RECENT articles in the Farmers Journal lifted spirits of farming families nationwide. The articles stated that the land eligibility fine for weaknesses in the Land Parcel Identification System has been greatly reduced and will be absorbed by the Department of Agriculture.
To many readers, it appeared that their worries and stress regarding the cuts and penalties on Single Farm Payments was over. These cuts caused a huge financial strain and placed a heavy psychological burden on many farming families.
However, where it brought great relief and hope for thousands of farmers, it still leaves questions about how the Department of Agriculture intends to tackle unresolved land eligibility issues from previous years, where farmers were cut and penalised, many of them due to no fault of their own.
The Disadvantaged Farmers Legal Challenge group would like to point out that the weaknesses in the LPIS, as mentioned in the Farmers Journal, were not caused by the farmers, who did not intentionally over-claim their land, but submitted their paperwork in good faith.
Furthermore, the article also states that this fine will be absorbed by the Department of Agriculture. However, when looking at the amount of land parcels reviewed and the ones which had cuts and penalties imposed in 2013 and 2014 under the Single Payment Scheme, it would appear that a large portion of this fine has already been collected through penalising farmers on disadvantaged land.
The article goes on to say these farmers who are currently appealing clawback penalties imposed in 2013/’14 ‘are not in line for an amnesty. They will proceed case by case’. The Disadvantaged Farmers Legal Challenge group believes that the Department of Agriculture is not dealing with these reviews and appeals in a timely and fair manner. This is evident from speaking with farmers whose reviews and appeals were not dealt with satisfactorily, or who are still waiting to have their eligibility issues from 2013 resolved.
The Farmers Journal article from August 1st, 2015 states that farmers fell foul of an imperfect system and that the cuts and penalties imposed on them were due to their non-compliance. The Disadvantaged Farmers Legal Challenge group strongly disagrees.
Many of the farmers who suffered savage cuts were not at fault, but fully compliant with regulations and eligibility guidelines.
The Disadvantaged Farmers Legal Challenge group would like clarification on these issues and is calling for an official statement from the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Simon Coveney.
The group believes that the cost of processing eligibility issues concerning tens of thousands of land parcels will likely exceed the total amount of fines imposed on some of the most vulnerable farming families in Ireland. The group would, therefore, respectfully request Minister Coveney to abolish these fines and wipe the slate clean for all affected farming families.
In the meantime, the Disadvantaged Farmers Legal Challenge group have stated that they will continue to fight for the farmers who have suffered injustice and, if their cuts and penalties and retrospective fines from 2013 are not reversed, the group will proceed with their plan to take legal action against the Department of Agriculture.