The Labour Party has called for a Citizens’ Assembly on the future of Irish agriculture and food production.
t comes after the Coalition agreed a 25pc cut in carbon emissions for the sector after months of negotiations and tension.
Cork East Labour TD Seán Sherlock said there was a need for a “rethink” of farming so this target can be met.
“Labour is very clear that every sector will have to play a fair share in cutting emissions in order to achieve the overall 51pc reduction enshrined in our climate legislation,” he said.
“The evidence is clear: the cuts that will have to be made across the agriculture sector will have to be at the higher end of the scale proposed – closer to 30pc than 22pc.
“In reaching these targets it can’t be felt by any one sector that the targets are being foisted on them.”
Mr Sherlock said farmers needed special programmes put in place to support farming households and families.
He said farmers had taken on “serious debt” to increase their output and were under “serious pressure from banks and co-ops” to meet repayments and provide quality milk.
“One bad silage season and many of these folks are gone to the wall. We’re already seeing evidence of co-ops providing access to psychological and counselling services because of the pressure that farmers are under.”
He said there was a need for a “national conversation”, through a Citizens’ Assembly, on what the future of agriculture would look like.
“Such an assembly could consider everything from our food strategy to innovative and green ways of farming. Forestry is still the poor relation and we are way off our afforestation targets,” he said.
“Our way of working needs to change and Government has a responsibility to deliver a just transition to our farming communities to lower emissions and protect livelihoods.”
That would involve more farmers being paid to capturing and storing carbon, Mr Sherlock said.
“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.”
Non-governmental organisations, environment, industry, business, agriculture and civil society representative groups should be brought together to help come up with solutions. “We have seen the benefits of having these hard conversations with each other in the past,” he said.
“There is only one possible economy in the future: that is an economy that operates on a carbon-neutral basis.
“As we take the next step in achieving this goal, we need to bring everyone together.
“A Citizens’ Assembly on the future of agriculture in Ireland would achieve this for all.”
A Citizens’ Assembly on abortion led to a 2018 referendum, which overturned the State’s ban on terminations.