Clawback payments, digital mapping review a mammoth task – Minister

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has conceded in the Dail today that the task of a digital mapping review of 950,000 land parcels with regard to direct payments is proving a “mammoth task” as he moved to assure farmers that no payments this year will be held up due to the ongoing review. 

“My department officials met with officials from the European Commission in July of year regarding possible disallowances. In response my department is currently reviewing all land parcels claimed under direct payments, which effectively means a review of all 950,000 land parcels.

“It is a mammoth task and every effort is being taken to ensure that it will be completed in a manner that will satisfy the commission and avoid significant disallowances for Ireland.”

The Agriculture Department is currently re-digitising its land parcel identification system (LPIS) database to deal with ineligible features to establish any overpayments in respect of the 2009 and 2012 direct payment scheme years using digital mapping.

The minister confirmed today that the review is on target, where 475,000 land parcels have already been examined, and 19,418 letters have so far been issued to farmers across Ireland.

He explained: “To date, 19,418 over-claim letters have issued to farmers, together with maps of the land parcels in question. It should be borne in mind that for 75 per cent of farmers, the over-claim will have no impact on payment as many farmers declare more land than payment entitlements, and a further 18 per cent of farmers have a minimal payment reduction. The average over-claim is less that €90 or just over €300 for those applicants with a reduction and penalty. These figures are based on 2013 payments only.”

He continued: “”Unfortunately, we have had, and we continue to have, many corrections in the mapping system which is the basis for farmers’ claims of their payments. Let us be very clear about what happens if we do not do this. We know what will happen because the Commission has imposed fines on other countries that have not responded satisfactorily to this. The Commission calculates the level of overpayment, multiplies that figure by five and applies that disallowance or fine to Ireland. Much bigger and more politically influential countries in Europe have had massive fines imposed on them, such as the UK, France and Italy. I am seeking to avoid that eventuality because it will mean we would have to take that disallowance from the budget we have to spend on farms.”

In terms of the letters issued to date, the minister said details and maps regarding the over-claims are outlined, along with the appeals process with the department first and, if not satisfied with the outcome of the review, they can appeal their case to the independently chaired land eligibility appeals committee, headed up by Aurivo chairman Padraig Gibbons.

The minister was speaking in response to a question from Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on agriculture Éamonn O Cuív. “Why are the farmers bearing the brunt of this mess up,” the deputy asked.

“It is a reimbursement of money that should not have been paid out. The deputy should not heighten an already difficult situation for many farmers,” the minister replied.

The Commission is seeking a comprehensive report from the Department of Agriculture by 15 December.

The Land Eligibility Appeals Committee was set in October and it is based in the Agriculture Appeals Office in Portlaoise.

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