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Independent.ie

Saturday 21 October 2017

Farmer says Government turning West of Ireland into a tourist dependent region

My Week: Brendan O'Malley

Brendan O’Malley on his farm near Recess in Connemara. Photo: FoKiss-Photography
Brendan O’Malley on his farm near Recess in Connemara. Photo: FoKiss-Photography

Ken Whelan

The gradual dismantling of the LEADER rural development fund by the Government will turn the West of Ireland into a tourist dependent region rather than an agricultural one, says Brendan O'Malley.

The straight talking 51-year-old says that the small farmers in the west will see their farms turned into Special Areas of Conservation unless there is a radical rethink by the authorities on the future of agriculture in the region.

Brendan runs a herd of 20 Galloway/Aberdeen Angus pedigree cattle at his 80 acre holding in Bothesial near Recess in Connemara along some 70 mountain sheep on commonage nearby. "The animals are easy on the ground and easy on the pocket," he says.

Brendan, who is married to Ann with whom he has a 12-year-old son, Peter, bought his farm some 30 years ago. He sells his cattle as replacements through the various online agri sales sites and his sheep through the mart at Maam Cross.

He's out on the bog as we are having our conversation and it quickly becomes obvious that the pebble in his shoe about the LEADER programme is more like a boulder.

"LEADER funds are down from €460m when the scheme began to around €250m today and the local leadership which was part and parcel of the scheme at the beginning has been handed over to the local government county managers and Pobal.

"The LEADER companies in Galway have seen their funding going down from an initial €15m a year to €3m today.

"And in the old scheme a project could get the go-ahead within a year but now it takes over two years to get approval," he claims.

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"The preamble to the redesign of the new LEADER programme brought in by the Department of the Environment a few years ago promised to put the people first," he continues.

"The opposite has happened. It might give county council officials and county managers some extra work to do now that they are not involved with the water but all that actually does is to add more bureaucracy to the scheme," he says.

LEADER aside, Brendan also maintains that much of the available EU and State agricultural funding is skewed in favour of the wealthier farmers in the east of the country.

He wonders what all the rural "political champions" are doing these days to reverse this funding imbalance between the east and west coasts.

"Farmers in the west are not playing in the premiership. We are hardly in division one either," he declares.

I ask Brendan how the finances on his own farm are coming along and he replies that they are okay.

"I bought the farm 30 years ago with my own money and made my own mistakes," he explains before telling me that while he is getting a margin for his stock "it is difficult to run a farm around here without the farm payment".

Off farm Brendan takes an interest in rugby and GAA and likes to read biographies especially of the sporting variety.

"You just reminded me that I have three I haven't touched since I got them", he digresses.

But it is a short digression as campaigning on rural development is Brendan's true vocation.

"If we had a proper road out to Recess we would be away with it. The road from Clifden is absolutely atrocious," he adds.


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