Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman and Chairman of Stormont’s Agriculture Committee William Irwin MLA has issued a Freedom of Information request to DARD on the issue of Stage 2 cross compliance fine appeals.
Mr Irwin said he was concerned by revelations that farmers who have brought cross compliance fines to second stage appeal and have won the appeal have then not had these appeals upheld by DARD.
He said: “I am quite intrigued by this issue and as an elected representative I am used to various appeal formats in all kinds of situations, from social security benefits to property rates and in all cases where an appeal is successful, the agency who has made the original and wrong decision immediately rectifies this and takes the necessary steps to find redress with the appellant.
“I am concerned that in a number of cross compliance cases where farmers have went to second stage appeal and their appeal has been successful, the department would not overturn the original decision.
“In a particular case recently in my own constituency a cross compliance fine for £18,000 was levied on a farmer and this was successfully appealed. However DARD did not accept the decision of the independent panel therefore the farmer remains out of pocket. I feel this is totally unacceptable and I want to get to the root of this problem. I am awaiting the data in response to the FoI request in order to take the next steps on this important matter.”
A DARD spokesperson said: “The department acts as a Paying Agency for the management of European Commission Funds and is compelled to comply with the regulations and scheme rules to ensure that any final decision is based on reasonable and relevant grounds that can be justified.
“Good governance and process requires that decisions made by a department should be open to a review. Procedures established under the Review of Decisions legislation empower the Head of Paying Agency to make the ultimate decision in any Stage 2 Review. The aforementioned legislation allows for a review of a decision by an independent panel, who will make a recommendation to the department.
“Reviews have been requested on a wide range of decisions made in relation to Single Farm Payment, Less Favoured Areas Compensatory Allowance (LFACA) or agri–environment schemes. Cross compliance penalties is one of the many issues for which a farmer might request a review. Each case is considered according to the rules applicable for that case.
“Whilst the Panel provide an important and impartial view of the department decision they do not make decisions but rather recommendations to the department. These recommendations are not binding on the department. The final decision rests with the Head of Paying Agency.
“There is no discretion to step outside the EU and scheme rules and therefore, it is not possible to accept Panel recommendations that are inconsistent with these rules.”