‘Major U-turn by Department of Agriculture on south Galway inspection decisions’

After reducing two large Slieve Aughty commonages by 55% (from 1090ha to 476ha) and 64% (from 184ha to 67ha), the Department has just made a major U-turn on its own decisions, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) says.

The INHFA has taken issue with the Department of Agriculture over its handling of land eligibility inspections that affected over 60 hill farmers in South Galway.

Recently, the shareholders’ legal team received letters from the Department saying that the inspection findings will now not apply, the association says.

The INHFA said that Department has not moved on the nearby Keelderry commonage, which was reduced by 87% (from 248ha to 32ha) or on a number of other commonages around the country that have had reduction imposed as a result of similar inspections.

INHFA Spokesperson, Colm O’Donnell stated that it became apparent that if the Department were to pursue the type of inspection procedure they were attempting on the Slieve Aughties, large swathes of marginal land would quite quickly become ineligible for payments going forward.

“INFHA is pleased with the outcome, as this is where the political battle on land eligibility kicked off,” he said.

The INHFA is now calling on Minister Coveney to sort out the outstanding commonage issues on the Slieve Aughties and elsewhere.

Roxborough Commonage Association spokesperson, Enda Tannion, stated that the campaign by INHFA on land eligibility played a major role in our victory, but the next step is to recover our legal costs from the Department, he said.

The INHFA has also identified a number of major flaws in the new land eligibility guidelines issued by the Department of Agriculture this week, it says.

Brendan Joyce from the INHFA said that while we welcome the new guidelines, unnecessary confusion has been added into the mix regarding the term “boglands” and with issues around burning.

“Surely the new focus on ‘maintaining land in a state suitable for grazing or cultivation’ now warrants changes to the legally binding Basic Payment Scheme Terms and Conditions, such as the removal of the terms ‘ungrazed due to low stocking rates’ and ‘sufficient agricultural activity’,” Joyce said.

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