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INHFA hope common-sense will prevail in gorse fire payment cuts

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Anton McNulty

The President of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association says he hopes common-sense will prevail and hill farmers who have had their payments cut due to gorse fires will receive them in full.
A delegation from the farming organisation met with officials from the Department of Agriculture on December 18 after some commonage farmers received letters to say their payments will be cut. It was claimed that they had ‘over-claimed’ on their commonage because the commonage burnt by fires in the summer had become ‘ineligible’.
The Achill branch of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) held a meeting to discuss the situation and it was agreed that they would not accept the cuts. Up to 90 farmers in Achill signed an affidavit stating they were not responsible for the fires and these were presented by the Department officials to the INHFA delegation.
Last week, INHFA President Colm O’Donnell updated the Achill farmers on the meeting and  described it as constructive. He informed the farmers they have a strong case and advised them not to accept the payment cuts and to ask the Department to review their decision.
“If the farmer can show to the satisfaction of the department they were not at fault for starting the fire, the department can take a decision not to enforce a penalty. It is in everyones interest to return a request to review the decision to cut payments and that this is the advice the INHFA are giving on back of the meeting,” he explained.
“To be clear, a review is not an appeal. An appeal would happen if the department, after reviewing the case, still say you over-claimed. The next road would be an appeal. You will be in a stronger position in an appeal situation if it went down that road. But hopefully common-sense would prevail by then.”
The President of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association says he hopes common-sense will prevail and hill farmers who have had their payments cut due to gorse fires will receive them in full.
A delegation from the farming organisation met with officials from the Department of Agriculture on December 18 after some commonage farmers received letters to say their payments will be cut. It was claimed that they had ‘over-claimed’ on their commonage because the commonage burnt by fires in the summer had become ‘ineligible’.
The Achill branch of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) held a meeting to discuss the situation and it was agreed that they would not accept the cuts. Up to 90 farmers in Achill signed an affidavit stating they were not responsible for the fires and these were presented by the Department officials to the INHFA delegation.
Last week, INHFA President Colm O’Donnell updated the Achill farmers on the meeting and  described it as constructive. He informed the farmers they have a strong case and advised them not to accept the payment cuts and to ask the Department to review their decision.
“If the farmer can show to the satisfaction of the department they were not at fault for starting the fire, the department can take a decision not to enforce a penalty. It is in everyones interest to return a request to review the decision to cut payments and that this is the advice the INHFA are giving on back of the meeting,” he explained.
“To be clear, a review is not an appeal. An appeal would happen if the department, after reviewing the case, still say you over-claimed. The next road would be an appeal. You will be in a stronger position in an appeal situation if it went down that road. But hopefully common-sense would prevail by then.”

‘Drip-feeding’
Not all farmers have received letters to inform them of the cuts and the delegation were informed that only 160 of these letters had been sent out to affected farmers around the country. Mr O’Donnell criticised the approach taken by the department in ‘drip-feeding’ the release of the letters and claimed it was an attempt to ‘divide and conquer’. He advised farmers who receive letters in the coming weeks to contact the INHFA and they will advise them on the appropriate steps to take.
He also claimed the Minister for Agriculture breached the farmers charter by not informing farmers in writing earlier in the year that they face payment cuts because of gorse fires.
He praised the action taken by the Achill farmers in taking a united stand not to accept the payments and stated they  ‘have been of enormous benefit to the association’ in their negotiations.
Local councillor Paul McNamara echoed his sentiments saying that it showed that Achill farmers would not be a push over.
“If the farmers sat back and took these letters from the department, they would have walked all over the farmers and I think that is what they tried to do. It would be easy for farmers on a less penalty to have accepted the letter and it showed a united front going forward. It sent out a very strong signal to the Department of Agriculture that the farmers of this parish will not be pushed over,” he said.

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