In late 2017, at the request of farming representatives, the Government and the organisations involved agreed to review a 2004 agreement, between the Government and farming organisations, with a view to updating it in line with current legislation and practice. Eight meetings have been held to date, the most recent in July 2019. I met the IFA in the last week.
Consultations between my Department, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the farming organisations are ongoing with respect to the finalisation of the revised agreement and it is anticipated that a final meeting of all representatives will be held in the near future.
Farming organisations have for a number of years sought a payment for designation to reflect its effect on land values, separate to any payment for the management of that land (via Agri environment Schemes such as GLAS and the NPWS Scheme). A payment for the provision of ecosystem services has also been sought. In the context of Budget 2020, I will enhance the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme by doubling the funding available to it to €1m.
A landowner must seek and obtain the prior consent of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht before carrying out certain specified activities in designated areas unless consent falls to another Minister or public authority. If consent is refused, the refusal letter will set out the reason(s) for the refusal of consent and provide details of the appeals process. The landowner has a right to appeal this decision to an independent Appeals Officer. A landowner also has a legal right to seek compensation for losses incurred as a result of a refusal of consent by me, as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. If agreement cannot be reached on the amount of compensation, either party may apply to have the matter determined by arbitration.
The draft agreement with the farming organisations provides for the appointment of an Independent Conciliator and the development of guidelines on the procedure to be operated by the Independent Conciliator. The draft agreement provides that, following a refusal of consent for an activity requiring consent by me as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, if agreement cannot be reached on an amount of compensation, the landowner may apply to have the matter considered by the Independent Conciliator, who will make a recommendation on the matter to me as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. If either party is not satisfied with the outcome of the conciliation process, either party may apply to have the matter determined by arbitration. Alternatively, either party may apply directly to have the matter determined by arbitration, without availing of the conciliation process.
The draft Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan (HHTRP) is nearing completion and is currently being refined and updated as necessary by my Department in consultation with stakeholders. It is necessary to consider the draft Plan in light of the Government's Climate Action Plan and I intend to have the draft HHTRP ready for consultation before the end of this year. The draft Plan, when completed, will first be sent to the Consultative Committee and then for wider public consultation.