‘The fallout for farmers from the storm will have to be addressed ’
HENRY O’DONNELL counts himself relatively lucky that only about 10 acres of his holding was affected by last month’s severe storms in Donegal.
“I had a 10-acre field of red clover badly affected by the storms but my neighbour had all his fencing washed away during the rains and he had only completed re-fencing his farm,” says Henry.
“I could see what was happening from my kitchen window but luckily I was on the right side of the Crana river and wasn’t badly affected.
“Farmers up here took a back seat when the storms struck first.
“They didn’t want to be complaining considering the awful amount of damage caused by the storms to people’s homes in the area and to the bridges and roads all around, but now that the storms have passed the problems caused to the farming community will have to be addressed.”
Henry (50) estimates that up to 300 farms on Inishowen were damaged to varying degrees by the storms.
He farms 90 hectares of owned land and commonage near the Sliabh Sneacht mountain in Drumfries on the Inishowen peninsula where he runs a suckler and sheep enterprise. He is married to Susan and the couple have two young daughters, Ellie (12) and Ava (7).
There are 30 acres around the farmhouse which he uses for grazing and silage, with the rest of his land located in and around the landmark mountain. He has some 80 sheep on the mountain and a dozen continental sucklers as his main farming enterprise.
Recently he introduced a herd of 16 Galloway cattle to the farm, and along with around a dozen neighbours the plan is to develop their own Sliabh Sneacht beef brand for the Irish market.
Henry reckons this can be achieved within the next two years.
An activist with the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association and local LEADER company, Henry helped develop the Sliabh Sneacht centre which is a community hub for the region.
He has also been involved in the post-storm talks with the Department of Agriculture on how to get the affected Inishowen farms back to full production.
The Department has announced targeted funding to apply to losses of livestock, fodder and a contribution towards clean-up costs, such as damage to fences. However, only losses not covered by insurance will be eligible for consideration. He feels more could be done for those impacted.
“All we have had is politicians looking for photo opportunities and then clearing off back to Dublin and doing nothing. We have had enough of that,” says Henry.
But he is quick to exclude Donegal County Council from his criticisms. “They have been exceptional,” he says.
“They have diggers at the affected roads and riverbanks clearing up and are helping with the fencing of land.”
Like his farming neighbours, Henry is quite clear about what needs to be done.
His list includes critical short-term actions like giving temporary derogations to the Inishowen farmers in the GLAS scheme, temporarily suspending farm inspections in the region and front-load- ing 70pc of the basic farm payment to give the affected farmers the financial ability to get their enterprises back to normal.
Henry maintains that these would be short-term and cost-effective measures which would address the problems of the farmers concerned.
He adds that he is not holding his breath waiting for action from Agriculture House in Dublin on the proposed aid scheme.
Henry O’Donnell pictured with some of his Black Galloway cattle on the family farm near Drumfries, Co Donegal