[Sinn Fein]

12 December 2000

Silent Valley Grazing Ban

Sinn Fein Agriculture & Rural Development Spokesperson, Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA Gerry McHugh has called for a closer look at the grazing ban affecting farmers in the Silent Valley and for the scientific facts - on whether the Cryptosporidium bug is linked to sheep grazing specifically or to all grazing in general - to be established.

Mr McHugh said:

``I asked [DARD officials] if in this instance, as the ban seems to be more appropriate to sheep grazing, is there flexibility to allow limited use of cattle for grazing in the Silent Valley in order to safeguard future area aid payments. The loss of income to local farmers under the area aid payments could be substantial because of the loss in the acreage of land available for grazing.

``The Agriculture committee has also heard that there has been little discussion or negotiation between DARD officials in the north and their southern counterparts. In Donegal, where there are similar problems, the southern agriculture department has already said they will compensate farmers for the duration of the problems.

``I have also asked the department if there will be testing done to establish, on a sound scientific basis, the reasons for the grazing ban and if it is confined only to the grazing of sheep.

``It would also seem to be short sighted of the department to allow the area to become overgrown with subsequent deterioration in the physical beauty of an area which has been sustained by the use of grazing sheep in the area.

``The Environmental Heritage department is also in the process of designating the area as an ASSI - an area of special scientific interest. Indeed, farmers are suspicious of the real agenda of those placing a lengthy ban on the grazing of the area and the future consequences for local farmers.''

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