I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 15 together.
Given the very comprehensive and detailed nature of the information requested across a broad range of schemes, I am arranging for it to be provided directly in an appropriate format to the Deputies as soon as possible.
The inspections concerned are an inherent requirement deriving from the very significant funding which is drawn down from the EU to support Irish farmers and the rural economy generally. They must be carried out to a minimum level and specification. However, in implementing the regime, my Department takes maximum possible account of the realities of farming and of impacts of particular events, such as prevailing weather conditions. In addition, my Department makes every effort to integrate the various inspections with a view to avoiding more than one visit to a farm.
I will now give an orientation of the regime as it applies under the main schemes.
Single Payment Scheme and Disadvantaged Areas Scheme
My Department in the context of delivering the Single Payment Scheme and the Disadvantaged Areas’ Scheme is required to carry out an annual round of inspections covering both the eligibility of the land declared to draw down payments and also cross compliance aspects, to ensure compliance with EU regulatory requirements in the areas of public, animal and plant health, environment and animal welfare. These inspections are mandatory and there are certain minimum numbers and types of inspections that must take place annually.
Land eligibility checks must be carried out on at least 5% of applicants. These checks are carried out to verify that the actual area claimed in the application form corresponds to the area farmed by the farmer and to ensure that any ineligible land or features are not included for aid purposes. In order to be eligible to draw down EU funding, it is a requirement that all land eligibility inspections must take place before any payments can issue to any farmer in the country in a given year.
My Department has made every effort to respond to concerns about the impact of ground inspections on farmers and taking advantage of advances in satellite and related technologies, around 75% of these inspections are initially carried out without the need for a farm visit. In such cases, the information needed is acquired using the technique of remote sensing via satellite.
Cross Compliance Checks
The rate of inspections for cross-compliance is 1% of applicants to whom the Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) and Good Agricultural Environmental Condition (GAEC) apply. However, 3% of farmers must be inspected under the bovine identification and registration requirements while 3% of sheep/goat farmers must be inspected covering 5% of the flock. It is a recognised principle of the direct aid regime that it serves broader public-good objectives and contributes to the maintenance of the rural environment. These inspections are thus necessary to verify that these objectives are being met. While Cross Compliance inspections can be carried out after payment has been made, it is a regulatory requirement that this category of inspection must take place throughout the calendar year to take account of specific requirements at individual Statutory Management Requirement level and also for GAEC requirements.
Where non-compliances are determined during inspections, the relevant EU legislation prescribes the range of penalties to be applied. However, a full appeals process is available.
Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS)
Under the EU Regulations governing the Scheme, a comprehensive administrative check, including cross-checks with the Land Parcel Identification System, must be completed before any payment can issue. 75% of the payment can issue once this administrative check including the plan checks are completed. The land details for each farmer are verified through a system called the Cross Check and a further administrative check is carried out on each file which fails this cross check. In addition to the above checks the Control Regulations governing the REPS Scheme state that 5% of the total area based measures must be inspected. A REPS inspection is a check to ensure that the applicant is complying with his/her REPS plan.
Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS)
Data from all applications submitted under the scheme are recorded electronically and computerised checks are carried out to validate each application. All validated applications then proceed to be ranked and scored in accordance with the pre determined criteria set out in the scheme documentation after which farmers are notified in writing whether or not they have been admitted to the scheme. Applicants are also subject to on farm inspections carried out by Inspectors of my Department. A minimum rate of 5% of applications must be inspected each year chosen by a combination of risk analysis and random selections.
Suckler Welfare Scheme
Inspections are carried out on 3% of all participants in this Scheme annually and penalties are applied where non-compliance with the Terms and Conditions of the Scheme, such as disbudding, castration and weaning requirements, has been identified. Penalties are also applied during routine processing of all herds where Terms and Conditions have not been complied with. As this Scheme is fully funded by the Exchequer, payments made under its remit are not subject to cross compliance or land eligibility penalties.
Payments issued under the 2012 Schemes
As I have said, the inspection regime is necessary to protect the drawdown of the significant funding Ireland receives from the EU in this area and, where appropriate, the Exchequer funding provided. My Department has a very good record in delivering the inspection regime, while at the same time delivering payments expeditiously to farmers. For example, to date, 98.5% of all eligible applicants under the Single Payment Schemes have been paid, with a total of €1.193bn having issued under this scheme. Payments under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme have issued in over 87,000 cases, amounting to some €193m. A total of 70% of REPS applicant have been paid 75% of their payment, amounting to €87.7m. There are over 14,300 farmers currently participating in AEOS and payments amounting to over €48.3m have been issued to date in 2012. In the case of the Suckler Welfare Scheme payments in respect of 2011 born calves commenced at end 2011 and to date payments of €22.25m have been made to over 30,300 farmers.
In summary the importance of the Direct Payment Schemes to both the farmers who receive these payments and also the wider rural economy is evident. Annually these payments amount to some €1.8 billion. Therefore it is incumbent on my Department to ensure that the EU regulatory control environment is comprehensively implemented to protect these payments, allow the payments to be made quickly and to avoid substantial EU disallowances.