Tipp farmer scores big victory over the Department
Published 02/08/2016 | 02:30
A Tipperary farmer scored a massive win against the Department of Agriculture last week when a judge awarded him over €300,000 in legal costs, a refund of a €124,431 Single Farm Payment, and interest amounting to nearly €10,000.
The award follows a landmark judgement in the High Court in favour of Michael O'Connor, who challenged a Department of Agriculture decision to withhold his entire €147,000 Single Farm Payment in 2010 after it discovered that 46ha of commonage showed no evidence of "farming activity".
Because the area accounted for more than 20pc of Mr O'Connor's application, the Department disqualified him from any Single Farm Payment.
The Nenagh-based farmer subsequently appealed the decision under the Agricultural Appeals Act. When this appeal failed, the farmer took his case to the High Court in 2013.
In June, Judge Michael White ruled that the Department's inspection was procedurally flawed", and that Mr O'Connor was entitled to his Single Farm Payment on all his eligible land, less a 5pc penalty for a cross-compliance breach.
This totalled €124,431, and the judge also found the Department liable for the vast majority of the legal costs for the case, which lasted five days in the High Court.
In addition, the judge added last week that an interest rate of 2pc per annum should apply from the date that the Agricultural Appeals Office upheld the review of the Department's findings.
Finally, a penal 8pc interest will apply to the amount from now on if the Department chooses to appeal the decision and subsequently looses that appeal.
However, legal experts believe the severity of the ruling may force the Department to appeal the case to the newly established Court of Appeals.
"The Department will be conscious of the precedent that this case sets," said Galway based barrister, Theresa Murphy.
"The application of an interest penalty on the Department where it wrongfully withheld payment may cause a floodgate of claims by farmers in similar positions. So the Department may feel it has no option but to take the chance to appeal the decision."