This is according to Minister for State at the Department of Agriculture, Tom Hayes, who addressed the topic of ineligible land in the Dail recently. He outlined the department is currently examining the applications for reviews-appeals submitted by farmers. If the outcome of an appeal is successful, the applicant is informed and the relevant adjustment is made to the payment.
However, if unsuccessful, applicants are notified of their right to submit an appeal to the independent appeals committee.
He said: “Where there is doubt in relation to the area deemed ineligible, such as scrub, the department arranges for the area to be clarified by a ground verification visit to the holding. I believe that is very important. More than 1,000 of these visits have taken place to date.”
Minister Hayes noted: “The land parcel identification system review process initiated by the department covers in excess of 132,000 applicants and the land parcels declared by them as eligible for payment under one of more of the above mentioned schemes. This review is now almost complete and details will be given to the Commission.”
West Cork Deputy Michael McCarthy in a debate on the issue claimed approximately 25,000 farmers face penalties ranging from €50 to more than €9,000 following the department’s review of 900,000 land parcels.
He added: “This amount does not take into account the possibility that fines for some farmers will be multiplied by five if the department moves to impose the penalties retrospectively. This is the critical issue.”
In response Minister Hayes said: “It should be remembered at all times that Ireland receives €1.5bn in EU aid in respect of direct payments to farmers. For this reason, we must ensure that the scheme is properly administered.
“Farmers have become dependent on these payments to supplement their income. I accept that, as stated by Deputy McCarthy, they rely on these payments to pay their bills and so on. No farmer should, as a result of the review, be experiencing extreme hardship. It is easy to generalise. I know from my dealings on this issue in the department and in regard to individual cases that the department is considerate of people’s positions and their payment situations.
“If, having gone through the formal structures in terms of an appeal, a fine is imposed, the department should deal with the situation in a caring manner, taking into account that people are now extremely dependent on single farm and REPS payments.”
Image: Minister for State Tom Hayes TD