Farmers protest outside Taoiseach's officeWednesday 03 September 2014 22.50
A number of farmers are staging a protest outside the Taoiseach's constituency office in Castlebar to demonstrate about the eligibility criteria for a new environmental scheme.
The farmers are seeking a change to the entry requirements for the Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS).
The scheme allows for payments of up to €5,000 for farmers who undertake to carry out specific actions.
Under the "upland conservation" heading, commonage farmers are required to sign a collective agreement in order to qualify.
The Concerned Hill Farmers Action Group is opposed to a requirement that 50% of those using a particular commonage agree collectively.
It says this discriminates against commonage farmers getting entry the scheme on an individual basis, in the way all others can.
The group wants a change in the wording for the entry requirements, so that individual, active shareholders, who are currently farming commonage with sheep and cattle, will be able to access the scheme.
Spokesperson Colm O'Donnell said 15,000 farmers using commonage would be affected by the proposals.
The group plans to maintain its picket outside Enda Kenny's office until it secures a change in the entry criteria.
A number of farmers have been nominated as 'captains' and they will bring their own supporters with them to Castlebar every day.
There are no plans to bring livestock to the office.
The demonstrations follow a meeting of over 1,500 hill farmers in Westport last month, where the decision was made to embark on the pickets.
Mr O'Donnell said that while it was not an official IFA protest, grassroots members of the association were involved in it.
For its part, the IFA says Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has allowed a vaccum to be created with no proper information about GLAS for farmers in recent months and that this has caused confusion, fear and anger.
The organisation's Connacht Regional Chairman, Tom Turley, said the IFA met with department officials in recent days.
An implementation committee has been set up by the department to deal with the issues regarding commonage areas, and this met for the first time last week.
Mr Turley agreed that the requirement for a collective agreement with 50% of farmers was not workable.
He said if the minister persisted with this plan, the IFA would insist that he honour a commitment that no farmer would be excluded from the scheme.
Mr Coveney said this afternoon that commonage farmers will not lose out if non-compliance with proposed management plans can be attributed to an individual participant.
He said he believes progress has been made on a number of contentious issues in recent weeks and that further meetings between an implementation committee and farm representative groups will provide more clarity.
He has announced that there will be no minimum or maximum stocking densities for commonages.
Information meetings for commonage farmers will be held by the department in a number of locations over the coming weeks.
These will take place in counties Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Mayo and Wicklow.