‘Insistence on online-only scheme applications unfair on rural Ireland’

The insistence from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on online-only scheme applications is unfair on rural Ireland, according to MEP Liadh Ni Riada.

The Sinn Fein MEP has urged the Department to continue to accept paper applications, alongside online applications, for schemes such as TAMS and the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).

The Ireland South MEP made the request as the Department aims to move towards 100% online applications for the BPS in 2018.

“While I would welcome any system that makes getting money from Europe into the hands of Irish farmers easier and more efficient, the Government is putting the cart well before the horse here by insisting on online-only applications.

There are still huge swathes of rural Ireland with no access to broadband, meaning such a move is only putting another obstacle in the way of those farmers getting those payments.

“This seems to be a case of a blinkered Department in Dublin thinking that the rest of the country has the same facilities as the capital,” she said.

The Sinn Fein MEP also wanted to remind the Department that there are more farmers in the country over the age of 70 than under the age of 35.

For many of them online applications are simply not going to be an option.

“The move towards a faster, smoother online system is one that the Government needs to make. But it should be made in conjunction with those people who do not have access to these facilities, not at their expense.

“The Government cannot fail to provide rural broadband and then punish those who do not have rural broadband. Paper applications must continue to be accepted alongside online ones,” she said.

Online BPS Applications

Recently, the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, said that he hoped to build on the recent growth in online applications for the BPS this year.

He announced the opening of applications to the BPS earlier this month; Minister Creed urged farmers to complete their application at the earliest available opportunity.

There is a range of benefits that online applications provide to both farmers and the Department in terms of the more efficient processing of applications and payments, he added.

Meanwhile, the IFA are also encouraging farmers to embrace the online application process, the association’s Deputy President Richard Kennedy said.

IFA strongly encourages farmers to apply online as this speeds up processing and payments, and reduces errors.

“In addition, online applicants have the benefit of the pre-checking facility which is a major help,” he added.

Out of a total of about 124,312 eligible applications, 102,020 farmers applied online, according to the IFA.

This year it is hoped to increase the number of online applications by another 10,000 to 15,000 applicants, it added.