Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Questions (200)

Michael Creed


200. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will account for the discrepancy in respect of the calculation on the size of a forestry plantation as determined by the Forest Service in both March 2008 and again in respect of the same plantation in early 2013 in view of the fact that the Forest Service used maps digitised by his Department in its initial calculation; the extent to which this issue is replicated in other cases and the negotiations if any which his Department is having with the company which carried out the digitising process in respect of redress for the errors involved; the number of forestry plantations with problems arising from these digitising errors; if his Department has taken advice as to the liability of individual land owners in respect of his Department's request for recoupment of over payment of premiums and overpayment of plantation grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32425/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

With regard to a discrepancy of any kind on an individual afforestation contract, the Forest Service is not in a position to give a definitive explanation without knowing the details of the contract in question. However, in general terms, the situation as described most commonly occurs where an applicant has made an over-claim on his or her contract and my Department discovers that over-claim.

The forestry schemes administered by my Department and other schemes, such as the Single Farm Payment scheme, use computerised geo-spatial and payments systems. These systems use ortho-photography, which is geometrically corrected aerial photography overlaid onto maps. The systems capture an image of an applicant's claim map and calculate an accurate measurement of the area being claimed. The process of electronically capturing the claim map is called digitisation. This technology has been used internationally for many years. Tolerances are applied when capturing and measuring claims in order to avoid penalising applicants due to minor inaccuracies in their claims. To ensure accuracy and consistency, digitising is performed by the contracted company using well established standards and procedures. My Department has no concerns over the accuracy of ortho-photography and geo-spatial systems for measuring areas. Digitising accuracy depends on the applicant's claim map – if the applicant submits a claim map which does not accurately define the area planted then the digitised image will obviously reflect that.

My Department, including Forestry Division, uses constantly updated ortho-photography to detect potential over-claims and overpayments. A simple example would be where a forestry plantation is initially established, the trees planted are not visible when viewed in contemporaneous photographs. However, when viewed on later photography, maturing trees in the plantation will be visible but the more recent photographs may show gaps where trees have failed, were removed, or were never planted. The updated photography therefore provides an effective audit tool to ensure that claims made under my Department’s schemes are accurate.

Over-claims and overpayments on forestry contracts (and other schemes) are detected in this manner or through random or risk analysis driven inspections; through Single Farm Payment queries by applicants or their neighbours; through forestry queries by the applicant himself; by formal audit of files, etc. Any over-claim and overpayment, regardless of how it was detected, will be similar to the case described, in that the contract will be paid on an area determined from the applicant’s claim from the 1st grant onwards and then, if an over-claim is discovered, the payable area will be adjusted downwards and any overpayment will be recouped.

It is impossible for the Forest Service to predict how many over-claims are made on contracts, as it must first detect each individual over-claim in order to be aware it. In all cases of overpayments, my Department is obliged to recoup any public money that has been overpaid.