We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

political reaction

Nature restoration law reveals cracks and divisions in Sinn Féin and Fine Gael

TD Barry Cowen says there has been ‘scaremongering’ from some politicians.


DIVISIONS HAVE EMERGED within a number of political parties over the passing of the hotly debated Nature Restoration Law which seeks to protect and restore biodiversity. 

Cracks have emerged in Sinn Féin and Fine Gael over the passing of the law which seeks to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems by 2050.

324 MEPs voted in favour of the law this week, winning over 275 votes against and 24 abstentions.

11 of Ireland’s 13 MEPs from the Green Party, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and two Independents voted to support the law. Just two – Independent Luke Ming Flanagan and Sinn Féin’s Chris MacManus – voted against it.

While the law has been heralded by some as landmark legislation by some, the Irish Farmers’ Association said the legitimate concerns of had not been adequately addressed.

Political reaction

Turning to the political fallout, much of the focus has been on Sinn Féin due to MacManus voting his party’s European political allies in the Green-Left group, which welcomed the law’s adoption by the Parliament.

There was apparent confusion within Sinn Féin over its party’s position on the vote, with senator Lynn Boylan (who is a former MEP and will contest a European seat in Dublin in June) tweeting earlier today that the law passing was “great news”.

However, MacManus defended his decision to vote against the law telling RTÉ’s European Parliament Report programme this week that Sinn Féin is a “broad organisation”.

He insisted that Senator Boylan’s comments did not represent Sinn Féin’s official position on the Nature Restoration Law.

“Myself and [Sinn Féin's Agriculture spokesperson] Claire Kerrane issued a press statement… through the Sinn Féin press office in this regard, stating what our Sinn Féin position was,” he said.  

In a Dáil debate on the proposed law in July, Kerrane did indicate that her party had reservation about the law, stating:

“We make no mistake in listening to farmers or acting on their behalf. If we did not do that then that would be a mistake. That is why we supported the rejection of the law at the agriculture committee in the EU. From an agricultural perspective, which was the job of that committee to determine, the law was absolutely intolerable.”


In the same debate last summer, Sinn Féin’s Spokesperson on Environment and Climate Action Darren O’Rourke said:

“For Sinn Féin, it must be a question of pathways, not cliff edges, incentives and rewards rather than punishments, and partnership and engagement rather than adversary and division. That is the basis of a just transition that ensures that no-one is left behind.

“The nature restoration law has the potential to be an important part of this journey, but we must make sure we get it right. A critical component of this is that farmers and rural communities are seen as essential partners in this process. They must be recognised and valued for their contribution as custodians of the land.”

While some within Sinn Féin privately admit it is not a good look for the party on the climate change front to be voting down such legislation, it was acknowledged that there are differing views in Sinn Féin on what position it should have taken, with some speculating the party must be gearing towards the rural base on this issue. 

Unfortunately, Boylan and O’Rourke could not be reached by The Journal to discuss what these positions might be. 

However, it is not just Sinn Féin that has had trouble speaking with one voice on this issue. 

Fine Gael MEPs go against EPP position

Fine Gael politicians, despite their wider political grouping – the European People’s Party – taking a stance against it, all voted in favour.

Fine Gael Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Patrick O’Donovan also criticised his party’s own MEPs for supporting the passage of the legislation.

Speaking to Jerry O’Sullivan on Kerry Today on Radio Kerry on Wednesday, the minister said he was “disappointed” that MEPs voted to pass the law.

“I am disappointed to put it mildly that while the European People’s Party as a bloc wanted to vote against this because they believed there was another day to be had as it were that most of Ireland’s MEPs voted for it,” O’Donovan said.

He said the implications of the law have not been properly thrashed out stating that he believes the legislation has not been properly debated.

“Anywhere in the country I can take you to places where we have schemes that are bogged down in environmental restrictions and regulation, where it’s clear that the preference and priority is to protect the habitat over protecting people’s houses,” he said.


TD Barry Cowen, who is also running in the European elections, was previously a critic of the legislation when it was first proposed but said said this week that the legislation ”is far different animal than that which was voted through the EU Parliament earlier this week”.

“Notwithstanding the bona fides and goodwill of an EU-wide programme to increase biodiversity, restore habitats and allow nature to flourish, it could not, should not and will not be at the expense of Ireland’s agriculture and food-producing sector. There was genuine fear and concern when it was first published,” he said.

“The reference to reducing the use of peaty soils, for example, would, of course, have heightened such fear and concern,” he added, acknowledging that at the time he said the proposal smelt of European imperialism.

However, he said through hard work by MEPs within his own party, many concerns have since been clarified and have rightly been rectified.

He told The Journal that he spoke in the Dáil on the matter this week as he wanted to “quell some of the scaremongering”.  

Any scheme to promote, encourage or fund nature restoration will be voluntary, he said, stating that any farm that opts not to participate will not have its single farm payment affected in any way.

The funding that is provided towards such a scheme, which will be debated and agreed over the next two years after consultation, includes funding from Ireland’s climate and nature fund, as per the budget of last October and from European funds that will be provided also.

That funding will be separate and distinct from the CAP funding, he said. 

He said those are the facts, and any politician that says otherwise, are not being truthful, 

Cowen said much scaremongering has been done by some politicians in other parties, he said, stating that it suits them to give the impression that this is damaging, but it is not damaging at all.