A Fermanagh and Omagh District councillor has criticised Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots for freezing farm payment entitlements at 2019 rates, rather than allowing entitlements to complete a transition to a flat rate by 2021.

Sinn Féin politician Sheamus Green pointed out that in the 2015 CAP reform it was expected that there would be a seven-year transition to flat-rate payments.

However, this transition to a flat rate went beyond the 2015-2019 reform period.

With Stormont collapsed, and no minister in place to direct civil servants, there was no legal basis to continue flattening payments beyond 2019.

DAERA issued a public consultation on the issue at the time, and with no great appetite among farm organisations to complete the flattening process, DAERA decided to freeze payment rates.

However, Councillor Green has established that there are still some farmers with entitlement values of up to €2,693.05, and others with rates as low as €170.74, which is well below the NI average of approximately €330/ha.

The high rate can only reasonably be explained by a situation where a farmer decided to stack existing payments onto a small area in 2015, allowing another family member to utilise the land for a young farmer or new entrant application.

“This is a total scandal, and something needs to be done to rectify this shocking abuse of public money,” said Cllr Greene.

He has asked the Minister of Agriculture under a Freedom of Information request to provide him with the names and locations of these ‘elite’ farmers with high value entitlements.

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