As a farmer and environmental activist I want to thank publicly Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice for a huge victory during the week, on behalf of rural Ireland. Only for his leadership of vehement opposition, last weeks nature restoration law would have been passed in its entirety. In order to get it passed the very damaging rewetting proposal had to be dropped. Worryingly articles 4.1 and 4.2 remain and could possibly provide a backdoor for the same thing.
The Nature Restoration Law proposed that, among a raft of other measures, "70% of all peatlands in agricultural use, be rewetted by 2050", with no mention anywhere of funding or compensation. Deputy Eamonn Ryan enthusiastically supported the proposal with Fine Fail and Fine Gael telling us that state owned lands would be able to do most of the heavy lifting, and any rewetting by farmers would be voluntary. Its hard to see how that could happen as the state doesn't own any peatlands that are in agricultural use (all their peatlands are virgin bog), and I am not aware of any law that is voluntary. As a trial run maybe they could make the drink driving law voluntary.
If the law had been passed in its original form, the impact would have been catastrophic on rural Ireland. There are over 300,000Ha of such peatlands in Ireland, by and large, wrestled from the bog by backbreaking work over many generations. These peatlands are distributed among approx. 40,000 different farms. Most of these farms are small and their viability would be destroyed by the rewetting proposal. Some farmers with 60 to 70% drained peatlands would effectively face eviction. The whole locality and community would be destroyed, and the knock-on effect on the locality would be a slow death of whole communities, mostly west of the Shannon.
So why was our government willing to support such a calamity? Well we know that the Green Party leader Eamonn Ryan, is on record saying that the west of the Shannon should be rewilded. Fine Fail and Fine Gael are coming at it from the point of view that it will reduce emissions. So what do these peatlands emit? The figure in the inventory is 9 million tons of CO2, as provided by the EPA. However a little known fact is that this is an "international default figure", or to put it another way, an educated guess. Well their guess was miles off the mark, as recent research from Teagasc shows that emissions from drained peatlands are under 4 million tons. When the EPA guessed, they didn't guess on the side of the farmer, and consequently handed a stick to the Green Party to beat us with, which was gleefully accepted.
So now here we are with 4 million tons of emissions, from food producing land, supporting vibrant communities. What can those emissions be compared with?
Lets look at Dublin Airport, a facility that is the the responsibility of Eamon Ryan, as Minister for Transport. Last year the facility itself emitted something in the region of 1 million tons CO2, independent of the emissions emitted by the passengers on the thousands of jets going in and out. In fact about 30 million passengers went through Dublin Airport last year.
Under Minister Ryans stewardship this number is expected to grow to 40 million passengers over the next few years. That extra 10 million passengers will have an average emission somewhere in the region of 0.4t or a total of 4 million tons extra CO2. No-one seems to have problem with creating this extra 4 million tons, but our Government was willing to close down vast swathes of Rural Ireland to save 4 million tons.
Thank you again, Deputy Fitzmaurice.