Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has defended the expansion of the dairy sector in recent years, saying it was “not a mistake”.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning (Monday, November 1), Minister Donohoe was asked about the expansion of the dairy herd in recent years and defended the growth in dairy cow numbers.

“If I look back on the last decade and the many challenges that we have faced, the expansion of our dairy herd would not be one of those things that is a cause of the greatest anxiety for me, given all that we’ve gone through over the last decade,” the minister commented.

“The ambition that we had to expand dairy production I don’t believe was a mistake. Irish farming has shown its ability to meet the dairy needs of the world in a very carbon efficient way.

“What we now need to do is acknowledge that we all need to do better and play a bigger role,” he added.

Minister Donohoe continued: “I’ve already seen the progress that Irish agriculture has made. For example, with relation to the diet [of animals]; how we support our herd in relation to what we can do with genetic merit in the future; and also how we can make better use of fertilisers.

“These are very positive things that we – our farmers and government – can do together that will reduce the emissions contribution of our country for the years to come and that’s the kind of dialogue we will be moving into once we agree our carbon budget,” he argued.

The minister also defended the expected target to cut emissions in the agricultural sector by between 21% and 30%, taking aim at comments by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald made over the weekend.

McDonald had said that the government should not “take a big stick to Irish farmers”, particularly if beef from South America will be entering Ireland under the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement.

Hitting back, Minister Donohoe said: “We’re not taking a stick to anybody and this is the kind of language that undermines our ability to make the case for all that is positive about a lower carbon future.

“It is the case that we will be asking farmers to play a role and an important role, in how we reduce our emissions, but we will be asking everyone to do that, and we are particularly conscious of the needs and challenges that could pose for Irish farming.

“We are committed to supporting our family farms in this very important transition.”

He would not be drawn on what the exact percentage target reduction will be put in place for agriculture.

The exact scale of the reduction that all sectors of the national economy will have to face is set to be confirmed in the coming days, when the government will announce sectoral emissions targets.