High Court awards costs and lost payment to farmer who appealed Department’s inspection ruling

The High Court has awarded a farmer from Nenagh over €100,000 in lost Single Farm Payment and the majority of his legal costs, after he successfully won an appeal case he took against the Department of Agriculture.

Michael O’Connor, from Nenagh, Co. Tipperary won his appeal case in June when the High Court ruled in his favour. The case centered around the lack of notice O’Connor received for an inspection and the lack of a Control Report from the Department of Agriculture.

This week, O’Connor was awarded his 2010 €124,431 Single Farm Payment, which he had lost out on receiving after getting a 100% penalty after the inspection. He was also awarded the majority of his legal costs.

However, the Department is considering appealing the ruling and a stay has been put on the payment to O’Connor.

The ruling means that thousands of farmers, who have appeals to inspection decisions by the Department have failed, can now ask the Director of the Appeals Office for a review of their case as the Control Report in many of these cases may not now be valid.

In his judgement, Justice Michael White criticised that the Department of Agriculture failed to provide the farmer with a complete Control Report. The case, which took place in June, found that the Department of Agriculture’s Control Report did not contain the necessary documents as required under EU Law.

Loughrea-based solicitor John Cuddy said farmers who have appealed a decision of the Department may now review their decision in light of this ruling so that full regard will be had to the fair procedures and the failure to provide the proper documents to the farmer prior to drawing their conclusions.

However, he said it is not yet clear how the Appeals Office will deal with the volume of reviews that may be coming down the line or whether the Appeals Office will accept appeals from farmers who have not appealed before but may in exceptional circumstances be entitled to a review.

Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Agriculture Martin Kenny said the of the High Court is significant for many farmers who feel aggrieved by Department decisions and believe that their appeals were not properly handled.

“The case may yet be appealed by the Department, but it will be interesting to see what defence can be made for not providing a control report after the inspection when that is a stated regulation according to EU procedure.

“It is significant that the court ordered payment to the farmer of his withheld SFP, while allowing that the commonage portion of the land was not, in fact, eligible, further emphasising the court’s recognition of the importance of procedure and conduct of appeals.”

“The whole issue points to the need for an appeals board which would be independent of the Department and which could hold the Department to account.”

He said he hopes to introduce legislation to that effect in the new term.