Some 100 farmers have lodged appeals with the Department of Agriculture over burnt land penalties imposed in 2017.
Large mountain fires in areas such as Cork, Kerry and Galway experienced a number of wildfires outside the legal burning period in 2017.
The Department removed the administrative charge from penalties in recognition of the fact that farmers did not set the fires themselves, but are still applying a penalty for burning outside the legal period, and entering ineligible land on their Basic Payment Application in May last year.
“To date, 100 farmers have submitted appeals to the Department in relation to the burnt land; 69 of those appeals have been internally reviewed and accepted,” Paul Dillon, assistant secretary at the Department of Agriculture, told an Oireachtas committee on the burnt land on 8 May.
“In these cases, the administrative penalties have been reviewed but the burnt land is not payable for 2017. The farmers have been written to, notifying them of the outcome.
The remaining 31 appeals are under review from the Department
“The administrative penalty reimbursement due has been issued to 51 of the 69 cases to date, with €67,321 being reimbursed. The remainder will be reimbursed as appropriate in the near future.
“The remaining 31 appeals are under review from the Department - some farmers have been requested to submit additional information.”
Another spokesperson for the Department added that farmers dissatisfied with the Department decision had proceeded to lodge an appeal with the independent agricultural appeals department.
“The nub of the issue is that the farmer isn’t the guilty partner… but they’re the ones that are getting punished,” the Sinn Féin spokesperson for agriculture Martin Kenny stated at the committee.
“It’s just wrong that we can’t pay out to farmers…if the farmer isn’t the guilty party.”
The advice we got is very strong on how we should interpret these regulations
A number of other deputies echoed Martin Kenny’s sentiment and deputy Kenny pushed the
representatives from the Department on whether they were being overzealous in their interpretation of the rule around the issue.
However, the assistant secretary from the Department informed the committee that “the advice we got is very strong on how we should interpret these regulations”.
He also stated that the Department had reminded farmers not to include land that had been burnt outside the legal period at the beginning of May in 2017, in their BPS application.
“The Department set out clearly…if you have already included ineligible land that was included in your application, please remove that.”
The legal date for controlled burning ends on 1 March, but this date could potentially be extended next year as a bill is currently going through the amendment stage at the Oireachtas.