Barton challenges the agri appeals process

Ulster Unionist MLA Rosemary Barton challenges the role of the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in the Independent Agricultural Appeals process and calls for a change to the appeals process

Mrs Barton said: “A farmer who disagrees with a decision of the department can make an appeal. The first stage of the appeal process is an internal review where another member of staff at DAERA adjudicate. The next stage is to an independent appeal panel.

“The independent appeal panel can only give recommendations because DAERA have the power to over-rule. It is deeply unfair and unsettling that the department can continue to reject farmers who have made a successful appeal to the independent appeal panel.

“I find it unsettling because as it stands today, DAERA is in an unsuitable and arbitrary position where the department can act as “judge, jury and executioner” in the appeals process. It is also harmful to the reputation of officials who risk being perceived as policemen and not as public servants there to help.

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“The position of DAERA in the appeals process is not only unfair to farmers, it is also highly questionable considering that other independent appeal panels in Northern Ireland, such as the benefits Appeals Service, do not have their decisions reversed.

“The problem of a lack of independence of the appeal panel is one of degree throughout the British Isles. In Scotland, much like at home, the decision of the appeal panel is not binding but there is the option to take the case further to the Scottish Land Court, which is a cost efficient process. In the Republic, the independence of the Irish Agricultural Appeals Office is enshrined in law and its decisions are biding. However, its independence and transparency suffers as the civil service staffs it and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development appoints its director.

“That the independent appeal panel is not independent is an affront to farmers who risk being discriminated against. The present lack of transparency is unsustainable.

“That the problem afflicts other parts of the UK and the Irish Republic is not an excuse but a lesson for Northern Ireland on what change should look like. We should set an example by instituting the independence of the appeal panel to ensure justice is done.”