Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Minister seeks legal advice in payments inspection row

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed

Theresa Murphy

AGRICULTURE Minister Michael Creed has requested legal advice after a recent High Court case ruled the Department's inspection procedures were "flawed".

The findings in the case could potentially leave the Agriculture Department open to thousands of appeals against inspection decisions that saw penalties applied to EU farm payments.

"I've asked for the Department to get legal advice and I understand the Judge will deliver his final judgements or observations on the case on July 28," he said.

"Until we get the final detail of his judgement we'll not be in a position to interpret what its reach or impact is on the case in question or whether it has spillover. We await the detailed judgement and the legal advice which I have requested."

Questions have been raised over the level of costs incurred by farmers who move to appeal penalties applied on foot of inspections.

Galway-based agricultural solicitor John Cuddy said in many cases an appeal can cost in the region of €1,000. "Due to the increasing complexity of these cases, as highlighted by the ruling in the O'Connor case, the legal fees, while initially reasonable for the appeal, can escalate very quickly, particularly if High Court action has to be considered," he said.

Vincent Roddy from the hill farmers association INHFA said they believe the expert costs such as legal witnesses and environmental reports should be covered by the Department.

"For most farmers the cost of hiring in expert assistance is cost prohibitive due to their costs not being covered even if the farmer wins," he said. "It is vital the farmer continues to get all payments until a final decision is reached."

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The precedent-setting case saw a Co Tipperary farmer take a High Court action over the decision of the appeals officer after his 2010 single farm payment application was rejected. The judge found a 'control report' detailing the checks should have been provided to the farmer under EU regulations and described the inspection procedures as "flawed".

Sligo-Leitrim Sinn Fein TD Martin Kenny said that there were hundreds of other farmers in the same situation who did not receive control reports.

In 2014 there were 610 appeals lodged with the Independent Appeals Board across the various schemes, with 727 appeals finalised. Some of the appeals finalised in 2014 related to appeals lodged as early as 2011, which is well outside the set target of three months.

Out of the 323 appeals finalised in relation to 2014, there were 110 or 34pc allowed, partially allowed or revised in favour of the farmer. A further 69 or 21pc were withdrawn, deemed invalid or out of time. In 144 cases, or 45pc, the appeal found in favour of the Department.

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