Calls for new farm inspection appeals board following High Court judgement

The recent High Court decision around farm inspection appeals highlights the need for an overhaul of the farm inspection and appeals process, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association has said.

The farming organisation has said that the case, of Michael O’Connor versus the Department of Agriculture, which centred on land eligibility, shows that an independent appeals body is needed for farmers appealing decisions by the Department of Agriculture.

The recent High Court case found that the Department had not followed their own procedures, which were compounded by the Agricultural Appeals Office who also ignored these procedures when upholding the Department’s decision.

Vincent Roddy, National Chair of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, called for major changes on how farm inspections are carried out which should involve the Department providing farmers with all decision-making documentation after a decision has being reached.

He also called for the establishment of an Independent Appeals Board to replace the Agricultural Appeals Office. Citing what is in place in the UK as a possible model; he said this is “how an effective appeals board that department officials fear is the best way of ensuring fair play for farmers in these inspections”.

He said an independent appeals board should have oversight on all schemes and comprise a panel that includes a farmer representative. All decisions, he said, must be fully enforceable against the Department with the burden of proof on the Department.

All decisions should be reached within three months of them first appearing in front of the board and farmers should continue to be paid any benefit not at issue until a final decision is reached.

He went on to say that only information received by the farmer from the Department when the original decision was issued is allowed and no further information can be added on the day of the appeal as has happened with the Agricultural Appeals Office.

He also said that, if successful the farmer should be awarded expert costs and interest.

“All of these requests is what any person involved in the Irish Court System would expect so why should farmers be any different.”

And while an appeals board will, he said, hopefully deliver for new cases there are a significant number of farmers that lost prior to changes delivered by the INHFA under Land Eligibility Guidelines.

An independent review committee should be established to assess those affected, while farmers that were penalised 100% would automatically qualify for a full review, and that all affected farmers would be informed within three months and afforded three months to lodge a review.