The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has been called on to instruct local authorities that there can be no delay in carrying out inspections on slurry tanks to determine if their content is slurry or soiled water.

Senator Paul Daly raised the concern that bureaucracy might hold up inspections, which may prevent farmers from spreading soiled water and emptying slurry storage in time before animals are put in for the winter months.

Daly’s concerns come after Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, and Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien, outlined what actions impacted farmers can take following the major flooding that occurred during Storm Babet.

Currently, under the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) for the Protection of Waters Regulations, soiled water can be spread up to early December, subject to “suitable ground conditions and an acceptable weather forecast”.

This provision comes with certain conditions, including the requirement that, if a farmer has any concerns that the content of a flooded slurry store may be slurry and not soiled water, they should contact their local authority before spreading.

This requirement, according to Senator Daly, may leave farmers in a position where the soiled water cannot be spread before animals need to be housed.

Daly was speaking in the Seanad this week, where he put the issue to Malcolm Noonan, Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Minister Noonan said: “Local authorities are responsible for undertaking inspections and enforcement under the GAP regulations and, therefore, if any farmer is in doubt about whether the contents of slurry facilities are considered to be slurry or soiled water, he or she should contact the local authority immediately.”

In response, Daly said: “It is important that the message goes from the [Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage] to the local authorities that where a farmer needs a decision (on the content of slurry storage), the process needs to be expediated. It needs to happen now.”

He added: “Another consequence of the weather we have had is its effect on the condition of grazing land. Farmers now have to put in their cattle.

“Depending on their location they may have had grass for another fortnight, three weeks or one month, but that is all finished now because those grazing lands are saturated. The cattle have to go in and the tanks are full.

“If it is the case that somebody from the local authority needs to visit a farm, that needs to happen. There cannot be any bureaucracy or delay,” Daly added.

He called on the department to communicate this to the local authorities.

“The farmers who are asking the questions are those who are compliant and cognizant of their duties and roles, otherwise they would not ask the question,” the Fianna Fáil senator added.