Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan has been called on to ensure farmers with designated Natura land are properly compensated for the restrictions placed on them by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

The IFA is currently holding a protest at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht headquarters in Dublin today, Tuesday, September 24.

Speaking at the protest, IFA Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) project leader Padraic Joyce said: “We have been in discussions for the past 18 months.”

Joyce, the IFA Connacht regional chairman, described Minister Madigan’s “lack of engagement on the matter” as not acceptable, adding that she has not met with the IFA so far, despite his organisation seeking a meeting “some months ago”.

We must have a package of measures in the forthcoming budget which will see the re-opening of the NPWS [National Parks and Wildlife Service] farm plan scheme, which has been closed since 2010.

“While a final agreement with the department is close, the main issue for Minister Madigan is a meaningful compensation scheme for farmers affected by designations,” Joyce said.

The chairman added that the minister “must deliver on this crucial issue”, stressing that farmers with designated land around the country are “being denied their rights to maximise the potential of their land, due to the severe farming and developmental restrictions imposed on them”.

“13.6% of the land is designated as either SAC (Special Areas of Conservation) or SPA (Special Protection Areas), impacting around 35,000 farmers.

“The farming and development restrictions devalue their property and leads to income loss,” he said.

Joyce acknowledged that there has been some progress made in the talks on: conciliation and arbitration to determine losses; the principle of payment for the provision of ecosystem services; a claims process where a farmer is refused consent to carry out activities on their land; and a commitment to conclude the Hen Harrier threat response plan.

The IFA noted that a number of these issues have been dragging on for 18 months, since talks commenced on a new agreement on procedures and compensation arrangements for farmers with designated land.

The farm body claimed that the minister seems “incapable of getting these crucial issues over the line and farmers have lost confidence in her commitment to delivering a workable deal”.

Joyce said that these discussions will mean very little if the minister does not deliver a proper compensation scheme as part of Budget 2020 in two weeks’ time.