Former Deputy Lord Mayor, Cllr Kyle Savage said appropriate legislation that protects both the agri-food industry and the address concerns about climate change can be found.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is to write to the Agriculture Minister asking him to work with the agri-food sector to deliver appropriate climate change reduction targets.
An amended motion proposing this course of action was brought before Council at its monthly meeting on Monday, June 28 where the original motion was proposed by DUP councillor Tim McClelland.
The original motion called for Council to write to the sponsor (Clare Bailey MLA) and co-sponsor of a private members bill at Stormont seeking to ensure Northern Ireland hits a net zero carbon output by 2045 and ask them to “recognise and rectify the unacceptable and unrealistic demand” the bill will place on the agri-food sector.
Commenting on this motion, Councillor Kyle Savage said he understood the pressures facing the local agricultural industry but accepted the environmental issues are not going away.
“Each and every one of us have our part to play on this issue,” said Cllr Savage.
“We need to ensure we have buy in from the local industry to anything we do in relation to this.”
Cllr Savage then tabled an amendment which read: “That this Council notes the concerns of the community right across Northern Ireland and beyond about the impact of climate change; notes that a private members climate change bill was brought to the Assembly in March 2021 and further notes the Agriculture Minister’s Bill has been discussed at the NI Executive and has received approval to move to its next stage.
“Given the importance of the beef, sheep and dairy sectors to our agri-food industry, this Council requests that a letter be sent to the Agriculture Minister asking him to urgently engage with the sponsor and co-sponsors of the private members bill to seek common ground to deliver appropriate climate change reduction targets alongside support for the agri-food sector.”
The amendment was seconded by Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon who said it was important to set “realistic targets and also mitigations and support for farmers and the agri-food sector”.
Alliance Party councillor Eoin Tennyson described the issue fo climate change as the “seminal issue of our time” and noted Northern Ireland is the only place in the British Isles that does not have climate change legislation.
“There is a huge body of work to be done in relation to food waste and that has to be central to all of our efforts,” he said.
“Change is going to have to happen and the longer we delay, the harder it will be for the agricultural industry to adapt to the changes required.”
Alderman Gareth Wilson said it was clear Cllr Tennyson had not spoken to the same farmers that he had and said it should not come as a surprise that the DUP are !in agreement with farmers”.
“On the issue of climate change, the changes as outlined in the private members bill will have major complications for how we live our lives and what we spend our money on,” he said.
“It cannot be good policy to pass unachievable targets. The 2045 deadline is just not achievable. This is not about politics it is about achievability . We have to be able to bring industries with us on this matter.
“It is my view that when the cold hard reality hits, people will step back from this deadline.”
When asked if he would accept the proposed amendment, Councillor McClelland said he would be “loathe to” noting the amendment is “so very different” to his motion.
A vote on the amendment saw all 27 members of the Alliance Party, SDLP, Sinn Fein and the UUP voting in support of it while the nine members of the DUP present and the two independent councillors voted against it for a total of 11 votes against.
A vote was then taken on the amended motion with the same 27-11 outcome recorded.
Speaking after the amended motion was carried Cllr McClelland said it was unfortunate the chamber “displayed a distinct lack of support for local farmers and agri-sector in this particular matter”.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting, Councillor Kyle Savage welcomed the chamber’s support for his amendment.
“We need to have action and need to support the agriculture industry,” he said.
“The farming community will be part of the solution and Stormont needs to get on with the job of protecting both our farming community and our environment.
“The Executive has shown that meaningful progress can be delivered when all parties work together and that is why we are asking the Agriculture Minister to engage with the sponsor and co-sponsor of this private members bill to find common ground.
“The beef, sheep and diary sectors are too important to Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector to be used as a political football.
“There is common ground to be found and I believe with the right attitude and approach we can make better legislation that protects our agri-food industry and address the very real concerns about climate change.”