Officials clash over €65m EU farming fine
Officials from the Department of Public Expenditure have rebuked their colleagues in the Department of Agriculture for being misleading when seeking €65m from the State to pay a large fine to the EU.
The taxpayer bailed out farmers in December to the tune of €67.5m when the Government paid the fine to the EU.
Last November, the Department of Agriculture sought a supplemental estimate of €65m to cover the fine, which was imposed due to farmers claiming EU payments for ineligible land.
In a submission by Agriculture to Public Expenditure last November, officials described the fine and disallowance as a "clearance of account issue".
However, senior official at Public Expenditure Finbarr Kelly said such a description "is misleading". Mr Kelly wrote to a colleague in Agriculture saying: "A fine of €65m is not a 'clearance of accounts' issue. This is a substantial sum of money and it is incumbent on your department to label the expenditure in a manner that reflects the true nature of the expenditure."
In correspondence released under the FOI Act, Mr Kelly added: "Please note that most members of the Government will not be cognisant of the fact that full liability for fines incurred by a certain and defined group of farmers to the level of circa €65m is falling to the Exchequer to pay."
Speaking in December, after the supplementary estimate was voted through, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said: "I expected - as did a lot of farmers - that they would have to pay for a significant portion of the disallowance."