President of the ICMSA spoke to RTE this morning over the farming organisation’s claims that thousands of farmers are “grossly and unfairly” being treated by the Department of Agriculture.

Up to 4,800 farmers across Ireland were issued letters by the Department of Agriculture two weeks ago seeking €1.4m in reimbursements of their Single Farm Payments (SFP). This is because of changes to the eligible area on which farmers have claimed their payment, the department claimed.

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”.

Speaking to Morning Ireland, ICMSA President John Comers said the reality is that farmers applied in good faith and that lands were deemed legible at the time.

“If the Department had done a thorough check  at that time in 2009, farmers would not have put in the land for payment. We accept that the department has a responsibility but it is not black and white as it is making it out to be.”

President Comers disputed the average payment of €290, claiming it has noted some farmers were issued letters seeking thousands of euros.

“It is grossly unfair…The reality is that 99.9 per cent of framers did everything in their capacity to be accurate and they were accurate at the time,” the ICMSA President concluded.

According to the Department, if full payment is not made within August, interest at the rate of three per cent per annum will be charged on the amount owned.  If not paid, fine will be debited from any future payments. An appeals process is in place.

Speaking earlier this month, Irish Farmers Association (IFA) Deputy President Eddie Downey called on the Minister of Agriculture Simon Coveney TD to immediately instruct his department to stop the imposition of “unfair and severe penalties” on farmers as a result of adjustments to land areas. In addition, the IFA states that the appeal process will not hold up this year’s payments.

According to the Department, it needs to “protect the integrity of the payments system as it is necessary to ensure that payments are directed to farmers claiming eligible land”.

AgriLand put several questions to the Department of Agriculture two weeks ago when it received reports of ‘overpayment letters’ issued to thousands of farmers.

Among the questions were:

* Why has it taken so long to identify this?
* If there are additional penalties over the years 2010,2011,2012 and 2013, is there a time-scale in place for this process, is it a per year process or an ad-hoc process?
* The average is €290, what is the highest and what is the lowest?
* Why has the department separated the years?
* How are farmers meant to pay?
* What payment options are available to farmers?
* How did this happen? Who is the onus on, as in who made the error? With SFP farmers have to submit maps to the department so who made the error?

The Department of Agriculture is still processing the query.

Related story €1.4m in fines issued to 4,800 farmers