DUP MEP Diane Dodds and chair of the Stormont Agriculture Committee, William Irwin MLA, this week met with representatives from DARD, Andrew Elliott and Richard Crowe, to hear the concerns of farmers from Fermanagh who have been left in limbo awaiting their Single Farm Payment.
Mrs Dodds explained that the meeting had been an opportunity to highlight to DARD the impact that non-payment of single farm payments is having on the ground, as well as to reinforce the need to ensure payments are made as soon as possible.
Speaking after the meeting she said: “I am encouraged by the fact that officials have reassured me that additional resources have been directed towards resolving this situation as quickly as possible, with the ultimate hope that all payments will be finalised by the end of March. In the meantime, DARD has assured me that there is a constant flow of payments being made every week.
“I also raised concerns around the protracted length of time it has taken for inspections to be carried out, which is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable. Farmers undergoing their final spot inspection in October and only receiving an inspection report by the end of January is a failing which DARD will have to grasp. Whether that is by redirecting staff or investing more money in the technology, we must not have a repeat of this for 2015 claims.
“DARD also recognises the need for better communication between DARD and farmers affected by inspections. This is something which has quite rightly angered farmers and left them in a situation of limbo as to when they may get paid.
“Given this situation, I have asked DARD to contact everyone affected as soon as possible and provide an update of where their payment is within the process.”
She added: “Farmers need this information to plan and it will also reinforce to DARD the number of farmers affected.”
William Irwin MLA, who chairs the Stormont Agriculture Committee, urged the department to finalise payments as soon as possible.
“Given the drop in farm incomes and the fact that farm gate prices have fallen for some sectors, it is imperative that DARD ensures that those farmers still awaiting payment across the country are given an update as to where their payment stands within the process.
“Focus must be directed to finalising their payments as a matter of priority.
“I have been made aware of spot inspections being carried out even last week, which is unacceptable given the length of time DARD has had to process these inspections.
“As a party, we will continue to monitor this position and focus the attention of the Minister and her Department to resolving the situation as a priority,” he added.