Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Reduction of Carbon Emissions of 51% by 2030: Discussion (Resumed)

Photo of Róisín GarveyRóisín Garvey (Green Party)
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It is a huge honour to have these four heroes of mine at the meeting today. I was not going to miss the opportunity to engage with them. They bring hope to me, as somebody who lives in the middle of nowhere on a small family farm. One of the reasons I got into politics was my deep concern about farming and the idea of two sizes fitting all, that we have dairy or beef and that is it. As the song says, there are 40 shades of green and that was based on the variety of our land in Ireland. It seems we have failed to acknowledge this in some way over many years. Perhaps we could blame the EU in 1973 but we are where we are.

I work with communities in west and north Clare where I come across farmers who are desperate and do not know what they have to do. They want to do the right thing. We have had too many suicides because of farmers being forced to expand and borrow and who are then up to their necks in debt. It is something deeply disturbing that I have come across in many rural areas. It is a disservice. I feel very strongly about this. It was one of the reasons I decided to get into politics.

The current model is wrong and it is damaging farmers mentally, physically and financially. It fits a certain cohort of farmers in certain areas but it is not fit for purpose for most farmers in Ireland. It is devastating. I am from north Clare and all of the farmers I know come from small subsistence farms. Farmers will say they cannot live off the current model. They have to have second jobs. A neighbour of mine told me his father reared six children on the land. He has double the amount of land with half the number of children and has to work as a carpenter as well. It is not as though the model we are trying to change is fantastic and working for people. It absolutely is not. It might be working for a very small percentage and we can see it when we look at all the money and the huge percentage of CAP that goes to a very small percentage of farmers.

It is amazing the four witnesses are here and leading the way in the radical change we need to see happening as soon as possible. There is a big demand and want for it. I went to 1,000 farmers while canvassing in north Clare. Only two gave me grief about being in the Green Party. The other 998 told me they do not hear the birds, they do not know what they are doing and they are being paid very little money but that the quality of their product is so much better than that of someone with 1,000 head of cattle shoved in a shed for 24 hours a day 365 days a year. They are not getting value for it. The reason I came today was to ask the witnesses directly, based on the fact they are leading the way and giving me hope, what they would do if they were head of Teagasc or the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We need to be guided by them more than anybody else because they are on the ground representing grassroots farmers whose voices are not being heard in the divisive, unnuanced debate we see played out in the media and by certain people with their own agendas who are not serving the small farmers.

I thank the witnesses because I saw on our family farm at home there was no work and now we have 12 jobs. It is a 60-acre farm. It is half a job an acre. How many dairy and beef farmers can say they are getting half a job an acre from the price they are getting for milk and beef? I cannot buy a pint of Clare milk. I do not know why people are so afraid to change the system. It is really bad. It does not serve the vast majority of people. It is very hard to access good quality milk or beef because of the monopolies we see in farming and the industrial models we have been using. Now we are speaking about exporting pigs to China. It is madness. There is a climate emergency. It is inextricably linked to the biodiversity emergency. I look to the four witnesses and their expertise to help to guide us out of this. I believe they have the solutions we need.