An agricultural consultant, who is also a farmer himself, has lodged an official complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman against the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in relation to GLAS (Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme) payments.

Eoghan Finneran, from Co. Roscommon, said he put in a complaint due to the massive delay caused by the department’s faulty IT system.

“There are a lot of farmers in GLAS who have been faced with delays of seven, eight or nine months.

“I have been advising my clients who have had these delays to make complaints to local representation, such as TDs, farm organisation representatives, and so on. When faced with the same problem myself I decided to take my own advice and make my concerns heard.

“Just yesterday actually, after months of silence, the department rang back to tell me my payment was being processed. My own case is now being sorted, but that is not the case for everyone. This is simply not good enough.

It is an unfortunate case of ‘he who shouts loudest gets paid first’.

Elaborating, Finneran explained: “The department has known about the issues in the IT system for a long time. In January 2016 – almost 18 months ago – I let them know about an issue that was present in the plan for one of my clients.

“There was a discrepancy between the GLAS and the BPS (Basic Payment Scheme) maps. This problem was only resolved last month (May). The farmer finally got his payment, but not for the land that had the problem – he was down almost €2,500 because of it. It’s not just him either; it’s a fairly widespread issue.”

Ombudsman complaint

On the issue of the ombudsman complaint, Finneran stated: “The main reasons for doing it were to get a move on the department, and to highlight the problem that’s faced by many.

A lot of farmers wouldn’t have the means or resources to make a complaint – and the department isn’t upgrading the system or fixing it.

“From a planner’s point of view, we [planners] could see it coming from the start; it was obvious it was going to cause a problem with discrepancies not being addressed.

“I know of one farmer whose payment was delayed by eight months and it was only paid last week. This was held back because the department recently changed his BPS map over a 2m stretch of stone wall.

Stone walls are worth 70c/m, so his entire payment of €5,000 was held up over €1.40 of  a mapping error.

“This is an obvious problem and could be easily fixed manually but, because of the department’s reliance on its IT system, it caused a long delay,” Finneran said.