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Farmers who started 'illegal' gorse fires may have Basic Payment Scheme grants docked

A recent spate of gorse fires have caused havoc in rural areas around the country.

Howth Gorse Fires Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

THE GOVERNMENT HAS said that any farmers found to have submitted land that was burnt illegally may have their Basic Payment Scheme grant reduced.

A recent spate of gorse fires in various parts of rural Ireland have caused havoc around the country.

While some of the fires were attributable to prolonged periods of dry weather, others have resulted from farmers burning gorse bushes in order to cleanse the land so it can be reused.

When such burning takes place during the designated closed season (31 March – 31 August) it is deemed to be illegal.

The Department of Agriculture has now announced that farmers who submit such land as part of their applications for the EU’s Basic Payment Scheme may have those payments reduced in addition to other penalties.

Farmers who have included such land in their applications must amend those applications before the closing date for such amendments, 31 May, or face censure.

“Inclusion of illegally burnt land in the 2017 Basic Payment Scheme application may result in reduced payment and penalties under this scheme and the other area-based schemes,” the Department said in a statement.

Where it is identified, as part of the current investigation, that lands were burnt during the closed season this may result in such land being inspected by Department officials.

“My Department is actively investigating all of the recent incidents of illegal burning of land using the most up-to-date technology/satellite imagery,” said Junior Agriculture Minister Andrew Doyle.

(We) will not tolerate incidences of illegal burning of land and will take all necessary actions to ensure compliance with the conditions of the various EU funded area-based schemes, including reducing payments and penalties where applicable.

In response to the Government announcement, chairman of the Irish Farmers Association’s hill committee Pat Dunne called for a process to be established to allow for appeal and fair judgement in cases where farmers’ lands were burned.

Dunne said farmers would face financial loss if they were to be penalised for lands burnt through no fault of their own.

“This is a totally unfair situation. There must be due process that allows farmers to maintain payments where fires damaged their land through no fault of their own,” he said.

Unless such a process is put in place, farmers with burnt land are being unfairly victimised have no way to achieve a fair assessment of their situation.

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