Clongowes milk quota case is sent to State Solicitor
An investigation into a fee-paying school that has its own dairy herd has been referred to the Chief State Solicitor's Office over a milk quota infringement case.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney announced that a departmental investigation into infringements under the milk quota system had been completed – but it was being referred to the Chief State Solicitor to determine whether any further action was warranted.
The parties involved were prestigious boarding school Clongowes Wood College in Co Kildare and a large dairy farmer believed to be Munster-based who both supply milk to dairy giant Glanbia in Co Kilkenny.
Clongowes has a dairy herd on its 400-acre farm adjoining the Jesuit-run school in Co Kildare. Revenue from the farm is used to support the school's bursary programme to pay the fees for a number of students at the €17,000-a-year secondary school.
"In summary the allegation was that a milk producer was having his milk collections credited to another milk supplier. The information also alleged that this activity was being facilitated by the milk purchaser concerned," said Mr Coveney.
The department's Special Investigations Unit carried out the probe.
The EU milk quota system limits the amount of milk farmers can supply and imposes super levy fines – set to total €15m this year – if they exceed their quota.
Strict technical rules mean quotas cannot easily be passed from one producer to another.
Mr Coveney said the investigation had been completed and corrective action had been taken.
"Following a fundamental review of milk recording within the milk processor, I am making arrangements to have this corrective action independently verified," he said.
"The milk deliveries concerned have now been relocated and any super levy arising as a result will be paid in full.
"I am also referring the file in this case to the Chief State Solicitor's Office for advice on whether any further action is warranted, having regard to the provisions of the milk quota or other legal provisions," he said.
Clongowes financial director Raymond Kenny said that the matter had been an unwitting technical breach.
He said the breach arose because separate health issues on the school's farm resulted in a delay moving its new dairy herd on to the farm last year.
However, during the delay period and while the animals were still not on the farm, milk from those animals was incorrectly classified as part of the Clongowes 1.3 million litre quota.
Mr Kenny said the milk had now been reassigned to the farmer supplying the animals who would be responsible for any resulting super levy fine.
"It was never possible for us to gain anything from this as we were doing it to assist the other farmer with the bind he was in, but it turned out it was not technically correct," he said.
Clongowes would continue to keep a dairy herd and planned to continue a business relationship with the other farmer involved in the quota case.
Glanbia Ingredients Ireland Ltd said it "confirms that it fully conformed with all department regulations by the end of the Milk Quota Year ended March 2014 and that measures are in place to prevent any quota anomalies in the future".
Mr Coveney warned the dairy sector his department would not tolerate any breaches of EU quota rules prior to their abolition next March as there had to be a level playing field for all suppliers.