The issues raised in North Tipperary over inspections have to be dealt with, not just there but across the country, President of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), Joe Healy, said.

Commenting after a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture on the topic of the North Tipperary department inspections – at which a local IFA group from the region explained its concerns – Healy said: “While the overall inspection and penalty rate in Ireland is relatively low, the implications for the farmers involved can be very significant. There is a very genuine fear factor for farmers.”

“Most of those carrying out inspections understand the practicalities of farming. However, there is a relatively small number of inspectors who have gained a reputation for being draconian in their interpretation of the rules and for being unreasonable,” the president noted.

The department may say that it has a complaints process in place, but the reality is that individual farmers are afraid to make a complaint. Their livelihoods are at stake.

Deputy President of the IFA, Richard Kennedy, also commented, saying: “There is increased frustration amongst farmers as they are being penalised for minor issues by inspectors, while there are no implications for the Department of Agriculture when it misses payment deadlines and leaves farmers waiting for money for months.”

Any farmer whose payment has fallen outside the Charter of Rights deadlines, due to delays by the department, should not be inspected.

Kennedy praised the local farmers, who were led by the North Tipperary IFA Chairman, Tim Cullinan, for their courage in making the concerns of members heard.

Healy finished by noting: “While we fully accept that farmers have to meet certain standards to qualify for schemes, the department needs to look at its inspection protocols.

It needs to rein in the relatively small number of inspectors across the country who seem to relish putting farmers through the mill at inspection time.