'Inspections of heavily pregnant sheep must stop'

A long-awaited review of the legislation governing agricultural appeals has been published.
A long-awaited review of the legislation governing agricultural appeals has been published.

FarmIreland Team

Calls have been made to put a stop to sheep inspections at this time of year when sheep are heavily pregnant and the risk of sheep aborting from the stress of being penned up for inspection is very high.

Making the call Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture Martin Kenny TD said he has been contacted by angry farmers who have being selected for sheep inspections and are being forced to gather all there sheep both on lowlands and the mountains and pen them up for the Department to inspect them.

“Surely, the Minister and his Departmental officials know that we are heading into lambing season and sheep are heavily pregnant and vulnerable at this time of year.

“It is recognised that stress to sheep is a major cause of sheep aborting lambs and also causes difficulties and complications during the lambing process.

“As we are all aware, we have had severe weather over the last number of weeks with a lot of snow on mountains especially. This is causing farmers problems in battling inclement weather conditions in order to gather sheep of the mountains with some farmers only getting a couple of days notice to have their sheep gathered.

“I understand that farm inspections are part of the Department’s remit, but now is not the time to be inspecting heavily pregnant sheep. The Minister and his Department must use some common sense and stop these inspections until lambing season is over.”

Inspection appeals

Meanwhile, a long-awaited review of the legislation governing agricultural appeals has been published.

It follows concerns over inspections raised frequently over the years by farming bodies, with the spotlight on north Tipperary last year.

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The Agriculture Appeals Office received 9,708 valid appeal cases since 2002. The 77-page report said several review submissions had remarked on the "perception" of the independence of the Appeals Office. It found that evidence would suggest the appeals officers "do act independently" of the Agriculture Department, however, there were mechanisms that could be put in place to provide for "greater transparency".

It found there is a need to provide farmers with full details of the decision-making process from the time of initial decision and inspection, the review process, the Appeals Office, the Office of the Ombudsman and the right to initiate legal action. "Such information should be provided as a hard and soft copy booklet so it can be available to all claimants," it stated.

The committee recommended the introduction of an independent Agriculture Appeals Review Panel where reviews of the decisions of appeals officers are sought would "underpin public confidence".

It recommended a review should only be sought for six months from the date of the decision by the Appeals Officer. A fee was recommended for taking the appeal to the next stage of the independent review panel. In addition, it found the Department should broaden the pool from which appeals officers are recruited and plans for training for appeals officers should be developed further.

It found general difficulties raised by the appeals office should be submitted to the Farmers' Charter committee.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said the programme for government had provided for a review of the Agriculture Appeals Act 2001 to "ensure the independence and efficiency of the office in dealing with appeals from farmers".

He said the recommendations were currently being considered.

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