Luke Ming Flanagan MEP updates us on the recent conversations with Commission officials over land eligibility and CAP payments.
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Luke Ming Flanagan MEP updates us on the recent conversations with Commission officials over land eligibility and CAP payments.

MEP Luke Ming Flanagan recently led a group of farmers from the Irish Naturan and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) on a trip to Brussels, with land eligibility for CAP payments being the intended topic for discussion.


The group of farmers were brought to hold discussions with Commission officials and two clear issues were noted as being in need of addressing.


According to Mr. Flanagan these issues were the current implementation of the existing scheme in its flawed fashion, and the unwillingness of the Department and the minister to face up to past mismanagement. The latter he says is "preventing a long-term strategy being put in place".


Ming said, with regards the first issue above, that the department recently produced a booklet outlining the T&Cs of the schemes, though he says the training note for inspectors released upon many farmers request point to a different interpretation of the rules.


He continued by speaking of his astonishment that the principles of land eligibility are not the first item in the training notes for inspectors.


Ming stressed that this should in fact be the "base-line for the inspection", saying inspectors should be asking questions "What is the bacground of this land?is it working under a restriction?".


He said "it barely gets a mention" and says the focus is "On the vegetation cover on the ground" and that the scheme is currently "ignoring the fact that farmers on these lands are restricted in the stock they can carry".


He added that the general consensus amongst these affected farmers is that inspectors on the ground are working to a different agenda/set of principles.


Mr. Flanagan followed up by pointing out other issues within the inspectors training notes, he said there is "no mention is made of the timing of the inspections, farmers reported that lands were being inspected in winter, a time when molinia grass naturally turns white and stock are off the hills, with findings then being made of no evidence of growth or agricultural activity".



Ming also said another concern for farmers of these affected lands is the vague definition given to grazeable forage, and says ther has been subjective decisions made regarding heather heights, which he says were done without any "scientific justification".


Ming then moved on to discuss the issues arising from the second problem listed above, the past mismanagement by the department, and tgheir unwillingness to face up to their mistakes.


He said this problem "has its roots in the action taken by the EU against Ireland, in relation to breaches of the Birds and Habitats directive in 2002".


He continued by saying this is what forced the department into trying to address the issue, and said they adopted a "blunt approach" of a 30% destocking across all commonages. He said this was done rather than consulting properly and finding a workable solution for these Natura lands.


Ming also stated that these Commonage Management plans were drawn up and limited the number of stock a farmer could graze on sommonage.


He added that commitments given at the time were not honoured, "Despite undertakings given at the time to review the CMP and stocking rates, which even at the time were clearly unsuitable as not all hills were overgrazed, these commitments were not honoured and an initial unsatisfactory situation was allowed to stagnate, even deteriorate."


Ming followed on by speaking of the unfairness that lands outside of the Natura 2000 designation are still being constrained under the same regulations and are now deemed ineligible through inadequate stockin rates, adding that "It goes against all natural justice and fairness that farmers who complied in good faith with a Department-imposed solution should now find themselves penalised for doing so."


Ming used the recent award winning Burren LIFE project as an example of what could be achieved with some changes.


He said that this shouls be used as a template for the department to fix these issues, and called for the work to start ASAP.


Ming concluded by saying "The choice is clear", asking "Do we want a living countryside providing the public goods that benefits wider society, the most important element here being the retention of people and families to underpin local communities, or is the aim a depopulated landscape of monoculture forest interspersed with abandoned farms?"

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