Gale force winds and freezing rain didn’t deter more than 250 protesters against the threat of retrospective land eligibility fines who gathered in Bantry Square in west Cork last Saturday.
Farmers, their families and supporters gathered in the seaweed-strewn square which had been under several feet of sea water only hours earlier, and marched to TD Noel Harrington’s office, where a delegation entered for a pre-arranged meeting.
The organisations involved unanimously called for Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to visit the area, to investigate cuts to single farm payments due to land being declared ineligible.
Noel Harrington addressed them, saying he had every sympathy with the farmers, and he would take the matter up with the minister.
“The turnout was huge on what has to have been one of the worst days of the year,” said West Cork Communities Alliance (WCCA) PRO Michael Collins.
“But so many people are becoming desperate now that they were willing to put up with the terrible weather to make their case. We are calling on the minister to stand up, protect the farmers here, to visit some of these farms that have been penalised, and see for himself that there’s cattle grazing on land that’s been declared ineligible.
“There is serious hardship out there, and we will have to continue making our voices heard.”
Organisations involved in the protest included IFA, ICSA, the Family Farm Rights Group, the West Cork Communities Alliance, Concerned Farmers, Ballydehob Community Council, and other community associations.
They supported calls on Mr Coveney to negotiate an ineligible land amnesty with the European Commission.
After the meeting with Mr Harrington, a convoy of protesters left for Dunmanway and a meeting with Michael McCarthy, TD, who also promised to present their concerns to the minister.
The third west Cork TD, Jim Daly, sent apologies for being unable to meet (due to a prior engagement) with protestors who gathered at his office, and read out their letter to him. Earlier this week, ICSA West Cork chairman Dermot Kelleher said the prospect of penalties being backdated over five years was a source of enormous stress for farm families.
“One man stood up and told us that the Department maps show an over-claim of €7,000. If that is multiplied over five years, he will simply have to put up the For Sale sign.”
He was addressing a meeting of over 100 farmers at Macroom.
Invited speakers included Michael Creed TD, Michael Collins, West Cork Community Alliance; ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch; Fianna Fáil county councillor Aindreas Moynihan; Sinn Féin town councillor Donnacha O’Shea; ICSA member for Limerick Séamus Sherlock; and Donie Shine of the Family Farm Rights Group.
Mr Punch advised farmers to seek professional help when preparing appeals against alleged over-claims.
Mr Kelleher said the issue would have to be addressed by politicians in the upcoming local and European election campaigns.
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