When former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union Mr Pat Byrne came into possession of a 30-acre holding off the Newry-Warrenpoint road he was convinced that he had some of the best beef-producing land in the country.
That was only a few years ago but today Mr Byrne claims that the lack of drainage facilities in the area has reduced the farm to a common swamp.
“It is a typical case of passing the buck or sending the fool further,” Mr Byrne told FarmWeek. “There are so many bodies involved and so many laws and regulations neutralising each other that the land is little better than a gluepot with much of it a virtual write-off.”
Last week on a perfectly dry day floods covered most of the fields with the stock forced to “strip graze” on the more elevated parts.
Said Mr Byrne: “There is no shortage of drains running through the land but these have become blocked because there is no outlet for the water. Indeed, rushes have now become the main crop.”
Citing the Drainage Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, Down County Council and Newry No.1 Rural Council as “interested parties to a greater or lesser degree,” Mr Byrne added: “If an individual farmer was responsible he would be hounded until the drainage was carried out but apparently a situation has developed where no one can be held accountable.”
The trouble started, Mr Byrne stated, when the Newry-Warrenpoint railway line was discontinued.
“When the railway was operating the Transport Authority paid reasonable attention to the drains for which they were responsible but when the line ceased no more cleaning took place.
“Housing developments in the area – which I regard as necessary and welcome – aggravated the position and neither the Transport Company nor Newry No.1 Rural Council seemed willing to accept responsibility.
“I understand efforts have been made to get Down County Council to take over the disused track and adjoining lands which would place responsibility on them for the drainage.
“I am absolutely fed up making attempts to have the position remedied but without results,” Mr Byrne added.