My Department, in the context of delivering the Single Payment Scheme, Disadvantaged Areas’ Scheme and other area related schemes, 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 adherence with EU regulatory requirements in the areas of public, animal and plant health, environment and animal welfare and ensuring that the farm is maintained in good agricultural and environmental condition. The basis for these inspections is governed by EU legislation and there are certain minimum numbers and types of inspections that must be conducted each year. Details of these inspections and the regulations involved are published in the Terms and Conditions of the schemes which are sent to every applicant annually.
These inspections are a necessary requirement in order to draw down approximately €1.7 billion of EU funds annually and to avoid EU disallowances. The inspections are subject to repeated audits by the European Commission, the European Court of Auditors and the Comptroller and Auditor General’s Office and this ensures an independent verification that inspections are conducted in full compliance with the legal requirements. In abiding with the findings of these audits my Department ensures that these inspections are conducted in a fair and equitable manner and in full accordance with the legislative provisions. Inspecting officers are very experienced and are regularly trained to ensure that they carry out inspections in a professional manner. In implementing the inspection programme, my Department takes maximum possible account of the realities of farming.
Appropriate appeal mechanisms are in place to protect the interests of farmers if they have difficulties with the inspection findings or if they consider that the inspection has not been conducted in accordance with legislative requirements. Under this process a farmer may initially seek to have the inspection outcome reviewed internally by an officer more senior than the inspecting officer. Where the farmer remains dissatisfied, the decision can be appealed to the independent Agriculture Appeals Office and ultimately to the Office of the Ombudsman, which brings an entirely external and visibly independent dimension to the process.