The Hill Farmers for Action Group has described last week’s meeting on the commonages row with Farm Minister, Simon Coveney as a total waste of time.
And as the row gathers pace, Mr. Coveney has been accused of ‘looking down his nose at the hill farmers’.
The Minister gave no commitment whatever that the controversial collective agreement would be discarded, Henry O’Donnell, the Donegal rep on the action group told the Tirconail Tribune.
He says the real elephant in the room for the Minister is that farmers are not making money.
“The big problem for us as producers is that we’ve been left high and dry in favour of the food processors.”
The breakaway group is now considering a return trip to meet EU farm officials in Brussels as stalemate ensues at home on how to move the issue towards a compromise.
The Hill Farming Group need an urgent solution to allow them draw down much needed EU funding in future years.
Henry O’Donnell who attended the meeting at the Dept of Agriculture said Simon Coveney simply had nothing to offer them by way of compromise on the highly controversial new environmental scheme for hill farmers and commonages.
Henry O’Donnell said the Minister sought the meeting 60 minutes after the Hill Farmers announced the picket on Kenny’s office and it was only a token gesture because he ‘simply did not offer one single idea’ by way of offering a solution.
He added that the Dept of Agriculture has been rattled with confirmation from Brussels that The Rural Development Programme (RDP) cannot be used to “mitigate the environmental impacts of Food Harvest 2020”.
Henry O’Donnell say what is now a major issue for the Dept of Agriculture is the EU Commission questions about Food Harvest 2020.
“The Commission raises concerns that the RDP is being used to support Ireland’s ambitious agricultural expansion plans. It also raises concerns regarding the new Leader programme which gives an expanded role to local authorities in supporting rural enterprise. In addition, the Commission asked why the Department required a minimum of 50% of active farmers to enter collective management plans for commonages in order to qualify for Glas,” he says.
Adding to the crisis here in Donegal, says Mr. O’Donnell is that around one thousand farmers with enclosed hill lands will be barred from entering the Glas scheme due to the crazy rules and regulations that are being applied in the Dept of Agriculture.
On Friday last over 2000 farmers, many from Donegal picketed the office of the Taoiseach in his home town of Castlebar calling for his direct intervention to resolve the crisis.
The hill farmers who marched Kenny’s constituency office were demanding his intervention on rules governing entry to the GLAS environmental scheme. If he does not, he will be responsible for ending a way of life in hill areas, they say.
The rally was the latest in a series of large-scale demonstrations and meetings that hill and commonage farmers have organised over the last number of months. The farmers want the collective-agreement criteria for joining the GLAS scheme to be scrapped saying the criteria is unworkable and in effect prevents them from getting into the scheme.
Friday’s protest through Castlebar ended with a rally outside the Taoiseach’s constituency office on Tucker Street.
A letter of protest, which was handed into the Taoiseach’s office, was read out by Colm O’Donnell of the Hill Farmers’ Action Group.
“The measures proposed by your Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Simon Coveney, are totally unworkable, and if you don’t intervene on our behalf, you An Taoiseach and your Minister and your Government will be the cause of the end of the way of life in the hills and the end of rural tourism in hill areas,” he read.
“We as citizens of the state and custodians of the hills will not be denied our rights and freedom to farm our land and we will not be accepting collective agreement,” he said to a roaring cheer from the crowd.
Martin Gavin, a former Chairman of Mayo IFA told the rally that Minister Coveney was looking down his nose at hill farmers and it was time the Taoiseach delivered for them.
“What we have here is the worst Minister for Agriculture, from the point of view of small farmers, we have ever had. The Minister does not understand the area we come from, and what more he does not care. He is standing there looking down his nose at people in hill areas,” he said..