Farmers challenge 'unfair' SFP penalties
A High Court action against the Department of Agriculture alleging that penalties imposed on farmers under the Single Farm Payments system were "inequitable, unjust and unfair" was lodged this week.
The action is being led by a group of farmers in West Cork who formed the Disadvantaged Farmers Action Group to challenge penalties of up to 100pc applied to their Single Farm Payments. They claim that "unfair procedures and penalties" were imposed on the land owners following review of their land area.
The decision to proceed with the service of plenary summons against the Department of Agriculture in the action was taken following a meeting between the action group and their legal advisors.
Six farmers are being named in the action. Four are based in Cork, one in Kerry and one in Tipperary.
However, the group have compiled detailed files on scores of farmers in similar situations throughout the country who lost most or all of their entitlements to the SFP.
Dermot Kelleher, chairman of the Disadvantaged Farmers Action Group, told Farming Independent yesterday: "We are being supported by over 7,000 farmers who are unhappy with the way they were treated in the review (of the area base under SFP) and over €100,000 has been contributed for a contingency fund to initiate the legal action. The support is coming from farmers from West Cork to Donegal, some of whom lost 100pc of their payments because the Department of Agriculture claimed that their land was ineligible. They claimed their land was worthless, but the farms carry the same stocking levels as the base years for the SFP."
The action is being supported by the ICSA, of which Mr Kelleher is West Cork chairman and chairman of the ICSA Suckler Committee.
He described the scale of penalties imposed on thousands of farmers in the south west, following the LPIS (Land Parcel Identification System) review, as "particularly savage" and "unfair and totally unjustified".
He said 270 farmers in West Cork and Kerry had lost their entire entitlement for alleged infringement of the scheme conditions arising from the review.
"If the Department found a 20pc discrepancy in the land area claimed, that farmer lost 100pc of his payment but the information available to the farmer from the Department of Agriculture on the definition of eligible land was completely inadequate," he said.
Nationally, more than 10,000 farmers appealed the penalties imposed as an outcome of the review, which they claimed was a bid by the Department of Agriculture to recoup the penalty of €180m which the EU initially imposed for discrepancies in eligibility of land area on which payment had been claimed and paid.
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