Review of nitrate inspections called for

A review of Ireland’s farming inspection including nitrate and penalty regime across all Department of Agriculture schemes has been called for this afternoon.

This is according to the IFA following the recent issuing of ‘overpayment’ fines in SFP and DAS payments the past number of years to more than 4,800 farmers and a noted increase in farm nitrates inspections across Ireland.

“Farmers are incensed that the Minister for Agriculture would allow his Department to increase penalties and hardship significantly on farm families over the past two years through the inspection system,” said IFA President John Byran in a statement this afternoon.

In addition, the IFA is calling on the department to release all figures on inspections and penalties including land eligibility in an “open and transparent way”.

“It appears from the figures on penalties that there is serious pressure being applied in the Department from the top down to impose more and more penalties,” the IFA President claimed this afternoon.He said the latest deluge of letters to farmers imposing land eligibility penalties are just another example where the minister must intervene.

“It is totally unacceptable that the department are now going back and imposing penalties retrospectively as far back as 2008, demanding farmers to take out land areas which in some cases were already inspected and approved by the Department.”

In addition, the IFA President said one of the major reasons given by the Department of Agriculture for the significant increase in penalties under nitrates is the duplication with county council inspections.

“Minister Coveney and the Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan need to address this unnecessary duplication, which is leading to substantially increased inspections on farmers.”

Two weeks ago more than 4,800 farmers across Ireland were issued letters by the Department of Agriculture seeking €1.4m in reimbursements of their SFP and DAS. This is because of changes to the eligible area on which farmers have claimed their payment, the department  has claimed.

The Department informed thousands of farmers by letter that the areas claimed on for the SFP in the years from 2008 to 2010 did not tally with later applications and that millions had been “over-claimed”.

According to the Department, if full payment is not made within August, interest at the rate of three per cent per annum will be charged on the amount owned.  If not paid, fine will be debited from any future payments. An appeals process is in place. “The department needs to protect the integrity of the payments system as it is necessary to ensure that payments are directed to farmers claiming eligible land,” it said in a statement two week ago.

Farmers have until the end of August to pay the fine, the average is €290, or it will deduct the fine from payments. It also has an appeal process in place.

Related stories:
SFP ‘overpayment’ dispute heats up
ICMSA says retrospective penalties ‘unfair and unacceptable’
€1.4m in fines issued to 4,800 farmers this week

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