THERE HAS been angry farmer reaction to proposed new environmental regulations which could mean farmers having to get planning permission to reclaim swampy scrubland or wetlands.
Unless the measures are implemented, EU authorities will levy fines on Ireland of between €4,000 and €33,000 per day.
The European Court of Justice ruled Ireland's environmental impact assessment ( EIA) screening for certain agricultural developments was in breach of EU directives.
To avoid daily fines, which could rise as high as €33,000 per day after July 23rd, regulations are being prepared by the Departments of the Environment and Agriculture.
Details of what is required by the EU were given to the farm organisations last Friday, and they include provisions which will see farmers having to apply for planning permission to drain or reclaim wetlands.
The permission will be needed if the area exceeds a quarter of an acre and a full-scale EIA will be required for drainage work on about five acres of wetlands.
The organisations were told the new restrictions would apply to the Shannon Callows, turloughs, swamps, marshlands or river flood plains.
Regulations are also being drawn up on the removal of field boundaries, semi-natural areas and drainage and irrigation projects.
The president of the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association, Gabriel Gilmartin, described the new regulations as "an outrageous assault on property rights and the concept of freedom to farm".
He said it would result in many land-improvement projects being shelved.
It was bureaucracy gone mad, he said, restricting a farmer's right to improve his land without getting official consent.
"For some time now farmers have had to put up with Big Brother watching them, but it's now got to the stage that Big Brother wants more, including the right to interfere and frustrate progressive farming," said Mr Gilmartin.
"It also opens up the appalling vista of An Taisce and other assorted serial objectors intervening in normal farming operations on land that they don't own and in farming decisions for which they have no economic responsibility or liability. "The reality is that many worthwhile reclamation projects will be made impossible due to the high cost of an EIA, and many more will be discouraged by the whole process of having to ask permission," he said.
The Irish Farmers' Association said it wanted the Ministers for Agriculture and the Environment to raise the issue at the next EU Council of Ministers meeting so practical political solutions could be reached.
SEÁN Mac CONNELL Agriculture Correspondent
The Irish Times