Viewpoint: Coveney must intervene in land eligibility confusion
Published 15/04/2015 | 02:30
The continuing controversy over what is deemed eligible land and what is not will be aired today in the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee.
The growing confusion around this issue appears to be finally coming to a head, with all of the farm organisations voicing concerns regarding the lack of clarity and consistency in the Department of Agriculture's interpretation of the rules.
The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) first flagged this issue, when they highlighted the lack of consistency concerning eligibility inspections of hill and marginal lands for GLAS.
The hill farmers also stressed the lack of a consistent approach in terms of what was considered good management practice on the same land for GLAS and the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). For example, it wasn't clear whether farmers should clear scrub or not.
This absence of firm guidelines on land eligibility is provoking near panic among farmers struggling with the BPS application.
Since this year's BPS sets the base level for farmers' entitlements to 2020, farmers are obviously extremely reluctant to get their applications wrong.
However, the continuing controversy about the LPIS review means that farmers do not want to get into a situation where they could face sizeable penalties in the future.
Little wonder then that some farm representatives are quietly advising their members to hire planners to do this year's plans so that they can rely on the possible 'safety net' of the consultant's insurance cover should things go wrong.
However, this safety could cost farmers at least €700 each.
That the issue of eligible land is still under discussion between the Department and the EU Commission was described by the IFA as "totally unacceptable".
Similar sentiments have been expressed by the ICMSA and ICSA, while the INHFA has been banging this drum for more than three months.
The Department will argue that it has held a series of information meetings on the BPS and GLAS over the last six weeks. However, the feedback from these meetings has been less than glowing.
"With eight weeks to go before BPS application to be lodged, it is now up to Minister Coveney to resolve this issue and clarify what lands are eligible for the BPS," the IFA insisted this week and they are spot on right.
Minister Coveney laid the blame for the LPIS review at Europe's door and farmers' doors - suggesting that Ireland would face a massive fine if the problems identified were not sorted out.
If there are problems this time around the blame will certainly rest with the Department and the minister.