Conducting on-farm inspections is deemed essential work amid the current tight Covid-19 restriction, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has said.

The minister was responding to a parliamentary question from independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Denis Naughten who asked why “departmental inspectors are still performing on-farm inspections during the level 5 restrictions, given the potential risk of spreading Covid-19 when it is not deemed essential work”.

Commenting on the issue deputy Naughten said: “I have been contacted by many farmers who cannot see the justification for these inspections at a time when there are such concerns over the level of Covid-19 infection across the country.

Some farmers are in high risk categories and feel under pressure to proceed with inspections or assist inspectors due to the impact of a negative report on potential penalties and as a result their income.

In his response to this, Minister McConalogue disagreed with deputy Naughten, firstly highlighting that his department is “ensuring that scheme payments can continue to issue to farmer clients”.

“Conducting on-farm inspections is deemed essential work,” he said.

“Officials in my department and I are very conscious of the challenges and concerns for all stakeholders posed by the Covid-19 situation.

“At all times, our priority is to safeguard the health and safety of farm families, our staff and the wider community, while still facilitating scheme payments.

Where possible, inspections are being done remotely, thereby avoiding the need for on-farm visits but, in certain situations, a farm visit is required in order to complete the pre-payment checks and controls necessary to make vital payments to these farmers.

Inspections are carried out in line with Health Service Executive (HSE) guidelines and government requirements concerning Covid-19, the minister added.

“All inspections are notified in advance and the farmer is afforded an opportunity to defer the inspection for up to three weeks should there be Covid-related concerns or issues.

“In addition, inspectors are required to adhere to an inspection protocol which gives clear guidance to inspectors on procedures to be followed during the inspection.

“We cannot defer inspections indefinitely as this would impact payments to scheme participants,” the minister concluded.