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Farmers poorly served by department response to nitrates directive

17 May, 2005

Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew speaking after Sinn Féin submitted its response to DARD's Nitrates Directive Consultation has said that farmers are being poorly served by the department.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Farmers are being poorly served by the department. They are being expected to start this process without knowing what the cost of the measures will be to them. This is unacceptable and timetables should be revised to coincide with a definite decision on the exact levels of grants.

"Sinn Féin's policy towards waste management is to support a 'zero waste' strategy, where reduction, reuse and recycling of waste is at the core of an effective strategy. We believe that it is important for the agricultural sector to be included in this strategy. However, while Sinn Féin is supportive of the principle that the polluter should pay, we are aware of the unique position of family farms, which not only produce our food, but also act for us as guardians of the countryside. It is clear that many family farms are simply not in a position to absorb the extra costs and remain economically viable. Nevertheless, the issue of farm pollution cannot be ducked.

"In terms of financial support, it is unacceptable for DARD to impose a tight timetable on the implementation of measures, while not having secured permission to provide a 60% grant. Sinn Féin MLAs, MPs, TDs and MEPs have been lobbying the EU strenuously to ensure an increase to the permitted grant.

"Sinn Féin is disappointed at the disjoint between these regulations and the development of renewable energy policy. The use of renewable technologies such as anaerobic digestion should be an integral part of agricultural waste management, and not seen as a separate issue. The consultation document on renewable energy promised for early 2005 has not yet materialised. Sinn Féin believes that reuse of agricultural waste in the form of fuel should be an important part of nitrate management, and that it should be part of the overall strategy.

"Farming organisations have proposed alternative action programmes which they believe will allow EU regulations to be met. It is incumbent upon the Department to commission independent scientific research on issues such as shortening the closed period, shortening the distance of organic manure spread from waterways and reducing the slurry storage period, to ascertain whether or not EU limits can be met using these alternative actions. If these actions are found to be capable of meeting requirements, then they should be implemented.

"In summary, while recognising that problem requires urgent attention, Sinn Féin believe the timetable should be amended to ensure that:

· There is a firm decision on grant levels

· A renewable energy strategy is included in the measures

· There is a scientific assessment of proposed alternatives

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