory,” she added.

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