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€35m Hen Harrier scheme grounded by contract delays

Farmers in designated areas being treated with 'contempt' - ICMSA


Protected species: Hen harrier

Protected species: Hen harrier

Protected species: Hen harrier

The Government's long awaited €35m Hen Harrier Scheme remains at a "standstill" despite mounting pressure from frustrated farm lobby groups.

Last month, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine identified a preferred project team to administer the scheme to protect the endangered bird of prey, but delays continue to hamper the awarding of the contract.

A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said: "At the present time, the process is in standstill in accordance with procurement law. When all elements of the procurement process have been completed, the necessary contracts can then be signed."

The ICMSA, IFA and ICSA say the recurrent delays are inexcusable to the estimated 4,500 farmers affected nationwide.

Pat Rohan, chairperson of the ICMSA's farm and rural affairs committee said farmers on designated land, including hen harrier areas, are being "treated with contempt" by the Government and agencies who are "shifting responsibility" from one department to the other.

"The Government and its agencies seem to have settled on a policy that involves designating land while totally ignoring the rights of the individual landowner and then failing miserably to properly compensate them for the losses from severe restrictions," he said.

Speaking after last week's meeting of the Designated Areas Monitoring Committee, Mr Rohan demanded that the Government address landowners' concerns equitably and fairly, or lift the designation.

Farmers on designated land are subject to many severe restrictions on their farming activities, including an effective ban on afforestation since 2011.

"Thousands of farmers in every county in Ireland have found their farms designated for a variety of reasons that could include birds, raised bogs, pearl mussels and been subjected to a series of ongoing broken promises and empty assurances from the National Parks and Wildlife Services and Government ministers.

"Potential to earn an income from this land has been effectively wiped out coupled with the fact that the land is completely devalued as a result of the designation with many normal farm practices effectively banned. The farmers concerned are being treated with contempt, there is no other word for it", said Mr Rohan.

Pat Collins, IFA farm forestry chairman said farmers are "very angry" at the lack of progress.

"The ban on afforestation has marginalised farmers and has significantly devalued land, with many farmers seeing the sterilisation of their land and the loss of livelihood as their reward for protecting the hen harrier," he said.

Seamus Sherlock, ICSA rural development chairman is concerned that hen harrier farmers will not see any benefit from locally-led schemes in 2017.

"ICSA is sick and tired of the go-slow in dealing with these issues," he said.

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