Heritage body An Taisce should not try to alter government policy, a senior Fianna Fáil TD has told the Dáil.
Former Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen made the remarks as anger over a €140 million cheese factory on the Kilkenny/Waterford border continues.
Glanbia has received the go-ahead to build the factory at Belview Technology Park, but the process has been delayed by objections, most notably from An Taisce.
An Bord Pleanála last June confirmed the grant of permission for the factory, but in November 2020, An Taisce was granted leave by the High Court to seek a judicial review of the planning process.
The High Court last month dismissed that appeal. An Taisce has now decided to seek leave to appeal the High Court judgment. It says it has a "fundamental concern for how this plant will add to Ireland’s carbon and pollution footprint".
The decision to seek the appeal has raised the ire of a number of government TDs, with four Fine Gael deputies and two senators calling the heritage trust "a leading threat to rural Ireland" and Fianna Fáil's Jackie Cahill telling a meeting of his party that An Taisce is acting "treasonously".
Speaking while introducing an amendment to the Planning Act which would require An Bord Pleanála to make its decisions within 12 weeks, Mr Cowen said that An Taisce's place was not to decide government policy without being elected.
"An Taisce, any of its staff, supporters or members of the public who support it, can, of course, have an issue with Government policy - that is fair play, it is understandable and as it should be - but not to change policy; its remit is to lobby and advise. Anyone else who wishes to change Government policy can influence it by being elected to this House.
"It should not be allowed to usurp and frustrate the likes of the Glanbia project which was approved on merit, pertaining to planning laws, resolutions, regulations, guidelines and provisions by Kilkenny County Council, by An Bord Pleanála after a protracted delay, and by the High Court which in its recent decision stated that An Taisce's issue is one of Government policy.
Junior Minister Hildegarde Naughton said she believes An Taisce has a right to appeal a planning decision, but said that the project is of importance to the community.
"I think the issue is of great importance to the farmers in that community and there is a lot of employment in the area riding on the project. I can really understand the concerns, particularly when the project was approved by Kilkenny County Council, An Bord Pleanála and then the High Court, so there's a lot of employment and farming opportunities at risk."