Cairns accused of ‘trying to drive wedge’ between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael

Cairns Accused Of ‘Trying To Drive Wedge’ Between Fianna Fáil And Fine Gael
The minister said the Taoiseach was supported by Minister McConalogue in facilitating the IFA’s request to meet the EU Commissioner.
Share this article

By Cillian Sherlock, PA

Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney has accused Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns of trying to “drive a wedge” between coalition partners Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over the Government’s response to farmers on the nitrates issue.

The two politicians clashed over the Government’s handling of the fallout of the European Commission’s decision to cut Ireland’s nitrate derogation.


Ireland is one of three EU member states that is granted a derogation to enable some farmers to work to a higher nitrate limit than is applied in the rest of the bloc.

However, that allowance is now being reduced in response to concerns about water quality levels in Ireland.

The allowance of 250kg of organic nitrogen per hectare (N/ha) is now being reduced to 220kg N/ha.

The limit for EU states that do not have a derogation is 170kg N/ha.


Fianna Fail event
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue addresses farmers protesting outside the Fianna Fáil think-in. Photo: Niall Carson/PA.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will invite EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius to Ireland after the Irish Farmers’ Association criticised Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue and the Government’s response to the matter.

That led to suggestions that the Fine Gael leader had intervened to overrule the Fianna Fáil minister’s position that he would not be going back to the EU to renegotiate the limit cut.


During Leaders’ Questions on the Dáil’s first day back after the summer recess, Ms Cairns accused Mr Coveney, a former agriculture minister, of “being the architect of the policy of limitless expansion in the dairy sector” by lifting milk quotas.



At the time, Mr Coveney was quoted as saying he would not allow a situation where the potential for growth and expansion in agrifood will be compromised by the setting of emissions limits.

Ms Cairns said: “Your policy was not to consider environmental constraints.

“A policy of ‘the sky’s the limit’.

“The inevitable consequences weren’t a concern for you and now we’re feeling all of the repercussions of that incredible negligence.


“The country had 500 pristine rivers in the 1980s. Now we have just 32.

“We have a biodiversity crisis with 91% of protected habitats in poor or inadequate condition.

“More than 120 native plants and animal species have already gone extinct.

“Many small farms have become completely unviable.”

Social Democrats leadership
Holly Cairns. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA.

Ms Cairns asked Mr Coveney: “We know suggestions the Commission will revisit the derogation are a charade – do you accept that yes or no?

“And do you accept that now is not the time to pretend to fight the inevitable to score political points, but it’s time to redirect efforts to helping families through these transitions?”

Mr Coveney said Ms Cairns was misrepresenting the decision to abolish dairy quotas.

“I stand over that decision.

“It was the right decision at the time and it’s the right decision now.

“Many dairy farms were operating in a straitjacket, unable to fill their potential.”

The Fine Gael enterprise minister was taking the questions while the three coalition party leaders are in New York.

He said he believed in sustainability in terms of protecting the environment, but also “financial sustainability for farm families across the country”.

Mr Coveney told Ms Cairns: “What I’m not going to do is let you try and drive a wedge between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on this issue.”

His comments were met by laughter at the opposite side of the Dáil chamber, and the Ceann Comhairle appealed to deputies to “stop behaving like children”.

Mr Coveney said: “You don’t want to hear the answer that’s the problem, which I think says an awful lot.

“If people want to laugh at the impact that the changes in the nitrate derogation is having on farmers, good luck to you.”

The minister said the Taoiseach was supported by Minister McConalogue in facilitating the IFA’s request to meet the EU Commissioner.

Separately, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald used her party’s time during the session to tell Mr Coveney that the housing crisis has “gone from bad to worse” during 12 years of Fine Gael in Government.

Ms McDonald, who was returning to the Dail chamber for the first time following surgery prior to the recess, said households were also under “huge pressure” due to “unprecedented” cost-of-living increases in energy and grocery bills as well as fuel prices.

She said ECB interest rate hikes had added thousands of euro to annual repayments for mortgage holders.

The Sinn Féin leader added: “The situation for tens of thousands of homeowners who had their mortgages sold to vulture funds is arguably an even bigger nightmare.

“Many of these households have seen their interest rates rise to a whopping 10%.”

She accused the Government of sitting on its hands and “playing the part of spectators”.

Opposition parties call on Donnelly to return from...
Read More

“What has your Government done to alleviate the suffering of fleeced homeowners? Well, nothing, zilch, zip.”

Asked if Government would back a Sinn Féin call for targeted, time-limited mortgage relief scheme, Mr Coveney said it would not support the party’s motion.

He said: “The day to make a decision in relation to how we respond to mortgage holders that are under serious financial pressure is on Budget Day – and we will do that.”

Read More

Message submitting... Thank you for waiting.

Want us to email you top stories each lunch time?

Download our Apps
© 2023, developed by Square1 and powered by