Barton calls for review of '˜unfair' appeals process

Rosemary BartonRosemary Barton
Rosemary Barton
Rosemary Barton, the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, has said that the new change to Stage Two Review of Decisions process has increased pressure on farmers and does nothing to address the lack of transparency in the decisions made by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

Mrs Barton says: “These changes have been brought to my attention and I feel that the letters to farmers informing of the ‘Fast Track Stage 2’ option are disconcerting. They clearly seem to be pressurising farmers down this route by virtue of the short timescale of the process, which clearly removes the option for farmers to present their cases to a panel in person. I feel this pressure is unfair.

“Furthermore, the changes do not address the continued failure of DAERA to implement a proper and open appeals mechanism whereby the appeals body actually makes a binding decision. The decision-making in DAERA is retained by the department, which gives no confidence to farmers who quite reasonably feel that the appeals process is stacked in favour of the department.

“This contrasts poorly with appeals systems in regard to benefits and planning whereby the bodies hearing the appeals make the decisions themselves.

“The appeals backlog within DAERA is unacceptable; I know of at least one case where an appeal from 2015 is still ongoing and is having a knock-on effect with regard to 2016 payments. However, it is even more disappointing that the efforts to address this after so long have resulted in farmers feeling pushed into a corner by the department.

“I would suggest that a further review of the appeals processes within DAERA is carried out immediately, before any more backward steps are taken.”