The new Farmers’ Charter of Rights has failed to uphold general principles agreed between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and farm organisations, according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association’s (INHFA’s) president, Colm O’Donnell.

O’Donnell made the comments after an emergency meeting with senior department officials on Monday last, December 18.

According to the INHFA, the meeting was needed because the department had failed to inform claimants of the 2017 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and other area-based schemes that during the validation process of their applications, they had over-claimed their area of eligible land.

O’Donnell added: “During department administrative checks all claimants should have been formally notified as soon as possible after identification of the over-claim and at the latest by September 15, in line with the charter.

Officially writing to claimants three months after this deadline is unacceptable and calls into question the Farmers’ Charter of Rights Monitoring Committee.

A “substantial number” of recent over-claim letters received by applicants appears to be linked to the 95 wild fires which engulfed many areas during the late spring/early summer period of exceptionally dry weather earlier this year, the INHFA has said.

These fires were formally reported to the EU Commission by the Irish Wildlife Trust and farmers now find themselves having to respond to the department letters, either accepting a reduced reference area or seeking a review of their case – and all this through no fault on their behalf, according to the organisation.

O’Donnell warned: “All farmers who received these letters [must] respond without delay and set out clearly why they were not part of the group of people that started those illegal fires.

Affected farmers in Achill, Co. Mayo have already taken action lodging 90 sworn affidavits with the department when they accompanied our INHFA delegation at Monday’s meeting.

The accompanying delegation explained how they, as farmers, risked their lives in the putting out of those fires along with their neighbours and friends.

O’Donnell concluded, stating that this process has now to be addressed and urged farmers to respond as quickly as possible if they have received such letters.