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Other Questions - Farm Inspections

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 755 No. 1

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 6.  Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary  asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney  if he will outline in tabular form providing county breakdown of all the cross compliance and GAEC penalties, as well as the land eligibility penalties applied on farmers for 2009, 2010 and 2011, with a detailed breakdown between each of the different cross compliance statutory management requirements and each of the GAEC issues as well as the land eligibility issues the number of farmers penalised in each county under each heading; and the amount of penalties applied or moneys deducted under each heading. [7232/12]

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney My Department, in the context of delivering the direct payments schemes, is required to carry out annual inspections covering land eligibility and cross-compliance to ensure compliance with EU regulatory requirements. The value of these schemes to Irish farmers is €1.8 billion annually. It therefore is incumbent on my Department to ensure the regulatory control environment is implemented comprehensively to avoid EU disallowances.

Eligibility checks must be carried out on 5% of applicants. These checks are carried out to verify the actual area claimed in the application form corresponds to the area farmed by the farmer and to ensure that any ineligible land or features are deducted. Up to two thirds of these inspections are carried out without a farm visit, as the information is verified using the technique of remote sensing via satellite. The rate of inspections for cross-compliance is 1% of applicants, to whom the statutory management requirements, SMRs, and good agricultural condition, GAEC, apply. However 3% of farmers must be inspected under the bovine identification and registration requirements, while 3% of sheep or goat farmers must be inspected covering 5% of the flock. The penalty for non-compliance with the SMRs and GAEC is normally 3% but this can be reduced to 1% or increased to 5% depending on the extent, severity and permanence of the non-compliance. Where the non-compliance is deemed intentional, the reduction is normally 20% but this may be reduced to 15% or increased to 100%, depending on the extent, severity and permanence of the non-compliance found. The regulations allow for a tolerance to be applied where the non-compliance is regarded as minor in nature and where remedial action is taken.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Again I must interrupt the Minister.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney As for the specific question, in the time available it has not been possible to compile a full range of data as requested by the Deputy. However this is being compiled and when it is available, as it is for 2009 and 2010 at present, the details will be forwarded to the Deputy.

[89]Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

It is a regulatory requirement that land eligibility inspections must be finalised before any payments can issue in a given year. On the other hand, cross-compliance inspections take place throughout the calendar year and can be carried out after the payment has been made. In so far as possible, my Department tries to integrate some of the eligibility and cross-compliance inspections with a view to minimising the number of farm visits. However, since all eligibility inspections must be carried out before payment, these inspections are prioritised. Approximately 11,900 farmers were inspected under the 2011 schemes including those inspected using remote sensing.

In the time available it has not been possible to compile the full range of data requested by the Deputy. The information sought will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as it is compiled.

Under EU regulations, as well as the requirement to carry out annual cross-compliance inspections and apply penalties for non-compliance, member states also are required to take on board the results of inspections carried out by other bodies as part of the legislation underpinning the individual SMRs. This is known as cross-reporting. Any non-compliance detected also are subject to cross-compliance penalties. Under these arrangements, for example, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government would be expected to cross-report any non-compliance detected by local authorities in the course of their inspections under the good agricultural practice, GAP, regulations.

In 2010, in an effort to minimise duplication of farm inspections between the two Departments, my Department agreed to carry out approximately 1,600 nitrates inspections under the GAP regulations on behalf of the then Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This arrangement was retained in 2011 and also will apply in 2012. In total, cross-compliance and GAEC inspections resulted in the higher monetary value of penalties applied in 2010 of €1.88 million, compared with €800,000 in 2009. This represents a penalty rate of 0.1% to protect direct payments of €1.8 billion annually.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan I thank the Minister for his reply. As the Minister is aware, the issue of cross-compliance, inspections and so forth resonates deeply with the agricultural community, which sometimes considers itself to be dealt with unfairly. Statements have been made to the effect that the selections are random. However, I have been approached by farmers, who undoubtedly also have been in contact with the Minister, who have been inspected under REPS, cross-compliance and the single farm payment year after year. Some farmers who have been involved in REPS for the past ten years have stated they have been subject to inspection almost every year. Is there a category within the Department that zones in on a particular group of farmers or an individual farmer for any reason? In addition, Members are regularly told by the farming community that cross-compliance checks are much stricter here than in other countries. It would be important at least to conduct an analysis of how such cross-compliance checks are carried out in other member states, as well as in Ireland. Perhaps such analysis could then be brought before the Oireachtas.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney First, I need to know if people are being inspected repeatedly because according to my information, only a relatively small percentage of farmers are meant to be inspected each year. If people are of the view that they have been targeted for four years out of five, for example, that would be strange and I would like to know about it and find out why it is the case. Perhaps the Deputy might forward the relevant details to me.

[90]On whether we are implementing the rules on cross-compliance in inspections in a more aggressive way than is the case in other European countries, the requirements in this regard are laid down by the Commission and enforced by it through an audit process. In the coming days officials from the Commission will be auditing the AEOS and REPS payments for last year in order to discover whether we have carried out the required inspections and completed the necessary paperwork. The Commission also does this in the case of other countries. It is often stated Ireland is much stricter than other member states when it comes to inspections and cross-compliance. Our inspections are driven by the requirements laid down by the Commission and the audits it carries out. If we do not meet the requirements to which I refer, we will be fined. We would lose out as a result because my Department would be obliged to pay such fines and would not be able to spend the amounts of money involved on farmers or the food industry. We carry out inspections in order to minimise the number of problems that might arise during the audit process. The financial cost relating to such problems can often be substantial. We will be obliged to pay in the region of €12 million to the Commission this year in respect of previous non-compliance issues, overpayments, etc., which were revealed in audits. It is not the case that the Government has decided to take a tough approach in dealing with farmers, rather we are playing by the rules because if we do not do so, everybody, including farmers, will be obliged to pay the cost when issues arise from the audits to which I refer.

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