Late on Friday evening (Friday 11th March, 2022) the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien published Ireland’s new Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) 2022 - 2025. The NAP comprises a range of measures and ensuing regulations which are meant to allow Ireland to comply with the Nitrates Directive which has the primary objective of protecting water quality. The Directive is primarily concerned with preventing nitrates from agricultural sources from polluting ground and surface waters by promoting the use of good farming practices.

During the three phases of the public consultation that preceded this publication, An Taisce has repeatedly raised serious concerns about the inadequacy of the proposed protective measures for water and of the legal weaknesses in the environmental assessments. The final plan does not reflect any of their recommendations. 

Ireland will now proceed to request a renewal of its Nitrates Derogation [1] from the European Commission on March the 17th.  An Taisce is calling on Minister O’Brien to not seek that Derogation as the necessary safeguards for water quality are not in place. 

Dr. Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer with An Taisce says:

 “Ireland is facing a water quality crisis, with almost half of our rivers and lakes polluted. Agricultural intensification, particularly dairy intensification, is the primary driver of that. Ambitious and far reaching changes are required to address this.  Instead what we’re getting is more of the same, with promises that the outcome will be different. 

It’s very disappointing that none of the science based recommendations we proposed during three different consultation phases were reflected in the final NAP. Instead what we saw was the iterative drafts getting progressively weaker on foot of industry lobbying. 

Adding a nitrates derogation on top of this will just further exacerbate the situation. Derogations should only be allowed where they won’t undermine water quality. You only have to look at the overall state of our rivers, lakes and estuaries to know that they’re already in serious trouble, without adding more fuel to the fire. 

It’s high time that Ireland moved to a food production system which can provide enough food for Irish people without having to rely on large volumes of artificial fertiliser and imported fodder which in turn leads to water pollution and other environmental problems.  

What’s required now more than ever is strong leadership to chart a course towards a fair and resilient food production system with better environmental outcomes. For water quality that includes the need for strong and well-implemented regulations to control pollution. Unfortunately we believe that what the Government has just published will not get us there” 



  • The Nitrates Derogation is a licence to spread more nitrogen per hectare on land than is routinely permitted. As a member state Ireland applies to Europe for this every 4 years, based on the argument that we have a long growing season, our fields can absorb it, and that it will not put water quality at risk. Once granted by the European Commission, individual Irish farmers in turn apply annually to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for a derogation licence for their farms. 
  • Under normal circumstances, a landowner is not allowed to apply more than 170 kg/n/ha on their land When operating under a derogation licence you can lawfully spread up to 250 kg/n/ha on your land.