Having been fielding calls to his office from across NI since November 2020, Strangford MP Jim Shannon has told farm organisations that future queries relating to historic appeals (unless from his own constituents) will be redirected to them.
Since early 2020 Shannon has been working closely with the Calvert family (Barnwell Farms) who won an active farmer case against DAERA last March by way of a Judicial Review. As well as lobbying for DAERA to speed up payments to Barnwell Farms, Shannon has also highlighted the exorbitant legal costs associated with Judicial Reviews, and how other farmers may have been unfairly treated in the review of decisions process.
In particular, he has established that in nearly 50 cases since 2015, the Department did not accept in part, or in full, the recommendations made by the Independent Panel at Stage 2 of an appeal.
With Minister Poots instructing his officials to come up with a new process giving final decision making powers to this Independent Panel, it is understood he is also considering how to deal with historic cases where the view of the panel was not followed.
MLAs on the Stormont Agriculture Committee are on side. In a letter sent to Minister Poots by Committee chair, Declan McAleer, he argues that “the decision of the independent panel ought to be final and historical cases where this has not happened should be reconsidered”.
Just how that can be done is yet to be established. It is not possible to legislate retrospectively, so it might be necessary for Minister Poots to set up a voluntary scheme where these cases are re-heard.
The suggestion put forward by local Barrister James O’Brien LB and DUP voluntary adviser Brian Little, is for these cases to go before a newly constituted five-member Supreme Agricultural Appeal Panel (SAAP). It would only hear cases that involve disputed payments of over £5,000, and would cost an applicant £1,500.
It is understood that around six farmers have indicated that they would be willing to take their case to a SAAP.
If others want their cases looked at again they should come forward in the coming weeks.
“I need to emphasise that unless the farmers are Strangford constituents, from Tuesday 6 April my staff / Brian Little will be redirecting any further farm calls to the UFU or NIAPA” states correspondence sent to farm organisations by Jim Shannon.
He also points out that a farmer could go direct to the Head of DAERA Payments Agency, Brian Doherty, as an alternative, stating that they want their case considered if and when a voluntary scheme is established.
Shannon and his team are understood to be unhappy with the efforts put in by farm organisations to establish how many historic cases there might be.