Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA has again raised concerns over the real and harsh impacts that cross compliance fines are having on farmers across the Province.
Mr Irwin said he had been dealing with an individual case where fines totalling over £20,000 have been slapped on an elderly farmer in his constituency and he said the farmer was “absolutely devastated” by the fines.
Mr Irwin explained that 70% of the total fine related to an overdue TB herd test however he said the background told the full story, whereby the farmer had tested five times in three years with all previous tests returning clear results.
Mr Irwin said: “It is vital to state at the outset that cross compliance and biosecurity is of the highest importance to the industry and the highest standards of practice and monitoring must be utilised at all times, that cannot be overstated.
“However, the specific issues that I am encountering lead me to conclude that the department is on occasions being overly harsh in its interpretation of the EU regulations and there is an overzealous approach by officials. This is becoming a really serious issue and for this elderly farmer it has been financially devastating.
“The out workings of the department’s approach to handling cross compliance issues has been, at times, very harsh and the list of farmers who feel targeted and demoralised through Departmental intervention on this issue is growing.
“The back ground of this latest case is one where an elderly farmer has met all the requirements on testing over a lengthy period and each occasion has resulted in a clear test result on his herd.
“However, one delayed test for various reasons results in a massive fine which serves to decimate his business and the breach is considered by the Department as ‘intentional’ triggering the highest level of penalty.”
Mr Irwin concluded: “It is completely right to suggest on these occasions that the severity of the fine being imposed in no way mirrors reality for the farmer. That is the point that I am trying to get across to those within the Department that it is within their power to respond more realistically to these cases without pushing farmers financially over the edge. There must be a change in attitude amongst DAERA officials and it must happen soon.”