Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 February 2019

GLAS complaints the big issue for IFA service unit

Calls have been made for a full review of the Department’s inspection process.
Calls have been made for a full review of the Department’s inspection process.
IFA Deputy President Richard Kennedy. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke.

Martin Ryan

Payment delay concerns have dominated the work of a new 'service' unit set up within the IFA to help resolve farmer issues with Department of Agriculture.

An average of 55 farmers each week have been contacting the unit since it was set up over four months ago.

A total of 773 complaints have been received since the unit, which is staffed by two full-time employees, was set up last September. Up to 475 have been resolved, while negotiations are continuing on the remainder.

Payment delays and other issues with the basic payment scheme have dominated, accounting for nearly 50pc of the complaints received.

GLAS payment complaints have proven the most difficult to resolve, with less than one in three farmer issues resolved to date. The environmental scheme accounted for the third highest number of complaints.

The establishment of the enhanced service was one of the pillars of action taken to regain the confidence and support of farmers following the crisis of 2015 which rocked the organisation.

"Given the importance of payments as a proportion of farmers' incomes, the payments unit is there to gather queries from individual farmers and liaise with the Department of Agriculture to sort out any problems and cut down on delays," explained IFA deputy president Richard Kennedy.

IFA rural development chair Joe Brady said the high proportion of outstanding cases relating to GLAS didn't come as a surprise and represented an indictment of the Department's system.

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"At a meeting this week with the Department, we said farmers don't need excuses, they need payment," said Mr Brady. "The Minister has to acknowledge that the GLAS scheme is not functioning as it should, which is a source of deep frustration for farmers.

"Farmers could be waiting another two months if things don't improve. Either the Minister gets to grips with it, or he considers an alternative method that delivers in line with the Charter of Farmers' Rights."

The Department confirmed GLAS 2017 advance payments have now issued in just under 43,200 cases, with 92pc of all cases that are currently eligible for payment now paid.

It stated farmers are ineligible for payment in around 2,700 of the outstanding cases unless they address issues. "The general issues preventing payments taking place include the non-submission of nutrient management plans, commonage management plans, low-emission slurry spreading forms, rare breeds forms and 2017 BPS application issues that remain to be resolved," a spokesman said.

Over €6.37m was issued in the last week.

Michael Fitzmaurice TD suggested the Department's IT system could be bypassed and farmers paid through a Department of Finance loan system similar to that introduced in France to bypass bureaucratic logjams.

GLAS payment issues will also be top of the agenda when Agriculture Minister Michael Creed goes before the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee.

Committee chair Pat Deering confirmed that Minister Creed had been called before the Oireachtas body to discuss issues including delays in GLAS payments, the fodder shortage and moves to change the intervention regulations for skim milk powder.

Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Charlie McConalogue said it was the second year in a row that farmers were left facing cashflow problems.

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