Officials from the European Union are expected to meet with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine early next year to discuss a potentially massive EU fine for “land eligibility failings”, AgriLand understands.

The alleged fine, feared to amount to a multi-million euro figure, is said to be linked to rock and scrub located on mountainous agricultural land in the south-west region of the country.

Last night, independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Michael Fitzmaurice, who initially raised the issue with the department, said: “It is my understanding that EU officials will meet with the department in February or March to discuss the fine.”

Although the department has not confirmed the penalty or the upcoming meeting; there are concerns that similar mountainous land will be at risk of no longer qualifying for payment under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), and other direct payment schemes, in the future.

Last week Fitzmaurice addressed the issue in a parliamentary question to Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

He asked: “If his [Minister Creed’s] attention has been drawn to the failures identified by the EU Auditors or EU Commission in relation to the implementation of land eligibility from 2015 to 2017; if so, will he provide the communications advising him of such failures; and will he make a statement on the matter.”

In response the minister stated that the EU Commission carries out regular audits in relation to various payment schemes funded under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

He said that issues relating to eligibility and inspections were examined as part of a 2017 audit.

The commission has advised my department of its findings and my officials are currently preparing a response.

“These communications will continue as part of a bilateral process over the coming months in accordance with standard procedure and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment at this stage on any particular details, as this is very much the beginning of what will be a very thorough deliberative process,” he said.

If the fine comes to pass, Fitzmaurice, who claims the fine is in “multi-million euro” figures, said “livelihoods will be at risk”.

“This fine will lead to mountainous areas being left unviable; so they will be taken out and your holding would be made smaller.

“The good land in Leinster and Munster will be looked after; the rest of the country will be put into a wilderness,” he said.