The Moors Nature Reserve

The challenges facing rural Ireland

The big item of conversation within the farming and rural community is the “Nature Restoration Law,” which is the EU Commission’s plan to restore more than a fifth of the EU member-states’ land and sea area by 2030.

This is the first biodiversity law since the “Habitats Directives” in 1992; it follows the commitments made by the EU Commission in the EU’s “Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.” Essentially, what it will do is:

Increase biodiversity: To secure the things nature does free, for example rewetting bogs, restoring forests, protecting natural areas (such as old quarries), cleaning and restoring rivers, and other matters of rural rejuvenation.

Limit global warming to 1.5 degrees: So these look like a positive step. For farmers in general it will mean they will be paid to maintain and protect natural areas within their farms; that is what they are doing with the ACRES scheme.

ACRES (the Agri-Climate Rural Environmental Scheme) is the latest environmental scheme, following from REPS (the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme), AEOS (Agri-Environment Options Scheme), GLAS (Green Low-Carbon Environment), etc.

This is the most broadly ranging scheme since TEPS. However, farmers’ views on it are mixed. Some view it as all right, and get improvement financially on the proceeding GLAS; others feel it reduces production. Farmers’ reaction to the Nature Restoration Law is what we will discuss now.

The simple fact is that farmers are fearful that their lands will be taken away compulsorily to be rewetted. Now, Mick Wallace and Clare Daly and the Nordic Left Group in the EU Parliament, who are at the cutting edge of negotiations on this forthcoming law, stated that the governments and subservient media’s interpretation of this law is a blatant lie—a lie deliberately pushed by the governments.

Let’s look at the basis of the law and what the EU wants done to the land and bogs if they are to be rewetted back to their natural state. They are to be turned back into natural bog. The figure quoted is 116,000 hectares. That is not a final figure but is up for negotiation over the next couple of months.

The lands and bogs in question will be state lands from Bord na Móna and Coillte. The rumours spread among the farming and rural communities of enforced seizure of land for rewetting, which are causing so much consternation, are a lie. It’s as simple as that.

Now, one would think that it could be a simple misrepresentation of the law because of a lack of understanding, and that we can trust our elected representatives and the media to accurately report the facts. Well, a quick answer to that is a big No. They do not. Consider that the interests of the rural community and the environment are irrelevant unless it’s for profit.

The simple reason they don’t want this law to pass is that they want the bogs and forests to be sites for giant industrial wind farms and solar farms; massive corporations coming in that have no respect for nor interest in rural areas: all they are interested in is maximum profits.

For example, take a look at north Westmeath, a once-beautiful area completely destroyed. That is what capitalism does: it swoops in like a vulture, exploits everything and everyone, and moves on, leaving a wasteland. That’s what happened in north Westmeath.

Is it not surprising that the Government sides with transnational companies, to the detriment of the environment, scaring the rural populations with fantasy stories in order to get what they want? The farming organisations and independent rural TDs (more about them later) sing off the same hymn sheet as the Government.

We, the farmers, have been in the forefront of the environmental struggle for decades, since the introduction of REPS from the early 1990s. We farmers have been involved in several environmental schemes, including AEOS, GLAS, and the one that came out this year, ACRES.

Now, through participation in these schemes the farming community has worked hard to farm in harmony with the environment. We understand that humans are not above nature nor are its master; the truth is that nature and the environment are humanity’s master. We must work alongside the environment and in harmony with nature, respecting its laws.

That is what we farmers understand. Now rural areas will have to be rejuvenated, and we will step up to the task.

The problem with climate change is not the fault of the farming or rural community. For years we have been made the scapegoats, and easy targets for the sorry state of the ecosystem and environment of this planet.

Capitalism is the true culprit in this sorry situation: corporations laying waste to rural areas globally, polluting rivers, destroying bogs, cutting down millions of acres of forest to create ranches for producing more cattle to flood the European market and put more pressure on the farming community, who cannot produce beef at the prices that South America and Asia can produce it. Our government doesn’t care.

There has been talk of creating a new farmers’ political party. Now here is the real question: Would they be able to create the changes needed? The quick answer is No. What would happen is that they would probably get a few elected, then be overwhelmed by the system and toe the line.* Another question must be asked: Who will they represent—small and medium farmers and rural workers? Well, the answer is again No. Their allegiance (like the IFA and the other farming organisations) would primarily be to the large farmers and factories.

An example would be where in a recent television programme Michael Fitzmaurice, the TD behind the idea, was defending the Government’s stance on the Nature Restoration Law against Clare Daly, who was trying to explain the reality of the laws to the public. How, after that, can any farmer trust these people with those interests?

Another issue in rural areas is the planned culling of 60,000 cows per annum. (I will go into that in detail in a later article.) 130 large-scale farmers produce 30 pert cent of the country’s beef. They have a special deal with the factories; the rest of the smaller farmers with cattle ready for the factory cannot avail of these prices and have to chance their hand in the marts and hope for the best.

This is the future of this country, which reflects the capitalist world in general: a small wealthy elite dominating the market and making a healthy profit, with governments co-operating, while the rest of the people struggle. This is the sad situation we face in the modern era.

Ireland is a country with great resources; yet the majority of working people are in dire straits, trying to survive, the means of production, the food chain, increasingly in the hands of the minority. This has to change.

*Editor’s note: A Farmers’ Party existed in Ireland, 1922–1932, winning seven seats, representing the interests of large farmers. Like all thing under capitalism, you can’t remove class and different class interests from economic and social questions.