I propose to take Questions Nos. 421, 423 to 425, inclusive, 429 and 438 together.
The provisions covering eligibility inspections under the Basic Payment Scheme and other Direct Aid Schemes are provided for in Title III of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 809/2014 (previously Commission Regulation (EC) N0 1122/2009). In accordance with this Regulation, such eligibility inspections can take the form of a ground inspection as part of a Remote Sensing inspection. A review of the accuracy of the data held in the Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) is also provided for in the same Regulation. Articles 28 and 29 of the Regulation provide that, applications under the Direct Payment Schemes should be subjected to both administrative and cross-checks to verify their accuracy and their compliance with the eligibility requirements of the Schemes. One of the most important cross-checks undertaken is to verify the accuracy of area declared and land usage against the data stored in the LPIS. In order to protect EU funds paid out under the Direct Payment Schemes, it is expected that the information held is as accurate and up to date as is possible. The EU Commission can, and do, propose financial correction where the data held is not accurate or up to date.
As I have previously stated, farmers in general, who submit applications under the Direct Payment Scheme and various other schemes and who are not satisfied with a decision made by my Department in the processing of these applications can appeal to the Agricultural Appeals Office. In some instances where the volume of appeals submitted is extremely high, it is necessary to provide for an alternative appeals mechanism to process these in an efficient manner. This was the case in respect of appeals submitted under the 2013 LPIS Review. I, therefore, established the Independent LPIS Appeals Committee to deal with such appeals. In view of the sheer volume of the number of appeals received - over 10,000 - it would not have been possible to process appeals under LPIS Review using the normal process.
This Committee comprises an independent Chairman and Appeals Officers from the Agriculture Appeals Office. The Schedule to the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001 was amended by the Agriculture Appeals Act 2001 (Amendment of Schedule) Regulations 2013 (SI No. 10 of 2013) to exclude the Land Parcel Identification System Review 2013 (LPIS Review 2013) cases.
Where persons were dissatisfied with a decision affecting them under the 2013 Review of Eligibility of Land parcels, they were entitled in the first instance, to have the decision reviewed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. However, where applicants were dissatisfied with the outcome of the review, they were granted the option to seek a review of that decision from the LPIS Appeals Committee. If they continued to remain dissatisfied following the outcome of the Appeals Committee review, they were then afforded the option to pursue the matter with the Office of the Ombudsman. The Terms of Reference of the Appeals Committee is available on the website of the Agriculture Appeals Office. Each appeal case is decided on its own individual merits and an individual recommendation is forwarded from the Committee to my Department.
I am fully satisfied that the review and appeal process is as robust as it should be and applicants are given every opportunity to make their case. If there are any queries arising from the applicant’s review and/or appeal procedure, my Department arranges to carry out an on-site verification check to confirm the information submitted by the applicant.
During a LPIS Review Process, ineligible areas and features are excluded from the LPIS land parcels as declared by applicants. In many instances, such exclusions will not have any monetary impact as the farmers were declaring lesser areas than the adjusted reference areas. In other instances, as many applicants declare more land than the number of entitlements held, the adjustment will not lead to the imposition of any deduction or penalty on BPS. In any event, all applicants, whose parcels were adjusted following a LPIS Review, are written to in relation to the adjustment. This letter is accompanied by map(s) of the adjusted parcels which details the new as well as existing exclusions. The letter and maps are issued irrespective of whether the adjustments led to a deduction in payment or not. In fact, many of the appeals submitted by applicants under the LPIS Review related to cases with no financial deductions or sanctions. Applicants in receipt of these notifications are entitled to avail of the review and appeal process already outlined.
A LPIS Review involves the assessment of the latest ortho-imagery available for lands parcels, on the Land Parcel Identification System, which are declared by farmers in their applications for payment under the Direct Payment Schemes. The objective of the assessment is to identify and exclude any ineligible areas or features from the land parcels declared by farmers in their applications for payment under the Direct Payment Schemes in order to ensure that the applications are validated correctly. The assessment is normally undertaken using the latest ortho-imagery available but in some instances it is necessary to carry-out a follow-up verification visit on the ground to confirm the findings of the assessment. Such verification visits may relate to one or more parcels on a farm. In general, my Department officials make contact with the applicant by telephone in the case of parcels, which are owned, leased or rented. In view of the number of farmers that claim on the same commonage parcel, it is not possible to make similar contact in the case of the verification checks on commonage parcels.