Gardai investigating ‘phantom’ tree planting by farmers

Some 870 farmers are still awaiting AEOS payments from 2014, as An Garda Siochana is investigating irregularities around the non planting of trees.

The Minister for Agriculture told Fianna Fail Spokesperson on Agriculture Éamon Ó Cuív that the vast majority of AEOS applications had been paid to date, but that clarification was needed on 5-6% of applications.

“Approximately 870 AEOS files are currently held for 2014 payment pending further processing due to a range of issues.

“Of those, approximately 400 have been subject to a Department review of the non-productive capital investment claims submitted by the applicants in 2014.”

Minister Coveney went on to say that irregularities with documentation submitted for reimbursement in some of these claims has led to a full Department investigation which, in turn, led to the matter being referred to An Garda Síochána.

He said the Department will be writing to all affected participants very shortly seeking further evidence to support their claim for payment in the amounts declared.

“Where satisfactory proofs are provided, payments will then be processed.”

He said there is an “awkward issue” where it looks as if people were making claims that they were planting trees for which they were seeking payment.

“It looks as if some of those trees might not have been planted and that documentation was put in place that should not have been put in place. We have referred that issue to the Garda Síochána for a full investigation.

“As soon as that investigation is completed we will try to ensure that people who need to get paid are paid provided they have been compliant with the rules.”

Unfortunately for farmers, he said, some have probably got caught up in this unfairly but it is very difficult for him to distinguish who they are.

“We will shortly write to the 400 people whose payments have been held up due to this investigation and if they can provide the proof that what they have claimed they have done has actually been done, payment will be made straight away.”

Minister Coveney said that under AEOS, total payments amounting to €25.67m have been made to farmers so far in 2015, while in 2014 there were 1,010 AEOS on-the-spot inspections undertaken.

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