A solicitor and farmer based in Co. Cork believes that the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) scheme could be open to a judicial review if the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine “insists on a rigid adherence to the terms of the scheme”.

Mícheál O’Dowd, of O’Dowd Solicitors in Glanmire, is himself one of the scheme’s participants who is facing a clawback of payments after being unable to achieve a 5% reduction of bovine manure nitrogen (N) within the scheme’s reduction period.

O’Dowd claims that the implementation of the scheme “was deeply flawed”, due to what he said was a lack of clear information provided by the department on where farmers stood on their N figures over the course of the scheme.

In a letter addressed to the department, O’Dowd confirmed his intention to appeal the decision under the remit of the scheme. However, speaking to Agriland, he said he would “certainly be giving [judicial review] serious consideration” if the appeal with the department failed.

In the letter to the department, the solicitor asserted: “It was clear early on that the BEAM scheme was going to be unworkable and it was pure luck if any given participant could abide by its terms.

“While a farmer may be able to calculate a reduction in stocking density by reference to his or her stock numbers, it is largely impossible to do so by reference to notional computations and variables which can change on a daily basis,” he argued, noting that the department did not have its BEAM calculator available until February 2021.

O’Dowd went on to claim that “it was not possible” to work out with “any degree of certainty at any point” where he stood in respect of BEAM compliance, adding that he relied on monthly letters received during 2021.

According to the letter, different figures were provided at different times, leading to confusion over the target reduction to be met.

“One must legitimately ask how anyone can tell for certain what the correct figures are and how on earth a normal lay person [can be] expected to be able to abide by the terms,” he remarked.

O’Dowd, who says he achieved a reduction in N albeit of less than 5%, highlighted: “Any agreement (or law) where an individual cannot reasonably be expected to tell they are in compliance is problematic”.

He also noted that, during the reduction period, he achieved a reduction in stock from 91 animals to 82.

The solicitor said that he did not avail of the deferred period for reducing N (up to December 31), as achieving compliance at this stage “would involve incurring unacceptable costs which would far exceed the BEAM payment”.

“It would involve destocking a comparatively extensively farmed holding to an unacceptable degree and would jeopardise the long-term resilience and sustainability of the farm the BEAM scheme claims to protect,” he added.

Commenting to Agriland, O’Dowd claimed: “It was a hastily developed and badly planned scheme and taking money off farmers despite their best efforts to try and comply with it is scandalous”.