Burren and Slieve Aughty farmers worse off under ACRES need to be topped up – McNamara

Clare Independent TD Michael McNamara has explained to the Government that some farmers in the Burren and Slieve Aughty regions of Clare are worse off now under the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) than they were under the Burren Life and Hen Harrier projects.

Addressing Tánaiste Micheal Martin and Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue during Questions on Promised Legislation in Dáil Éireann today (Thursday, 20 April 2023), Deputy McNamara described ACRES as a scheme “designed by civil servants for civil servants, not for farmers or the environment” and pointed out that farmers in parts of North and East Clare are losing out as a result. He also criticised Minister McConalogue’s Department officials for still “considering” a solution without providing a timeline for a decision.

Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy McNamara said, “I have previously raised the plight of farmers who are farming in designated areas; therefore, their farming practices are restricted. Previously they were compensated for that through the Burren Life scheme in the case of the Burren and the Hen Harrier project in the Slieve Aughties. That has been abolished and they were told to go through the ACRES scheme.”

He continued, “In theory they get more money through the ACRES scheme. They can get an absolute maximum of €10,000 whereas farmers not in designated areas get an absolute maximum of €7,000, but the difference in the €3,000 is a partial reimbursement of moneys already expended. The reality is that they are worse off now than they were under a government that claims to take the environment seriously. It (ACRES) is a scheme designed by civil servants for civil servants, not for farmers, not for the environment, but for ease of administration.”

Addressing Tánaiste Micheal Martin directly, Deputy McNamara said, “You said the fact that they were worse off, when I raised it with you when you were Taoiseach, wasn’t good enough. Nothing has changed since then. Will something change?”

Responding to Deputy McNamara on behalf of government, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said, “Burren Life was a pilot scheme with a small number of farmers and the payments were more significant. What we are doing with ACRES now is we are broadening it out and bringing more people into that scheme. The vast majority of applicants that will be participating in the ACRES scheme in the Burren will be better off.”

He added, “There is a small number who would have been part of the initial pilot scheme whose payments would not be as high. It’s something I have my officials assessing to see if there is a particular accommodation that can be made in relation to those, but overall, what we are doing is building on the Burren scheme and making sure that the benefits of it are actually spread and widened and also making sure that more farmers are able to avail of it and get paid better. But there is a small minority of farmers, and we are considering it.”