A meeting between members of The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association and EU Commission officials from both Direct Payments and Rural Development has helped clarify a number of issues around farm inspections and land eligibility. Speaking after the meeting INHFA Vice President Brendan Joyce outlined how the meeting was beneficial to both sides, as it helped to clarify for us issues around inspections and for them it provided an insight as to how farmers are affected on the ground.
With regard to inspections Joyce clarified how a control report is required for every inspection. This report contains a number of specific requirements including the signatory of the farmer whose land was inspected. This merely acknowledges that the inspection has happened and does not imply that the farmer agrees with any findings of the inspection. Currently the Department of Agriculture are appealing a High Court decision on land eligibility which, amongst other issues, they lost, based on them not having a signed control report.
Joyce stated how “Commission officials not only informed them how a signed control report is required, but also indicated how the inspector must, allow the farmer to add observations and where any non-compliance is found, the beneficiaries (i.e farmers receiving payments) must receive a copy of the control report. This should then be included in the final report.” On Commonage land he continued “we were informed for the inspection to be valid then all beneficiaries must be given the opportunity to sign the control report and be provided with a copy of the signed report. This is in addition to the right of appeal that must be provided to all beneficiaries.”
Another important factor discussed in the meeting concerned the application by the Department of Article 32 which concerns eligibility on land subject to the Birds and Habitats (Natura) Directives. This Article allows farmers that have land made ineligible due to the implementation of these directives to have the land reinstated for payment purposes as it was deemed that applying these directives is what caused the land to become ineligible.
On this issue Joyce added “how we understand from the commission that all commonage lands (even if not designated SAC or SPA) should qualify for protection under Article 32 as the Commonage Framework Plans (CFP’s) were developed for all commonages in response to Ireland’s non-compliance under the Birds & Habitats Directives. Those CFP’s were never reviewed and therefore curtailed drastically a farmer’s ability to evolve their farming practices.”
Joyce concluded by insisting how the Department of Agriculture must commence a review of all Natura and Commonage lands made ineligible with a view to reimbursing those for income lost and reinstating their payments.”