The Department of Agriculture’s fifth Nitrates Action Plan (NAP) may be “open to legal challenge”, An Taisce has warned.
In a submission to the Department — penned prior to the publication of the new NAP last Friday — the charity raised legal concerns over the NAP’s strategic environmental assessment, its Natura Impact Statement and the Department’s quest for another derogation under the EU’s Nitrates Directive.
The European Commission will vote this Thursday on Ireland’s application for a fifth derogation to allow around 7,000 farmers to operate at higher stocking rates subject to certain environmental conditions.
The main changes under the new NAP include extensions to both the closed period for spreading slurry and chemical fertiliser, a 10pc cut in fertiliser use, establishment of a fertiliser register, a stronger focus on compliance and enforcement, and the introduction of excretion rate bands calculated at 80kg/ha, 92kg/ha and 106kg/ha.
To remain below the maximum permitted organic nitrogen loads of 250kg/ha in derogation, there will have to be less cows per hectare.
An Taisce’s Elaine McGoff said: “There are a large number of holes in their [the Department’s] legal assessments, which would leave the NAP open to legal challenge if someone like An Taisce, or another similar organisation, saw fit to do so.
“I’m not saying we, as An Taisce, would or would not seek to challenge this as we’re not at the point of even considering that yet.
“Our analysis of the NAP was based on the draft document and we have not had a chance to review the final document yet.”
ICMSA’s Denis Drennan said: “An Taisce doesn’t understand farming, that’s part of the problem. It’s bananas that they would even suggest legal action.
“I’m a derogation farmer. We’re in the middle of March, I’ve no slurry spread, no fertiliser put in.
“I won’t need to spread slurry for another two weeks because I’ve more storage than I need.
“The previous rules were adequate to protect water sources and with the price of fertiliser and value of slurry, it will lead to self-enforcement.
“Nobody is lashing out nitrogen like years ago or putting out slurry in the closed period, we just need a little bit of patience.”
“If we lose the derogation, I’d be out of business, it would mean a 20pc reduction in my cow numbers. I’d be down to under 50 cows.”