Ireland is in line to face a multi-million euro EU fine for land eligibility irregularities, it has been claimed.

It is understood that the hefty fine is in connection with rock and scrub located on mountainous agricultural land in Co. Kerry.

If the fine comes to pass, it is feared that farmers on mountainous land – in marginal areas – will face similar difficulties in the future. The chief concern is that such lands will no longer be declared eligible for payment under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), and other direct payment schemes in Ireland.

The issue was raised in a recent parliamentary question by Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway, Michael Fitzmaurice.

In a question to Michael Creed, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Fitzmaurice 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.”

Yesterday, the minister responded to the question by stating that the EU Commission is one of a number of bodies that carry out “regular audits” in relation to various payment schemes – operated by his department – that are funded under the Common Agricultural Policy.

He acknowledged that during 2017, the commission carried out one such audit – in which issues relating to eligibility and inspections were examined.

“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.

Speaking to AgriLand last night (Wednesday, December 6), Fitzmaurice claimed that the fine is connected to rock and scrub problems on mountainous land.

“In June or July of this year officials came over to do an assessment of the area. My understanding is they told us everything was good, but it has now emerged that they are now pulling Ireland up on this.

“If this comes to pass it will give an open hand to the Department of Agriculture to shaft farmers farming in mountainous areas where there is scrub and rock.

They will be taking out land; which means single farm payments (basic payments) will be smaller; which means their livelihoods will be at risk.

“It will leave a bigger budget for good land and lead to land abandonment in western and marginal areas, because they will face cuts on payments,” he said.

Fitzmaurice claims the fine is in “multi-million euro” figures. He claims the only way to solve the issue will be to establish specially tailored single farm payments (Basic Payment Scheme payments) for mountainous areas.

“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.”