Tuesday 22 January 2019

Farmers 'have nothing to hide' as details of EU grants go on net

Louise Hogan

FARMERS last night declared they had "nothing to hide" as the details of EU payments to tens of thousands of individuals were published on the internet for the first time.

A number of farmers had raised objections with the Department of Agriculture over their names, county and the payments being published on the department's website.

The publication of all the agricultural payments under the Common Agricultural Policy, required by EU regulation, was previously branded a 'charter for nosey parkers'.

But last night, details were released of EU payments to more than 100,000 farmers under the disadvantaged areas scheme, which was worth €253m in total last year.

Details of the 55,000 taking part in the rural environment protection scheme (REPS) and the 5,000 availing of the early retirement scheme were also released.

The REPS scheme cost €311m last year, while the early retirement scheme amounted to €53m.

However, the information being published only related to payments made between January 1, 2007, and October 15, 2007.

The annual Single Farm Payment scheme, which was worth €1.3bn last year, and accounts for the bulk of payments to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy, will not be published on the website until next April.

Around 130,000 farmers receive the Single Farm Payment, with around 90,000 receiving €10,000 or less.

However, figures previously released to the Irish Independent showed a number of large beef companies and farmers in the top tier of earners were receiving hundreds of thousands of euro a year.

Details of restructuring aid to sugar beet growers, the farm improvements scheme, and installation aid for young farmers will also be available from April.

On the department website, the details can now be accessed by searching under the financial year, county and specific name.

The Government had expressed concerns over the requirement to publish the grant details of farmers receiving less than a certain amount. But the publication of the full details was passed by a qualified majority.

Last night, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), which had previously described it as a "case of bureaucracy gone mad", said farmers have nothing to hide with the publication.

The spokesman added that the purpose of the Single Farm Payment, which was distributed across the 27 member States, was to help meet the stringent food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards demanded by the EU.

Mairead McGuinness, MEP and a member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, said the figures should be published in the context of knowledge and information about the sector.

Ms McGuinness said the payments were not profit, and went into the running of the farm holding.

The MEP said the REPS payments were made to farmers to account for the reduction in farm production and the enhanced environmental protection provided under the scheme.

She said she had no problem with the system being scrutinised but there had to be informed analysis.

"I would worry. Is there a slightly more sinister underlying reason for publishing the payments to discredit the system so (they) can cut it in time?" she said.

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