Confusion over land eligibility must be addressed


Confusion over land eligibility in advance of the closing date for the first year of the Basic Payment Scheme must be addressed immediately, according to East Galway TD Paul Connaughton.
Deputy Connaughton attended last week’s meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, at which members heard from farm organisations, farm consultants and officials in relation to the difficulties farmers are encountering in terms of determining eligibility of marginal land.
‘Applications for the new Basic Payment Scheme close in five weeks and farmers still don’t know what land is eligible for inclusion in the new scheme. This is a particular problem in south Galway on the commonages in the Sliabh Aughty area and farmers are fearful that if they include parcels of land which they believe are used as forage, they will subsequently be found to be ineligible and large penalties will be incurred.
‘I attended last week’s briefing and listened to the views put forward by the farming organisations, including the Irish Farmers’ Association, the Agricultural Consultants Association, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association. It is abundantly clear following that meeting that officials from the Department of Agriculture have to clearly spell out what land is eligible and what is not eligible. Farmers cannot be punished for applying for payments for such land because the Department of Agriculture is unable to provide clear and unambiguous information in relation to this issue. At the moment, there are often differing opinions between Inspectors from the Department of Agriculture, EU Auditors, farm advisors and farmers themselves and farmers are placed in an impossible position.
‘Having walked the areas in question in south Galway, it is clear that these commonages do contain forage, I believe that not alone does the Department need to clearly define the land eligibility issue, but it also needs to set up a robust appeals process which takes into account the lack of clarity that currently exists and which ensures that farmers, especially those farming in Natura areas, who must err on the side of caution in terms of environmental issues, are not punished because of a lack of clarity over this issue. Areas such as the Sliabh Aughty area have a high environmental designation because they are not farmed intensively and if the Natura area is to mean anything, it should mean that farmers in these areas are not punished for low-intensity foraging on these lands.’
‘I will be highlighting this issue with Minister Coveney again this week. With just five weeks left to the closing date for the Basic Payment Scheme, this problem must be addressed immediately.’