The recent High Court decision in relation of the case of Michael O’Connor versus the Department of Agriculture has confirmed the need to radically overhaul farm inspections and the appeals process. The case which centred on land eligibility found that the Department had not followed their own procedures which were compounded by the Agricultural Appeals Office who also ignored these procedures when upholding the Departments decision.
Vincent Roddy National Chair of the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association called for major changes on how farm inspections are carried out which should involve the Department providing farmers with all decision making documentation after a decision has being reached. He also called for the establishment of an Independent Appeals Board to replace the Agricultural Appeals Office which is no longer fit for purpose. Citing what is in place in the UK as a possible model; Mr Roddy stated “how an effective appeals board that department officials fear is the best way of ensuring fair play for farmers in these inspections”
How An Independent Appeals Board Would Work;
This Board the INHFA believe should have oversight on all schemes and comprise of a panel that includes a farmer representative.
• All decisions must be fully enforceable against the Department with the burden of proof on the department.
• All decisions should be reached within three months of them first appearing in front of the board and farmers should continue to be paid any benefit not at issue until a final decision is reached.
• Only information received by the farmer from the Department when original decision was issued is allowed and no further information can be added on the day of the appeal as has happened with the Agricultural Appeals Office.
• If successful the farmer should be awarded expert costs and interest.
All of these requests stated Mr Roddy “is what any person involved in the Irish Court System would expect so why should farmers be any different”
While the Appeals Board will hopefully deliver for new cases there are a significant number of farmers that lost prior to changes delivered by the INHFA under Land Eligibility Guidelines. In these cases the INHFA are calling for the following;
• The establishment of an Independent Review Committee to assess those affected
• All affected farmers to be informed within three months and afforded three months to lodge a review
• Farmers that were penalised 100% to automatically qualify for a full review.
• Opportunity for any farmer that was penalised under land eligibility rules to seek a full review from the Review Committee
• Where fair procedure was ignored there should be full reinstatement of all payments and entitlements within six months.
Mr Roddy concluded by calling on Minister Creed to take on board these suggestions and ensure fairness for all farmers