IFA Farm Forestry Chairman, Michael Fleming has welcomed the decision of the Ombudsman to return €25,000 to a farmer who was forced by the Forest Service to repay payments received as a result of a section of his plantation being destroyed by flooding.
“This case should never had gone to the Ombudsman,” said Mr. Fleming, “If the Forest Service was functioning in a fair manner this could have been resolved years ago. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident and highlights a policy to recoup payments on occurrences beyond the control of farmers”.
Mr. Fleming said the ongoing recoupment of payments from farmers following the digitisation of forest areas, despite serious questions being raised on the legitimacy of the policy, and the accuracy of the system, clearly shows the disregard in which the Department is treating farmers.
“Farmers are very annoyed at how the Forest Service handled the introduction of a new computerised mapping system”, said Mr. Fleming, “They believe the retrospective application of mapping technology, that in many instances did not even exist at the time the forest was established, and the subsequent recoupment of payments is completely unjustified”.
He said that the conduct of the Forest Service in many digitisation of forest areas and force majeure cases is unacceptable and they must repay monies that were taken incorrectly from farmers.
IFA has campaigned for years for an Independent Appeals Office, which was secured under the Farmers’ Charter 2014 – 2020. The establishment of the Independent Appeals Office will hopefully lessen the number of farmers that have to go the Ombudsman to get what they believe to be an impartial consideration of their case.
Mr. Fleming said that the treatment of farmers who have committed their land to forestry by the Forest Service is reflected in the falling planting programme. He said that if we are to achieve our planting targets of 10,000 hectares per annum farmers must be treated fairly and respected.