Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue must review how his Department conducts ‘random’ farm inspections, according to Independent TD Carol Nolan.
The Laois-Offaly TD has said that the Minister needs to revise the inspection regime operated by his Department to ensure that a cap can be put in place with respect to the number of times that a farmer can be randomly inspected over a certain period of time.
“For the farmers who are contacting me, the process seems anything but ‘random’.
“In fact, in some instances, farmers feel that they are being over-selected and this is having a detrimental impact not only on productivity, but also on mental health,” she insisted.
Deputy Nolan raised the matter with the Minister in a parliamentary question following what she described as a notable rise in the number of farmers reaching out to her who had concerns around the selection process and in particular the fairness and frequency of the process.
Nolan continued: “We are all aware that farm inspections in this state are essentially governed by the EU, specifically EU regulations governing direct payment and rural development schemes and the need to ensure compliance with Good Agricultural and Environment Condition (GAEC).
“This is something that, at least in principle, most farmers are happy to accept, since the vast majority are engaged in good practice as a matter of routine.
“From what I am hearing, however, there is a problem with the application of these EU rules, in particular the risk analysis process on which cases are being selected on a ‘risk and random basis’.
“Minister McConalogue tells me that any amendments to the selection process would require a change in the EU regulations.
“But surely, in very many cases, all it would take is for a bit of cop-on to be applied and for inspectors to realise where the areas of genuine concern exist and where it is a case that a farmer is being disproportionately singled out.
"No one is saying let’s abandon all inspections. But clearly, we need to look again at how the system is operating in the real world and amend it accordingly,” she concluded.