Hen harrier designation is costing farmers up to €650/ac
"Lift the designation or pay us what we're owed. We're being discriminated against - our land is worthless and we're being robbed."
That was the message from angry farmers who crammed a GAA clubhouse on the Limerick-Kerry border outside the village of Athea to vent their frustration over the controversial designation of land as hen harrier special protected areas (SPAs).
The mood of the meeting was angry, with farmers questioning why whole areas were designated without adequate compensation being arranged for farmers.
"The way that farmers have been treated in this scheme over the past seven years has been disgraceful," said Jason Fitzgerald, chairman of the Cork branch of the Irish Farmers with Designated Land (IFDL).
"The use of farmers' land has been severely restricted without compensation which I believe they are legally entitled to. The deeds of their designated land are not worth the paper they are written on because nobody will buy it," he added.
The Athea meeting is the second of a series of regional meetings organised by the IFDL. The organisation claim that 90,000ha of land on 4,000 farms has been designated in Limerick, Kerry, Cork, Tipperary and Galway.
Mr Fitzgerald claimed that an agreement with Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2007 guaranteed that compensation would be paid on designated lands.
"In April 2010 the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Service) pulled the funding after only 366 farmers successfully accessed the scheme which left over 4000 farmers without any compensation. In 2011 afforestation was banned in the Hen Harrier SPA's and as a result the lands became worthless. That is still the situation to-day," Mr Fitzgerald said.