[Sinn Fein]

15th January 2002

MacManus - New laws could wipe out small farmers

Sinn Fein General election candidate for Sligo/Leitrim Cllr Sean MacManus has called on the Minister for the Environment Noel Dempsey to scrap the Governments proposed ``Recovery of Organic Waste Regulations, 2001'' which he believes could be responsible for wiping out small farmers. Sligo County Council adopted a motion this week proposed by Cllr MacManus supporting this demand.

Speaking to Mondays meeting of Sligo County Council, Cllr MacManus said that ``Under the regulations as proposed, which could be in place this year, all livestock farmers would be legally obliged to register with their respective County Councils in order to continue with the age old practice of applying what the Department refers to as farm waste but is in reality essential nutrients in the form of ordinary farm-yard manure, slurry and artificial fertiliser to their lands. Other changes that can only be described as drastic in nature are also to be introduced. These proposed measures provided that waste storage facilities will have to be installed even where the livestock farming practice in a particular holding do not and never did pose a risk either to waters or to the environment in general. In all situations, storage will have to be of six month capacity, which is likely to spark legal action in circumstances where conditions of a planning permission already granted for a family development stipulate waste storage of five months to be sufficient.''

He added: ``When examined in tandem with section 21A of the Water Pollution Act the potential of key measures of the proposed Act to severely restrict the freedom of livestock producers to farm areas of their land is readily apparent. That this is a particularly worrying development for farmers obviously goes without saying. Nevertheless, our water resources have to be protected. However, on this front I am greatly encouraged from meetings I ever had with farmers, that the need to safeguard this vital asset is very high in the priorities of most members of the farming sector. Some have gone to great lengths and invested heavily in new systems to bring their holdings up to the highest possible environmental standard. Against this, however, there continues to be evidence of pollution, which is probably what has prompted the Department of the Environment to move on new controls are be applied without exception.''

``But one has to ask if this isn't a wholly disproportionate, even ill considered response, most especially as it seems the proposed new Act is already coming under increasing attack from recognised experts on scientific and legal grounds. Its also evident the measures will have a devastating cost-effect on small farmers whose incomes have diminished, and from whom all pollution control aid has been withdrawn by the government. There are no proposals in this intended legislation to lay on a scheme of grant-aid to compensate small farmers for losses which will inevitably arise if this legislation is enacted.''

``No one who is familiar with the countryside of Ireland will have failed to recognise the raft of largely EU inspired regulations with which those in farming are already confronted and that countless small farm families are at best struggling to survive in the industry. To further impose on them the kind and range of measures now been propounded by the Department of the Environment would be tantamount to wiping them out. The soul-destroying impact of bureaucratic mismanagement is already clearly to be seen on the face of rural Ireland, from where in the last 10 to 15 years literally thousands of families had been forced out of farming. One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that any further reduction in the rural population, particularly here in the North-West, will have dire social and economic consequences for the countryside. The effects on communities, shops, pubs and post offices as well as villages and towns dependent on the rural hinterland would be little short of disastrous.''

``As presently drafted, with no provision for aid or compensation, and likely to prove ineffectual in its stated aim of improving water quality, I ask you to give your approval to calling on the Minister to scrap the legislation as proposed. The budgetary and manpower demands on local authorities would be prohibitive. It is my firm belief that a threat to waters and public health way above any posed by recycled farm waste on small farms resides in widespread leakage from damaged and faulty septic tanks. Current estimates indicate that some 65 million gallons of effluent is each day been discharged to the ground, most of it ending up in the country's ground water. This is a state of affairs which cannot be allowed to go on and I am therefore proposing that we asked the Department of the Environment to immediately launch a scheme of grant assistance with aid of 75 %of the gross cost of materials and site works so that the situation can be remedied and to encourage the fullest possible take up of the scheme. Seeking to place questionable restrictions on manure spreading within small farm holdings while ignoring the more serious problem of defective septic tanks to my mind only serves to highlight the hypocrisy of the Department of the Environment in seriously getting to grips with a major cause of water pollution in this state at this time.''

He concluded: ``The Minister must now withdraw these proposals which, if they are allowed to proceed, will almost inevitably result in the demise of the small farmer.'' ENDS

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