BY BRIAN MOORE
FOR many years, Irish farmers and their families who work and live on poor and difficult land have benefited from the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.
Now, 42 years since the EU introduced the scheme, a review is underway to determine if this new ANC (Areas of Natural Constraint) Scheme will continue to cover all those farmers who have come to rely on payments from the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.
At a meeting called by the IFA in Bantry this week, over 150 local farmers turned out to air their concerns and to understand just what the ANC review means to the farmers of West Cork.
‘The funding for the scheme has always been shared between the EU and the Irish Exchequer,’ John Coughlan, IFA Hill Farming Committee and Munster chairman told The Southern Star. ‘However, at the time of the economic crash in 2008, the Irish government reduced its contribution, which resulted in cuts to the maximum payments received by farmers in those areas.’
With the review now under way farmers were informed that there is every possibility that some who previously benefitted from the scheme could find themselves excluded, while others could find themselves included for the first time.
‘We need to continue to support those farmers that need this payment and the fund needs to be increased to back to €250 million, as it was before 2009,’ John Coughlan continued.
Corney Buckley, West Cork IFA chairman, said that he was very pleased with the numbers who gathered at the meeting in Bantry. ‘We got the message from the floor here tonight that it is vitally important that the ANC payments are maintained and indeed increased,’ Mr Buckley said. ‘75% of the farmers in Ireland avail of the ANC payment system and we need to ensure that rural families working marginal land can rely on this scheme.’
However, concerns that the new review will not benefit all the farmers who are currently covered by the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme were a priority for many at the meeting.
‘While it was a very positive meeting, I feel that as the new scheme is to be reclassified under a biophysical system and remapped areas may not be classified under the new scheme,’ Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) said. ‘It is vitally important that we get the mapping programme right from the outset. If we don’t, this new ANC will be a difficult and controversial system is administer.’
The importance of having the proper systems in place was also echoed by Deputy Michael Collins (Ind): ‘I am worried that farmers will lose out under the new ANC and, while we need to ensure that the scheme is well funded, we also need to ensure that these funds go to the areas that need them.’