Agriculture spokesperson for the Labour Party, Cork East TD Seán Sherlock has called for a Citizens’ Assembly on the future of the agriculture sector and food production in Ireland.

Deputy Sherlock urged the government to convene a Citizens’ Assembly, saying that the pathway to a 25% emissions cut must be carried out in consultation with the agriculture sector.

Speaking after the sectoral emissions ceilings were announced by the government coalition leaders last week, the deputy said a “rethink” of the agriculture sector must happen in Ireland.

Various voices need to be brought together, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), environment groups and the agriculture sector to discuss issues such as Ireland’s food strategy; innovative and green ways of farming; and low afforestation figures, he said.

Deputy Sherlock continued: “Our way of working needs to change, and the government has a responsibility to deliver a just transition to our farming communities to lower emissions and protect livelihoods.

“That involves more farmers being paid to sequester carbon. A free-market approach will not deliver sustainable agriculture and decent farm incomes. A Citizens’ Assembly must look at how we find solutions to these challenges.”

The TD said specific programmes need to be identified to support farm families, adding that he has “great sympathy for the many farmers who were told to leverage up, gear up and move into dairy”.

Many farmers have taken on serious debt to increase their output, but are now under pressure from banks and co-ops. “One bad silage season and many of these folks are gone to the wall,” according to Deputy Sherlock. 

The Labour Party, he said, is very clear that every sector will have to play its part in reducing emissions, in order to achieve the 51% reduction target by 2030 as outlined in Ireland’s climate legislation.

“There is only one possible economy in the future – an economy that operates on a carbon-neutral basis,” the Cork East TD said.