Monday, 19 September 2011

Land improvement legislation to be ratified

Land improvement legislation will be signed into law by this (Thursday) evening. It will require planning consent and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for drainage of wetlands over 2ha, for removal of ditches over 4km, for re-contouring of more than 5ha of land, and for intensive use of over 50ha of under-utilised land. Department approval, a simpler process, will be required for lower thresholds in each case.

The Government were faced with the prospect of a daily fine of €33,000 if they failed to comply with an EU deadline of this Friday.

A meeting on Wednesday afternoon between Department of Agriculture officials and IFA ended abruptly in the absence of the Department revealing the text of the SI.

''There was no basis for further discussion, as without the detailed legislative proposals, we could have no understanding of key definitions, or of the potential penalties which may be imposed on our members'' IFA environment chairman Pat Farrell said afterwards.

In 2008, a European Court judgement found Ireland in breach of EU regulations. The Commission moved this June, calling for daily fines for our failure to respond. With the clock ticking, Agricultural Minister Simon Coveney and Environment Minister Phil Hogan will sign the Statutory Instrument before the week is out. A commencement date for the new regulations, as yet unknown, will be included.

Phil Hogan laid the blame for Ireland's forced position firmly at his predecessor John Gormley's door. ''So-called environmentalists in Government failed to engage meaningfully with the Commission and it has been left to this Government to get the best deal for Ireland in the short time available, while making sure we meet our environmental obligations,'' he said. He welcomed the progress achieved.

Simon Coveney said: ''While this issue has primarily been the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, I have been keen to engage with the Commission to avoid a negative effect on farms and ensure the agreement took the needs of practical farming into account.

''I am satisfied that we have brokered a compromise which recognises those needs and delivers a workable solution for farmers,'' he said.

Guidelines

Both Ministers have outlined that consultation and engagement will now take place with relevant stakeholders and the Commission on the guidelines that will support these regulations.

According to IFA's Pat Farrell, it is now crucial that the guidance document delivers a workable solution for farmers. ''I am calling for the immediate establishment of a working group to ensure that this legislation has least impact on farmers and takes full consideration of measures already being carried out under other schemes such as REPS, AEOS and the general cross-compliance rules,'' he said.

Key issue

One key issue will be the definition of 'wetlands', which will have lower thresholds for drainage work, with approval required for just 0.1ha, and a full EIA needed for 2ha. Another will be the objections facility granted to members of the public and 'interested parties'.

''Progress has been made on the threshold levels, but significant concerns exist regarding the definition of wetlands and to ensure that the implementation of the legislation minimises the hassle and bureaucracy for farmers,'' said IFA president John Bryan. ''At a time when farmers are planning to expand and develop their businesses, to assist in meeting the Government's Food Harvest 2020 growth targets, it is now up to Ministers Coveney and Hogan to ensure that concerns regarding this legislation are fully addressed.''

The rush to sign the proposals into law will disappoint the opposition. Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Michael Moynihan had called for the Government to present their proposals before the Dáil before signing them into law. He has included the issue in a private members' motion to be debated next week.

The Farmers Journal

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