Concern at rejection of review panel decisions

MLA William Irwin
MLA William Irwin

Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA has said he is concerned by the response of DAERA officials to a Stage 2 Review of Decisions Application Panel Hearing on a 2016 Young Farmer’s Payment Scheme/Regional Reserve application.

Mr Irwin attended the Panel hearing in support of one young farmer and said that despite the panel recommending the decision be changed, the department rejected the view of the panel members, something Mr Irwin said “rubbished the work and authority of the panel”.

He said: “I am really concerned on this matter as the young farmer in question applied in good faith to a scheme and was conscientious about ensuring the details were correct to the point of making repeated visits to his DAERA Direct office and being assured by staff that the application was complete.

“DAERA’s official decisionmakers then rejected the application on the grounds that there was insufficient information on the Partnership Agreement, something that both the applicant and I at the Panel hearing strongly contested. The panel were sympathetic to the young farmer’s plight and put their recommendations back to the department, however the recommendations were flatly rejected.

“The young farmer in question feels very aggrieved by his treatment and I totally share his frustration and disappointment. However, this isn’t an isolated case and is only one example in a long line of cases whereby panel recommendations have been rejected. I ask what is the point of having a panel if when a recommendation is made, it is ignored by the department? The young farmer paid a £100 fee to go to the Panel yet sees no redress, therefore why has the young person been asked to pay this fee?

“I would also make the point that in terms of new entrants to farming and encouraging our young people to consider farming as a future, what message is the Department sending out with this type of decision making?”

He concluded: “The only option now open to the young farmer is a Judicial Review, which would cost many thousands of pounds and sadly is not a realistic next step for the young person concerned. In other parts of the United Kingdom Departmental staff seem much more willing to act with a more strategic outlook, which is primarily about agri-food sector success rather than the current trend within DEARA to erect barriers to growth and as in this case, prevent young farmers from progressing in farming. That attitude needs to change and the Department needs to take on board Panel decisions and implement recommendations. I have requested a meeting with the DAERA Permanent Secretary to put these matters directly to officials and ensure farmers concerns are heard.”