ICMSA retrospective penalties unfair

As concern mounts in the farming community over the Department of Agriculture’s current campaign of ‘clawbacks’ on what the Department claims were overpayments of the Single Farm Payment (SFP) and the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme (DAS) as far back as 2008, the President of ICMSA has denounced as “grossly unfair” a situation where farmers were approved for payment then only to see five years later that the goalposts have been moved.

ICMSA President John Comer said it was ‘unfair and unacceptable’ that these farmers are deemed now to be retrospectively liable for penalties in a year when farmer finances are already stretched to the limit due to atrocious weather of the last year.

“The Department have clearly shifted the goalposts. At a Farmers Charter meeting in July 2010, ICMSA was clearly told that a review of parcels had taken place and 99.9 per cent of farmers were fine with issues for only 0.1 per cent of farmers in terms of eligibility and claims. Farmers are clearly entitled to ask what has changed since then and why so many of them have gone from a situation of meeting the requirements at that stage to the present circumstances where now they are being penalised.

“I was at that meeting at which the Department confirmed that the numbers involved in over-claiming were relatively minute. By their own estimation of 0.1 per cent, we are looking at a figure of approximately 1300 people who over-claimed – and many of these by very small amounts. But we now see a situation where the Department have already contacted over 4,800 farmers and, effectively, accused them of over-claiming – whether deliberate or inadvertent – and we are now being told that every parcel in the country is to be reviewed,” said Mr Comer.

“This type of retrospective trawl is grossly unfair to all farmers who have long since spent the payments received in 2010 and it is simply not good enough for the Department to announce that the basis on which they were operating in 2010 – and which they confirmed to ICMSA and others – is now being changed.   Farmers claimed in good faith, were paid in good faith and spent that money in good faith and it is monumentally unfair for the Department to begin ‘trawling’ through these payments years later and demanding immediate repayment of sums that they themselves had paid out and signed off on,” said Mr Comer

“ICMSA believes that the Minister should immediately announce a cessation of this campaign of unfair and unexplained ‘clawbacks’ and also signal that retrospective penalties will no longer be applied.  If the Department want to change the system, it should be discussed with the farm organisations and applied to future years. But we cannot have a situation where the goalposts are shifted retrospectively and penalties imposed years later,” he concluded.

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