‘Too often it seems like the Department of Agriculture is being run by a computer’

Far too often it seems like the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is being run by a computer, according to Fianna Fail’s Charlie McConalogue.

Every time an issue arises, it is a question of the computer not letting officials do this or that, McConalogue told the Dail recently.

This has been the case where even a reasonable problem, that could be solved with a little common sense, has led to farmers being told that officials cannot do anything – meaning payments are delayed, he added.

There are delays for months and farmers are left in the lurch for money that they have already invested.

“We need to see the department apply some common sense. It should be prepared in respect of its IT systems. It should be able to look at a file and deal with it to ensure farmers will be paid,” McConalogue, who is the party’s agriculture spokesperson, said.

Over 20 new schemes delivered in the last 2 years

However, the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, has defended his department’s IT systems – claiming that his department has constantly been among the first to make payments in the European Union.

“Under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 (RDP), the department has delivered over 20 new schemes that have been supported by IT capability in the past two years.

“In the first two years of the current RDP, the department implemented substantially more RDP schemes than had been delivered in the entire 10-year lifetime of the previous programme.

To date, Ireland has drawn down funding at a rate that is 2.4 times higher than the EU average.

“This rate of delivery and funding drawn down would not have been possible without the availability of high-quality, complex IT software systems to support the business units in the operation of these schemes,” Minister Creed explained.

Since 2014, the department has adopted a policy of implementing fully digital, end-to-end support for all but the smallest of schemes, he added.

The minister believes that his department has an excellent record in the delivery of ICT (Information Communications Technology) systems, placing it ahead of its European partners.

Scheme difficulties

Minister Creed argued that a number of additional issues, alongside IT problems, contributed to the severe delay in payments under the Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment (GLAS) Scheme.

He did admit that a number of issues arose in relation to the GLAS IT system being required to deal with non-standard cases.

I regret the difficulties that this may have caused to a number of farmers. The IT aspect of the delivery of these schemes has been reviewed and a revised team structure has been put in place.

“This matter will continue to be monitored. All but a very small amount of outstanding work has been addressed and plans are in place to address this over the coming period,” he concluded.

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