Minister outlines plans to prevent continued disallowance
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill today updated the Assembly on a programme of work underway to address disallowances imposed by the European Commission.
The Minister said: “The fines imposed to date have been very heavy handed compared to the scale of the irregularities found by the EU auditors. I am however confident that the programme of work we have in place will go a long way to prevent future disallowance.
Last year DARD embarked on a project to remap all 750,000 agricultural fields in the north. Updating the Assembly on this project Minister O’Neill said: “This remapping project is a huge and complex task, but I am pleased to be able to advise that the first of the maps will issue within days. Given the importance of this work, it has been decided that we will use the first phase of around 200-300 maps issued to test the accuracy of the revisions and also to check that our systems are robust enough to deal with any queries that may result. After this initial test period, the remaining maps will begin to issue from January and these will be issued through March 2012.
The Minister said that the mapping project is only one, albeit major, element of a comprehensive programme of work that is underway by her Department to ensure compliance with the EU regulations.
The Minister explained: "Other areas of work underway to prevent future fines include improved guidance to farmers on land eligibility; introduction of satellite imagery for some inspections in 2012 which will enable DARD to check claimed parcels remotely, and should in time speed up payments significantly; and the further development of inspection processes in the light of aerial photography."
In addition to outlining the programme of work underway to prevent future disallowance, the Minister informed Assembly members that her Department continues to challenge the fines imposed to date. She said: "In September 2010, the Department lodged a case with the European Court which challenged the approach used by the Commission when applying the 2006 disallowance. While our legal advice supports both the standing and the technical matter involved, we await the Court’s considerations on both matters. If successful, we would expect a substantial reduction in our disallowance although the exact amount would be dependent on the detail of the Court’s judgement.”
The Minister concluded: “We are working with all parties including the farming unions, farmers, and the Commission to resolve as many of these issues as we can. I appreciate the support given by these parties, my Executive colleagues and members of the Assembly, particularly the ARD Committee. It is only by working together that we will be able to satisfy the Commission that our controls are effective and that the current level of scrutiny and disallowance is no longer required.”