Speaking in the Seanad today, Independent Senator Rónán Mullen called on the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to clarify important questions surrounding letters farmers have received alleging excess claims of single farm payments. Senator Mullen said certain land was deemed ineligible by the new digital mapping software used by the Department of Agriculture.
“Last year thousands of letters were issued to farmers alleging excess claims of single farm payments. Most farmers who have over-claimed did so by very small amounts, yet thousands of farmers are being contacted and accused of overpayments with no apparent distinction between deliberate or inadvertent over-claims. The vast majority of farmers are very careful to ensure that they are compliant with the law. This new system has made farmers who understood that they were compliant now feel like fraudsters.”
Senator Mullen said that the Department was now indicating that every land parcel in the country would be reviewed. This meant that there would be many more farmers who will have the accusing finger of officials pointed at them.
“Under pressure from the European Commission, the Department is now engaged in a retrospective trawling exercise. It is the Department that has changed the system for assessing land eligibility, yet it is farmers that are now under the microscope. I hear that the Minister has hired in expensive consultants to assist in the process for penalising farmers. Imposing the planned penalties on farmers is both unfair and unacceptable.”
Senator Mullen said the Minister also needed to clarify the position of farmers whose land had been inspected by Department officials. “It would be remarkable if farmers who had their land viewed and approved by officials were later required to give back some of their repayments on the grounds that not all of the land involved was eligible,” he said.