A working group, to address ‘issues’ with land eligibility is needed according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmer Association.

It made the request when it addressed the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture about issues of land eligibility this week.

INHFA policy spokesperson, Colm O Donnell, said that the solution to this lay in finding an accurate way of defining agricultural activity and land eligibility.

“One possible way could be the use of a menu of options (indicators), whereby Department officials would use one or a number of these in assessing agricultural activity.

“Potential indicators could be the physical presence of livestock, visual presence of grazing where we see heather in all stages of its life cycle, GPS or dated photographs of suitable livestock present in the parcel, or complying with the criteria for greening under permanent pasture.”

O Donnell also stated that the suggestion made by some, i.e.,that the five-year period of the Commonage Management Plan could be used to make land eligible again, is an unacceptable suggestion.

“In the vast majority of cases, this land is eligible, he stated, and the agricultural activity is sufficient; the problem is the narrow, rigid and inconsistent interpretation of rules based on lowland models.This is why the working group should be driven by politicians, farmer representatives and other interested parties from the areas that are being most severely affected.”

He also queried how the Department can make strategic decisions on designated land without carrying out an appropriate assessment. He also questioned the role (and silence) of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Minister Humphreys as to why they are willing to oversee a policy that will inevitably lead to the threat of land abandonment.