Sean Kyne TD along with Eamon O Cuiv TD and Andrew Doyle TD have taken a keen interest in progressing the commonage issue. They and a small number of other Deputies have been pressing the Minister for Agriculture on numerous occasions for an indication as to the long term plan towards addressing the commonage issue. Unfortunately the flow of real information as to the Dept. of Agricultures plans has been painfully slow. However in response to a recent question from Sean Kyne the Minister for Agriculture has revealed in more detail than we have seen up to now, how he sees the situation progressing over the coming months.
"Sean Kyne (Galway West, Fine Gael): To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when liaison committees will be set up in commonage areas as agreed by him with representatives of farm organisations from Galway and Mayo in 2012 in view of the concerns regarding commonage stocking rates, farmer exiting REP scheme 4, the conclusion of the 12 Bens Scheme and the absence of compensation for special areas of conservation and Natura designations to many farmers in 2014 and if he will make a statement on the matter,
Simon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael).
The CAP Reform package which I negotiated contains elements which could impact on those farming commonage lands. However, I am awaiting the adoption of EU Commission delegated acts; it is expected that discussion on these delegated acts will be concluded before year-end.
The issue of stocking levels on Commonages and the approach necessary to address what is recognised as a very complex matter which requires a very detailed action plan to cover the various issues, is one which has received widespread coverage.
The report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture is a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate regarding the issues surrounding commonage lands, the views of the various stakeholders having being sought and considered by the Committee. As I have indicated previously, while it is generally accepted that this is a very complex matter and requires a very detailed action plan to cover the various issues, I intend in the near future to set out proposals on how these matters will be progressed. My firm intention is that the process will be fully inclusive and that all stakeholders, particularly farmers and their representatives will be central to the process.
Commonage lands form an important part of the farming enterprises of many farmers, particularly along the West Coast. They also form an important part of the local environment from the point of view of bio-diversity, wildlife, amenities and economic returns e.g. tourism. However, there is a substantial risk of land abandonment as under-grazing becomes more of a problem. Under-grazing leads to an increase in ineligible land under Direct Aid and Agri-Environment Schemes and leads to risk of financial corrections being imposed by EU Commission. It is vital, therefore, to maintain the commonages in GAEC (Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition), or where there is under-grazing, to return the habitat to GAEC.
Taking all of these matters into account, it is my stated aim is to ensure that a practical solution is reached, which will ensure that the current farmers actively farming these lands are protected, that the land is maintained or returned to GAEC and that the requirements of the governing EU Regulations are met. In my view, this can best be achieved by working with the farmers directly managing the lands, relevant State Agencies, the farming organisations and all other interested stakeholders. With regard to the specific recommendations of the Committee contained in their Report, I can confirm that these will be included among the range of issues to be addressed in the process that will shortly be commenced by my Department."
If as is anticipated the delegated acts (technical issues delegated by the Council of Minister and the European Parliament to the Commission) are adopted before the end of the year and the draft RDP is finalised then everything will be in place to allow for the design of a workable solution to the commonage issue. The Joint Committee on Agriculture, the Upland Working Group and others have made positive contributions as to how this can be done. It is a positive development that the Minister for Agriculture has confirmed that the process of developing a new approach to commonage management will commence soon. Hopefully real progress will be seen over the next six weeks.