As I am sure the House and the Minister are aware, we have a serious problem in the agricultural sector with regard to the significant number of farmers who are waiting to get GLAS payments. The first tranche or 85% of payments were due to be paid before the end of 2016 and most farmers expected that would happen. The payments only started to flow in the final days of December 2016. Since then a number of farmers have received their payments but until recently in excess of 10,000 farmers had not received their payments. I understand the number has reduced to approximately 6,500 farmers who have not received the 85% payment.
All kinds of reasons and excuses have been put forward by the Department when contacted which range from technical hitches and difficulties with IT systems but in many cases no excuse at all has been given. The trend I and other Deputies have observed is that when a representation is made on behalf of an individual and the herd number and circumstances are given, in a couple of days or weeks someone from the Department gets in touch to say the issue has been resolved but the farmer did not have to do anything, which tells us that there was nothing on the farmer's side causing the problem. Whatever the problem is, it lies in the Department. The blame has been placed on the Minister and the Department and it would be useful if he would acknowledge that an issue arises with the IT system in the Department that is causing the problem. We are being told that if an issue arises on the system indicating that a farmer will not be paid then the physical application must be accessed and someone must examine it line by line to find out what is wrong. In the context of thousands of applications that seems an absurd system. On behalf of the many farmers who have still not been paid I demand that the Minister pay the money to all of the farmers and if there are problems they can be sorted out later. If some deduction or penalty is required to be made that can be taken from the remaining 15% of the payment. There is no reason to withhold the payment from farmers, many of whom are in dire straits. I have come across farmers who have had to sell sheep to make ends meet, sheep they need to keep on the land to meet the requirements of the GLAS payment. It is totally counterproductive for the Department and the Minister to sit on their hands and not to sort out the issue. It is time the farmers were paid their money. They are in dire straits and many of them are in debt. Bank managers are phoning them to find out where they can get their next payment and they do not understand that there is a technical hitch somewhere in the Department preventing farmers from getting their money. I know a response will have been prepared for the Minister of State by somebody in the Department outlining an excuse, but it is past time for excuses. It is time to make sure that farmers are paid all their money within the coming days, not weeks or months.