Monday 26 September 2016

Mushroom producers claim State held back EU grant aid

Tim Healy

Published 14/06/2016 | 02:30

A MUSHROOM producers co-operative has sued the Minister for Agriculture claiming it has suffered more than €12m losses due to alleged unlawful withholding of EU financial aid.

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Commercial Mushroom Producers Co-operative Society Ltd (CMP) claims the Department of Agriculture has limited the amount of aid available to CMP on the basis of expenditure caps which, it claims, have been unlawfully applied.

CMP ceo Donal MacCarthy also said in a sworn statement the Department had unlawfully refused EU financial aid in relation to expenditure actually incurred within budget.

Paul Gallagher SC, for CMP, established in 1999, applied yesterday to have its case against the Minister fast-tracked in the Commercial Court.

Brian Kennedy SC, for the Minister, argued CMP had failed to demonstrate sufficient urgency in bringing these proceedings such as entitled it to avail of the court's fast-track procedures.

The Department was also concerned about the resources implications for its small unit dealing with these claims if it had to adhere to the fast-track procedures of the court, counsel said.

Paul Gallagher SC, for the company, disputed there was any delay on CMP's part and outlined a history of correspondence and interaction between the Department and his client concerning the alleged mis-administration of the financial aid scheme. This was a very difficult matter for the producers involved who would prefer not to fight with the Department and had tried over years to resolve the matter, counsel added.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern ruled the case had not demonstrated the necessary urgency and refused the fast-track application, meaning the action will now proceed via the ordinary High Court lists.

In its proceedings, CMP says it is a recognised producer organisation within the meaning of certain complex EU legislation governing a scheme of financial aid for producer organisations in the fruit and vegetables sector.

It claims, under the rules of the Society, its members are required to market their entire mushroom production through CMP. It claims the value of CMP's marketed production during 2015 was some €210m. Its legal proceedings relate to the administration by the Department of the relevant EU aid scheme between 2010 and 2016.

Irish Independent

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