Shane Ross

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Opposition to the Nitrates Directive is Opportunistic and Sacrifices Public Health Concerns

Posted on: March 1st, 2006

The nitrates directive was first meant to come into force in 1991. It amazes me that it did not come into force much earlier and that successive Governments have resisted its implementation for so long. The Minister should be commended for hastening this in his early days in office, and the directive should have been implemented a long time ago.

It is not particularly easy for a Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to put such a directive in place because he is quite certain, particularly given the constituency he represents, to meet the sort of resistance which we are coming across in the House today. That resistance is purely opportunistic and panders to the farming lobby at the expense of the rest of us.

I see this motion very simply. It is an issue of a strong but diminishing farming lobby against an issue of water quality. Those of us who are not farmers cannot possibly afford to allow a small farming lobby to hold the Government, the rest of the nation and the environment to ransom on the basis that it will cost farmers a certain amount of money. God knows these guys have had plenty of warning that this was coming…

Were this directive to be postponed any further, my understanding of what I read this evening and in the past is that our water quality would remain endangered, low by European standards and unacceptable in terms of hygiene for everybody in the country.

The Opposition states it will put up with low water quality for everybody else —
providing their friends in the farming lobby are looked after. That is not acceptable politics in this House. It is cheap politics to pander to this lobby for a short period of time and hope that everybody else will forget because the water cannot be polluted if no one can get it. The Minister has taken the right decision, resulting in some political cost.

Farmers do pollute the environment. Let us spell it out and hear Fine Gael state it. Farmers are not the only people who pollute the environment but they do so. The EPA has found that they do so.

They do a lot for the nation and for the economy. However, where they are polluting the environment, it must be stopped. I commend the Minister, the Government and all those who had the courage to introduce a directive such as this and enforce it in quarters in which it will be unpopular and difficult to do so. I support the Government amendment.