Under the current Rural Development Regulation (and subsequent amendments under the Omnibus Regulation), Member States are required to change the approach to the designation of land under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme. Previously, my Department had been identifying eligible areas using a range of socio economic indicators such as family farm income, population density, percentage of working population engaged in agriculture, stocking density etc.
From 2019, eligible areas must instead be designated using the following list of bio-physical criteria:
- Low temperature
- Excess soil moisture
- Limited soil drainage
- Unfavourable texture and stoniness
- Shallow rooting depth
- Poor chemical properties
- Steep slope
Following the completion of this process in late 2018, I put in place an independent appeals process for farmers who wished to appeal the status of a particular townland. Farmers could fill out an Appeals Notification Form, at which point my Department issued to them, the details underlying the eligibility status of the townland in question. This allows farmers to lodge a full appeal on the basis of all the information available.
All the replies to Appeals Notification Forms have now been issued and the Appeals Committee has commenced examining cases, with a view to completing the process in advance of this year's scheme payments.
The terms of reference for the Appeals Committee are as follows.
1) The ANC 2019 Appeals Committee is an independent, ad hoc committee set up to adjudicate on issues raised with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) as a result of the redesignation of the ANC Scheme in 2019 on foot of EU Regulatory requirements.
2) The Committee will be independent from DAFM in the performance of its functions.
3) The remit of the Committee is to consider appeals raised by farmers as to the eligibility status of particular townlands on foot of the redesignation of the ANC Scheme for 2019. It should be noted that matters such as the basis of the designation of lands agreed with the EU Commission, the structure of payment categories within the Scheme, or the inclusion of townlands within particular payment categories do not come within the remit of the Committee.
4) The outcome of all appeals will be with reference to the eligibility of particular townlands. Where more than one farmer appeals separately in relation to a given townland, these appeals will be considered as one by the Committee (separate correspondence may issue to individual farmers as appropriate).
5) The land under appeal must have been declared in the 2018 BPS/ANC application process.
6) DAFM shall furnish the appropriate data underlying the designation of a particular townland to the Committee as required.
7) The members of the Committee will include an independent chair appointed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Mr. Padraig Gibbons) an independent technical expert (Mr. Jim O’Mahony) and a third member with an appropriate experience/understanding of the issues at hand (Mr. Paud Evans). Secretarial/administrative support will be provided by DAFM.
8) The process for dealing with appeals is as follows:
a. A farmer wishing to consider an appeal initially submits an Appeals Notification Form to DAFM.
b. DAFM responds to this form, providing the farmer with the appropriate data underlying the status of the townland in question. This information will allow the farmer in question to make a fully informed appeal at this stage should he/she wish to do so.
c. If a farmer follows up with a full appeal via DAFM, a full file will be prepared by DAFM in respect of each case. This file will include copies of all documentation.
d. Appeals Committee meetings may be convened to consider a batch of cases together in a comprehensive manner. It is expected that each batch of appeals may take a number of weeks to complete.
e. In certain circumstances, the Committee may request additional information (including a ground investigation) from DAFM.
f. Having considered all relevant information, a recommendation will be made in respect of each case/townland in a fair manner by collective decision of the Committee.
9) Following this process, the Committee will make a recommendation in writing to DAFM on each case.
10) DAFM shall be the final decision maker in all cases where the Committee has made a recommendation.
11) Following the completion of an appeal, the right of referral to the Office of the Ombudsman remains with the appellant.