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UFU Initiates Court Action Against DARD

by 5m Editor
3 December 2007, at 11:05am

UK - The Ulster Farmers’ Union has lodged papers with the High Court in Belfast, seeking leave to pursue a Judicial Review of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s failure to apply EU Single Farm Payment rules.

The Union says several million pounds of EU payments to local farmers were withheld by DARD because of the ‘duplicate fields’ issue (where two applicants claimed support on the same piece of land).

The UFU is challenging the ‘duplicate field’ penalties imposed on farmers because it says it is widely accepted that application form errors were unintentional and were caused by genuine confusion, following changes to the CAP support system which was reformed in 2003.

UFU President Kenneth Sharkey said; “Genuine unintentional application errors should have been resolved without penalty. There are provisions within EU Legislation to avoid penalties being applied where the farmer is ‘not at fault’ or in the case of ‘obvious error’. Unfortunately DARD have rigidly applied penalties and it is regrettable that we are having to pursue a legal challenge. Even at this late stage I would appeal to the Agriculture Minister to review the way her Department has applied the penalty rules under the Single Farm Payment, as I believe a sensible solution can be found without the need for court action”.

Unfair recommendations
The UFU also highlighted that Independent Appeal Panels have been considering individual cases brought forward by farmers and the Panels have accepted that in some cases the farmers were not at fault. However despite sympathizing with the farmers, the Panels have not recommended that penalties should be revoked and the Minister has accepted this approach. The UFU says it has now been left with no option but to take legal action.

Kenneth Sharkey said the penalties imposed on farmers because of administrative errors had at times been financially disastrous for farm businesses and were heaping stress on farming families.

“Hundreds of applicants have been affected. In many instances small farms have been worst hit because a duplicate field query on their farm can constitute a large percentage of their overall CAP claim and lead to a much larger penalty or in some cases no payment at all. It is unacceptable to the UFU that this could happen when farmers were acting in complete good faith. Farmers who completed Single Farm Payment applications, using information which they reasonably believed to be correct, should not face penalties”; Mr Sharkey said.

5m Editor