Forestry fine flawed says Ombudsman
Hundreds of farmers will be reviewing fines and clawbacks by the Department of Agriculture following a decision by the Ombudsman's office to return €25,000 to a Kerry farmer forced by the Forest Service to stump up years of payments after his woodland was destroyed by flooding.
"This case should never had gone to the Ombudsman," said the IFA's forestry chairman, Michael Fleming.
"If the Forest Service was functioning in a fair manner this could have been resolved years ago. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident and highlights a policy to recoup payments on occurrences beyond the control of farmers".
However, the Department of Agriculture hit back at the accusations, claiming they had a duty to protect public money.
"Overpayments have arisen for many different reasons.... an overpayment is notified for recovery only where the terms and conditions of the scheme have not been complied with, e.g. where the area planted is lower than the area claimed," it said in a statement.
In response to claims that its approach had discouraged farmers from planting land, the department said that surveys showed that its policy of recouping overpayments was not identified as a deterrent.
The case published by the Ombudsman involved a farmer who planted 15ha of land in northwest Kerry.
While the Forest Service had turned down his initial application for grant-aid in 2004, the farmer won his appeal with the help of Mid Western Forestry consultants, despite a letter from the South Western Regional Fisheries Board advising the Department that part of the site was prone to flooding.