A Gardai investigation is under way into alleged serious irregularities with some of the claims submitted under the Agri Environmental Options Scheme (AEOS), the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has confirmed.

Roscommon South Leitrim TD Michael Fitzmaurice asked that Minister to reassure farmers in counties Roscommon, Leitrim and Longford and in east Galway, whose payments under the agri-environment options scheme have been held up due to the investigation being carried out and said that that these farmers are suffering financial problems.

In response the Minister said under AEOS, participants must submit a claim for payment for non-productive capital investment actions, supported by appropriate proof of purchase, such as receipts and invoices for trees and hedgerow plants.

He said a review of a sample of claims submitted was undertaken in 2014.

This review, he said, identified serious irregularities with some of the claims submitted. The Department then instigated a full investigation into the matter.

“Under the circumstances, all AEOS payments to participants which are the subject of the investigation were put on hold.

“My Department wrote to each of the participants concerned on January 28, 2015, explaining the situation,” he said.

According to the Minister the matter has now been referred to An Garda Síochána for its consideration and decisions on individual cases will not be made until the investigation has progressed further.

“We will try to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible and work with Gardaí to do so.

“This is public money being spent and it is co-financed by European budgets. We must ensure invoices are real and that the numbers of trees and hedgerow plants supposedly purchased are planted, so we are paying for work that is done.

“There is a concern about those issues in these cases.

The Minister said some farmers may have got caught up in this although they have done nothing wrong.

“We need to get to the bottom of it as quickly as we can by helping the Garda to do this, and as soon as this happens, we will make good on the payments due.

“I have an obligation to ensure that if there is any fraud, it is exposed,” he said