The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association have taken issue with a response made by Minister Coveney to Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice on 25th November where he stated that irrespective of what evidence is provided to the Department of Agriculture as the competent authority they will determine the Maximum Eligible Area in accordance with their Inspectors own views.
INHFA National Chair Vincent Roddy has called for the Minister to clarify his remarks stating that “farmers now need to be assured that the Department of Agriculture will take on board all relevant evidence even if it contradicts an original decision by department inspectors” Mr Roddy added that “farmers and especially those that have had dealings with the departments inspectorate system remain unconvinced about the fairness and accountability of the inspections and in particular the appeals process”
The lack of accountability was exemplified in a 2013 LIPIS review on land eligibility when the Appeals Process was sidestepped leaving thousands of farmers without any meaningful appeal. This review was conducted without regard to procedures set out in the Direct Payments Regulations especially in relation to a Control Report which affords the farmer an opportunity to attest to the presence of Department Inspectors on his or her lands.
The INHFA have no difficulty where the Department Inspectors determine ineligible features such as farm buildings, roadways and areas of dense scrub etc. The problem exists in relation to what Department officials consider insufficient agricultural activity and the most recent term of areas to be maintained in a state suitable for grazing. These are stated Mr Roddy “entirely subjective terms with the possibility that officials are not having due regard to all of the factors when making their decisions and is further compounded by an ineffective appeals process”
Mr Roddy concluded by requesting “Minister Coveney and his officials engage with farmers in providing a transparent and accountable inspection process and a robust and farmer orientated appeals process with a proper right of appeal”