Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Crackdown in the North on those benefiting from 'cheating' farm schemes

Martin Ryan

The Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland is to engage in a ‘crackdown’ on those who benefit from ‘cheating’ in a campaign that is targeted at both farmers and those directly employed within the department.

The development comes on the eve of the application by UK, including Northern Ireland, to exit the EU.

In the campaign entitled “Fraud costs everyone!  Don’t cheat yourself, help us to help you”, the department is calling for those with knowledge of possible irregularities in schemes and payments to become ‘whistleblowers’ to weed out any unapproved practices.

The call for allegations of ‘fraud’ to be highlighted is accompanied by a direct phone line number 0808 1002716 which has been issued by the Department of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs, Norther Ireland, setting out animal disease compensation, EU grants and subsidies,   livestock ear tag switching,  abuse of official assets, and inappropriate claims for travel and subsistence as key target areas to be observed by the public.

They are appealing to the public “If you think someone is engaged in fraudulent activity call the DAERA fraud hotline” with the assurance that “All information will be treated in the strictest confidence”.

The hotline process of whistleblowing on ‘cheats’ which is already being pursued by the insurance industry in this country is showing returns for the campaign.

Presently 26 claims for accident compensation in Co Galway, and a further 19 similar cases in Co Donegal are under investigation for alleged fraud, bases on information which has been obtained by the insurance companies.

Two years ago, then Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, said that there was no basis for investigation of possible ‘fraud’ with schemes being administered by his department on behalf of the EU.

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The Minister was replying to Deputy Martin Ferris who questioned the measures in place to prevent fraudulent  claims being made under REPS and if his attention has been drawn to claims made in respect of lands that did not belong to the claimants.

The Kerry TD questioned if any such fraudent claims were being investigated. 

Minister Coveney said said that the Department of Agriculture had no evidence of any widespread breaches of land-ownership requirements under the REPS Scheme and were not carrying out formal investigations in this area at this point in time.

However, he said if such information exists, the Department would be glad to receive further details.

He said that applications are cross-checked with records held under the Department’s Single Payments System and Animal Identification and Movement System and prepayment checks and on-farm inspections are carried out annually.

The Minister added that where an applicant knowingly made false or misleading statements or withheld essential information in support of any claim for payment, their participation in the scheme may be terminated and all or part of any aid already paid must be returned.

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