Ac­cess is­sue as farm­ers count cost of wild­fires

Irish Independent - Farming - - NEWS - CLAIRE FOX

FARM­ERS might have to con­sider re­strict­ing ac­cess to com­mon­ages and up­lands be­cause of the il­le­gal burn­ing of th­ese lands.

The Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has writ­ten to hun­dreds of farm­ers over the last fort­night in­form­ing them that the area they claimed for un­der the Ba­sic Pay­ment Scheme (BPS) had been re­duced be­cause of il­le­gal burn­ing.

The farm­ers can ac­cept the de­duc­tion pro­posed by the Depart­ment, or ap­peal the de­ci­sion.

Gerry Lof­tus, Mayo chair­man of the INHFA, warned that the de­ci­sion to im­pose th­ese re­duc­tions could have im­pli­ca­tions for ac­cess to up­lands and com­mon­ages.

“Will farm­ers be able to sit down and watch peo­ple walk­ing onto their lands know­ing that if they ac­ci­den­tally start a fire the landowner could lose out?” Mr Lof­tus asked.

“Can you af­ford to risk your pay­ment? That’s the ques­tion.”

Mr Lof­tus pointed out that farm­ers were not gen­er­ally the peo­ple who started un­con­trolled fires, but they are now be­ing held ac­count­able.

Over 300 farm­ers at­tended an INHFA meet­ing in Achill, Co Mayo last Wed­nes­day night to dis­cuss the is­sue.

The meet­ing heard that the rate of de­duc­tions im­posed by the Depart­ment var­ied from com­mon­age to com­mon­age.

The INHFA has ad­vised farm­ers not to agree to any re­duc­tions to their BPS el­i­gi­ble area as the mat­ter is be­ing dis­cussed with Depart­ment of­fi­cials.

Farm­ers fear that penal­ties could be im­posed along with the re­duc­tions, and that any changes to farm­ers’ BPS el­i­gi­ble ar­eas could im­pact on other schemes.

Fol­low­ing a meet­ing with the Depart­ment yes­ter­day, the INHFA’s Colm O’Don­nell said that the Depart­ment plan to con­duct a review on an in­di­vid­ual farmer ba­sis into the de­duc­tions is­sued.

“We sup­port a review of th­ese cases. We pre­sented a case to the Depart­ment which showed that more than 90 farm­ers weren’t re­spon­si­ble for the wild fires and made every ef­fort to put them out,” said Mr O’Don­nell.

“There is EU reg­u­la­tion that safe­guards the farmer in th­ese sit­u­a­tions when it wasn’t their fault.

“In­no­cent farm­ers should not be vic­timised.

“We don’t con­done il­le­gal set­ting of fires but we clearly showed that farm­ers weren’t at fault.

“It will be a case by case review and we en­cour­age farm­ers who got the let­ters to re­spond to them with ev­i­dence they have that the fire wasn’t their fault in a timely fash­ion.”

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