Retrospective fines on farmers unacceptable

* Fines ‘totally unacceptable’, ICMSA

* No explanation from the Department

* Farmers in ‘total shock’

The President of ICMSA  John Comer has called on the Department of Agriculture to reverse its decision to impose retrospective fines on farmers back to 2008, a decision it said is “totally unacceptable”. This is in sharp contrast to the position facing a farmer when he/she makes a mistake in that he/she is not allowed to correct the problem retrospectively, he added.

ICMSA members have been contacting the association expressing serious concern that they have received letters informing them of retrospective fines due to area issues back in 2008 but with absolutely no explanation as to why this fine is being imposed.  The penalty is being imposed on both the Single Farm Payment and the Disadvantaged Area Payment.

This decision, Comer said, was very unfair treatment of farmers.

“If there was a problem in 2008, the department should have identified the problem then and dealt with it and not five years later in a year that farmers are struggling to make ends meet due to the very difficult last year and the high costs associated with it.

“Farmers rightly assume that once payment has been made, they are compliant and these letters have come as a total shock to farmers. It is quite clear that the department has improved technology in terms of identifying land and its usage but it is simply unacceptable that farmers are being fined without explanation for area issues five years ago when the farmer was cleared for payment at that time.”

Comer concluded by saying the lack of explanation and tone of the letter combined with the threat of a penal interest rate of 3 per cent per annum is unacceptable from a state department and he insisted the decision to impose fines retrospectively must be reversed immediately.

Up to 4,800 farmers across Ireland were issued letters by the Department of Agriculture this week seeking €1.4m in reimbursements of their Single Farm Payments (SFP). The Department informed thousands of farmers that the areas claimed on for the SFP in the years from 2008 to 2010 did not tally with later applications and that millions had been “over-claimed”.

According to the department, the average fine is €150. If it is not re-couped directly, the department warned in the letter the fine will be debited from any future payments that are due. In addition, if full payment is not made within one month, interest at the rate of three per cent per annum will be charged on the amount owned.

Meanwhile the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has also called for the Minister for Agriculture to intervene and resolve this issue as a matter of urgency.

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