An Taisce has once again succeeded in annoying many people over its ongoing objection to a proposed cheese processing plant in Kilkenny. The project which will potentially create a large number of much needed jobs has been approved by Kilkenny County Council and An Bord Pleanala and survived a High Court challenge last week.
However, An Taisce has indicated that it intends to mount a further challenge on the grounds not of potential local environmental damage, but the rather more spurious basis that this will conflict with the state’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions.
In the first instance we retain a fundamental concern for how this specific development will add to the perilous state of Ireland’s carbon and pollution footprint. Dairy production, and the supporting chain of industrial activity and animal husbandry, is a substantial contributor to Ireland already breaching key European metrics for emissions and environmental controls . To align with its own national Climate Action Plans and with EU Directives on water quality, biodiversity and ammonia emissions, Ireland is required to reduce environmental impacts from current levels. There is no room for increases. In that context it would be unconscionable to ignore the impact of the increased production required for this development and the inevitable added negative impact for the environmental performance of the Irish dairy industry.
An Taisce, Press Release on Court Decision
This has led, as reported by Gript, to strong criticism by the Rural Independent Group of TDs. They have been joined not only by a number of Fine Gael TDS and Senators from the region, but by An Taoiseach who appealed in the Dáil for An Taisce not to proceed. For his sins, he was attacked by government TD Steven Matthews of the Green Party who is chair of the Housing Committee.
An Taisce of course is very close to the Green Party and one of the main beneficiaries of Minister Eamon Ryan’s decision to increase the budget for the Irish Environmental Network by over €700,000 to €1,764,000 for 2021.
As the Rural group pointed out, An Taisce, whose 2019 report states that their latest funding statement will be “available shortly,” received over €3,500,000 from the state in 2018. And yet, if you look at their entry on the Benefacts site which claims to break down the sources of NGO funding (Benefacts being itself such an entity) you are told that of its total income of €4,148,450 in 2018 that just €15,306 came from public funds.
If you look at An Taisce’s own 2018 financial statement, however, it is apparent that the total of tax funding channelled through different departments, local authorities and other state bodies is indeed north of €3.5 million. It also received several hundred thousands from various foundations, including interestingly the Foundation for Economic Education which is a libertarian free market advocacy group. Donations accounted for just €177,789 and their own subscriptions are less than half of that sum.
The main channel for taxpayers money to An Taisce is its having won the contract to run the various programmes directed at schools. The main focus of that is to raise awareness of climate change. There are lots of unfunded local groups which do huge work in protecting the environment through tackling litter and so on.
According to Benefacts, the company employed 69 people in 2018, and its total staff costs according to itself for that year were €2,398,758. So in common with all the other large publicly funded NGOs, most of their income goes to pay their own wages.
While An Taisce, which was founded in 1948, has played some part over the years in highlighting the importance of built heritage, it seems to have transformed itself in more recent years into an ideologically motivated pressure group. Closely aligned indeed, and with considerable crossover of membership, with the Green Party.
In fairness to them, they have also highlighted the malign impact that co-living multi storey apartment developments will have, at a time when local authorities were either complicit or ignorant in their facilitation of them. Including parties which are now posing as strong opponents of such developments which were approved under their watch.
However, their serial objections to one off rural housing has for many years annoyed people wishing to build family homes on their own property. Such objections would also appear to conflict with any opposition to a rush towards urbanisation. Although it is noticeable that Green policy towards rural areas seems to be based on getting as many people as possible into central zones and even sharing cars, rather than seeking to enhance organic communities.
Which is why An Taisce and others increasingly successful attempts to undermine the existing rural economy, as evidenced in the closure of the midlands peat sector, greatly annoy people. As again is clear from the anger generated by the objections to the Kilkenny cheese project.
As with many others who would share An Taisce and the general “green” ideology, they seem to have little self awareness of the conflict between their efforts to stymie local initiative with their unthinking adherence to the globalisation of the world economy as it manifests itself in Ireland. You simply cannot be for one manifestation of all of that in making Ireland more “diverse”, and on the other hand affecting to be opposed to the inevitable consequences of that in the exponential growth of high rise poor quality “unsustainable” housing.
Not surprisingly, some would regard their opposition to rural community development as intrinsic to the first. How practically, are rural communities meant to survive without houses and jobs? An Taisce has also not done itself any favours as where it has objected in the past to the “tacky” temporary placing of Dublin GAA flags and banners to celebrate county teams successes.
That and its horror of someone building a not cool house for their children on their own land, is perceived as nothing more than a petit bourgeois antipathy and snobbery regarding things that nice people do not do. In the case of the Kilkenny plant and the midlands peat sector, however, it is far more serious consequence in terms of its impact on employment and the survival of rural communities.