Confusion has surrounded the recent announcements of loss of BPS payments, for farmers found with illegally burnt land entered in their applications. The Department of Agriculture made the announcement yesterday in a bid to fight the recent increase in gorse/forest fires around the country.
The announcement was made yesterday by the Department of Agricultureâs Minister of state, Andrew Doyle, and has received mixed reviews throughout the system.
Independent TD for the Roscommon/Galway regions, Michael Fitzmaurice, called for clarity on the changes from Mr. Andrew Doyle.
Mr Fitzmaurice TD said of the changes "Recent comments from Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Andrew Doyle on the matter, and news yesterday that illegally burnt land must be withdrawn from the 2017 Basic Payment Scheme applications must be clarified as they are causing much confusion and anger in farming circles".
He also went further by explaining that farmers who are not themselves guilty of starting these fires now could potentially face repercussions themselves. He said although he feels the farmers responsible deserve the actions facing them but innocent by-standing farmers should get exemptions from the changes.
He said "If a farmer is directly responsible for the illegal burning of land then I support the action being proposed but there are many farmers who could be penalised now that are totally innocent. There are cases where a farmers' land might have been burnt and that fire may have started several fields away and he had no hand act or part in that fire. To penalise in that instance would be grossly unfair and wrongâ.
He also stated that the proposed changes could lead to a high number of innocent farmers facing charges/losing their scheme funding.Â He stated, âIn addition when it comes to commonage there could be thirty or forty or even more farmers involved in that land and the clear majority of those farmers would have had nothing to do with the fires ".
Mr Fitzmaurice concluded by saying he would seek clarity from the minister on the situation and broadcast the worries facing the innocent farmers, currently on BPS schemes, to the Minister. He finished up by saying, "In many cases farmers who are being penalised are the victims, and in fact some farmers did everything they could to prevent the burning of their land. I am requesting an urgent statement from Minister Doyle on this matter. It is unfair on farmers that had part in these fires to be penalised or prevented from applying for BPS payments and this issue needs to be cleared up immediately".
Indeed, TD Fitzmaurice was not the only politician to come out seeking answers following the announcement with Sinn FÃ©inâs Agricultural spokesman, Martin Kenny TD, having his say on the matter. Deputy Kenny said: âThere is widespread shock and confusion among hill farmers, many of whom are struggling to cope with illegal burning of their land over the past few weeks, that Minister Doyle is threatening them with penalties and withdrawal of payments if they include burnt land on their applications. This is a kneejerk reaction to a more complex issue.'.
He shared the concerns expressed by Michael Fitzmaurice TD, adding that the recent changes are aÂ "simplistic, inefficient and a cruel way to deal with the victims of the illegal burning".Â
Another man concerned by the changes was, ICSA rural development chairman, Seamus Sherlock. He also questioned the legality of penalising farmers through the Basic Payment Scheme whose land has been burned unless there is absolute proof of guilt against them. He said âIt is abundantly clear that the rapid spread of fires in recent weeks means that the majority of farmers had no hand, act or part in the burning and were in fact, victims of collateral damage caused by the carelessness or recklessness of a few. In fact, we have no proof that any farmer deliberately started a fire.â
Mr Sherlock went further, explaining that âFires are caused by a variety of reasons and can spread into parcels of land owned by many individuals. There is the potential that a cohort of farmers will face penalties through no fault of their own. The Basic Payment is too important an income source to be raided in this manner.âÂ
More and more people from the industry have met this announcement by the department with a vast majority having the same opinion. The Department need to make these new changes as clear as possible and find a way to ensure no innocent farmers will suffer.Â