Uncovering the Truth: Investigating the Impact of Farmer Penalties on Water Pollution in Local Communities

Department of Housing seeks to review penalties for farmers breaching water quality legislation

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has announced its intention to examine the effectiveness of current penalties imposed on farmers who breach water quality laws. The department has opened a tender process for external research and development consultancy services to investigate the sanctions under the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) regulations. The regulations, which were implemented in March 2022, aim to safeguard watercourses from pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources.

The review will initially focus on the existing civil and administrative penalty regimes under the GAP regulations. The tender documents state that the successful applicant will be tasked with examining the experiences of local authorities in enforcement and prosecutions under the regulations, including any issues encountered and lessons learned. The review will also consider other legislation to see if there are any insights that could be used to strengthen the GAP regulations if necessary.

The process will also involve comparing the approach taken by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to Basic Income Support for Sustainability (BISS) scheme payments with that of local authorities using enforcement actions such as convictions, fines, and imprisonment. The external review will be asked to provide recommendations on any policy and legislative changes required, along with other relevant changes to strengthen the dissuasive sanctions under the GAP regulations, if needed.

The closing date for tender applications is May 26, 2023. The review is part of Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme (NAP), which aims to protect watercourses from pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. The programme sets out a range of measures to be implemented by farmers to reduce nitrate pollution, including restrictions on the application of fertilisers and the management of livestock manure.

The review has been welcomed by environmental groups, who have long called for stronger sanctions against farmers who breach water quality regulations. The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has also welcomed the review, stating that farmers take their environmental responsibilities seriously and that the majority comply with regulations.

The IFA has called for a balanced approach to be taken in the review, stating that any changes to the sanctions regime must be proportionate and fair. The organisation has also highlighted the need for increased support for farmers to implement measures to protect water quality.

The review comes at a time of increased focus on environmental issues in Ireland, with the government committing to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The government has also launched a range of initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable agriculture, including the Ag-Climatise programme, which sets out a roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the sector.

The review of the effectiveness and efficiency of the penalties currently available to local authorities for farmers who breach water quality legislation is a welcome development. It is hoped that the review will lead to a more robust and effective sanctions regime, which will help to protect Ireland’s watercourses from pollution caused by agricultural sources. The review must take a balanced approach, ensuring that any changes to the sanctions regime are proportionate and fair, and that farmers are supported to implement measures to protect water quality.

Categories: Agriculture