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Tom Murphy
Professional Agricultural
Contractors of Ireland


Over the last month, several serious issues have hit the headlines, which will affect farmers and agricultural contractors.

There is the Road Safety Authority (RSA) announcement of proposed new regulations for tractor drivers now holding a ‘W’ licence. This would require tractor drivers doing any non-agricultural work to hold a category CE or CIE licence and a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) with a requirement of completion of one day of CPC training every year on an ongoing basis. The consequences, if this became law, is that other regulations would also be triggered. For example, under the EU Working Time Directive, the requirement to have tractors fitted with a tachograph, the use of marked diesel, and the requirement for an NCT-type test would all be required from day one.
When the proverbial hit the fan, the RSA was quick to do a U-turn saying ‘it had become aware of a proposal due in September of the EU’s fourth Driving Licence Directive, with a revised definition of tractors". Anyone who knows how new European legislation works realises that Member States are consulted from the very start regarding new legislation; it would be most surprising if Ireland was not included in these debates.
This is the second embarrassing episode for RSA and Government in this area. Similar legislation was attempted a few years ago, designating agricultural contracting as a commercial activity even when supplying services to farmers. PAC Ireland requested an urgent meeting with the Department of Transport and pointed out the error in their thinking and the proposed legislation did not proceed any further.
However, this debacle does not surprise me, as it is felt by many that, in relation to these matters, the haulage industry holds too much sway over the department, as well as within the RSA and at National and European level. Lobbying costs money and there is no doubt that the haulage industry has it.

Common sense

Common sense needs to be applied to the use of tractors for non-agricultural work such as construction and within local authorities. I particularly reference where the use of a truck is just not realistic because it would get bogged down and where the use of tractors on the road for short journeys doing non-agricultural work is more practical. I do not condone tractors being used for long distance haulage, but this can be dealt with by enforcing a mileage radius.
I have always acknowledged there is a fine balance in achieving fairness and not encroaching on to the hauliers' business, but we must not let a few mavericks with tractors who are blatantly breaking the rules, be the reason for taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Fair representation

The second issue was the statement by Copa and Cogeca, the European representative body for farming organisations, criticising the Commission announcement that small farms below 10ha (24.7ac) would be exempt from Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) inspections, creating an unlevel playing field. The Commission, in trying to respond to the wave of protests across Europe, has set out clearly its intention to reduce the onerous administrative burden on small farmers and national governments who are required to police legislation. The Commission have stated that they will also be moving to the use of Copernicus (satellite technology), which will reduce costs considerably for all.
It should be remembered that sixty five percent of CAP payments go to small farmers, who are a vital component of the food production chain. Copa and Cogeca are often criticised for only representing big farmers when they are supposed to represent all farmers, both large and small – which they are clearly not doing in this instance.