The DUP’s William Irwin MLA has welcomed clarification from DAERA on the possibility of heavy cross-compliance fines as a result of late testing.
Mr Irwin (pictured) revealed he has spent considerable time taking forward cases for farmers who have, in some instances, been fined up to 70% of their Basic Farm Payment in response to late testing.
Mr Irwin challenged DAERA on the point that in some cases late testing was due to reasonable issues pertaining to the individual farmer at the time and indeed concerned matters outside the control of the farmer.
He also raised the fact that in departmental communications, the text of the regulations is ambiguous and does not state the potential severity of cross compliance fines. He welcomed a response from the Chief Veterinary Officer Robert Huey who has agreed to make the wording much clearer and more easily understood.
Mr Irwin said: “I have fought a number of cases for farmers who have been slapped with significant fines for late testing which have a very crippling effect on their farm businesses. In cases I have brought forward, the reasons for late testing have been for a variety of very plausible and complex reasons and to be hit with an intentional breach fine which can have a 100% penalty is so severe and not in my view in the spirit of the legislation.
“I have had a number of meetings with officials on this issue and I raised the point that in departmental communications, the potential for significant fines for late testing is not clearly conveyed to farmers. On speaking to many farmers they were not aware of the severity of potential fines and then find themselves facing a massive cut in their Basic Farm Payment over a matter of a few days in testing animals. However let’s be clear - to help tackle TB we must of course test on time but there are instances where due to complex reasons this has just not been possible and ultimately the punishment must fit the crime. I feel the department in some cases have got this wrong.”
He concluded: “I welcome the fact that the department have now committed to changing the wording in order to make the warning much clearer and easily understood. Mr Huey has stated that this will be introduced in the next few weeks and I thank him for his work on this matter.”