Hill farmers to go it alone in bid to get GLAS changes

The hill farmers' meeting last Thursday in Westport
The hill farmers' meeting last Thursday in Westport

John McAteer and  Darragh McCullough

The clearest indication yet that a major split is looming in the IFA came during a packed Hill Farmers for Action meeting in Letterkenny last Friday night when a spokesman for the group said they are prepared to "go it alone" if IFA fails to back their campaign.

The splinter group is opposed to proposals that hill and commonage farmers form collective agreements to gain access to new environmental payments in schemes such as GLAS.

In one of the largest farm meetings ever held in the county, Midlands and Northwest MEP Marian Harkin told the crowd of 800 that EU farm officials in Brussels were not aware of any collective deal on commonages in Ireland.

"I met them on Friday and they were under the impression that it was not a requirement of the CAP deal," she told the meeting at the Clanree Hotel.

Under the proposals sent to Brussels, commonage farmers will only qualify for GLAS if they sign up to a management plan that covers a minimum of 50pc of the area. It was envisaged that local agricultural advisors would co-ordinate this process.

However, advisors in the region have declared the proposals as unworkable.

"It won't be worth our while, unless the Department of Agriculture cough up. But I don't think it has been thought through by the Department at all," said west Mayo agricultural advisor, John McDonagh.

"This is not a desk-top exercise. It could take years to draw up all these plans, but the Department expect all this to be done before we get stuck into the next Single Farm Payment application," he said.

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Donegal consultants, Brian Dolan and Liam McKinney confirmed that it would take until the end of 2015 to finalise the plans required by farmers to gain access to the payments.

A delegation of hill farmers are preparing to travel to the EU Parliament to meet with officials this month in a last ditch attempt to resolve the issue.

One of the meetings organisers, Henry O'Donnell from Inishowen told a cheering crowd that the Hill Farmers for Action were prepared to break away from the IFA.

"I'm not too worried about them, we are going to get on with it and do what is needed to get our rights. I'm not anti-IFA, but I am pro-hill farmers," he said.


Mr O'Donnell admitted afterwards that he saw no hope of any change in IFA thinking.

"The frustration voiced at the meeting tonight is a clear indication that farmers in this region have been denied a voice at IFA county executive meetings for many years. But this has gone beyond the IFA at this stage," he said.

Two of the main speakers, John McGilloway from North Donegal and Colm O'Donnell from Sligo were trenchant in their criticism of the IFA, despite the fact that they are both members of the IFA rural development committee.

"They are not listening to the voice of small farmers in the west and are dictating conditions on terms of their own making," said Mr O'Donnell.

MEP Luke Ming Flanagan also voiced his support for the hill farmer group, along with Donegal TDs Padraig MacLochlainn, Pearse Doherty, Thomas Pringle, Charlie McConalogue and local councillors.

"We have been let down by the IFA and by the Government," said Fine Gael councillor, John Ryan.

In response, the IFA's hill chairman Pat Dunne said that Minister Coveney must immediately clarify his new commonage rules and proceed with public meetings in all hill areas to explain the implications.

"Last week's announcement by the Minister on the minimum stocking level to secure Single Farm Payment was long overdue but he must now go further to sort out GLAS issues," he said.

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