'Farmers are rightly concerned about Nitrates Directive'

Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy has said farmers need certainty that they will be given more time to show improvements in water quality.

The Longford-Westmeath TD called on the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue in the Dáil to outline his plans to ensure Ireland does not default to a maximum limit of 220 kgN/ha under the mid-term review of the Nitrates Action Programme with the European Commission, something which he said “could have disastrous consequences for farmers”.

“Farmers are quite rightly concerned about the Nitrates Directive and they are seeking an extension of the derogation to give them more time,” Deputy Troy said.

“Farmers are extremely conscious of their environmental responsibilities, and nobody wants to compromise on water quality, but it’s only fair that the measures that have already been introduced to improve water quality have time to take effect.”

Minister McConalogue, in response to a parliamentary question, informed Deputy Troy the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) is the lead authority responsible for the interim review of Ireland's 5th Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) and the associated regulations and his department is working closely with them in this regard.

“As part of the European Commission’s Implementing Decision granting Ireland its current Nitrates Derogation, additional conditionality was included by the Commission requiring a two-year review of water quality,” Mr McConalogue said.

“Under that review water quality data for 2021 and 2022 must be compared, and where the review identifies polluted waters or where worsening trends have occurred over this period, the maximum stocking rate limit permitted under the Nitrates Derogation must reduce from 250kg to 220kg livestock manure nitrogen per hectare from 2024 onwards. The EPA is currently working to provide the water quality data that will be used in this review.”

He added: “In addition to working on the interim review, my officials are preparing a case to engage further with the European Commission with the objective of seeking flexibility from them on the two-year water quality review with a view to giving existing measures more time to demonstrate their impact. However, there is no guarantee that there will be a change to the Commission's Implementing Decision as it stands.”