Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Farmers call off 'sit in' after meeting promised with Department

Farmers protesting in Nenagh.
Farmers protesting in Nenagh.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

The ‘sit in’ by farmers at the Department of Agriculture office at Nenagh was called off late last night following the intervention of a senior officer of the Department who travelled to the North Tipperary capital to meet with the IFA members on the protest.

Tim Cullinane, Chairman, Tipperary North IFA, has confirmed to that arrangements are now in place for a top level meeting next week on the issues of ‘over diligent’ farm inspections, which they allege farmers in the area were being subjected to for a number of years past.

“Our concerns are now going to be discussed at a high level to get fair play for the farmers in the area – and that meeting is to take place within a week – that is all that we were looking for – fair play for farmers – because what was going on was not acceptable and could not continue to be tolerated”, he said.

The breakthrough came late on Thursday evening – as 10 farmers were preparing for a round the clock sit in at the offices – when a senior inspector from the Department of Agriculture travelled to Nenagh and had a 20 minute meeting with the protesting farmers during which they explained their concerns and were given assurance of a formal meeting within a week to discuss their grievances in depth with the objective of more clarity and fair play for all.

Tim Cullinane said that as IFA Chairman in the region he was not prepared to allow the regime to which some farmers were being subjected to, to continue.

“I have heard of one case where an inspector arrived on a farm on the day of a funeral out of the house and insisted in going ahead with the inspection. That is unacceptable to me,” he said.

Several requests had been made by IFA over recent months for a meeting with the senior inspector of the area to discuss the ongoing situation, but the association had met with a blunt refusal and we felt that we were left with no option other than the protest to bring the matter to a head”, said Mr Cullinane today.

The North Tipperary IFA Chairman said that the treatment of Tipperary farmers on area aid inspections was not acceptable and can no longer be tolerated.

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He said that out of 321 inspections carried out by the Nenagh office and penalties were applied in 53pc of the cases, amounting to total fines of €1.28m. The average penalty applied in the area was €1,300.

The national figure for inspections is that penalties have been applied in 39pc of inspections with the average penalty €750.

The Department of Agriculture had defended the action being taken and pointed out in a statement yesterday afternoon, that Irish farming receives over €1.4 billion per annum in direct payments; the majority of this is from the EU Budget and the department are obliged to supervise the operation of the scheme in this country.

"Payments under various Farm Schemes are subject to compliance by the beneficiaries with the relevant EU Regulations and the specific terms and conditions of the schemes,” the statement said.

"In accordance with the requirements of EU Regulations, inspections are carried out at farm level by trained Department staff to ensure compliance by the beneficiaries and consistency in the outcome. Selection of farms for inspection can be random or risk based and many inspections are done by remote sensing (without the necessity of a visit). 

"The Department strives to ensure that farm visits are kept to a minimum and, where possible, that a number of schemes are covered in one visit.

"Where non-compliances are determined, a penalty may apply to payments in respect of the non-compliance on a sliding scale; the level of penalties is on average each year, quite small. The level of penalty varies across each county depending on land type, intensity of farming, etc."

Farmers who are unhappy with penalties, they said, can has recourse to an internal Departmental review (by a different official) of the decision should he/she wish to challenge the outcome of an inspection, or can refer the matter to the Agricultural Appeals Office who will carry out an independent review of any decision.

They also can also refer the matter to the office of the Ombudsman should he/she wish to challenge the decision of the Agricultural Appeals Office.

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