FARMERS have been threatened with prosecution and fines of up to €130,000 if they fail to remove illegally-dumped rubbish from their lands.
Kilkenny County Council has issued warning letters telling them to remove the rubbish within 21 days or face the prospect of a day in court.
The letters -- issued because of an increase in illegal dumping -- were criticised by the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), which said that the council was scapegoating farmers.
Under the Litter Pollution Acts, landowners are responsible for any waste dumped on their property "no matter how the waste arises". But if the rubbish is dumped on the public road, the council is responsible for cleaning it up.
"It's (illegal dumping) escalating and every local authority has the same problem," a spokesman for Kilkenny County Council said.
"The context in which we would issue the notices is where there would be illegal dumping of material on land owned by third parties. There have been cases where a full load (of waste) has been tipped, but there has been full compliance from the landowners."
The letters warn landowners that failure to clear away rubbish could lead to a fine of up to €130,000 upon conviction.
It continues: "Additional fines for non-compliance on a daily basis may be levied as well as formal prosecution proceedings."
But one farmer, Percy Drea from Castlewarren, said last night he had told the council about illegal dumping on his land for the past three years. He had given the local authority copies of utility bills found in the rubbish, which identified the owners.
"I have about 70 acres, and nearly half a mile is bordered by road," Mr Drea said. "I knew there was rubbish on the land and had spent three days trying to get it off. It's coming in for the last three years and there was a big increase last winter.
"I told the council about it a couple of years ago. It's mostly nappies and dirt and household stuff like food and bottles. There's four or five names in it and I gave the names to the council. I found a bumper from a car with a registration plate.
"I'd be cleaning every week or fortnight, otherwise the cattle would get injured on it. I have to pay to get rid of the stuff. They (the council) have done nothing about it up to now. I'm hoping they do something now. They don't seem to have done much with the names. I've loads to do and this is a torment."
The council said it investigated Mr Drea's complaint but the evidence found was "not sufficient" to go to court.
IFA deputy president Eddie Downey accused the council of adopting a heavy-handed approach. "Farmers are very annoyed that they are being scapegoated," he said. "The IFA has run a number of campaigns highlighting the problems of litter in the countryside. While we will continue to play our part, farmers cannot be held liable and it is the responsibility of local authorities to keep the countryside free of litter."