Climate change: Farmers drive tractors through Dublin as they protest government plans

·3-min read

A convoy of around 100 tractors and farm vehicles rolled through Dublin city centre on Sunday, as Irish farmers protested against government climate change plans.

The protest, organised by the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), disrupted traffic in the capital, with a rally held near government buildings.

The agriculture sector is a crucial part of the Irish economy, with food and drink its top export. But the sector is dominated by beef and cattle production, and Ireland has the highest methane output per capita in the European Union.

Earlier this month, the government's Climate Action Plan demanded the agriculture sector reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 22-30% by 2030, with more than 40 measures to be taken.

The government has promised financial support, but farmer groups say all they've seen is "empty rhetoric and lofty targets."

IFA president Tim Cullinan, who addressed the crowd at today's rally, said: "Farmers are very conscious of the climate challenge, and farmers want to play their part.

"But this government has no plan. Farmers are being talked at, rather than talked to.

"The government needs to provide more funding, including a properly-funded Common Agricultural Policy, to ensure that farmers can take on the climate challenge while remaining viable."

Among the measures farmers will have to take is a reduction in the use of fertilisers, and the "stabilisation" of herd numbers by slaughtering animals at an earlier age - 24 months instead of 27 months - by 2030.

That will impact beef farmers like Erica O'Keefe, from Cashel in County Tipperary.

Standing by her tractor in Dublin she said: "We as farmers do a lot for the environment as it is already.

"We don't mind doing our bit, but at the same time this can't put us out of business either. Farming is our livelihood - we have to be viable."

Sky News visited Thomas O'Connor's beef farm, near Moone in County Kildare, to see if farmers feel they're being scapegoated in the drive to reduce emissions.

"As a sector, agriculture does feel like it's getting tarnished unfairly", said Mr O'Connor.

"We're the ones striving to change, but it's no different to any business. We're going to need a bit of time for the science to prove what we're doing and we need the support of the general public.

"At the end of the day, you're our consumers, and if you don't support what we're doing, we'd be very fearful of the direction we're going in."

A key reason for the IFA's protest was what it characterises as a "lack of engagement" from the government on the issues.

"I absolutely reject that assertion", the minister for agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, told Sky News.

"Never before has there been the level of engagement and consultation than there's been over the last three or four months.

"I've travelled over the last few months to every corner of Ireland and held public meetings, and engaged with every single farmer."

The minister said that the Irish government will support the agriculture sector to reduce the emissions footprint of the industry, and that people should recognise the efforts farmers have already taken to become greener.

But Sunday's protest demonstrated the level of distrust that still exists between the people who put food on Irish tables, and the government trying to tell them to change how they do that.

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