Calls have been made for Northern Ireland’s Review of Decisions independent panel to include mental health experts for all cases with a mental health element.

The independent panel was established in 2001 with the aim of providing farmers with an impartial and transparent review of scheme decisions against the framework of EU and national framework and scheme rules.

However, several witnesses to the Stormont Agriculture Committee have commented on the mental toll of the process on applicants, warning farmers who go through the process are often put under extreme stress.

Jim Carmichael, Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association chairman and Rural Support volunteer, told the committee on Thursday (March 15): “The reason we would like to see someone with a mental health background on the panel is because we have seen some of the doctors’ reports and we understand how our clients have been feeling.

“A doctor writes a note which sometimes it would take another doctor to read and hasn’t really given the full aspect of the person’s mental health, how he’s been feeling and what’s been wrong with him.

If there is a mental health aspect to the paperwork for the appeal, I think it’s something that should be there.

“You also need someone that understands law – particularly agricultural law, someone that has practical knowledge of the case that’s being looked that.

“If it’s a case for an active farmer – someone who understands what the department actually means by that.”

During the same meeting, Northern Ireland Agricultural Consultants Association chairman David Rankin also called for “more transparency” in the appeals procedure warning the current process caused farmers significant stress, often affecting their mental health.