The Oireachtas committee on agriculture has put forward a number of changes to the agricultural appeals bill, which the committee has argued would give farmers a greater assurance to engage with the appeals process when seeking the overturning of Department of Agriculture decisions.

Farmers can currently appeal Department decisions on schemes and penalties by requesting an internal review within the Department and, if they remain unsatisfied, by requesting a free review by the independent agricultural appeals office.

Since its establishment in 2002, the appeals process has improved farmers' standing on decisions initially made by the Department in over one third of the 15,000 cases handled.

Current process

The decision of the appeals officer is deemed to be final and conclusive, unless new evidence, new facts or a relevant change in circumstances come to light after an officer’s decision has been made.

A review can be requested by the appealing farmer to the director of the appeals office, but only if their review officer made a mistake in relation to the law or the facts of the case.

After this, the only avenue open to a farmer still dissatisfied with a Department and appeals office decision is to take their case to the High Court on a question of law.

New plans

The agricultural appeals bill unveiled by Government earlier this year proposes the establishment of a review panel which would assess a farmer’s case after the appeals officer makes a decision.

The bill proposes having five ordinary farmer members on the review panel, but the Oireachtas committee has recommended that this be increased to seven.

The committee recommended that two of these ordinary members are nominated by farming organisations

The committee also advised amending the bill to require appeals officers to get a farmer’s consent to hold a hearing remotely, with those appealing having the right to demand an in-person hearing.

Another change sought by the committee concerns the bill’s provisions which would allow the appeal committee to question the farmer making the appeal.

Committee members have looked for this provision to be removed, saying that the farmer may want their farm adviser or another representative to speak on their behalf.

Under the amendments put forward, farmers would also have more time to ask for a review of an appeal decision by lengthening the re-appeal timeframe from three months after a decision has been made to six.