The Ulster Farmers’ Union has told DAERA that fairness and independence must remain as key objectives in its area based schemes review of decisions.
DAERA has recently proposed to replace the current two stage process with a single stage review, meaning that the second stage external panel would be replaced by a case officer within a new single stage process who would engage directly with applicants who feel the Department’s original decision was not correct.
UFU president Barclay Bell believes the wider farming community has no faith in the internal stage one appeal within the current two stage process.
He added: “The farming community believe the overall process would need to be improved without fundamentally removing the independent stage two review.
“A major problem regarding the appeals process is the incorrect interpretation by the inspector at grassroot level of the EU regulation on cross compliance and without a panel and associated stage two process, there would be no facility for an independent person/body to identify any wrongly interpreted legislation and give advice to DAERA to improve such issues in the future,” he said.
“DAERA want to put a new process in place that would mean decisions would be made quicker.
“A significant backlog does exist within the present review process, primarily due to applications made under the ‘active farmer’ category for Area Based Schemes, but this will rectify itself over time so it is wrong to introduce a new streamlined process to simply facilitate quicker decisions.
“While timeliness is important, we as a Union do not believe a faster decision would result in a fairer decision,” said the UFU president.
“Fairness is the most important outcome of the appeals process.
“No time frame should be used to inhibit a fair and impartial result. Furthermore, this new proposed process will require a new team of DAERA staff starting from scratch and I would question if DAERA could guarantee that the new team would have sufficient resource and would be capable and have enough experience to undertake this process with the same level of efficiency and fairness?”