Is there any accountability for the implementation of the GLAS scheme?

By Luke Ming Flanagan, MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for the Midlands–North-West constituency

Is there any accountability within the entire Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in respect of the shambolic debacle that is the implementation of the GLAS scheme?

Is it time for an independent review of the manner in which this scheme has been introduced and implemented?

It cannot be allowed to become the norm that this level of inefficiency is tolerated; accepting lame excuses and weasel words in place of the delivery of payments within a reasonable timeframe.

Any quick trawl of farming websites and blogs will reveal the litany of broken promises and missed deadlines in respect of payment dates.

This underlines the indifferent attitude of department personnel to the farmer, secure in the knowledge that there will be no repercussions for them, irrespective of their performance.

The Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) is the primary scheme in Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, for protecting and enhancing the environment.

It was announced with great fanfare in 2014 by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine at the time, Simon Coveney.

Three years on, still no farmer has received a full year’s payment; what has been paid out amounts to 85% of an annual payment, and some have still not received anything.

This begs the question whether farmers should, at this stage, be paid interest on monies owed to them.

Alternatively, is this money, that should have been paid out months ago, earning interest for the government somewhere and therefore incentivising the delay in paying it out?

‘GLAS scheme bogged down by poor decision making’

The scheme itself has been bogged down by poor decision making from the start, due to the overly-complicated structure within it.

This was highlighted by farmers at an early stage, particularly by those working High Nature Value (HNV) land. However, the department persisted in implementing this complex scheme and refused to take farmers’ concerns on board.

This has resulted in long payment delays, leading to severe cash-flow difficulties for farmers. Those who complied with the scheme and carried out the required actions incurred substantial costs.

The delay in payments can, in turn, have a significant knock-on effect for farmers. Some farmers are being contacted by banks and financial institutions, looking for payments on loans that are now in arrears due to delays in GLAS payments.

This can also affect a farmer’s credit rating and undermine their ability to borrow for investments in the future.

It is unacceptable and grossly unfair that all the onus is on the farmers to comply with regulations and application dates.

Meanwhile, there appears to be a lack of accountability, transparency and delivery on the other side of the equation. Unfortunately, this appears to be the Ireland of today.