Does the current Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney have any long-term vision for maximising the national resource we have in our uplands and mountains?
I ask this question in light of the minister’s complete unwillingness to step forward and show leadership on the complex issue of ‘land eligibility’ on our most environmentally sensitive land.
The current difficulty on this question faced by farmers has its roots in the decision taken over a decade ago by the then Minister for Agriculture to de-stock the uplands, in response to the overgrazing problem. This was a blunt instrument imposing a ‘one size fits all’ solution where a targeted response was required, and received very little support at the time.
Commonage framework plans were drawn up setting out the required stocking rate on individual commonages. To alleviate the fears of those worst affected, commitments were then given to revisit the issue to amend stocking rates as required.
As too often happens in this kind of situation, however, those commitments were not followed through in a meaningful sense and an initial unsatisfactory situation has been allowed to stagnate.
We now have the ludicrous state of affairs where, with the reduction of stock numbers on the uplands since this scheme was introduced, Agriculture department officials are inspecting land and declaring it ineligible for payment on the basis that there isn’t sufficient grazing activity on it, yet in many of those cases the land is being stocked at the maximum allowed under the commonage framework plan, a plan which – as pointed out above – has not been reviewed to reflect the changing state of vegetation.
In the current round of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), by refusing to engage with farmers to put in place a national template with clear guidelines on the contested issue of land eligibility, the minister has abdicated his responsibilities.
Instead he has passed the buck, opted to mandate Teagasc and private planners to assess land eligibility whilst drafting Glas plans. This is an attempt to a) make farmers pay and b) make private planners take responsibility for work that should be carried out by the minister’s own Department of Agriculture.
This is a counterproductive approach that lacks a strategic vision for the uplands. The CAP and the funds within it should be used constructively, a vehicle to chart a sustainable way forward, incentivising farmers and giving them a means to return the uplands to an optimum state in a planned manner. What is proposed by Minister Coveney is destructive, and will instead copper-fasten the marginalisation of these areas.
Irish farmers want to progress, they want to go forward; this is not the way.
Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan MEP