Farmers remove access to walkers in protest at fire penalties

One of the signs erected by farmers at Crossboy crossroads.
One of the signs erected by farmers at Crossboy crossroads.

Paul Deering

Farmers have withdrawn access to several walkways on rural mountains in South East Sligo in protest at what they see as unfair penalties for last year's gorse fires.

The Sligo Champion reports that farmers erected signs recently saying "access to all mountain pathways will be withdrawn due to illegal burning".

They say they're being forced to take action as they are being held responsible for the illegal burning of mountains in which they had "absolutely no part and which is beyond their control."

"As anyone can appreciate, it is impossible to police hundreds of hectares," said one farmer.

The action has been taken on the Killery, Dromore, Crossboy and Castleore mountains.

"They are incurring very severe penalties and a huge financial loss and just simply cannot continue footing the bill," they added.

Sligo County Council is counting the cost of a spate of gorse fires last year
Sligo County Council is counting the cost of a spate of gorse fires last year

It's just over a year since three gorse fires ravaged Killery Mountain, Geevagh and Lough Easkey/Ox Mountains at a cost to Sligo County Council of approximately €125,000.

Hundreds of acres of land were destroyed and a section of the Sligo Way boardwalk was damaged.

The Department of Rural and Community Development funded repairs to the boardwalk last summer.

However 33 farmers were notified by the Department of Agriculture that their Basic Payment would be reduced. They are awaiting the outcome of an appeal against this.

Sligo/Leitrim Deputy Eamon Scanlon said he "wouldn't blame" the farmers for erecting the signs.

"These farmers are not going to put up with this any longer," he said.

Killery farmer Mike Gaffney said he had seen hikers leaving the Sligo Way boardwalk, set up camp and light fires.

"They're penalising the farmers but it could have been anyone.

"It's like, God forbid, somebody burned your property and you're being fined for it.

"It's a double whammy. I had fencing burned and I had to replace that. I was out of pocket then.

"It's over a year since the Mountain caught fire. I think they sent up a fire officer (to investigate) and it just came back inconclusive," said Mike."They can't really point the finger at anyone," he added.

Hundreds of acres of land on Killery mountain were destroyed in forest fires last May, and a section of the Sligo Way was damaged.

Despite the fact that money was allocated by the Department of Rural and Community Development to carry out repair work to the boardwalk on the Sligo Way, the Department of Agriculture is continuing to penalise farmers, even though they did not set the fires themselves.

“The situation on Killery mountain is extremely unfair. There are 33 farmers who are being unfairly penalised by the Department of Agriculture, which has itself recognised the fact that these farmers did not set these fires. I raised this issue with Department officials at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture this week and was extremely disappointed at the approach taken by them”, explained Deputy Scanlon.

“The Sligo Way has been an extremely successful tourism initiative, bringing hundreds of people to the area, especially during the Sligo Camino, which took place during May last year. Hotels and B&Bs were booked out over the duration of the walking festival, resulting in a much needed economic boost for Sligo and Leitrim. However, farmers are now paying the price.

 “It was unseasonably warm for the time of year and it has been widely acknowledged that the fires were more than likely started accidentally. In fact, there were forest fires burning in Cork, Kerry and Galway during the same period. Despite this, the farmers in Killery are being penalised. “

The treatment of these farmers is appalling. They’re facing fines or penalties for something outside of their control. This is unbelievably unfair. I am calling on Minister Michael Creed to let common sense prevail and to reverse the decision to penalise these farmers.

“Farmers are already under pressure, the fact that they are facing a reduction in their Basic Payment is inexcusable. The Minister needs to intervene.”

Sligo Champion