Farmers and people opposed to wind farm developments in Laois are considering taking their campaign to next week’s national ploughing championships in Ratheniska.
At a well-attended public meeting in The Swan Community Centre last Tuesday night, the IFA came under severe criticism for the position it has adopted in the current wind farm controversy.
One Fine Gael councillor questioned whether the IFA was acting as a paid facilitator between wind energy companies and farmers.
Cllr James Daly said that when the M7 and M8 bypasses were being laid in Laois, the IFA facilitated an arbitration process between local farmers and the NRA and “they didn’t do that for free.”
He said: “The IFA has made comparisons between the NRA and this (midlands wind farm development) project. The first question that they should be asked is, are they (IFA) benefiting financially from these wind farms going ahead. If they are facilitating deals with farmers, I guarantee you they are not doing it for free. I don’t know the details of the arbitration process in this, but I was involved in the arbitration process of the roads seven years ago and the IFA benefited then.”
Responding to the claims the following day, Ger Bergin, who led the IFA negotiation team with the wind energy companies, said: “That’s false … complete and utter rubbish. The IFA did not receive any financial benefit from the NRA and have received no funding whatsoever from wind energy companies.”
Explaining the IFAs role in wind farm negotiations Mr Bergin said: “A huge amount of farmers were coming to us when the wind companies were first in the midlands looking for us to get involved. We had a wind energy policy at the time and guides for farmers if approached by wind energy developers. Some people had already signed up with the companies and wanted a better deal which we negotiated for and got.”
Mr Bergin said that his organisation does not get involved in negotiations as to where wind turbines are located. He said the IFA had spoken with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte and has also made a submission into the national wind energy review. He said his organisation has sought legislative guidelines to form part of any new national wind energy policy as well as a 1% community benefit on the gross output of wind turbines in a locality.
Chairperson of last Tuesday’s meeting Brian Ramsbottom said they, he along with two other farmers, who are members of the IFA had attempted on three separate occasions to engage the executive council of the Laois IFA in meaningful discussions on wind farms developments. He said that on one occasion they were threatened to be removed from the meeting if they persisted in trying to place the issue on the agenda.
Responding to this Mr Bergin disagreed: “The executive dealt with the issue two or three times. No one has ever been or threatened to be thrown out of our meetings. That never happened.”
Darragh Kettle from Ironmills, Ballinakill told the meeting that farmers have sold away their lands and signed up agreements for up to 70 years. He said: “Quite a growing number of farmers are now trying to get out of these contracts. There are lawyers and barristers and supports available to landowners who find themselves in that position.”
William Carroll said that a number of farmers had come to the local wind farm committee asking for their help to get out of their contracts. He proposed to the meeting that it should “write to the IFA to ask them to help their members who want to get out of their contracts.”
Mr Bergin said: No farmers have come to us looking to get out of their contracts.”
Mr Kettle at the meeting said: “The IFAs original position was absolutely supportive of these developments. They described them as bonanzas for farmers and landowners and said they would be absolutely beneficial to the farmers. It said it was recommending that farmers should engage in these.”
“We advise farmers at all times to get their own legal and tax advice,” said Mr Bergin.
One man said: “The IFA will have a big fancy marquee in Ratheniska. I think we should approach them there and tell them the feelings of farmers who are opposed to these wind mills.”
Mr Bergin said: “I’m always aware of extremes in debates. There has to be a balanced debate. What’s important is the economic good balance with the needs and concerns of any community.”