I fully recognise the importance of direct payments to the income situation of Irish farmers. The total number of livestock applications which attracted penalties under the 1998 headage and premium schemes represented 2.6% of the 522,000 applications received in that year. In the case of REPS, 2-3% of applicants would have attracted penalties of 20% of aid. Therefore this issue has to be kept in proportion and in context.
Some two-thirds of penalties applied under the headage and premium schemes were attributable to late submission of aid applications by farmers. A further number arose because of a shortfall in the number of eligible animals found by my Department in the course of on-farm inspections.
The number of applications which attracted a one or two year penalty, that is, false declaration, intentionally or through serious negligence, represented no more than 0.1% of applications in the 1998 scheme year. The vast bulk of these applied in the sheep sector. A one year penalty would apply in cases where, for example, a proportion of ewes for which applications was made, were found not to be ewes at inspection. A two year penalty would apply where, for example, a farmer made application for premium/headage on sheep which he did not have at the time of application or at time of inspection.
In general, where an applicant makes an error in the completion of an application form, my Department allows an opportunity to correct such errors. The most common error in recent years has been the incorrect transcription of tag numbers on application forms. The level of such errors has, however, greatly decreased in the past year following the more widespread use of new information technology in the processing of the special beef premium scheme whereby farmers are no longer required to list the individual eartag number of all animals for which application is made.