Stormont Agriculture Committee Chairman William Irwin MLA has urged DARD to cease from what he termed the ‘gold plating’ of European guidelines which he said added significantly to the burden of bureaucracy for the farmer.
In committee this week Mr Irwin referred specifically to the threshold for single missing ear tags in cattle as a case in point, an issue which he championed in his work as Chairman of the ARD committee.
He said that this was clearly an example of ‘gold plating’ in action where other jurisdictions across the UK had less stringent interpretations of the guidelines, yet Northern Ireland farmers were facing a much more laborious procedure under DARD’s watch. Mr Irwin successfully guided DARD to a much less bureaucratic solution which he added would benefit farmers greatly going forward.
Speaking after Tuesday’s committee meeting Mr Irwin said: “The ‘gold plating’ of regulations and guidelines by DARD continues to be a concern for farmers and the threshold for single missing ear tags was a very valid case in point where we had DARD operating a very over-bureaucratic system on tag management, which was far above the regulations being used in the rest of the UK. Thankfully after a persistent push and DARD acknowledging that change was possible, we are in a much less burdensome arrangement in regards to ear tagging.”
He continued: “There are many other examples of gold plating and another case in point is the issue of second stage reviews. Figures brought to Committee by DARD officials this week show stage two reviews taking on average over 1 ½ years to process. At the meeting I made my views clear that this is clearly a much too protracted timescale, especially for those farmers in this review situation and I also raised the issue of other regions of the UK where more streamlined procedures are in place for reviews.”
He said: “I just cannot fathom why DARD continue to adopt what is in essence a ‘belt and braces’ approach to the interpretation of EU regulations and they seem to ignore the fact that other regions of the UK, who are operating under the same guidelines, take a different, much less bureaucratic approach.”
He added: “I feel it is absolutely vital that the Minister and her Department continue to look at their interpretation of the rules and where there is flexibility to take a different approach, which would actually lessen the burden on our farmers, then it is vital those changes are put in place to help our industry through what are difficult times.”