Hannah Quinn-Mulligan: An apology to the Department – I’m nearly always right but on this occasion I was wrong
Saying sorry is something almost everyone is uncomfortable with, especially when they think they’re right. A few weeks ago, I tweeted out a picture of my farm maps and pointed to a section of scrub which is home to badgers, cuckoos and voles.
t’s also the place where myself and my cousins snuck out as children to get away from grown-ups and light small camp-fires to sizzle sausages and invent new worlds. It’s a special place, that I’d like to pass onto another generation one day.
So I was fed up that it appeared we once again would not get any farm payments for protecting this area, which is home to so much wildlife.
We never received a penny for it, and by my calculations if we’d drained it over 30 years ago or planted it in Sitka spruce, we could have accumulated at least €50,000 from the plot.
I was furious that after all the talk about supporting farmers to support nature, we were once again being passed over like poor relatives stuck at the kids’ end of a wedding reception.
Then a nice man from the Department of Agriculture called me up and told me I was wrong.
What this man didn’t understand was that I bear the curse of always being right. It comes from both being raised an only child and usually always being right.
However, in this instance — and to my great surprise — I was actually wrong.
Anyone want to join me in humming an Elton John classic Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word? But I was wrong and the nice man in the Department was right. Mea maxima culpa.
However, while I was shovelling humble pie into my mouth at a rate of knots, I did manage to mumble to the nice man that the Department had seemed to zone both our organic vegetable patch and fruit trees as ‘farmyard’ and ineligible for payment.
He agreed that this was an oversight, while having the good manners not to comment on what kind of condition a vegetable patch was in when it was mistaken for a stone farmyard.
The news that I was little bit right despite being largely wrong was enough to cheer me up and I decided to finally check out the farmer clinics run by the Department to fill out BISS applications.
This was an excellent plan, except I got held up in a Zoom work meeting outside the local hotel where the clinic was on. The clinic was due to close at 4pm, and everyone knows that civil servants clock off on the button.
The work call kept going and the hands of the clock kept ticking towards the deadline. At 3.58, I sprinted from the car, through the hotel lobby and up to the room where the clinic was being held, only to see laptops being folded shut and the doors swinging open as the civil servants trotted out on their way home.
I went up to the two women sitting outside who hadn’t quite finished closing their laptops.
“I’m so sorry,” I gushed, noting that I was getting quite good at this apology thing. “I don’t suppose you could fit me in?”
They gave each other a questioning stare, but from behind us, a voice answered that she could go back and help me. The woman who had taken the role of good Samaritan had already got her coat on and was clearly packed up and heading for home, but she brought me in and sat me down and the pair of us went through my paperwork.
She took a good half an hour talking me through the process, without making me feel stupid, and when she had a technical issue, I realised that another woman had stayed behind as well.
It also transpired that as I don’t have entitlements for all the extra bits of land I now have, I can get the National Reserve.
I did have to confirm to the good Samaritan that I was under 40 years old, which is a requirement of applying for the National Reserve, but I put this question down to her thoroughness.
The moral of the story is that I’ve never been happier to be wrong about something because our farm payments have actually increased.
Although I am usually always right, I can occasionally, like all humans, be wrong.
There are still plenty of other BISS clinics planned throughout the country and farmers should definitely consider scheduling a visit. The staff are genuinely helpful and you might, like me, learn that your farm payments are worth a little more than you thought they were.
Hannah Quinn-Mulligan is a journalist and an organic beef and dairy farmer; templeroedairy.ie
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