Downey rejects 'sell out' claims by hill farmers
The IFA leadership has hit back at criticism from hill and commonage farmers over its handling of negotiations on the Rural Development Program (RDP).
In a letter to the Farming Independent this week, IFA president Eddie Downey said the rural development package had been discussed and "democratically" decided on by the organisation.
"While all of what we were looking for was not achieved, major improvements were secured in advance of it being finalised by the Department," Mr Downey said.
"The final RDP proposals were discussed with our full executive council and the full National Rural Development and Hill committees, and the organisation democratically decided that the changes secured dealt substantially with the vast majority of farmer concerns," he insisted.
"I am fully committed to dealing with the issues of hill farmers. I recognise the challenges they face and what is needed to give them a viable income," he added.
Mr Downey was responding to a letter signed by 12 senior IFA members in the west which claimed the IFA leadership had "sold out" hill and commonage farmers by accepted the principle of collective agreements for commonage ground.
The dissident IFA members maintained this week that the association's leadership was "at best under-representing hill farmers and at worst trying to sweep their concerns under the carpet."
They also claimed that Mayo's hill farmer representative tendered his resignation after the a number of the signatories to last week's letter were involved in heated exchanges with IFA top brass at a hill committee meeting in the Irish Farm Centre in Dublin.
In a statement to the Farming Independent, the hills farmers' group said hill farmers would have to "fight for themselves so as to protect their families' livelihood in the hills."
The group is organising a rally in the Castlecourt Hotel in Westport, Co Mayo on August 20 where the MEPS from the constituency will be invited to hear and represent hill farmers' concerns.
The dissident IFA members insisted they did not intend forming a separate organisation and were all committed members of the association.
"There is a difference of opinion on how this issue needs to be tackled by the IFA but there is no suggestion that we are interested in breaking from IFA or setting up a new organisation," one of the dissidents insisted.
He said collective agreements for commonages were unworkable and that an amendment to the draft RDP removing this requirement for priority access into GLAS was essential. He said Natura payments should also increase to €150/ha. The hill farmers argue that it is not too late to seek amendments to the draft RDP proposals.
The Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, announced today that all members of the new Commonage Implementation Committee had been appointed and the committee will announce its first meeting date shortly. The committee will be chaired by Joe Healy.
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