From Castlebar - County Mayo -

Local Papers Commentary
Western People - 16 April 2003
By The Jaundiced Eye
19, Apr 2003 - 17:05

Heather growing wild on the hillsides?

Our overgrazed uplands - where's the heather?

The front page piece in the Western from Teagasc’s sheep farm in Leenane is really a bit of a joke. A Teagasc 'scientist'  named as Austin Francis O’Malley is claiming that destocking of sheep in the west of Ireland has gone 'too far'. ‘Heather is growing wild on the hillsides’ he says. He must be joking! And we thought that science had to involve factual observation and analysis? In Mayo's upland commonages you would need a magnifying glass to find heather there. And surely for goodness sake heather is supposed to grow wild on hillsides or have we lost touch with reality altogether?

How on earth can Michael Gallagher who has his by-line on the piece reproduce such rubbish without questioning it? Do journalists nowadays just print press releases? All you have to do is look at Peter Jordan's photos from the recent Letterkeen walk to see what sheep have done to the west – they have created a lunar landscape.

There’s barely a spick of heather to be seen on any of the western commonages – Mayo and Galway are particularly badly hit. Bare hillsides, which should be carpeted in heather, will take years to recover if ever. One thing for sure is there is not too much heather. Even the purple moor grass – as strong as bull-wire - was eaten away by starving sheep. The greedy premium-farmers starved the sheep putting so many out that they damaged the hillside beyond repair - as if there was no tomorrow. Tomorrow has arrived folks and the land is still a disaster. Just try driving down the Leenane Valley where the Teagasc sheep farm is located – and just look at what other farmers have done to the landscape there – scorched earth policy. Especially in the winter months you will see the horrendous damage they have done. Black, bare peat and even white glacial till where the soil has been swept away altogether. Give us a break lads – this is why people distrust scientists – this is putting your head in the peat and ignoring the reality.

McDonald Fails to Show

Comparisons between Kieran McDonald and Roy Keane inevitably come to mind on reading Denise Horan’s piece in the Western regarding McDonalds no show at the FBD final in Hyde Park. John Maughan was unwilling to talk about it but County Board PRO Kevin O’Toole informed the media that McDonald would not be playing for Mayo again. Andy Moran replaced the star centre half-forward in last Sundays FBD match. According to selector Liam McHale, McDonald had received a lot of abuse from the fans after the narrow defeat the previous week by Fermanagh. "There are always some Mayo supporters who can be tough on the players and it takes its toll" McHale is quoted as saying.

"IFA Activist" in dispute with own board

Another farm-environment story in the Western which covers an interesting dispute involving Brendan O’Mahony, the IFA Connaught vice-president of the IFA. O’Mahony is also a member of the NW Fisheries Board (the board charged with protecting fisheries and fish stocks in the region) but who also apparently defends the farmers’ right to pollute at every step. He accuses the chief executive of the NW Fisheries Board, Vincent Roche of attempting to administer the REPS scheme locally. O’Mahony has submitted an FOI request for all correspondence from his chief executive rather than just asking for it directly as a board member – presumably to gain publicity. The nub of the matter is that the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) pays farmers to protect the environment by farming in an environmentally friendly way. Where farmers do not adhere to the guidelines that they agree to in order to draw down the funds they may be penalised through withholding of some or all their payments. Thus, if they do not adhere to their nutrient management plan or cause pollution by spreading slurry when they are not supposed to, they are in breach of their agreement and should lose some part of their payments due as a result. The gist of the article is that Mr O’Mahony feels that they should be paid regardless of whether they stick to the agreement or not – i.e. the cheque should be paid no matter what farmers do. Freedom from ‘red tape’ – i.e. freedom to pollute and even extending to the shooting of rare birds such as hen harriers so that SACs cannot be declared - is apparently now official IFA policy. The article also refers to an earlier incident involving a report reportedly ‘commissioned’ by O’Mahony from a Teagasc scientist John Mulqueen, which purported to show that all of the Lough Conn problems were due to Crossmolina sewage and none due to farm pollution. The response to this report in the Western People last October was commented on in Castlebar.News. Now it appears that the report was so dodgy that Teagasc has requested that Mr Mulqueen should not say any more about the matter. Our leading agricultural research organisation sanctions one of its scientists for claiming that farmers do not pollute Lough Conn - hmmm?

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