TALKS between Clare farmers and the Agriculture Minister have been described as “robust, full and frank,” as a delegation travelled to Dublin this week to fight for the Burren Programme and Hen Harrier Project.
Both schemes are at risk, as they are set to be subsumed into the new ACRES programme from the end of this year.
Michael Davoren, Aoife Forde, Dr Brendan Dunford and Councillor Joe Killeen made the case for retention of the award-winning scheme, that has made a multimillion Euro contribution to the sensitive environment of the Burren and to the local economy.
Also addressing Minister Charlie McConalogue and Minister Pippa Hackett and their officials were Councillor Pat Hayes, Denis Tuohy and Ruairí Costello, who made the case for the retention of the Hen Harrier Project. A number of Clare’s Oireachtas members also attended. After the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, the ministers and officials undertook to come back to attendees, after giving consideration to their concerns.
“We had a full and frank exchange of views and good a good hearing,” Michael Davoren said. “Minister Hackett investigated the possibility of making an exception for Burren farmers in terms of the cap on payments. The ACRES scheme caps payments at €7,500 and no exceptions can be made, we are now told. Well, we made a clear case that the landscape of the Burren has always been exceptional and that the precedent for treating it differently is already there.”
Mr Davoren said the meeting had gone “reasonably well” and that the matter is now in the hands of the Department of Agriculture. He described proposals that a dialogue be started on the issue as “milk and watery”.
“We’re two weeks out from the scheme closing, it’s a bit late in the day to be talking about dialogue,” he said.
While there was no official time-frame for a response from the ministers, Councillor Hayes said there is a “clear urgency” around both the Burren and Hen Harrier projects. “There was a robust, full and frank discussion,” he said.
“We got a very good hearing, but the bottom line is that all of the investment and the work achieved to-date will be set at nought if ACRES isn’t changed to take account of the Burren Scheme and the Hen Harrier Project nationally. There is a clear urgency because time is moving on in terms of the new ACRES scheme being launched. If there are to be amendments, it’s now they have to be done.”
Councillor Hayes said that while in Dublin, the delegation had also had the opportunity to make the case to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister Eamon Ryan.
Meanwhile, Cratloe’s Eddie Punch, who is ICSA general secretary has called on Minister McConalogue to review what he described as the “disastrous decision” to replace the Burren Programme with ACRES.
“The Minister is risking undermining the incredible progress made in regenerating the Burren as a world leading example of how nature restoration and livestock farming can exist in harmony,” he said.
“It would be an incredible act of self-harm to set back all the progress made in the Burren. The Burren is an integral part of how we can showcase Irish cattle farming to international audiences, but it is also incredibly important for the diversity of flora and fauna.
“This has only been possible by ensuring that farmers don’t under graze or overgraze, and that grazing is managed both during summer and winter. This has required very specific supports for farmers, which have been delivered based on real consultation with farmers and finding solutions based on feedback.”
Mr Punch said the programme has shown that results-based programmes are effective. “…This is contingent on a real level of engagement and consultation with the farmers on the ground. This is a lesson that the Minister and his department need to learn,” he said.
“I am now calling on Minister McConalogue to stand up for the excellent outcomes achieved so far with the Burren Programme and for him to give a guarantee that this good work can continue.”
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at [email protected] or telephone 065 6864146.