Wednesday 28 September 2016

Hill farmers to protest over charter breaches

Published 14/10/2015 | 02:30

Colm O'Donnell reads aloud a letter to An Taoiseach on behalf of hill sheep farmers who staged a protest outside Enda Kenny's constituency office in Castlebar, Co Mayo a number of months back. Photo: Michael McLaughlin
Colm O'Donnell reads aloud a letter to An Taoiseach on behalf of hill sheep farmers who staged a protest outside Enda Kenny's constituency office in Castlebar, Co Mayo a number of months back. Photo: Michael McLaughlin

Hill farmers are set to picket outside the Department of Agriculture offices in Portlaoise tomorrow over delays in Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) payments.

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The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) claims that farmers are facing months of delays on essential payments.

"Any change to the reference area for an individual farmer are freezing not just ANC payments but entire Basic payments. We estimate that thousands of farmers are affected by these problems," said INHFA member Colm O'Donnell.

He cited examples of commonages where payments to the majority of farmers are being held up by one or two farmers trying to reactivate shares or clarify ownership.

"On a Galway commonage there are two farmers that are reactivating shares and were told everything is ok with their applications. But Department clarifications on these two are now holding up payments for 44 other farmers.

"This means that the Department are now in breach of the Farmers Charter of Rights which states that if there is a mapping issue then farmers have to be notified about this by September 1," said Mr O'Donnell.

"Not only this, but farmers find that they cannot get information on why their payments are held as the helplines into the Department are snowed under, notwithstanding the slight improvement in recent days.

Mr O'Donnell agrued that the ANC payments should be made in full, with minor over-claims being clawed back from later payments.

"This would give farmers a level of certainty on their cash-flow while easing the pressure on Department staff by giving them a longer time frame to process clarifications," he said.

Mr O'Donnell added that stocking rates below the 0.15 livestock units per hectare limit were also causing problems.

"Destocking rules forced farmers to carry less than this on some areas for environmental reasons. Each year these farmers' payments are held up while the Department seek clarification on their derogations. It would be far better just to allow farmers to tick a box on the application form stating that they have a derogation and supply the GLAS or AEOS reference number."

The hill farmers lobby group are also angry that changes in the methodolgy to calculate stocking rates were not communicated to farmers.

"Issues with stocking rates were excluded from the Farmers Charter, which is something that the farm organisations that were party to the negotiations should explain to all," he added.

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