Rewetting peatlands and the EU Nature Restoration Law proved the more contentious issues put to the 14 MEP hopefuls for Midlands North West who participated in the final European election hustings hosted by the Irish Farmers Association (IFA).

Wednesday’s hustings in Mullingar heard a heated debate between candidates on their position on the law, with some candidates supporting it, others calling for it to be redrawn and more claiming it should be scrapped entirely.

The divergence on candidates’ views on rewetting stood in contrast to the general consensus reached on the need for a stronger CAP budget and more farm income supports.


The Nature Restoration Law’s future has been uncertain since March, when it was pulled off the EU council’s agenda and never given the final seal of approval needed to become law.

This was despite the proposals getting its final backing from the European Parliament after MEPs amended the law from what had been initially tabled by the European Commission.

Chair of Offaly IFA Pat Walsh put it to the candidates that he viewed it as a “disgrace” that only two of Ireland’s sitting MEPs voted against the proposals when they were put to the European Parliament in February.

“I don’t trust the EU when it comes to voluntary. They will come up with something to make it obligatory and I say to you: will you people abolish the current regulation and re-engage with stakeholders?”

The National Party’s James Reynolds told farmers that he would go further than seeking to reject the law if elected, as he pledged to “rescind the Green Deal”.

“Rewetting productive land? Our grandparents would be turning in their graves because that land was drained with shovels,” the National Party candidate added.

Aontú’s Peadar Toibín claimed that he does not trust Government’s position that rewetting State lands can meet EU targets without affecting neighbouring farmland.

“This has to go back to the stakeholders. There is something missing here and that is the idea of consent. None of these laws should be happening without the consent main stakeholders in the system,” the sitting TD commented.


Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly defended supporting the law and said that reversing the push for sustainability across the could see measures scrapped which “put money into farmers’ pockets”.

“There is no obligation and there never was,” she said on rewetting farmland.

Fianna Fáil Senator Niall Blaney claimed that the meeting had heard a lot of “non-facts” on the Nature Restoration Law.

Blaney stated that there will be a need to rewet farmland until at least 2040 under the law, saying that even then, rewetting farmland will be voluntary.

“If this deal comes through, there will be options and I will support any farmer who wishes to do that and I will do everything I can to ensure he’s properly funded,” he commented.

Party colleague and Offaly TD Barry Cowen, who had a stint as Minister for Agriculture in 2020, argued that while the initial European Commission proposal “wasn’t realistic” and was “detrimental” to farming, the version passed by MEPs is a “different animal”.

“Emissions savings made on State lands, including the rewetting programme, lessens the load on farmers,” Cowen said, adding that “those who opt out won’t be penalised”.

Voting record

Sinn Féin’s sitting MEP Chris MacManus voted against the law in February, which the party’s MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew stated was the result of the law being presented in a form not accounting for farmers’ concerns.

It was pointed out by the Irish Freedom Party’s Herman Kelly that even though two Irish MEPs voted in February to reject the Nature Restoration Law at its final vote in the Parliament – MacManus and Independent Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan – all 13 of Ireland’s MEPs backed it at an earlier vote when it could have been killed.