The NPWS will not be making any interim payments to commonage farmers in the Maamturks/ Twelve Bens who were not in an agri-environment scheme in the period 1/12/12 to 1/5/13. This issue was the subject of a question from Fine Gael TD Sean Kyne to Minister Jimmy Deenihan. Both the original question and the Ministers reply are shown below.
Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if interim payments will be made to farmers in the Twelve Bens region, County Galway, for 1 December 2012 to 1 May 2013 in recognition of the fact that said farmers were unable to avail of the agri-environment options scheme as no applications were accepted.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Farmers in the Twelve Bens-Garraun and Maumturk mountain complex special areas of conservation have had to amend their farming practices since November 2008 to ensure these mountain commonage areas recover from past overgrazing. This grazing restriction continues until November 2013 and will assist farmers in ensuring their lands are deemed to be in good agricultural and environmental condition, as required under cross-compliance requirements. As part of the compensation package that was agreed in 2008, an additional annual payment of €2,000 over five years was to be paid by my Department to those farmers who were in existing rural environment protection scheme, REPS, contracts for the additional grazing restriction.
Over this period, however, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine closed the REPS scheme and replaced it with the more limited agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, which was opened periodically for farmers. As an exceptional measure, my Department put in place a system of interim payments to cover gaps in which farmers could not access AEOS funding during periods when the scheme was closed to applicants. Such interim payments were sanctioned on three occasions, notwithstanding the significant reduction in funding available to my Department over this period. This was much appreciated by the farmers in question. In sanctioning the final interim payments in November 2012, my Department made clear that it would not be in a position to make any further additional payments for the period mentioned in the question. This position has not changed and there is no funding available to my Department to make further interim payments. Since November 2008, my Department has paid more than €2.6 million to farmers in this area of County Galway. As already referred to, the five years of this grazing restriction will terminate in November of this year.
Deputy Seán Kyne: I thank the Minister for his reply. I know similar problems were rectified in late 2012, of which the farmers affected were greatly appreciative. However, the farmers in question were mandated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, to join the Twelve Bens destocking scheme. They simply had no choice. One of the conditions was that they were also mandated to participate in the agri-environment scheme. However, REPS had closed and AEOS was not available for certain periods. The end result was that these farmers were left with no agri-environment payment for 1 December 2012 to May 2013. Will the Minister engage with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, to see if a solution can be achieved between the two Departments to provide interim payments to these farmers?
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: I will consult with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and theMarine, Deputy Simon Coveney. I suggest the Deputy does so himself. This matter has been considered by my Department but there is no funding available to make an interim payment. We have been generous in the past. If the moneys were available, I would be delighted to provide interim payments. I have met the farmers affected, who are very hardworking and need this funding. Later this evening I am having a meeting with farmers from County Mayo with a similar problem. However, to date there is no source of funding