The decision of the new Dutch government to agree to seek a derogation under the nitrates directive could be a game changer in terms of Ireland’s national campaign to retain its own derogation, according to Ireland South MEP Billy Kelleher.

Kelleher, a Fianna Fáil MEP and member of the European Parliament’s environment committee, said that we should "take hope" from this decision.

“The Netherlands are possibly under more pressure when it comes to nitrates issues than we are. For them to seek to retain it can give us more confidence in our own campaign,” he said.

Derogation campaign

Kelleher called for the retention of the derogation campaign to be “ramped up”. He said that dairy farmers need to have “the absolute commitment of the current and any future Irish government to retain the derogation” and certainty “that they won’t be left high and dry if they invest in increased on-farm slurry capacity, additional land and other technological solutions”.

“I firmly believe the derogation can be retained. However, we need to get serious about on-farm development and about anaerobic digestion (AD) as a solution to part of the problem," he said.

Anaerobic digestion

Kelleher pointed out that Denmark produces a large volume of slurry annually due to its pig and dairy sectors and generates 40% of the country's annual gas consumption from renewable biogas produced by AD.

Looking at the Irish situation, he said that nearly three years ago, the Irish Government announced a pilot programme on AD.

"At the time, I said it was a waste of time, stating that the rest of Europe had already done enough testing for us to have confidence in the science and in its ability to deal with our emissions challenges.

“We need a real urgency from the Government, State agencies and the farming sector themselves about the threat to Irish agriculture and agri food if the derogation is lost.

“The public sniping needs to end. We need a united front - forget all-of-government, we need an all-of-society effort to protect the sector, our communities and economic prosperity in the regions,” concluded Kelleher.