Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue must communicate to farmers what is happening with the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) in light of last week’s announcement of an interim payment, Sinn Féin’s Claire Kerrane has said.

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on agriculture welcomed the announcement of interim payments, but called on Minister McConalogue to address the many outstanding issues around payments under the scheme.

While the Minister stated these interim payments would be made by the end of February, no detail was provided on how much farmers would receive or when the full advance payment can be expected, she said.

“The Minister has not clarified how much the interim payment will cover and so farmers currently have no idea what amount they will be receiving.

“Farm organisations, such as the IFA and [the] ICSA, have highlighted that the payment is much needed. The INHFA have also stated that the interim payment should hit at least 80% of the totals due and called on the Minister to deliver the payment within two weeks.

“As well as this, the Minister has not clarified why there has been such extensive delays to ACRES co-operation project advance payments,” she said.

Paid for their work

Given he has promised since before Christmas that the full advance payment would be made by the end of February and the goalposts for this have now shifted, he should very clearly outline what is holding up the advance payments and when farmers can expect to receive the full amount by, she said.

“As I have said before, farmers have held up their side of the agreement and have delivered their actions under ACRES. They should be paid for their work and the Minister and his Department should communicate clearly on what is happening with the scheme,” she said.

Tax concern

Deputy Kerrane also said she has been contacted by farmers who are concerned that how they are taxed could be affected as a result of receiving two ACRES payments in one year.

“This is something I have raised with Minister McConalogue and Minister [for Public Expenditure Paschal] Donohoe and it is another area on which they must provide clarity.

“This is not to mention recent updates regarding a potential ‘buffer zone’ around turbary areas on commonage land, which reports say could affect ACRES payments. That is something I have also sought [an] update on from the Minister.

“Minister McConalogue must address these outstanding issues around ACRES payments immediately and this is something I intend to push for clarity on,” she said.