‘Jump in penalties warrants immediate review of inspection regime’

The recent jump in penalties handed out to farmers warrants an immediate review of the inspection regime, according to Fianna Fail’s Agriculture Spokesperson Charlie McConalogue.

McConalogue has called upon the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, to carry out a review.

This follows on from the Fianna Fail TD receiving figures from the department which reportedly indicated that that 33% of farmers inspected for cross compliance last year were hit with penalties – representing an increase of over 40% compared to 2010 figures, McConalogue explained.

The figures also show that there has been a large fall-off in the number of farmers who were clear of any cross compliance breaches – down from 71% in 2010 to 39% in 2016.

More and more penalties are being applied to farmers as a result of the rise in the number and complexity of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) schemes, McConalogue said.

Farmers are doing everything within their power to comply with increasingly complex and bureaucratic requirements to draw down payments, and many now view the inspections regime as unfair, and claim that it is resulting in disproportionate penalties.

“I don’t believe that penalties should be placed on farmers retrospectively unless intentional fraud is suspected. Where genuine errors occur or where simple non-compliance issues arise, farmers should be given a warning and an opportunity to address the error without the threat of penalties.

“A long overdue review of the Agriculture Appeals Office has been announced by the government. It is vital that these latest statistics are discussed with all farmer stakeholders with a view to ensure there is a fair inspection and appeals system in place,” he concluded.

Similar calls for a full review and reform of the department’s inspections and penalty regime were also made by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Deputy President Richard Kennedy.

It is very worrying that the department figures are showing that more farmers are ending up with a financial penalty following inspection, he added.

“The inspection and penalty system needs to be fundamentally reformed from a regime that sets out to penalise farmers to a system that helps farmers to meet the requirements.

“There is a real need for greater tolerances and a yellow card system whereby farmers can correct unintentional errors without penalty,” Kennedy concluded.