‘Farmers cannot be penalised for fires they didn’t light’

Farmers cannot be penalised for fires they didn’t light, according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).

The INHFA was responding to a statement issued yesterday by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Andrew Doyle.

Minister Doyle advised farmers to remove illegally burnt land from their 2017 Basic Payment Scheme applications; this land would not be eligible for payment under the BPS scheme, or any other area-based schemes, he added.

But the chair of the INHFA’s CAP Committee, Colm O’Donnell, believes any proposal that could see farmers lose payments due to the actions of others is totally unacceptable.

He described the minister’s recommendations that farmers, and their advisers, should remove illegally burnt land from their BPS applications by way of an amendment as “ill advised, confusing and potentially very costly to these farmers, families and communities”.

Minister Doyle has been asked to clarify his comments and to clear up any confusion that has been caused.

Meanwhile, the INHFA understands that a penalty can only be applied to an applicant/farmer once it is found, after an inspection, that the farmer/applicant was responsible for breaching their requirements.

“So in this instance, it would have to be proven that the farmer lit the fire,” O’Donnell said.

Immediate clarity and reassurances need to be given to innocent farmers, who are now fearful of losing some or all of their farm payments, he added.

Major confusion

Similar calls for clarity on the matter have been made by Independent TD for Roscommon–Galway Michael Fitzmaurice.

Minister Doyle’s comments regarding the removal of illegally burnt land from BPS applications has caused “major confusion and anger in farming circles”, Fitzmaurice said.

If a farmer is directly responsible for the illegal burning of land then I support the action being proposed, but there are many farmers who could now be penalised that are totally innocent.

“There are cases where a farmer’s land might have been burnt. That fire may have started several fields away and he had no hand, act or part in that fire. To penalise in that instance would be grossly unfair and wrong.

“In addition, when it comes to commonage there could be 30 or 40, or even more, farmers involved in that land; the vast majority of those farmers would have had nothing to do with the fires.

“In many cases, farmers who are being penalised are actually the victims; in fact some farmers did everything they could to prevent the burning of their land,” he said.

The Independent TD has called on Minister Doyle to clarify the matter; he believes it is unfair that innocent farmers may be penalised for fires they did not light.