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Denis Drennan
President, ICMSA

The Nature Restoration Law gets stuck again

The decision of the EU Environment Council not to proceed with a vote on the proposed EU Nature Restoration Act was absolutely correct.

And the continuing reservations about the excesses of the law must lead to a complete re-assessment of both the Nature Restoration Law (NRL) and the heavy-handed and one-sided EU agri-environment policy that was the basis for this demonstrably flawed and unpopular proposal. It is not too late to replace this unpopular and unworkable intrusive model with something that is collaborative, which would position farmers not as the obstacle to the environment – but as partners with both rights as well as obligations. It seems self-evident to many of us that such a collaborative approach would have to be more successful than this ‘top-down’ regulatory model. But that would involve the EU accepting that their policy is fundamentally wrong in both approach and implementation. And the NRL is the perfect example of the kind of cul-de-sac that this kind of administrative arrogance ends up in.
I don’t know how many times the Nature Restoration Law has to get stuck before its sponsors recognise that it’s just not going to work because there are too many reservations about it – all of which are fully justified. ICMSA’s position is not an anti-environment one; in fact it’s the direct opposite. We accept that we must protect the environment, but we genuinely believe that a collaborative approach between the EU, national governments and farmers – which respects the position and rights of farmers and utilises their unique skills – has a much better chance of succeeding. It certainly has a much better chance of succeeding than this present and discredited policy of regulation after regulation and an unwillingness to face up to the need to end the ‘cheap food’ policy, or demand from foreign imports the same environmental standards you impose on your own EU farmers.

Achieving success

EU agri-environment policy needs to be reset, it needs to acknowledge that environment policy cannot succeed without proper engagement and a budget, and it needs to recognise that farmers must be at its centre – as partners – for success to be achieved. For too long, the EU and the Government have been trying to implement environmental policy ‘on the cheap’, have failed to recognise the genuine concerns of farmers and the reality that has the EU’s Nature Restoration Act stuck again is a perfect demonstration of this failed policy. It’s failing at the same time as wasting billions across the EU on assessments and consultants. 

We need to move away from this model and start investing these billions in the environment, in the farmers and communities who steward it, and reset EU agri-environment policy away from this failing antagonistic attitude to farmers where they are treated instead as partners in the drive to protect the environment in which we all have an interest.
There are so many areas in which we could work together to protect the environment, and so many are right there in plain sight and in front of us. The Dairy Beef Scheme is a perfect example. Any reasonable analysis of the funding allocated could only conclude that the €6.5m per year allocated is derisory set against data showing that the sector that is delivering over €1.7 billion in exports and now represents nearly 65 per cent of total beef production in Ireland. We look a little harder at the figures and see that dairy beef production representing nearly 65 per cent of total beef production has been allocated €6.5m per annum, while organic farming has been allocated €57m and forestry has been allocated €110m. So, organics is getting eight times more and forestry 16 times more than a sector that is probably operating in every parish in Ireland. 


While the Government was constantly urging farmers to become more climate efficient, it was happy to allocate a derisory level of funding to a beef system that has been shown to be very climate efficient as well as reducing the age of slaughter. Why didn’t we protest at the time the scheme was being so disastrously drawn-up? Well, we did and have done so repeatedly since the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) first took our advice and launched a Dairy Beef Scheme. But the Department developed a plan, had a token consultation with the farm organisations, and then published a plan that simply will not work. Ireland had – and has – an opportunity to develop a global leading dairy beef production system that will deliver considerable net foreign earnings for the exchequer and the national economy, while lowering emissions towards our targets. If the Government thinks those worthwhile – and they should – then they should fund accordingly. That means initially supporting the person rearing the calf and, subsequently, the person finishing the climate efficient animal with a payment of €100 at each stage. It was disappointing and retrograde that the weighing scheme in place in 2023 was not built on and has now been abolished.
In relation to the announced scheme, ICMSA believes that where a farmer has purchased a qualifying bull in 2024, that bull should meet the conditions of the scheme, as long as it remains in the herd irrespective of changes to his star ratings. In addition, ICMSA is concerned that farmers may have purchased a bull that meets the three-star requirement, but now find that it does not meet the sub-index requirement. This would be very unfair and ICMSA believes that the DAFM must acknowledge this and put in place a remedy.