Minister Creed has said that legal advisers from the Department of Agriculture would be meeting with senior counsel following the ruling in a High Court farm inspections case.
Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, the Minister for Agriculture said: “Legal advisers from my Department are meeting senior counsel to explore all the consequences of the ruling.”
A High Court judge ruled last week that a Department of Agriculture inspection of land for the basic payment was so “procedurally flawed” that the farmer was entitled to most of the payments withheld in penalties.
The judge ruled that the farmer should be entitled to his basic payment for his eligible land of 167ha in 2010, which the Irish Farmers Journal understands to be in excess of €100,000.
In 2010, Michael O’Connor from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, claimed an area of land in his Basic Payment that included rented commanage, which court documents show amounted to 46ha.
The Department of Agriculture subsequently inspected the farm and found that “there was no evidence of farming activity on this land”, which was “overgrown” and had animals “only put in a few days prior to this visit”.
As a result of the inspection, O’Connor was found to have claimed more than 20% ineligible land, which disqualified him from receiving any of his single farm disadvantaged area payments for 2010. According to documents submitted by the farmer’s lawyer, this amounted to €147,000.
Similar cases throughout the country
Minister Creed said he was aware of the interest the issue has raised among many farmers.
“Farmers in my constituency have spoken to me about the implications, with them having been on the receiving end of departmental disallowances, fines, increased fines on review, etc. The judgment goes to the heart of the process about the failure of the Department to issue a control report prior to imposing penalties.
If the shoe was on the other foot
The Minister for Agriculture was responding to a question from Martin Kenny TD.
Martin Kenny raised the point that “hundreds of other farmers are in a similar position.
“They did not receive a control report, which was supposed to be provided, and this is the nub of the case.
“Many of them are examining their positions and saying they had a fair case, which was not dealt with properly and they did not get the fair play they felt they deserved. Now, they want to know whether they can apply to get their money back and to be compensated for their losses.
“When the appeal was lodged and the officials visited the farmer to conduct the review, not only did they uphold the first penalty but they imposed a second penalty on the farmer.
“If the shoe was on the other foot and the farmer had not fulfilled the regulations, we know what would have happened.
“When the Department does something, officials seem to be able to ride roughshod over everybody. That sense of officialdom always winning out has been challenged and defeated in the courts on this occasion.”
Minister Creed went on to say that when the legal case reaches its ultimate conclusion, he “will not hide behind the ultimate qualifications which he (the judge) may make”.