Penalty fears stall farmers' charter
Published 03/06/2015 | 02:30
Attempts to sign off on a new farmers' charter stalled again last week, following farm leaders' claims that the new regime would result in increased penalties.
A tougher penalty regime for minor breaches of compliance by farmers in EU schemes was the major stumbling block during negotiations between the farm organisations and senior Department of Agriculture officials last Thursday.
The Department had proposed that farmers found to have a minor non-compliance would be reclassified into a 'higher risk' category, exposing them to increased levels of inspections.
In addition, if the non- compliance issue was repeated in a subsequent inspection, the farmer would be subjected to a three-fold increase in penalties.
The yellow card system championed favoured by farm leaders has also been replaced with an 'early warning' system in the latest proposals.
Concerns are also being expressed by farmers about the legal standing of any charter.
When asked about the status of the talks, a Department spokesperson claimed that a "small" number of issues remain to be resolved.
However, ICMSA deputy president, Pat McCormack, said that "significant" changes were necessary to win his organisation's support for the charter.
"We acknowledged that progress was made on a number of issues but there are a number of outstanding issues that need to be addressed including the yellow card system, inspection notice and tolerances," he said.
In relation to notice of inspection, Mr McCormack said that the Department will have to ensure that all farmers subject to a no-notice inspection get the same opportunity to postpone the notice elements of the inspection - something not available under the current proposal.
While the Department stated that talks would recommence "shortly" in order to finalise the charter, the IFA's Eddie Downey said that it was "essential" that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney concluded the negotiations "immediately" to deliver on rights for farmers and ensure that "improved payment deadlines are complied with under the EU schemes in the future.
ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan said that the Farmers' Charter will only be deemed a success if it delivers a fair and just inspection process for farmers which recognises that 100pc perfection is not the minimum standard.
"Whether the solution is called an early warning system or a yellow card system is beside the point; what is essential is that farmers do not get penalties for minor issues such as a few animals missing a tag or a minor deficiency in a farmyard on a nitrates inspection," said Mr Phelan.
Farming representatives had championed the yellow card system to their rank and file, but changing the title from the 'Early Warning System' would require submitting another draft to Brussels for approval - a scenario not favoured by Department officials.
A date for another meeting of the parties to the Charter was agreed over the weekend, with a further attempt to resolve the outstanding issues scheduled for Thursday week, June 11.