Farmers demand to meet Minister

The packed hall at the Donegal Hill and Commonage meeting in the Clanree Hotel Letterkenny .  Clive Wasson.

The packed hall at the Donegal Hill and Commonage meeting in the Clanree Hotel Letterkenny . Clive Wasson.

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The Hill and Commonage Farmers’ Group have written an open letter to Minister Simon Coveney asking him to meet with them and outline the current proposals for GLAS.

In September, the group organised public meetings to highlight the “flaws” in the proposed schemes for hill and commonage farmers and up to 2,000 people attended in Letterkenny.

The letter tells the Minister: “We were astounded by the turnout of concerned farmers and this motivated us to start up a campaign to fight for a fair environmental scheme for farmers. A picket was placed on Enda Kenny’s office as a first step.”

The group was then asked to meet with the Commonage Implementation Committee, which was set up by the Minister as a forum to resolve issues for farmers on the commonages.

The letter tells the Minister: “As a result of consultation with the committee, a compromise was reached which we felt was a big step forward in resolving the main issues we had identified. Responding to a parliamentary question from Deputy Brendan Griffin you put it on record that our concerns were legitimate and that a compromise had been reached.”

There was then “shock and disbelief” when, at a Department of Agriculture meeting, it “became very clear” the agreement had been “ignored” and when challenged, the Department stated no agreement had been reached.

The implementation committee also said they only had power to make a recommendation.

The letter goes on: “It is disquieting to think that the Department of Agriculture have their own agenda which they are working to, irrespective of farmers’ views. At this juncture we feel we have no option but to deal with you, the Minister, directly to resolve this issue. Any further delays are unacceptable as it will be January 2017 at the earliest before farmers will receive a full year’s payment from GLAS.”

The group tells the Minister that their “needs are simple” and ask that farmers be allowed to enter GLAS as an individual farmer, “the same as any other farmer in Ireland.” Secondly, they ask that the Commonage Management Plan be “instigated, managed and paid for by the Department of Agriculture so that commonage farmers only have to pay for one plan, the same as every other farmer.”

They also ask for a “face to face meeting” with the Minister to come up with a “workable scheme” which farmers will participate in, and take ownership of, “for the good of all living in and visiting our rural communities.

It adds: We have viable options to bring to the table that will meet our obligations for European legislation and that all farmers will buy into.”

They add: “If there is a failure to engage in meaningful dialog to ensure the survival of our rural agricultural communities our next action will be the withdrawal of our goodwill allowing access to hills, commonages and walkways.

They add: “We do not want to do this and we feel if reason prevails it should not be necessary. All we want is a scheme which we have input into and that reflects the reality of farming in very difficult conditions and in very sensitive environmental areas.”

It is not known if Minister Covene had responded at the time of going to press.

For the full text of the letter, see www.derryjournal.com