Newry and Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA has said that DEARA should be refocusing its efforts entirely on being a help to the farming industry and not a hindrance.
Mr Irwin made the remarks as he continued to lobby on behalf of farmers who feel they have been treated unfairly on cross compliance issues.
Mr Irwin said: “I have been lobbying on a select number of cases whereby I feel farmers have been very harshly treated by DAERA and have been hit with significant and crippling cross compliance fines categorised as ‘intentional breaches’ something hotly contested and which in reality threatens the very livelihood of the farmers concerned.”
He added: “Despite setting out the various and compelling reasons why farmers find themselves facing this situation the department simply rejects reasonable arguments and takes a very broad brush approach which makes farmers feel that they have deliberately disregarded the rules.”
He said: “As I have said before any farmer with a blatant and obvious disregard for the rules and regulations, that we all as farmers must abide by, should be penalised – that is right and proper. But in the cases where I have spoken at length with farmers and listened to their concerns it is clear that the department has decided not to be of any help rather they are being a great hindrance in certain situations – that is bad for our industry.”
“With negligent breaches attracting a 5% fine and intentional breaches a significant 50% fine, this is the crux of the issue for a select number of farmers. Losing 50% of a payment is a huge financial blow, especially when the decision to label the breach as ‘intentional’ is not accepted and is contested by the farmer.”
He concluded: “DAERA officials really ought to refocus their efforts in these cases. Surely common sense must prevail and I will be continuing my lobby with the department to drive home this message.”