‘We are the greenest farmers in Ireland and we are the most punished…’

We are the greenest farmers in Ireland and we are the most punished.

These were the sentiments expressed by suckler farmer John Egan as he prepared to protest – alongside a number of other farmers in the Shannon Callows region – at the office of Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan today, Tuesday, September 24.

Egan was speaking on behalf of numerous farmers in the callows region who were locked out of the national Farm Plan Scheme in 2012, as they descended on the minister’s office – with the support of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) – to highlight their plight to the powers that be.

Farmers protesting today also pointed out that they wanted “a proper compensation scheme for farmers” as well as a proper appeal system and arbitration system where farmers have due process in making a claim for compensation where restrictions are imposed.

‘Dealing with restrictions’

Egan, meanwhile, had restrictions placed on his land after it became designated under SAC as a result of the Habitats Directive in 2007.

The Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species, while approximately 200 rare and characteristic habitat types are also targeted for conservation in their own right.

There was a scheme – the national Farm Plan Scheme – that we were allowed to access because our land came under designation.

Egan continued: “But we are no longer allowed to access that and we want to be able to access that scheme again.

“38 restrictions have been placed on our lands by the state; there is €500,000 of a fine and three years in jail if we breach those regulations.

“And, so we feel very strongly that we should be recompensed – as before – it’s not going to break the state to pay us a few bob to look after the land like we do.

“There are flora and fauna on the Shannon Callows alongside SACs and those farmers should be allowed into the national Farm Plan Scheme as they did before.”

‘A burden on farmers’

Meanwhile, speaking at the protest, IFA’s SAC project leader Padraic Joyce pointed to how the organisation had been in discussions “for the past 18 months” over the issues.

It is a burden on farmers to have SACs on their land and they are entitled to compensation.

He continued: “Today’s protest is about meeting with the minister and making our case to her.”

Charlie Killeen, chairman of the Shannon Action Committee, told those gathered on Kildare Street earlier today that the Government was endeavouring to place the SAC matter into the next Rural Development Programme (RDP).

130ac of Killeen’s land became designated under under SAC in 2007 and he highlighted previously to AgriLand that the move devalued his property, placed a burden on his title deeds and forced him to apply for planning permission to carry our menial tasks such as fencing or hanging a gate.

This is not a Rural Development Programme issue – this is a state issue.

He continued: “Compensation money for us must come from the state. The RDP will have to operate on the same farm – not on the same land – and we must get equality.

“We won’t move from this issue until we get justice and equality for all.”