The agricultural appeals process is not fit for purpose and has left farmers in need of a reformed appeals regime, Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy TD and MEP Chris McManus have said.
The two representatives stated that farmers have been left waiting too long for appeals closures from the Agriculture Appeals Office and that delays in the processing of appeals negatively impact on affected farmers’ wellbeing.
MEP McManus also said that he has written to the European Commission to inform it of the Department of Agriculture’s administration of the appeals system.
The comments come after the average time needed for the Agriculture Appeals Office to close an appeal last year stood at 185 days, which is over twice the length of the body’s target, according to Matt Carthy TD.
“It is important to recognise that 185 days is only an average and we have reports that farmers with certain issues, especially around land eligibility, are waiting years for an oral hearing and resolution,” the Cavan-Monaghan TD said.
“Part of the reason for the delay is the Department of Agriculture’s failure to provide the documents requested by the appeals office in a timely manner,” he said.
The Agriculture Appeals Office operates independently of the Department, but may seek documentation from it when working through farmers’ appeals.
These delays by the Department lengthen the overall time taken for a decision to be made by the Agriculture Appeals Office, Deputy Carthy said, with some scheme documents taking an average of more than three months to be delivered to the appeals body.
“In 2020, it took the office of agricultural appeals 65 days to receive documents requested from DAFM in relation to the ANC scheme, 33 days for the Basic Payment Scheme and 92 days for the organics scheme. These delays severely interfere with the work of the appeals office,” the TD added.
“It must be recognised that we are talking about disputes over often large sums of money that could mean the difference between a small farmer hanging on in the sector or not.
"Dragging the process out for six months is unacceptable and could be having a severe impact on people's mental health,” he said.
A number of reform proposals were put forward by MEP McManus, including the strict enforcement of a 90-day appeals decision period, a commitment to hold oral hearings within 60 days of an appeal being made and a one-month deadline for the Department to provide the office with the documentation it requests.
“A key part of the CAP is managing the relationship between farmers and the national authorities.
"Farmers are doing their job by producing high-quality food and being the custodians of our landscapes and it is the Department’s job to manage the programme and swiftly resolve any issues,” said the MEP.
“I have written to the Commission to explain the situation and ask whether Ireland has failed to properly implement a functioning CAP.
“The result of having an inefficient process is farmers losing faith in the system and foregoing any disputed funds,” he explained.