Ex-minister criticised for acting as biofuels lobbyist for Hungarian firm

The lobbying activities of former European and environment minister Dick Roche have drawn criticism from a number of members of the European parliament and Oxfam Ireland.

Mr Roche has a number of clients who pay him up to €200,000 a year and he recently added a Hungarian- based bio-fuel producer with Irish and US links to his list.

The former Fianna Fáil TD for Wicklow, who has a state pension of €50,000 a year, sent a letter to a number of members of the parliament seeking support for his newest client. They want to water down proposed new rules aimed at ensuring there will be no increase in biofuels from crops or land that would otherwise be used for food that push up the price of food, especially in poorer countries.

The changes are also designed to prevent land now in pasture being used for biofuel crops.

Mr Roche wrote: “As Minister for the Environment and Minister for European Affairs in Ireland I was involved in the discussions on EU renewable energy, the role that biofuels could play in meeting climate change objectives and in reducing dependence on fuel imports”.

Oxfam Ireland said they did not understand why Mr Roche was involved as Irish farmers were not lobbying about the issue, and added that enough land to grow crops that would have fed 127m people were converted to grow biofuel crops in 2008 alone.

“This meant that more people went to bed hungry than needed and the world food industry was forced to import palm oil from Indonesia to make up for the gap. This has led to deforestation on an unprecedented scale in South East Asia,” Oxfam’s Jim Clarken said.

But in his letter, Mr Roche said the commission’s proposal could cause “extraordinary damage” with very negative effects on rural communities in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Croatia.

Rather than capping production of these food crops for biofuel, he said he believed expanding production of ethanol in the five countries could result in about 15,000 jobs and create an extra €4bn in GDP for these EU countries.

He believed there should be a derogation from the commission’s proposed law if the ethanol came from increased yields or was on land that was unsuitable for food production or displaced protein meal imports. He said people were very worried about the knock-on effects of biofuels in Africa.

Paul Murphy, Socialist MEP, said it was entirely inappropriate for Mr Roche to use his former role as minister as a card to pursue his lobby interests.

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness said she did not receive the letter, but said was concerned that the law could lead to the commission telling farmers what they could and could not grow. She said there were hungry people before biofuels so the whole thing required more thought.

Northern Ireland Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson, a member of the environment committee that voted on the proposals yesterday, said there has been extensive lobbying on the issue. “Lobbyists have almost taken over the parliament,” she said.

The committee voted to cap biofuels from food products at 5.5% rather than the 5% proposed by the commission. It will go to a full vote in September.

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