Garda investigation underway into AEOS ‘irregularities’

One agricultural consultant is understood to be the subject of a criminal investigation into suspected irregularities involving AEOS (Agri-Environment Options Scheme) payments, the Department of Agriculture has confirmed.

In the region of €3 million has been paid out to date regarding the 300 or so cases involved in the investigation, the spokesperson said. Payments recovered and penalties imposed amount to approximately €1 million, according to the Department.

There was one agricultural consultant involved. The Department understands that the matter is the subject of a Garda investigation. The Department will not be making any further comment.

Over €260 million has been paid out to date on the AEOS scheme to 20,000 participants since the scheme started in 2010. “A small number of payments remain to be completed at this time,” the spokesperson said.

Just recently, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, confirmed that over 1,300 farmers were still awaiting payments under the scheme. Responding to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fail’s spokesperson on agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, Minister Creed confirmed that 1,321 participants were still waiting for payment.

This meant that 15% of the total number of applicants – 8,640 – were still awaiting their full 2016 payment. Counties Galway, Donegal and Mayo were the areas with the highest number of applicants awaiting payments.

AEOS II participants completed their five-year contracts on December 31, 2016, Minister Creed said. “Under EU regulations for this scheme, and all other area-based payment schemes, a full check, including cross-checks with the Land Parcel Identification System, must take place before payments can be issued,” he said.

“As all AEOS II participants will be receiving their final payments under the scheme, rechecks on payments made for all scheme years must be completed before final payment can be processed.”

According to the Department, the AEOS scheme aims to meet the challenges of conserving and promoting biodiversity. It also encourages water management and water quality measures.