A new row has erupted between Dept. of Agriculture officials and Hill Farmers Group after a deal removing a key clause of conflict on commonage payments has collapsed.
At the same time the farmers have accused a senior official in the Dept. of Agriculture of tearing up the agreement they say was brokered in good faith.
The Tirconail Tribune reports that Hill Farmers said that a deal had been reached in mid September between themselves and representatives from the agriculture minister’s department to scrap the collective agreement criteria for commonage farmers entering the GLAS farming scheme.
The breakthrough would have allowed farmers to apply for the scheme as individuals. However last week the group was told at an information meeting in Maam Cross that this was not the case and the collective agreement issue was now back in the mix.
And the Hill Farmers now believe that a major crux has also developed insofar as the legal terms of the Dept’s regulations for commonages are concerned. It is thought there are issues around any reduction or dilution in landowner’s rights and value of property if they opt out of the new CAP deal and are excluded from payments.
We understand that the commonage row has now reached a crisis point to the extent that the Minister for Agriculture will have to intervene in a last ditch effort to stop a total breakdown in relationships between the groups.
And as the Hill Farmers threaten to restrict access to walking routes on their holdings in retaliation for the latest debacle in the Rural Development Programme, Brendan Joyce who is leader of the group led a mass walkout from a last week as the deal began to unravel and hill farmers found themselves in no man’s land over a deal they says is unworkable.
Henry O’Donnell who has played leading part for the breakaway group said they are shocked and stunned that one official had the power to tear up a deal but he warned they will not accept his decision.
He said the amendments for agreement were established during a meeting between the Minister for Agriculture’s commonage implementation committee and the hill farmers for action group. Under these new proposals farmers would be able to apply as individuals for GLAS declaring agreement complying with a GLAS commonage management plan.
If the deal does finally collapse, Mr. O’Donnell explains that all walks over farmer property will be stopped because landowners will withdraw their support and Donegal will also be affected as well as a number of other key cycle routes in the west of Ireland including the renowned Greenway route in Mayo.
It would appear that the Hill Farmers have already made plans for action in Donegal. We understand that a number of key attractions where commonages exist in Inishowen and the climbs on Muckish and Mount Errigal may be boycotted until the issue is resolved.
Henry O’Donnell said that the lands on places like Muckish and Errigal mountains belong to local farmers and these territories are commonages.
In mid September, O’Donnell confirmed to the Tribune that a deal had been agreed between the hill farmers and officials from the Dept. of Agriculture implementation body.
The decision to drop the entry requirement was taken in mid September, following a meeting between hill farmers’ representatives and the Commonage Implementation Committee. Under collective agreement, 50% of commonage farmers had to agree on a farming strategy for a commonage area before they could apply for the new GLAS scheme. The breakthrough would have allowed farmers to apply for the scheme as individuals, although they would still have to agree to a management plan for the commonage as a whole.
O’Donnell and supporters of the Hill Farmers Action Group, which led the protests, welcomed the reversal by the Department of Agriculture. However, he stressed that some issues remained to be ironed out.