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Exclusive: farmers in line for massive land penalty
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Exclusive: farmers in line for massive land penalty

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Just three years after being forced to pay millions back to Brussels, another potential land eligibility time bomb is ticking.
Just three years after being forced to pay millions back to Brussels, another potential land eligibility time bomb is ticking.

Fears are growing that the European Commission will impose a multimillion euro penalty on Ireland.

The Irish Farmers Journal understands Commission auditors have raised concerns over land claimed by Irish farmers for their Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) which may not be eligible.

This follows a recent audit conducted by the Commission comparing satellite imagery and maps with on-farm visits.

In 2013, the Commission hit Ireland with a fine of €181m for claiming ineligible land. This was eventually negotiated down to one-third of that figure, with the Commission warning that it would take a much harder line should Ireland re-offend.

Farmers were forced to repay between €10m and €20m in BPS clawback but the State carried most of the bill.

This issue again relates to what the Commission states as being eligible land and what farmers are declaring in their BPS applications.

The current issue was raised by Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, who tabled parliamentary questions on the matter.

“This could lead to widespread land abandonment in areas where we are struggling to keep farmers on the land,” he said.

“If the EU has issues with scrub and rock in farms from Donegal to Kerry, then it raises serious questions over the long-term viability of these farms.”

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has downplayed the significance of the development, saying audits are a regular occurrence.

“The Commission has advised my Department of its findings and my officials are currently preparing a response.

"These communications will continue as part of a bilateral process over the coming months, and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment at this stage on any particular details as this is very much the beginning of what will be a very thorough deliberative process.”

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