With all the recent gorse and forest fires (approx. 100) sweeping the nation over the past couple of weeks, it is no surprise to hear the Department for Agriculture has now taken a stand on the matter.
The fires, some of which were started accidently and a lot on purpose, will now all be investigated by the department using satellite technology. This is to be carried out to determine the causes of the fires as well as find out if and who the culprits may be. Officials from the department say there are in the process of analysing a range of satellite imagery in an attempt to identify land burned illegally during the official closed season for burning.
The recent fires have caused significant damage to large portions of Irelands agricultural and forestry land. The fires have also led to over €6 million of the tax payer’s money being used on emergency services to attempt to control and halt the blazes.
Andrew Doyle, who is the Minister of state at the department of agriculture food and marine, said that to try and make the investigations as accurate as possible, historical satellite imagery is been used to compare before and after pictures. He added “My Department will not tolerate incidences of illegal burning of land and will take all necessary actions to ensure compliance with the conditions of the various EU funded area-based schemes, including reducing payments and penalties where applicable."
He also went further by issuing a light-handed threat to anyone found guilty of the crime, “Agricultural and eligible forestry land identified as burnt illegally as part of this investigation will be deemed ineligible for payment under the 2017 Basic Payment and other area-based schemes,".
This means that any farmer found guilty of illegally burning his land outside the set dates will potentially lose any grants he/she may be entitled to receive from schemes they have entered.
The minister also reminded farmers that it is illegal to burn land from the 31st of March right up until August 31st. He also advised farmers again that anyone found guilty will not be eligible for scheme payments under the Basic payment scheme and other schemers. He also said that any farmer who has included illegally burnt land in their 2017 scheme applications should remove this land for said applications by submitting an amendment form to the department before the closing date for amendments. This closing date is listed as May 31st or June 9th depending on the scheme.
Mr Doyle said any illegally burnt land included in applications may result in reduced payments as well as penalties for affected farmers. This he said could happen under the basic payment scheme or indeed others also.
All lands which have been identified to date, as areas which were burnt illegally, face the potential of an investigation by Department officials.
Upon the announcement of these proposed penalties Sinn Féins Agriculture spokesperson, TD Martin Kenny, said that these measures are not fair or efficient and is instead placing the burden on the vicitims of the illegal burning.
Deputy Kenny said: “There 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 stressed that some farmers, seriously affected by the fires and innocent of causing them, "had applied for Basic Payments before they fell victim to illegal burning. Many more are still exhausted from their efforts to put out fires which encroached on their lands."
When speaking of the departments plans Kenny described them as "simplistic, inefficient and a cruel way to deal with the victims of the illegal burning". He added he is “ seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister to discuss this measure and ask him to rescind his instruction regarding BPS payments until a fairer solution can be found.”
With the recent forest/gorse fire pandemic finally coming to a close, it is great to see/hear the department are now ready to take on the offenders. The burning of land illegally during closed periods is not only dangerous to animals and the ecosystem but also to us humans.
We were lucky this time round that no person was seriously injured especially with some houses being affected by the blazes. Next time round who knows where tragedy might strike.