The last time I checked, we had an independent planning process in this country.

So, for a number of leading politicians to weigh in on the debate regarding a proposed Glanbia cheese manufacturing facility, on the basis that An Taisce should, essentially, ‘sling its hook’ is ridiculous.

It really is a case of the ‘good old/bad old’ days coming back to haunt us. How stupid would Ireland look in the eyes of the world if a genuine planning objection was to be denigrated on the back of politicians sounding off in a totally short-sighted manner?

I totally buy into the need for Ireland’s dairy sector to be fully supported. But putting needless and unnecessary pressure on the country’s planning process will never achieve this objective.

Objectivity in planning process

The reality is that the planning procedures linked to the development of the new Glanbia mozzarella venture should be allowed to follow their natural course. And I would expect all involved with Glanbia to come out and confirm that such is the only option in town.

The more fundamental question that our politicians should be addressing is this: do we actually need all this extra stainless steel in the first place?

The dogs in the street have known for ages that Ireland’s peak to trough milk supply profile was far too extreme. As a consequence, a more than significant proportion of the country’s milk processing capacity lies idle for six months or more of the year.

This is the reason why raw milk imports from Northern Ireland are so welcome south of the border.

The long term solution to the problem in hand, is the encouragement of greater winter milk production throughout the Glanbia catchment area.  The same can be said for all the other milk processers.

Milk production in Northern Ireland

One has only to look north of the border to gauge how all of this would work out. Milk production has doubled in Northern Ireland over the past 10 years.

This has been achieved on the back of a commitment to autumn-calving, a development fueled by realistic winter milk payment bonuses.

Such a scenario would also represent a ‘win-win’ outcome for Ireland’s milk processers, given that they all own animal feed compounding operations.

It should also be possible to look at winter milk as a production system that can make optimal use of grazed grass.

Autumn-calving cows that are safely back in calf are well capable of maximising milk production from grass, once they are turned out the following spring.

What’s more, these cows are allowed to enjoy the critically important dry period, for the most part, while out in the paddocks. Such an approach ticks a lot of animal welfare boxes for me.