Penalty system slammed by ACA
The Department of Agriculture has been accused of acting like a "State-funded debt-collection agency" by the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA).
ACA president Pat Minnock said farmers who penalised following cross-compliance inspections were being treated disgracefully and he called for an overhaul of the cross-compliance penalty system.
Meanwhile, IFA president John Bryan demanded an immediate meeting of the Charter of Farmers' Rights consultative committee to discuss what he described as "the unacceptable increase" in the level of cross-compliance penalties.
Mr Bryan said the latest figures on inspections and penalties showed that the Department was tightening the criteria for inspections and penalising more farmers.
He accused the Department of applying higher levels of penalties and changing the tolerance levels previously negotiated in the Charter of Farmers' Rights.
Mr Minnock said he knew of one farmer who was inspected in December, but only got notice of a penalty being imposed on his single farm payment (SFP) on May 20.
The following day he received another letter from the Department informing him that there had been an overpayment in his SFP and if he did not repay the monies in full within 30 days he would be charged interest.
The Department letter also warned that all outstanding funds and interest would be withheld from future direct payments if the "overpayment" was not repaid.