Archive for May, 2003

Irish Farmers Journal: Bypassing a farmer

Tuesday, May 27th, 2003

Irish Farmers Journal

By Mairead Lavery

It’s almost two years since we reported on young dairy farmer Donal Norris from Fiddown in Co. Kilkenny. At the time, the Piltown/Fiddown bypass was under construction and Donal was having difficulties with Kilkenny County Council over access to land, drainage and safety features of the new road. He was worried about the safety of his children and feared the new road would make his farm unworkable. Unfortunately his fears have come true.

Agreement ‘being ignored’

Last December the IFA agreed a new compensation package for landowners affected by Compulsory Purchase Orders for road-building schemes under the National Development Plan. Compensation for land is to be based on equivalent values for a similar piece of land in the same area. In addition, a per acre good-will payment will be available to landowners who co-operate fully with new road plans. Time frames for different notices, responses and payments were also agreed.

A letter from Michael Egan of the NRA dated January 7, 2001 says that all agricultural land under Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) where compensation had not been determined by December 10, 2001, comes under the new IFA deal. The letter, which was circulated to county and city managers, adds that the deal also applies to landowners who are considering offers of compensation as well as landowners whose cases have been referred to arbitration.

This position was confirmed by Minister for the Environment, Noel Dempsey, in a written reply to Dail questions on the on the April 17, 2001.In it he said the NRA and local authorities would seek to facilitate landowners who chose to rely on the agreement.

However, Kilkenny County Council does not appear to be following this line. At a meeting of the council in late March, Donal Norris’s decision to withdraw from arbitration and seek compensation under the new agreement was greeted with scorn. The following comments of County Manager PJ Donnelly were reported in the Kilkenny People on March 29: ‘‘Now there is a request to go back to the IFA loop, and if this does not satisfy Mr Norris, as five previous agreements did not satisfy him, will we go back to arbitration again. It’s time they all saw sense and let this matter go for arbitration.’’

The IFA has confirmed that Donal Norris is entitled to come in under the new deal. However, Donal Norris maintains that as late as May 9 the council was insisting that he is not entitled to the terms of the new deal and must remain in arbitration.

On the 19th of March this year Donal Norris started to drive his 44 dairy cows on the new Fidown/Piltown bypass. He had to do it as they were out of grass on the 19 acres surrounding the yard. ‘‘I had no choice.

The cows were hungry and needed fresh grass. Most of our land is now on the other side of the new road. Before the bypass was built, getting to that grass was a simple matter of driving the cows less than a quarter of a mile along a small local road. Now the distance is 1.2 miles — across a very fast and busy road,’’ said Donal.

He had the same difficulty last October when the local road used by his family for generations to access the rest of the farm was first closed. Donal was not allowed to drive his cows through the narrow tunnel provided for cars. Furthermore, council officials told him that if he did use it, he would be fined €1,000 per day.

On the intervention of Michael Egan of the NRA, he was given temporary permission to use the tunnel. This was to apply until the council completed internal roadways through adjoining land to reach the rest of the farm. In early November a cow seriously injured herself in the tunnel and had to be put down. On veterinary advice, Donal stopped using it. Seven months later there’s still no sign of the internal roadways.

Last week 200 neighbours and friends staged a peaceful protest in support of Donal and his family. About 50 vehicles, including lorries and tractors, were driven slowly along the hard shoulders without causing disruption to traffic.

Donal has now decided to dry off 25 per cent of his dairy herd. ‘‘The strain is just too much. It takes 14 of my neighbours to herd the animals twice a day. I can’t keep asking them to do this. They have been so good to us, and I want to thank them for all their help and support. If the internal roadways are not put in within two weeks, I have no choice but to dry off another 25 per cent of the herd,’’ he said.

‘‘I feel singled out by the council. They just seem to want to get their way. I want to know who the real decision maker is because all I want is equal treatment,’’ he said.

Council statements criticised

Richard Rea of Martin and Rea Consultants in Agriculture and Business says statements about the Donal Norris case made at a recent meeting of Kilkenny County Council are not acceptable.

‘‘I want to reject two points made by the county council. The council claims that five agreements it put forward were turned down by Donal Norris.There were no agreements brokered with Mr Norris, and to claim anything other than this is totally wrong and not in accordance with the facts. I wrote to Kilkenny County Council on the 28th of March requesting details of these supposed agreements and the dates when Donal Norris rejected them. To date the council has not been able to back up its claims,’’ said Richard Rea.

He also rejects the council’s criticism about the way it is being portrayed since Donal Norris started to drive his cows on the bypass.

‘‘The truth hurts. It is a matter of fact that the cows were on the road. Donal Norris had no other choice. Kilkenny County Council has provided roadways of adequate width and length for other affected landowners. In fact, on the farm that Donal Norris has leased, the roadway provided is perfectly adequate. However, on the Norris home farm this is not the case. For some extraordinary reason, the roadway proposed here is both inadequate in length and width,’’ said Richard.

He said this was a critical matter for Donal Norris because the public roadway used by his family for generations is now closed off, and he must have an adequate alternative to reach the rest of his farm.

‘‘All Donal Norris wants is equal treatment. He wants the same as was given to other landowners. Because this was not done, he was left with no choice but to drive his cows on the new road or else cease to be a dairy farmer.’’

On November 8, 2001, a compromise solution was put forward.

This solution proposed that the County Council should provide the roadway and, if the arbitrator decided it was more than Donal Norris was entitled to, this would be taken into account in his final assessment for compensation. The council and the NRA rejected this proposal last week.