“It’s incredible to think they are now fighting cases in the courts using taxpayers’ money to defend a position that they know to be wrong,” Mr Roddy said.
“The Minister needs to confirm for once and for all that any inspection where no control report was provided are null and void and commence a full review with redress for all affected farmers out there, most of whom are smallholders.”
ICSA president Patrick Kent said that the ongoing issues around control reports again highlight the sense that farmers do not get fair play or justice when it comes to penalties under EU schemes.
“There is a huge onus on the Director of Public Prosecutions to take every care that justice is done in the courts. However, it seems that under EU schemes, a much more à la carte approach seems to apply with the result that thousands of farmers get severe penalties every year,” he said.
“We welcome closer scrutiny of Department procedures which can cause immense hardship and stress for farmers. In many cases, farmers are too afraid to challenge penalties and take it lying down.”
An ‘eligibility’ presentation for the midlands, west and south regions drawn-up by a senior Agriculture Department officer points out the FIS form is part of the ‘control report’ and must be given to the applicant where “irregularities” are found.
The document dating from 2014 has been available to Department staff on internal files. It states in cases where the farmer is not present, the form must be photocopied and posted out for signing. Inspectors have been told it must be recorded on the form where a farmer refuses to sign it.
It states that the Appeals Office and the Department’s legal advisor have “brought it to our attention that this opportunity is not given in all cases”.
The document seen by the Farming Independent states: “We risk losing appeals where we are found wanting on this issue.
“Barristers will demand that where we fail to follow the regulatory procedure that the penalty should be removed,” it states.
A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said it was an archived internal training document.
“The Department carries out training on a regular basis for its staff including field staff. The EU regulations governing the various area-based Direct Payment Schemes and Rural Development measures require the Department to carry out on-the-spot inspections annually to ensure compliance with the eligibility requirements, including land eligibility, of the various schemes,” it stated.
“In the case of land eligibility inspections, the requirement is for 5pc of beneficiaries to be inspected. There has been no change to the inspection requirement as prescribed in the relevant EU legislation.”
The Department said all applicants were provided with a guide to land eligibility in 2015 and they must comply with that to remain eligible for payment.