Northern Ireland fined £19m by the EU for poor management of farm payments

The Northern Ireland Executive was forced to pay the European Commission a total of £19m last year due to failures by the Department of Agriculture to administer EU schemes, it has been revealed by Ulster Unionist Robin Swann.

The revelation came following an assembly question that Swann, who is the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee and a member of the Agriculture Committee, tabled to the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Michelle McIlveen.

In reality that means the Executive was fined for deficiencies in its controls for the administration and payment of EU funded schemes.

“By far the biggest scheme affected will have been the issuing of Basic Payments, better known in the past as the Single Farm Payment.

“The Department is regularly monitored to ensure that it administrates this scheme, which last year had a value of €326m to our farmers, in the correct and efficient manner as requested by the European Commission,” Swann said.

A spokesperson from DAERA said the amount of disallowance for any given year is determined by the European Commission.

“The Commission can take several years to complete its assessment. The latest year for which we have a finalised disallowance figure for Northern Ireland is 2012. Figures for 2013 onwards are therefore provisional.

“None-the-less, for accounting reasons the department must make financial provision in the current year for the disallowance we expect will be determined by the Commission. This provision is based on our calculation of the ‘risk to the fund’. This calculation is based on Commission guidance and methodology.”

This isn’t the first time the Executive in Northern Ireland has been fined by the EU Commission, according to Swann, with a £70m disallowance handed down in 2011 for major failures in the administration of the Single Farm Payment in the years up to and including 2009.

“Unfortunately however, the revelation that there was a £19m charge made to the Executive in 2015/16 confirms that major mistakes were made and that public services in Northern Ireland have been undoubtedly affected by this fine as it was paid from general expenditure,” Swann Said.

The people who will be most the most shocked and angered by these revelations will be the farmers in Northern Ireland, according to Swann.

“Maybe if the Department had properly understood the rules of the Common Agricultural Policy they wouldn’t have burdened our farmers with such a botched and disorderly implementation, and importantly saved the Northern Ireland public purse this £19m,” Swann said.