Farming organisations have called on the Government to ensure the implementation of new EU environmental laws take proper account of land use here.
They are concerned about plans to re-wet areas previously drained for agricultural use, but conservation groups say the legislation could transform the country’s ecosystems and must be supported.
The EU’s proposed Nature Restoration Law would bring in binding targets on member states to "restore degraded ecosystems". The proposals set out targets that would cover at least 20% of the impacted land by 2030, extending to 70% by 2050.
If the regulations are implemented, each member state will have two years to submit national restoration plans, detailing how they intend to meet the goals. In an Irish context that includes peaty land drained in previous decades, to facilitate farming.
The Government says it supports the objectives and rationale of the proposed legislation. But the Taoiseach told the Dáil this week that some aspects in the proposals go too far.
Independent Galway/Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice said the proposals would decimate small family farms across the western seaboard.
He says it is ironic that the EU provided assistance to farmers to drain much of the land in question but now wants to reverse that work.
Mr Fitzmaurice has called on the Government to "man up" to the EU and join with other countries that have concerns over the manner in which the restoration works would be carried out.
He says there is an onus on the coalition to ensure the futures of "small family farms that were made viable by draining this bit of ground and working this land" are safeguarded.
State-owned land should be used in the first instance to meet the goals, Mr Fitzmaurice added.
In a statement, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage said it is examining what the full implications of the proposed regulations would be.
The Irish Farmers’ Association says any implementation of the measures must be voluntary and ensure that there are no knock-on impacts on neighbouring farms.
The organisation’s Galway Chair, Stephen Canavan, said there has to be meaningful consultation with farmers in advance of any agreement.
He feels the plans are very ambitious and that the proposals to re-wet land may not suit some farmers and he has asked the Government to take concerns of his colleagues in impacted areas on board.
"This is part of the green agenda and part of a stream of European legislation that is coming in. But there is no consultation and that’s a problem with an awful lot of this because it leads to discontent."
Fintan Kelly, of the Irish Environmental Network, has examined the proposals in detail and says that an absence of clarity from the Government is leading to further confusion. He says he can understand the frustration of farmers at present.
But Mr Kelly contends that the Nature Restoration Law is less ambitious than what’s proposed in the State’s Climate Action Plan. He compares an EU target for 7.5% of 'farmed organic soils’ being managed better by 2030, with a goal of 24% over the same timeframe in the Climate Action Plan.
Mr Kelly agrees that a lot of the targets in question could be achieved on public land and suggests that the EU should incentivise agri-environmental schemes to encourage farmers to take action too.
"Rather than being overly ambitious or onerous, we see this as an opportunity for the Government to work with the Commission to identify the funds to help us to achieve what we’ve already said we’ll do to restore nature and tackle climate change."
Discussions on the proposals will continue over the coming months, with the law expected to be ratified later this year.
In the meantime, Government departments are undertaking sectoral impact studies to identify the possible implications of the legislation in an Irish context.
The Department of Housing says "work is ongoing to formalise and agree Ireland’s response to the proposal…to ensure that our land use is fully recognised and accommodated in the text of the Regulation as it evolves over the coming months".