The Taoiseach, Micheál Martin’s call on Tuesday (May 11) for An Taisce to drop its appeal against Glanbia’s proposed cheese plant in Co. Kilkenny, is a timely reminder of why it is so important that policies that affect all of society should be subject to democratic processes, that are transparent and accountable.
The shrill response from An Taisce and its supporters, that it is outrageous that the Taoiseach should interfere on behalf of farmers and workers, in what they see as their right to veto due process because of their special status, just shows how disconnected from the democratic process they [An Tasice et al] are.
An Taisce is not part of the government
I know that we have lived in a bit of a fog over the last year 14 months through the pandemic.
I do recall that the election in February 2020 was a mixed bag results-wise, but my sense is that when the coalition was formed last June, the government parties, as voted for by the Dáil and then confirmed by President Michael D. Higgins, did not include An Taisce.
Yet we find ourselves in May 2021 in a situation where the Climate Action Bill being presented by the elected government by Minister for the Environment and leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan, is being usurped and rendered irrelevant.
This is through the actions of this government-funded charity (An Taisce) that used to call itself the Irish National Trust, and used to have a mission to protect Ireland’s built and natural heritage.
Does An Taisce ignore democracy?
The democratic imperative behind elections and parliamentary legislative processes versus self-appointed special interest groups that answer only to their own worldview, is well understood by the Taoiseach and the ordinary people of Ireland, but clearly has not registered as such with An Taisce.
We, as citizens or representative groups, may disagree with the democratically-elected government response to topics such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact of Brexit, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), climate action, balancing national budgets or enforcing law and order.
However, we must recognise and act in a way that, as the Taoiseach stated, is “not absolutist“ and not pursue sectional interest to block government policy, just because we believe we feel this issue more sincerely than our fellow citizens.
Failure to recognise our role as advocates, no matter how passionate, as being subservient to the primacy of the state and its democratic institutions, is straight up anti-democratic… end of.
Threat to jobs
The statements and actions by An Taisce about its determination to block the Kilkenny cheese factory, jeopardises 500 jobs associated with building the plant and 100 or more ongoing jobs in running the plant, and also threatens the incomes of 5,000 farmers across the region, while scuppering Irish government Brexit trade diversification policy.
This is while also declaring that it (An Taisce) will scrutinise any and all such investments in the future.
These kinds of statements are not just self-righteous and arrogant, but hypocritical in terms of expressing concern that farm incomes and jobs are impacted, while continuing to block and frustrate investment and policy that would address this income threat.
Blocking this plant and other agri-investment is, first and foremost, undermining national policy to mitigate Brexit impacts by replacing 50,000t of cheddar with 50,000t of Gouda/Edam which will be sold worldwide.
Blocking this plant is also usurping the rights of fellow citizens to earn a living while fundamentally undermining the role of the state to determine where the balance lies in terms of the economic sustainability of rural Ireland and the legal commitments to protect the environment into the future.
Expressing pseudo ‘concern’ that farmers who will see falls in income are the victims – not of An Taisce’s arrogance in blocking the project – but by being misled into producing milk in the first instance, reinforces the complete lack of any sense of responsibility by An Taisce.
The Irish dairy sector processed 8.3 billion litres of milk in 2020 despite the Covid-19 constraints, spending over €3.5 billion euro in the local economy and supporting 65,000 jobs directly and indirectly across the state.
It is absolutely grotesque to see this huge communal effort to keep milk flowing off 19,000 farms across the country and processed and sold in 140 markets worldwide, characterised by An Taisce as ‘environmental damage’.
This extremist absolutist mischaracterisation of what dairy farmers are engaged in, demonstrates why it is so important that special interest groups like An Taisce, who will not engage in open discussion or national consultation processes, cannot exercise a veto over national planning decisions.