Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue have published the fifth draft nitrates action programme (NAP).

Coinciding with this is the opening of a six-week public consultation on the draft NAP Natura impact statement (NIS) and the strategic environmental assessment (SEA).

Ireland’s current NAP, which includes the nitrates derogation, will expire on December 31. Its replacement scheme covering 2022-2025 will not be approved by then.

However, it is expected to be finalised in early March, and ongoing negotiations with the European Commission on this package of measures will clear the way for a formal vote by the EU Nitrates Management Committee on Ireland’s request for a renewal of its derogation under the Nitrates Directive.

This vote is scheduled to take place in March 2022.

Nitrates derogation

This derogation allows more intensive farmers to operate at a higher stocking rate subject to adherence to stricter rules.

Once a successful vote is secured, the derogation will be incorporated into the NAP.

Ireland’s NAP gives effect to the requirements of the Nitrates Directive in Ireland and is a critical piece of legislation implemented by farmers on their farms.

A comprehensive review of the fourth NAP 2017-2021 was undertaken since September 2020.

This involved two periods of public consultation and in the region of 700 submissions.

A jointly chaired expert group – Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) – considered all submissions received during public consultation and have made recommendations on changes to the programme which have been accepted by both ministers.

The report has been published on both departments’ websites along with the NIS and SEA.

“My ambitions are to protect and enhance our water quality and biodiversity while ensuring we continue to produce top-quality food,” said Minister McConalogue.

“Securing the derogation is a key priority and that we meet these multiple ambitions. Once the NAP is finalised, the overall package will assist Ireland’s agri-food sector in working towards its targets under Food Vision 2030, in a sustainable manner,” he said.

“In particular, this package will pave the way for a formal vote on Ireland’s derogation in the coming months.”