Call for ‘complete re-think’ of proposed new commonage rules

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) is calling for a complete re-think on the controversial issue of the proposed new rules for commonages.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) is calling for a complete re-think on the controversial issue of the proposed new rules for commonages.

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin has welcomed the news that the Minister for Agriculture has delayed sending letters due to go out to farmers, outlining the minimum and maximum number of sheep for the entire land parcel as well as for each shareholder.

ICSA had argued that sending the letters at this point would have led to huge confusion. He says the way in which the new rules are being rolled out is very unsatisfactory.

“The main sticking point is the idea of collective agreement. The proposals call on all farmers with shares in the commonage - be they active, inactive, or dormant – to come together to agree on what way to meet the total minimum stocking levels. We see this as potentially hugely difficult.”

“In the first place, while on some commonages all shareholders are active and work well with each other, and in these cases collective agreement may be possible, the fact is that in a good number of cases, strained relations between the shareholders will make agreement impossible; there is a strong possibility also that shareholders who previously got on well will fall out over the detail of the proposals. My fear is that active farmers will suffer when inactive and dormant shareholders decide to come back and stock up as a result of the new rules.”

“However, I am far more concerned about the potential for an individual farmer who complies with whatever agreement is reached to be penalised due to non-compliance of one or more of the other shareholders. Non-compliance on the commonage stocking level can lead to penalties being applied to Single Farm Payments and Disadvantaged Area Payments – this could be disastrous. I don’t think it’s appropriate or acceptable to effectively make one farmer accountable for the action or inaction of another. ICSA is seeking a guarantee from the Minister that this aspect of the new rules would be seriously reconsidered.”

Mr Gilmartin added, “I am also concerned that the band between the minimum and maximum sheep numbers set out by the Department is too narrow to be workable, and I would strongly urge the Minister to review these levels.”