Edwin Poots accuses Sinn Fein of ‘abandoning’ farmers with climate change bill

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland without a climate change act.

Jonathan McCambridge
Monday 17 January 2022 16:42
DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has criticised a private members’ climate change bill for NI (Brian Lawless/PA)
DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has criticised a private members’ climate change bill for NI (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sinn Fein has been accused of “abandoning” Northern Ireland’s farmers by DUP Environment Minister Edwin Poots.

During ministerial question time at Stormont Mr Poots attacked a proposed private members’ climate change bill, which he said could lead to around 13,000 jobs being lost in the agricultural sector.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland without a climate change act.

Two separate climate bills are currently proceeding through legislative stages in the Assembly – a private members’ bill from Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey and one tabled by Mr Poots.

Ms Bailey’s bill, which is supported by a majority of other Stormont parties, sets a 2045 target for reaching net-zero carbon emissions.

Mr Poots’ bill sets the less ambitious goal of reducing emissions by 82% by 2050.

Green Party in Northern Ireland leader Clare Bailey has introduced a private members’ climate change bill for Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Environment Minister has insisted his target is in line with a recommendation from the UK’s Climate Change Committee.

However, Ms Bailey has insisted the region must set itself an “ambitious” target and address its reputation as “environmental laggards”.

Answering questions on the issue at Stormont, Mr Poots said: “The private members’ climate change bill will have a very significant and detrimental impact on farmers across Northern Ireland.

“The UK Climate Change Committee have indicated that even a 50% reduction in meat and dairy production would not get Northern Ireland to net zero by 2050, never mind by 2045.

“The Climate Change Committee have further highlighted, in the strongest possible terms, that a net zero target by 2050 or earlier for Northern Ireland is not credible, is morally wrong and could actually undermine the efforts to reduce emissions.

The private members' bill could disengage the very people who are part of the solution to this issue - our farmers

Edwin Poots

“It could also result in a shift in food production from Northern Ireland to other countries where the carbon footprint is much higher than therefore increase global emissions.”

He continued: “KPMG (an accounting firm) also recently published a report on the economic impact assessment of the private members’ climate change bill which predicts the sector level herd numbers would significantly fall with the greatest impact being felt in farms operating in less favoured areas.

“Overall the report concludes the impact being beef, diary and sheep herd numbers falling by 86%, and pig and poultry herd numbers falling by 11%, which would represent a 54% decrease in farm employment with around 13,000 jobs lost.

“The private members’ bill could disengage the very people who are part of the solution to this issue, our farmers.”

The minister added: “The Green Party is largely a Belfast-based party, it doesn’t get that many votes from the agricultural sector.

“But we have a party which is in behind the Green Party on this particular issue, Sinn Fein, who are saying one thing in the south of Ireland and a different thing here in Northern Ireland.

“They are abandoning the farmers who are living in the hills and the uplands of Northern Ireland.

“I would call on Sinn Fein to reflect on the damage they are potentially doing to the agricultural industry with their backing of something which has no scientific grounds to be backed.”

Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said ambitious legislation was needed to tackle climate change (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan responded: “The private members’ bill has the support of all the parties in here with the exception of the DUP. Across this island Sinn Fein speak with one voice.

“The minister will remember the extreme snowfall in the spring of 2013 that resulted in the deaths 17,098 sheep and goats as well as 535 cattle.

“Would the minister agree that robust and ambitious legislation to address climate change and extreme weather events that may happen here in the future is essential to protect the future of agriculture?”

Mr Poots said: “He talks about the death of 17,000 sheep.

“What Sinn Fein are actually standing over here is the death of 13,000 farms and the people who work on those farms not being able to make a living.

“Sinn Fein are in a different place than the other parties because the other parties backed my proposals at the committee last week.

“Sinn Fein stood alone with the Green Party on this issue and they are standing alone against the farming community with the Green Party.”

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