Following a meeting of the Charter of Farmers Rights in Portlaoise this week, IFA Deputy President Eddie Downey said the Charter Chairman John Malone has instructed the Department of Agriculture to release all of the figures on inspections and penalties in a clear and transparent fashion.
Eddie Downey said the Charter meeting decided that farmers were definitely entitled to the information. The Chairman, John Malone, confirmed that the IFA had looked for the figures as far back as last November and said the information should have been provided by the Department.
He welcomed the Charter Chairman’s intervention in the debacle over the Department’s refusal to provide the full and detailed figures on the level of penalties and financial sanctions imposed on farmers as a result of inspections for cross compliance and land eligibility.
The IFA Deputy President said, “It is clear from the data extracted out of the Department over recent weeks that the level of penalties imposed on farmers over the last number of years across the major cross compliance and land eligibility issues have increased dramatically. There is no logical explanation from the Department for this increase, other than they are under pressure from Brussels auditors”.
Eddie Downey said most Department inspectors were reasonable and understood the practical difficulties at farm level. However, the audit pressure on inspectors from the top down had pitched the inspection service against farmers, creating unnecessary and avoidable conflict.
“Everybody including the Department accepts that farmers have improved their compliance across important areas like cattle identification and registration, where the use of IT and computers has delivered major advances. In addition, farmers have invested up to €3bn in infrastructural investment in housing and pollution control facilities. However, nobody can explain why the level of inspection penalties continues to rise year after year.”
Eddie Downey said the inspection system was going in the wrong direction and was now audit driven. He again called on the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to take political responsibility for this important area and undertake a total overhaul of the inspection regime operated by his Department.
The IFA Deputy President said there was major fear and stress among farmers over the risk of being selected for a Department inspection and this was very wrong and unacceptable.
At the meeting, Eddie Downey said the Department has confirmed that the EU Commission has now formally proposed a 50% advance payment of the 2013 Single Farm Payment from October 16th. The Department also confirmed to the IFA that they are in a position to pay out 100% of Disadvantaged Area Payments from September 23rd and the 50% SFP advance from October 16th.
He said the recent issuing of up to 10,000 letters to farmers demanding payment clawback has caused a lot of confusion and stress on farm families. He said the Department provided no details on how these clawbacks were calculated. The Department has now confirmed that they will send out maps outlining how the clawback adjustments were calculated. In addition, an appeals system is being set up. IFA has received assurances that were a farmer appeals, 2013 payments will not be held up.
The IFA Deputy President said it is not necessary for farmers to make any payment to the Department on the clawback until they have received their maps and are clear that a clawback is due. He encouraged farmers who had any doubt or issue with the clawback to appeal the decision.
Eddie Downey said the Department of Agriculture must ensure that the maximum number of farmers receive their full payments across all schemes including REPS, AEOS and TAMS before the end of the year.