Ireland takes action on carbon emissions - and nobody's happy

Cows feed at a family farm in the East of Ireland
Cows feed at a family farm in the East of Ireland
By Meabh McMahon
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Ireland takes action on carbon emissions - and nobody's happy


Causey Farm in Ireland's County Meath, keeps some 300 cattle and 200 sheep on 300 hectares of land. With the help of some of his seven sisters, Matt Murtagh keeps the family farm alive. But it's not enough to make ends meet.

"This year has been very hard," Murtagh says, "I mean, the beef price is down hugely, and it’s fallen on a very bad weather year the year before."

With Irish farming also under pressure to reduce carbon emissions, Matt is concerned:

"I think beef has become the whipping guy, and the government thinks ‘Oh, if we get rid of the cows, everyone can keep driving around in their big cars’."

Climate Action Plan

Earlier this year, the Irish government didn't decide 'to get rid of cows', but they did declare a climate and biodiversity emergency.

Ireland's Minister for Climate Action, Richard Bruton, has called climate change "the greatest challenge of our time" and the government has come up with a 150-page document on ways to reduce carbon emissions. Farmers were asked to switch fertilisers but weren't called upon to reduce herds.

Far from the muddy farmlands, Ciaran O'Carroll works in Dublin’s business district. The marketing manager for Price Water House Coopers was once arrested whilst campaigning about climate change. He's now part of Ireland's Extinction Rebellion movement. And he's not impressed by Ireland's Climate Action Plan:

"The climate action plan really skirted some of the really big topics in Ireland," he says. "Cattle emissions, congestion on our roads...It took all the low hanging fruits, decided to try an act on that but left the big decisions for future leadership for future generations to bear the brunt of."

Island nation

In Ireland, a country obsessed with talking about the weather, emotions run high when it comes to the topic of climate change. On her weekly radio show on this Irish radio station Newstalk, callers call her a scaremonger, but environmental scientist Cara Augustenborg says the reality is, as an island nation, Ireland is at risk of flooding and sea levels will rise.

"Our erosion rates - particularly in coastlines like here in Bray - are quite astonishing. We have a dart line and a train line that runs along this coast, which will disappear as a result of climate change within the century, so we have a lot to worry about when it comes to climate change."

Shared responsibility

But for many, especially in rural Ireland, a bigger worry is trying to change their habits overnight.

"There is a tsunami and an agenda being driven at the moment, in my opinion, an unfair agenda, for the simple reason that there are people in different parts of this country that are involved in agriculture, and involved in the peat industry, and there are people thinking Ireland will be the saviours of the whole world," says Michael Fitzmaurice, an Independent Teachta Dála, or member of parliament, for Roscommon-Galway.

Back in the countryside, people are concerned about the climate, but want the responsibility to save it to be shared among all sectors.

"We only have one planet," says farmer Matt Murtagh, "we have to get a little bit longer out of it."

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