I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. I represent the constituency of Cork North-West. It is a rural constituency and I am concerned about the impact that European directives are having on the livelihoods of small landholders and family owned farms in this area.
Most of the area of western Duhallow was considered a disadvantaged area for many years. It was also part of the CLÁR designated area suffering from huge population decline. Recent EU directives aimed at the protection of the hen harrier and the freshwater pearl mussel will result in a vast area of this region becoming totally non-productive. Any moderate farming, not to mention intensive farming, is impossible. Forestry is not allowed in the area any longer and under the new county development plan wind energy is also to be discouraged. That plan, in order to comply with the EU directives, states that all developments in this area must be put on hold.
If the Government must impose these restrictions to comply with EU regulations, adequate compensation must be paid to the families. For years, it was Government policy to encourage the planting of these lands. Forestry was generating a return of approximately €500 per hectare. Adequate compensation for the restrictions must be comparable with what could be achieved from forestry plantations. There have been suggestions that top-up payment on the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, is being considered. This is a totally inadequate response. These areas must be treated separately. They are unique and require a special scheme to compensate farmers in the designated areas. Compensation should be at least comparable to income that would be achieved from forestry.
Recently, I met a constituent who has 400 acres of this designated hen harrier protected land. He wanted to sell 50 acres to invest in a business, but it was valueless.