Dept extends clawback of farm payments

ICMSA president John Comer said it was 'grossly unfair' that farmers were approved for payment, only for goalposts to be changed five years later
ICMSA president John Comer said it was 'grossly unfair' that farmers were approved for payment, only for goalposts to be changed five years later

Caitriona Murphy

Thousands more farmers could face clawbacks on their Single Farm Payment (SFP) and Disadvantaged Area Scheme (DAS) payments as the Department of Agriculture extends its review of applications to 2009 to 2012.

Some 4,800 farmers have already been issued with demands for €1.4m in farm grants to be repaid because of discrepancies between the old paper-based maps and the newer digitised maps.

Now it has emerged that the land eligibility review is to include all farmer applications from 2009 to 2012.

The move has infuriated farmers, who maintain that the retrospective penalties being imposed are both unfair and unacceptable.

ICMSA president John Comer said it was "grossly unfair" that farmers were approved for payment, only to find out five years later that the goalposts had been moved.

"Farmers claimed in good faith, were paid in good faith and spent that money in good faith and it is monumentally unfair for the Department to begin trawling through these payments years later and demanding immediate repayment of sums that they themselves had paid out and signed off on," insisted Mr Comer.

However a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said it was bound by EU Regulations to maintain the veracity of the direct payment system through several layers of checks. These include administrative checks, on-the-spot inspections and continuous review of the ortho-imagery in the Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) to establish whether farmers had included ineligible features in their claimed areas such as houses, buildings and roadways.

"In line with this position, all lands claimed under direct payment schemes in the 2009-2012 scheme years are subject to a review for eligibility purposes," said the spokesman. "Any payment made in respect of claimed areas, which is subsequently found to be ineligible, must be reimbursed."

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He added that farmers could refund the over-payment directly to the Department or have the overpayment taken from their next payment.

The review has incensed farmers.

Mr Comer called on Minister Coveney to immediately halt the campaign of "unfair and unexplained clawbacks" and signal that retrospective penalties would no longer be applied.

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