The Department of Agriculture is not utilising flexibility within EU legislation when assessing the eligibility of land for EU schemes, Sligo-based MEP, Marian Harkin, has claimed.
She said the Department was employing a narrow interpretation of EU regulations to classify marginal and commonage ground as ineligible for EU payments.
Ms Harkin also called on the Department to publish the protocols on which the evaluation of the land eligibility was based.
"We need a published standard or a working protocol that will be used by the Department of Agriculture when assessing utilisable agricultural area. This protocol must take local conditions and seasonal aspects into consideration. It must be transparent to all concerned and all decisions must be supported by evidence," Ms Harkin said.
"A policy is being pushed which undermines EU objectives and the success which hill and commonage farmers have achieved in balancing the economic and environmental needs of their disadvantaged areas," she added.
The MEP urged the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, to take on board the concerns expressed by landowners and environmentalists in an open letter carried in the Farming Independent (February 17).
Meanwhile, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has launched a national membership drive, with a series of farmer meetings being held across the west over the coming weeks.
Close to 350 farmers attended the first regional meeting in Letterkenny, Co Donegal last week. Further meetings are due to take place in Peacocks Hotel in Maam Cross, Co Galway tomorrow evening at 8pm, and McCarthy's of Kilbeacanty, Galway on Monday evening next (March 16). More meetings are being organised in Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim.
In other news, the first chair of the INHFA is Brendan O'Malley from Galway, with Michael McDonnell (Mayo) elected secretary. The treasurer is Sean Moran (Mayo), with Henry O'Donnell from Donegal elected public relations officer, while the assistant chair is Joe Condon (Tipperary).
Mr O'Malley said the two immediate priorities for the organisation are the issues regarding land eligibility and a workable GLAS.