ICSA warns against unfair BPS penalties for fire damaged lands

Majority of farmers had no hand, act or part in the burning.

Questions over legality of Government threat.

Sligo News File

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock has questioned the legality of penalising farmers through the Basic Payment Scheme whose land has been burned unless there is absolute proof that the farmer was guilty of causing the fire. 

Seamus Sherlock, Chair, ICSA Rural Development Committee.

“It is abundantly clear that the rapid spread of fires in recent weeks means that the majority of farmers had no hand, act or part in the burning and were in fact, victims of collateral damage caused by the carelessness or recklessness of a few. In fact, we have no proof that any farmer deliberately started a fire.” 

Mr Sherlock was speaking following a statement by Minister of State Andrew Doyle that satellite imagery would be examined to identify land as burnt illegally which would then be deemed ineligible under the 2017 Basic Payment Scheme and other land based schemes.

Mr Sherlock said “Fires are caused by a variety of reasons and can spread into parcels of land owned by many individuals. There is the potential that a cohort of farmers will face penalties through no fault of their own.

“The Basic Payment is too important an income source to be raided in this manner.”

Government cut all support to Ballaghaderreen cigar plant

Company employed thirty-eight.

Sligo News File.

The Government pulled support from a Ballaghaderreen production plant because of its trade in tobacco products.
Exclusive Cigar Manufacturers, which launched in 1978, and employed 38 at its facility on the Charlestown Road, reportedly announced last month that it is to transfer operations to Sri Lanka.

Pat Breen, Junior Minister for Jobs

But now it has been revealed that owing to a treaty on tobacco control the Government had removed all aid to the company.

In the Dail, Junior Minister for Jobs Pat Breen told local TDs that in January 2013 “the Department of Health communicated to all Departments and their agencies the guidelines for the implementation of Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

He said Principle 4 of the Convention guidelines stated that “because their products are lethal, the tobacco industry should not be granted incentives to establish or run their businesses.”

For this reason,  his Department and its agencies “are no longer in a position to support companies in this sector,” he said.

The Ballaghaderreen firm started life as Hofnar in December 1978.

Workers stated that they were unaware of the impending closure of the plant.

Dep. Eugene Murphy (Fianna Fail) said ECMI “…is one of the largest private employers in West Roscommon. That might surprise some people, but it is the case.

“The jobs involve a specific skill set and many who are being made redundant will likely have to leave their county to find similar work, and we all know that Dublin is busting at the seams. IDA Ireland has visited County Roscommon only once in 2017 and nearly half the year is gone. From the information I have received, its representatives also only visited once in 2016.

Eugene Murphy, TD, Fianna Fail

“Ballaghaderreen has been dealt several severe blows in recent years. Going back 12 or 14 years, we had the loss of the United Meat Packers, UMP, meat plant, but we have also lost a hotel and several businesses. The reality is that the community in Ballaghaderreen reacted. It built many units which are there for jobs to go into, but the Government has not delivered. There is a huge amount of talk about balanced regional development in the programme for Government, but it is not happening.”

Dep. Michael Fitzmaurice (Ind) said the West of Ireland needed a balance of development which it was not getting.

Michael Fitzmaurice, TD, Independent

“Ballaghaderreen was once noted as a sort of gateway town, especially with Knock Airport located nearby. We need a focus on Ballaghaderreen as well as other towns in County Roscommon and, indeed, the west of Ireland…

“If one looks at all the plans, one will see that there is a focus on building railways out to the likes of the airport and such projects. There should be a focus on putting good infrastructure in place and on ensuring that it is attractive, especially for business people, to move to towns like Ballaghaderreen.

“I am not saying that people can be picked up by the neck and told to set up business there. The town lost the meat factory, and it has lost other businesses. There is scope there.”

Dep. Dara Calleary “The ultimate irony is that Ballaghaderreen is the headquarters of the Western Development Commission whose outgoing chairman, former Fine Gael councillor Paddy McGuinness, declined to be reappointed because he called the Minister of State out, called the Government out and, more importantly, called permanent Government out for their complete lack of interest in and lip service to the challenges facing regional Ireland.

Dara Calleary, TD, Fianna Fail.

“We want the Minister of State to come to West Roscommon and East Mayo and, in terms of Roscommon, focus on west Roscommon. The growth he speaks about is going into the area around Monksland. It needs to be spread across the county. Similarly, the action plan for jobs in the West is a plan for Galway city and the rest of us are being left behind.”

Councillors to hear report of potential new South Sligo food centre

Upwards of twenty jobs lost when Aurivo co-operative transferred South Sligo butter packing operation to Cork last year

Sligo News File.

A meeting of the South and West Sligo Municipal District is to hear a report on the development of a possible new food centre in Achonry.

It comes a year after Aurivo announced the transfer of its butter packing facility from the south Sligo site to Cork with the loss of up to 20 jobs

The meeting will be held at 3 pm on next Monday in Meeting Room 1, Teach Laighne, Tubbercurry. It is open to the public.

Motions down for discussion include:

– Request for drainage at Rockfield Cemetary

– The decision of the Planning Board refusing permission for a new water treatment plant at Lough Talt

– concerns over safety at the entrance to Colaiste Mhuire, Ballymote

– Call to have works carried out on Regional Road at Woodhill   

– repairs to public footpath and installation of lighting at Gallagher      Road, Tubbercurry

– date works to commence at Cashel Gates junction

– whether Clar funds can be used for the provision of bus shelters at Curry Village and

– demand for works at Stirabout Bridge, Cloona

New EU standards set to replace existing Areas of Natural Constraints measures

Eligibity for payments to be based on specified bio-physical criteria

Sligo News File.

Eligible areas of Natural Constraints must be in future classified using what Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has described as bio-physical criteria.

Martin Kenny, TD, Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein spokesman on Agriculture, Martin Kenny asked him about the stage at which it was decided the State could not meet its obligations regarding maps promised in mid-2017 in the review of the areas of natural constraint scheme.

Creed said that from 2018, eligible areas must be designated “using a set list of bio-physical criteria.

“In cases where a Member State does not introduce this new system for payment, the existing scheme, based on a range of socio-economic factors, remains in place but payments must phase out on a digressive basis.”

The bio-physical criteria set out in the legislation to underpin the new system of designation are, he said:

– Low temperature

– Dryness

– Excess soil moisture

– Limited soil drainage

– Unfavourable texture and stoniness

– Shallow rooting depth

– Poor chemical properties

– Steep slope.

EU Commissioner for Agriculture & Rural Development Hogan

“My Department has commenced work on this project, and relevant technical experts are currently working on sourcing and analysing the data in relation to the new criteria. Department officials have also been in contact with the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and DG Agri in the EU Commission in relation to technical issues arising. This analysis will identify areas deemed to be facing natural constraints, which will in parallel be subjected to a refinement process.”

He added that at recent EU meetings, “a proposal to introduce an optional extension of the 2018 deadline was introduced by another Member State. This proposal for an optional extension has not yet been agreed at EU level.”

Group presents proposals on future of Sligo and other regional veterinary laboratories

No decision taken by Department of Agriculture to date.

Sligo News File

The Department of Agriculture is considering a report on the future of the North West and other regional veterinary laboratories.

Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said the review by a working group headed by Alan Reilly had made a number of recommendations concerning the facilities.

He identified these as

– Oversight and co-ordination of the laboratories activities

– Reorganisation of Divisions and support functions within the Central Laboratory complex

– Options for the future development of the Regional Laboratories – with a view to improving disease investigative and surveillance capability but with the over-riding imperative of maintaining and enhancing services to farmers and

– Human resources management within the laboratories – with a focus on grading structures, career development opportunities and workforce planning.

So far, no decision has been taken in respect of the options proposed for the Regional Veterinary Laboratories, including Sligo.

His Department, he said, is currently completing a consultative process with all relevant stakeholders on the Working Group report (including on the options for Regional Veterinary Laboratories).

“A cost-benefit analysis of the various options proposed will be undertaken.” Any decision made will be informed by the consultative process and the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis, he added.

Tens of thousands of young Irish workers struggle to survive on rock-bottom wages

Parliamentary reply reveals scale of low pay rates.

Sligo News File.

Tens of thousands of young workers are being left to struggle on near impossible to live on wages.

Details have been revealed in reply to a parliamentary question.

Minister of State Regina Doherty said “exact” information on the pay of employees 26 years and under was not available.

However, she turned to the National Household Survey referring to it “as the official source of estimates of employment in the State.”

The Survey, she said, showed that in the last quarter 2016 134,500 were only receiving the minimum wage or less.

It is believed that countless thousands of those 26 years and over are also on rock-bottom rates.

Given the droves of people stuck on lowest possible earnings or unable to land a job, and virtually unrestricted immigration keeping it that way, Coalition propaganda of strong economic and social growth seem to be very much in the realms of fantasy.

Permission to demolish Sligo historic house may be appealed to Planning Board

Building constructed in 1879 “in a good state of repair.”

Property held by St. Nathy’s Diocesan Trust.

Sligo News File.

Sligo County Council has given a school body permission to pull down down a historic building.

The structure, which is not included in the Sligo Records of Protected Structures, was erected 138 years ago, in 1879.

Bishop Brendan Kelly,

The Board of Management of Curry National School said they want to demolish the former parochial house and outbuildings to make way for a car park.

The buildings and site, it’s understood, are held by the St. Nathy’s Diocesan Trust, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon, a registered limited company.

Farmer, John Gallagher who objected to the proposal said the area had already witnessed the demolishment of at least six other buildings of heritage character in the last 20 years.

In his submission, he said the principal part of the old parochial house, at Drumbaun, Tubbercurry, is in “a good state of repair.” This had been ensured by the personal investment successive occupants, as parish priests, made towards the upkeep of the dwelling and outhouses. Clergy had been using the residence until relatively recently.

Mr. Gallagher said the access to the property featured two gate piers of dressed limestone with capping. There is also a distinctive ornamental outer gate pier, the only remaining one of its kind in the area.

He said that the dwelling, with slated roof, “has still intact the original cast iron rain gutters and cut limestone window sills.”
Calling on the Council to preserve the building, he said there was sufficient land available to resite a parking and set down area for a nearby school without need to encroach on the former parochial property. The lands were held by the St. Nathy’s Diocesan Trust and could be used to address the required safety and other needs of the school.

He added that “The Letter of Consent given to the Board of Management signed by Bishop Kelly requires clarification as it omits reference to St. Nathy’s Trust Limited.”

However, the council authorised the applicants to demolish the structure. The authority stated that having considered the Natura Impact Statement and mitigation measures it deemed “the proposed development would not have an adverse effect on the integrity of the European site having regard to its conservation objectives.”

In a letter to the Sligo Champion, another South Sligo resident has also raised strong concerns about the removal of the historic residence. The decision is expected to be appealed to the planning board, An Bord Pleanala.

The directors of the St. Nathy’s Diocesan Trust named in an annual return filed with the Company Registration Office in January 2016 are: Brendan Kelly, Clergyman, St. Nathy’s, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon and Padraig Costello, Catholic Curate, Secretary, Kilmovee, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Mayo. The others are Michael Joyce, Catholic Curate, Parish House, Curry, Co. Sligo, Marian G. Hannan, Catholic Curate, Parish House, Ballysadare, Co. Sligo, and Thomas Johnston, Catholic Curate, Charlestown, Co. Mayo. The company number is 74426.

Post office network further threatened by Government order farmers must use internet for payment applications

Applications must be sent online at a loss to rural post office service.

Sligo News File Online.

The survival of post offices may be threatened, but that hasn’t stopped the Government from ordering farmers to abandon the network.

Under regulations announced by Agriculture Minister Michael

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

Creed, farmers must in future go online to obtain the EU Basic Payment.

Although farm bodies are beginning to wake up to what’s happening, Creed is understood to have motioned that he is not for turning on the issue.

The decision is binding on all applicants – even those in rural areas where there is no internet connection must conform to the dictate.

A letter circulated by Creed’s department categorically states that “…100% of BPS applicants will be required to apply for BPS by submitting an online application from 2018 onwards.” No ifs or buts, that’s the decree as issued by Creed. He describes the measure as an EU regulation.

Of course, the move will not mean the same for every farm family; some will already be using the online facility. But what of those who don’t have online? As well, many farmers in places where online is available are not necessarily familiar with the operation of the system.

In prescribing online as the only avenue through which applications for the Basic Payment Scheme will be entertained the Fianna Fail partnered Government is also backing away from its claimed commitment to the future of the rural post office service. Thousands of farmers have submitted applications for the EU payment through post offices up and down the country. Now, that has been kicked to the side – farmers who refuse or fail to take the internet route will apparently lose their entitlement to payments or have to employ consultants to do the uploading for them. No financial support from the Government or the EU will be available to cover the cost of the consultancy work.

Those who care to look through the documentation will find that Creed or his Department is also demanding farmers must give their PPSN. This and date of birth is confidential information protected under date protection laws. The issue arises where he explains about applying online for the EU Basic Payment. The letter from his department stipulates that where seeking assistance about the online application process “…you must have your PPSN to hand and be an account holder.”

Case Study 5 is an account of the ruling issued by the Data Protection Commissioner in 2007 concerning “Excessive Personal Data on EU Single Payment Scheme Application Forms.”

The Commissioner’s report states:

“I received a complaint that the EU Single Payment Scheme Application Forms, which are issued annually by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food, contained pre-printed data in respect of the date of birth and PPS number of the farmers to whom the forms are issued. A farmer informed my Office that he, and many other farmers, would usually need to get professional assistance from Teagasc or other qualified agents in the completion of these forms.

“He pointed out that the pre-printing of this personal data on the forms infringed his privacy as he had no means to restrict his professional adviser from viewing his date of birth and PPS number. He also stated that it would be normal for those professional advisers to retain copies of the completed forms in case the Department of Agriculture & Food raised queries which might need to be referred back to the advisers at a later stage.

“In contacting the Department on this matter, we highlighted that both PPS numbers and dates of birth constitute personal data and are, therefore, subject to the protections set down in the Data Protection Acts, 1988 and 2003. We went on to state that in a situation where the Department sends out forms with personal data pre-printed on them and is aware that the recipients may need the assistance of third parties to complete them, the Department must make every effort to ensure that only the very basic personal details – such as name and address – are pre-printed.

“We pointed out that the problem with pre-printing other personal data is that it gives the recipient only one choice in terms of safeguarding it – that is that he/ she could blacken it out or otherwise delete it prior to showing it to a third party. We expressed some doubt about whether the Department would welcome the return of completed application forms which were somewhat defaced. Finally, we drew attention to the potential risks to the privacy of an individual where their personal data, such as a PPS number, fell into the hands of a third party.

“The Department examined the matter, and it immediately set about taking into account the concerns which my Office had expressed. In the drafting of the Application Form for 2008, the Department commendably removed completely the data fields concerning the applicant’s date of birth and PPS number.

“This case demonstrates how common it is for public bodies or other authorities to fall into the practice of processing categories of personal data even where such data is not needed to administer the scheme or application in question. Greater care must be taken by all concerned to ensure that only the minimum amount of personal data necessary is processed in the administration of schemes run by public bodies. In particular, I strongly advise public bodies which are authorised to use PPS numbers to do so sparingly and with extreme care.”