Department refusing to pay Sligo farmers over gorse fire dispute
No pay out for farmers irrespective of who started fires
Farmer's along The Sligo Way have lost thousands of euro in Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) funds as the Department of Agriculture is refusing the payment because their lands were burned outside of the permitted timeframes.
In letter sent to the Council this July, the Department of Agriculture pointed out that "where land has been burnt it is not in a state for grazing or cultivation and therefore is not eligible" to receive the BPS.
By law, it is an offence for anyone to slash or burn gorse between 1st March and 31st August.
Thousands of hectares of lands on Killery Mountain were scorched after a gorse fire (which the farmers insist was not started by them) raged out of control for three days at the start of May 2017.
It cost the County Council over €125,000 to bring the fires under control using Fire Services from across the North West.
Sinn Fein Councillor Thomas Healy told The Sligo Champion recently that he was "disappointed with the Minister and the outcome of this."
"It's unfair and unjust. We know of other areas where fires broke out and payment wasn't stopped. Up in Mayo where there were fires, their payment wasn't stopped. It's yet another example of farmers in the North West being treated differently than in the rest of the country," he said.
"The Department of Tourism paid out for the walkway - that was done the following week - if that Department can pay out how come the Department of Agriculture can't?" he said.
The farmers have denied starting the gorse fires and say for them to be penalised is unjust.
However the Department said: "the main issue is that the lands are ineligible for the purpose of BPS irrespective of how the fires started as the lands were burned outside of the permitteed timeframes."
"Lands were identified in some 2017 BPS applications that were illegally burned and would therefore be deemed ineligible for payment," a senior civil servant told the Council.
The Department treats these applications as "over-claims" and have in some cases imposed extra penalties.
Where farmers have been able to provide evidence that they were not involved in the gorse burning, the Department will only waive the penalty but will still not make the payment.
In a number of cases, the penalty has been waived but the burnt land remains ineligible for the BPS payment.
According to Cllr Healy, the farmers are losing out on payments as low as 3,000 and in some cases, as high as 40,000.
The burnt lands should be deemed eligible for payment this year.
This summer, despite being one of the hottest on records, no forest or gorse fires broke out in Sligo.
The Department claims that their BPS payment system is frequently audited by the EU authorities and "any weakness" in the system, such as payment for burnt lands, would incur "tens of millions of Euros" in penalties to Ireland.