On Wednesday August 20th over 1,700 farmers attended a public meeting in the Knockranny Hotel in Westport. The meeting called by the Concerned Hill Farmers Action Group was a triumph of organisation and a credit to the promoters. The huge turnout demonstrates that hill farmers have very real concerns about aspects of the draft RDP currently being considered by the EU Commission.
The Hill Farmers Action Group clearly have a mandate and quite rightly expect to have direct negotiations with the Dept. of Agriculture. It is a pity for all concerned that the consultations which must surely happen soon did not occur a year ago, that said if real engagement takes place even at this stage it has to be seen as a positive development. Negotiations will not be easy and the backdrop of a clock ticking down to the opening of the various RDP funded schemes will only add to the pressure. Many of the speakers for the Hill Farmers Action Group, in particular Brendan Joyce and Colm O Donnell spoke eloquently of their concerns and obviously have a deep understanding of the practicalities of the farmers position. I have no doubt that they would be able to articulate these in any forum and will be formidable negotiators. They will likely achieve some progress towards achieving their objectives, although bringing their supporters to accept the inevitable compromises could be the biggest challenge of all.
One thing that is certain is that the meeting in Westport and its consequences cannot be ignored. The Commonage Implementation Committees will have their work cut out for them. The engagement with farmers towards building a future that all stakeholders can buy into will be very challenging indeed.