Hen harrier row could delay government RDP package

The endangered hen harrier
The endangered hen harrier

Martrin Ryan

The Government's Rural Development Programme (RDP) is in limbo until it deals with over 4,000 farmers looking for compensation over huge tracts of land that have been 'sterilised' due to environmental restrictions linked to the protection of the hen harrier bird of prey.

EU officials confirmed to Irish representatives last week that an impasse on the designation of 90,000ha as Special Protection Areas (SPA) will need to be resolved by the Government before Ireland's RDP plan can be approved by the EU.

"The EU commission are very concerned at the way farmers in these areas have been treated - they agreed that the Irish Government needed to step up and address the problems before the Rural Development Plan could be finalised," said Irish Farmers with Designated Land (IFDL) chairman, Jason Fitzgerald.

The group maintains that farmers affected are now no more than tenants on their own lands where output is restricted by up to 80pc.

It has also mounted a challenge to the regulations that limit land uses across six districtsthat have been designated special protection areas (SPAs) for the hen harrier.

Ireland South MEP, Sean Kelly admitted that significant funds should be allocated to reverse the "huge" injustice of the hen harrier restrictions.

Following meetings with EU officials in Brussels last week, Mr Kelly said that the "funding stream for compensation will have to be big as the injustice these farmers had to suffer is both inexplicable and huge."

In April 2010 the National Parks and Wildlife Service suspended funding under the Natura 2000 directive after only 366 farmers successfully accessed the scheme.

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New forestry plantations were banned in the Hen Harrier SPAs in 2011.

The farmers have been advised by the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, to apply to GLAS.

However, farmers have rejected this offer because they feel that the ceiling of €5,000 or €7,500 in GLAS+ is too low to fully compensate them for their losses.

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