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Land Eligibility Booklet Highlights Injustice of Overclaim Penalties

May 5, 2015 | Press Releases | 0 comments

5th May 2015

ICSA suckler chairman Dermot Kelleher has welcomed the publication of a booklet on land eligibility by the Minister as “recognition of the huge ambiguity and subjectivity governing the question of land eligibility in recent years.” He added that the controversy over LPIS overclaims and threats of legal action were forcing the Minister to take action but he warned that farmers who had suffered huge and unjust penalties due to so-called LPIS overclaims could not be forgotten about.

“ICSA is calling for refunds for all farmers who have been penalised on foot of so-called overclaims under the LPIS review due to the uncertainty around ineligible area. The new booklet requires 29 pages to make an attempt at defining what is eligible and what isn’t yet last week the only available guide on the Department website consisted of a three page document. Clearly, the new booklet demonstrates how inadequate the advice and guidance was under the Single Payment Scheme in recent years. The question must be asked whether the Minister now admits that neither farmer nor agricultural advisor could have been expected to interpret a subjective and unclear set of guidelines.”

However, Mr Kelleher said that ICSA was not fully satisfied with the new booklet. He said that there were still areas of considerable doubt and contradiction. “Are rushes eligible or not? There are several photos of rushy fields. Three photos illustrate the confusion where rushes can be (a) eligible, (b) not eligible or (c) eligible but requiring ongoing management to avoid becoming ineligible!”
“Is it good enough to say that tall rushes are not eligible? How tall is tall? Surely farmers are entitled to know whether this means 1.2 metres or 1.5 metres or what? How many rushes per hectare determines eligible but could be ineligible?”

Mr Kelleher went on to slam the reduction co-efficient procedure. “This appears like a reasonable compromise until you examine the fine detail where it says within the parcel or red-lined area. ICSA believes that the provision is rendered almost useless for farmers because the Department may choose to use the red lined area rather than the parcel. The EU regulations refer to parcels but a red lined area is completely at the discretion of Department agents who can draw the red lines in a manner which means almost no farmer will avail of the 10% threshold (which would result in 100% eligibility) and that many farmers will have red-lined areas which exceed the 70% limit (resulting in 100% ineligibility).

“This is designed to give the farmer the lowest possible chance even where a field or a parcel is 95% grassland. In this case the likely outcome is a 5% overclaim even though it seems to us that the EU regulation does not require this.”

Me Kelleher went on to say that ICSA believes the overclaim penalty system is completely outrageous and unjust and should not apply to subjective decisions on land eligibility at all. “When you see the level of difficulty in defining whether marginal land is eligible or not, it is a complete travesty that a 20% overclaim leads to a 100% penalty or that a 3% overclaim leads to a treble penalty. These penalty levels should only ever apply to deliberate and fraudulent claiming of land parcels that simply are not available to a farmer, in our view. It is time for a complete review of the penalty system given that farmers are being potentially put out of business due to subjective decisions based on unclear rules.”

Mr Kelleher concluded by saying that he hoped the Minister would move to clear up anomalies and to fight at EU level for justice for farmers and moreover, that he would review the unfair penalties imposed by the 2013 LPIS review. “The Minister needs to consider removing the threat of retrospective penalties straight away and refunding farmers who have already had savage penalties imposed. The farmers who have been hit are not willing to lie down and already a substantial sum has been raised in West Cork and Kerry for a legal challenge against this injustice.”

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