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Pat McCormack
Ex-president, ICMSA

Does DAFM give a damn about TAMS?

One of the more intriguing aspects of the Irish Government’s supervision of the interface between farming and the environment is the disconnect between the degree of urgency with which the Government announces measures.

The ‘get cracking’ tone in which those announcements are made is followed by a tortoise-like administration when it comes to actually doing what they are meant to be doing and lifting their end of the load. In some areas like forestry, for example, that disconnect has been observed for some years now and has moved past amazement to be a matter of record. In others, like the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS), it is still ongoing, still a matter of gritted teeth and huge frustration. 

Difficult to downright impossible

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) just recently announced that the closing date of tranche 1 of TAMS 3 would be pushed back by a fortnight to June 30. It’s ‘only’ a fortnight but the thing is that the original closing date for applications – June 16 – was already too far into the year and had rendered the scheme practically irrelevant. So, delaying the announcement to the end of the month effectively renders it pointless and really amounts to an admission that TAMS 3 for 2023 was a write-off as far as progress was concerned.
We already knew that the chances of getting this work done after getting approval in late September or early October were vanishingly thin. Farmers were going to be asking contractors to look at these projects just as the days get shorter and the weather worsens. It was going to be very difficult to get the contractors to take on that work. But pushing it all back like this by another fortnight probably moves that from very difficult to downright impossible. We think it’s a bit of a fiasco and it should prompt a long, hard think within the DAFM about its ability to administer and organise timelines for schemes that we are constantly being pushed towards but for which the department itself seems singularly unready to supervise and run.
We have a Government that ‘day and daily’ announces the need for farmers to move towards demanding and heavily regulated environmental schemes but which is itself (the Government) demonstrably unable to administer their end of these measures. The result is that the measures they were pushing farmers to adopt are left hanging in the air and unable to proceed through administrative delay and incapacity.
Aside from their administrative inability to organise their own schemes, we have the fact that the current TAMS 3 costings were updated as recently as quarter 4 of 2022. The revised costings were hopelessly adrift of the real cost and the ICMSA pointed that out at the time. We are now halfway through 2023 and the costings are still not connected to reality with no immediate prospect of revisit or re-evaluation. Nobody had ever been able to establish how the DAFM had arrived at its costings, and it was perhaps time that the DAFM stepped forward to explain.
In the medium-term – not to mind the long-term – there is nothing as corrosive to trust and confidence in our ability to make this historic transition to lower emissions as this kind of continued and demonstrable inability on the part of the DAFM to deliver and administer properly the very schemes that they are urging farmers to engage with.