A national protest group has now been officially formed to campaign for changes to the new Rural Development Programme (RDP), Tubercurrry sheep farmer and IFA National Rural Affairs Committee Vice Chairman Colm O’Donnell has confirmed to Agriland.

He said the group is campaigning specifically about aspects regarding the need for a collective agreement among commonage shareholders in order to allow them access the new GLAS measures.  The agreement to establish the ‘Concerned Hill Farmers Action Group’ was taken at a meeting held in Sligo on Friday night.

“We represent hill farmers throughout Mayo, Sligo, Donegal and Leitrim and the Connemara area,” he said.

“Our aim is to bring our deep concerns to politicians at the highest level and to make hill farmers throughout Ireland fully aware of the tremendous inequalities built into the new Rural Development Programme. And the clock is ticking. The programme has already been submitted to Brussels, which means that we need immediate action by the government in order to have this matter sorted out.

“Fundamentally, the GLAS measures that were submitted to Europe are totally unworkable and will act to prevent large numbers of hill farmers from accessing the future support, which they will need to survive.

“As a group, we have a number of practical solutions that we now want to put to government as a matter of priority.”

Some days ago Colm O’Donnell and a number of other leading hill farmers put their name to an open letter highlighting what they regarded as the about turn on RDP policy, taken by the IFA centrally.

“We are where we are today because the IFA, at a national level, changed its initial position from being totally opposed to a collective agreement on the commonages to the point where they agreed to a 50% collective arrangement and a payment of €79/ha on Natura land.

“This is almost half of the €150/ha that was agreed by European Commission as the cost of Natura designations. All of this was done without consultation with the Hill and Rural Development committees of the IFA, who had been given a clear mandate to reject any form of a collective agreement,” he concluded.