Tuesday, 6 July 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Walsh: I am conscious of the need to simplify the on-farm checks to the greatest extent possible consistent with a system that will be acceptable to the European Commission. In this context, consultation will take place with all interested parties before 1 January 2005. In addition, it is my intention that individual farmers will be informed about the minimum standards that they will be expected to meet under the various directives, including the requirement to keep land in good agricultural and environmental condition.
Under EU regulations governing the single payment scheme, farmers are obliged to observe good farming practice and environmental conditions. A single inspection will replace the multiplicity of inspections to check compliance with the various premium schemes currently in place, such as suckler cow, special beef, ewe premium and so forth. A minimum of 5% of farmers will be subject to on-farm checks for the eligibility of the land declared. The inspection approach in these checks will be similar to the annual area aid inspections carried out up to now and some of these checks will be carried out by way of remote sensing.
Farmers in receipt of the single payment scheme are also obliged to comply with the statutory management requirements in environment, identification and registration of animals, public, animal and plant health and animal welfare. It will be necessary to inspect 1% of farmers for compliance with statutory management requirements, with the exception of identification and registration of animals where 5% of applicants must be inspected.
Mr. Hayes: I thank the Minister for his detailed response which I welcome. Farmers and farmers’ organisations will also welcome his response. There is major concern among the farming community regarding the amount of red tape. One of the reasons farmers supported the Fischler proposals was that they believed they would cut through the red tape and allow them to farm as they were trained to do rather than wasting time getting tied up in inspections, cross-checking, double-checking and so on.
What organisations will the Minister consult? Will he consult the ICSA as well as the IFA and the ICMSA? The ICSA was the first organisation to come out in support of a once-off yearly payment. Will the Minister consult everybody in the process he is about to undertake?
Mr. Walsh: The answer to the latter part of the Deputy’s question is “Yes”. I will consult the general farming organisations, including the ICSA. It is my intention to introduce an inspection system which will meet the obligations of audit, accountancy and value for money. There will be a single yearly farm payment of the order of €1.7 billion. We must ensure value for money and payments must meet the requirements of the various schemes. At the same time, it must be user-friendly and should not terrorise farmers because of undue bureaucracy in delivering schemes. I would also like to see a few days’ notice being given. Many farmers have off-farm jobs and a few days’ notice would facilitate them in preparing for the visit of the inspector while adhering to the spirit of the scheme.
I am examining these issues intensively. As the Deputy rightly said, farmers opted in large numbers for a single farm payment and full decoupling. However, the main reason for doing so was to move away from red tape and bureaucracy. If that is not achieved, we will have let the farmers down.
Mr. Hayes: I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister. Is there an appeals mechanism available to farmers if their figures are found not to be correct? Are there any proposals to simplify procedures or allow farmers to use an intermediary to help them? These payments will be important to people to enable them to make payments to financial institutions and other agencies. There is much concern among farmers, bank managers and so on that the payment might not come through in the event of a mix-up. Is there any user-friendly way in which decisions can be appealed?
Mr. Walsh: Penalties will be proportionate to the scheme involved. In the context of livestock schemes, cattle may lose one ear tag, and sometimes a second one, through nobody’s fault. If that were to happen and there is subsequently an on-the-spot inspection, it would be unfair to reduce the farmer’s payment and put him through the full rigours of an appeal system. There must be fairness and proportion in operating the system. A year or so ago, as a result of demands from this House and elsewhere, we set up an appeals system in Port Laoise. I accepted amendments from all sides of the House to provide that farmers would be entitled to an oral hearing and could be accompanied by their Teagasc adviser or another adviser. That appeals system is independent, unlike the old system under which a farmer could be turned down by a local officer and the appeal was to his senior officer and had similar results. A total of 38% of appeals in 2003 were successful. That is what I want to see. I want the system to operate with the minimum of problems for farmers.
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