BY JACKIE KEOGH
MANY farmers in disadvantaged areas who have had very little money in their direct payments since 2013 are getting ‘no joy’ from the recent clarifications and changes to the application process.
Dermot Kelleher, chairman of the Disadvantaged Farmers Legal Challenge, said the group had initially welcomed the changes, saying they offered greater clarity in relation to the Direct Payment Scheme, but the situation isn’t working as well as expected.
Mr Kelleher told The Southern Star: ‘The Disadvantaged Farmers Legal Challenge group has no option but to continue its campaign to seek legal redress.
‘Improved technology was used after the closing date of applications for the Single Farm Payment grants for May 2013 – 2013 being a reference year – but the fines were based on new technology that was used in October of that year.
‘The new technology showed features deemed ineligible by the Department of Agriculture – features that even professionals, such as consultants, couldn’t see or deem ineligible on the old maps in many cases.’
Mr Kelleher said: ‘Farming in marginal and sensitive areas is a skill passed down from generation to generation, in harmony with the environment and biodiversity, and it is unjust that farmers on the worst land with small payments, many below 10,000 euro per annum, can get a 100% penalty for insufficient agricultural activity.
‘These farmers have a similar farming enterprise and stocking density as their previous generation. Meanwhile, farmers on prime land only need a topper to draw their full entitlements without fear of penalties.’
Mr Kelleher said the group, which is increasing its membership all over the country, is ‘very confident about the upcoming case and expect that the legal team will be issuing proceedings in the near future.’
Meetings have been held throughout Ireland, particularly along the western seaboard. The next meeting will be at 9pm at The Bush Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon, this Thursday, June 18th, at 9pm.
Mr Kelleher also confirmed that the group’s fundraising drive has ‘exceeded all expectations.’
He reported that the group has reached its preliminary target of €70,000 and are ready to take the Department of Agriculture to court.