Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Ceisteanna (31)

Charlie McConalogue


31. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of basic payment scheme applicants who have not received their 2019 advance payment; the reason for non-payment to date; if he will he consider providing the advance payment to those farmers who have been selected for on-site and satellite inspections, or both, in view of their severe financial position and the fact that they greatly depend on such payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49428/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Tá an chéad cheist, Uimh. 31, in ainm an Teachta McConalogue ach tá sé le tógáil ag an Teachta Cahill.

I ask the Minister for the total number of basic payment scheme applicants who have not received their 2019 advance payment and to outline the reason for non-payment to date. Will he consider providing the advance payment to those farmers who have been selected for on-site or satellite inspections or both, given their severe financial position and the fact they greatly depend on such payments? I ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter.

My Department has received more than 122,000 applications this year from farmers under the basic payment scheme, BPS, which is fully funded by the European Union and is worth in excess of €1.2 billion annually. There are no delays in the issuing of payments to applicants with clear applications under this scheme.

The Deputy will be aware that advance payments under the BPS commenced on schedule on 16 October, which is the earliest possible payment date allowed under EU regulations, and balancing payments will commence as scheduled early next month. Ireland remains to the forefront of member states in relation to the early payment of BPS moneys.

EU regulations governing the administration of the basic payment scheme and the various other area-based schemes require that full and comprehensive administrative checks, including ground or remote sensing inspections where applicable, are fully completed to ensure eligibility with the scheme's requirements before any payment issues. Such checks aim to ensure that payments do not issue on ineligible areas or features, that only eligible applicants are paid and that an applicant does not receive an undue payment that would require subsequent recovery by my Department.

Cases that do not pass the administrative validation process go into error and cannot be paid pending a resolution of the error concerned. These errors can include over-claims, dual claims, commonage errors and incomplete application forms. My Department enters into correspondence, mainly through the issuing of query letters to farmers, in order to resolve these error cases.

The EU regulations prescribe the minimum number of inspections that must take place annually. These inspections can be undertaken by means of field visits on the ground or by means of remote sensing using up-to-date satellite imagery. The regulations further prescribe that for inspection cases, the process must be fully completed before any payments can issue. Where an application is selected for inspection under any of the area-based schemes, the outcome of that inspection applies to all schemes for which the applicant has applied.

Approximately 8,000 applications are subject to an inspection in 2019 under the various area-based schemes. As of 25 November, my Department had received inspection results for more than 93% of these inspections, of which 92% had been advanced to payment stage. The balance of these cases falls into a number of categories, namely, where applicants have been notified of the inspection outcome where an area over-declaration has been identified and a response is awaited, and where applicants have chosen to submit comments on notified inspection outcomes. These cases are being examined with a view to final processing. The remaining outstanding inspection results are being finalised and will then be advanced promptly through the final stages of processing.

Some 7,700 of the overall number of inspection cases are eligible applicants under the 2019 basic payment scheme. To date, some 6,500 of these cases have received the advance BPS payment. The balance of these cases falls into the various categories I have already outlined.

I am pleased to confirm that to date, more than 119,100, or more than 97.5%, of eligible applicants have now been paid €786 million in advance BPS and greening payments. The second instalment of BPS payments will commence on 2 December.

I assure the Deputy that my Department continues to finalise cases, including ground and remote sensing inspection cases, daily, to ensure that BPS payments are issued as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I acknowledge the hard work and efficiency of the departmental officials in getting out the vast majority of payments on time. It is only right this is acknowledged. Unfortunately, we have all been lobbied by constituents who are still awaiting payment. The vast majority of people awaiting payment need that payment to meet their bills. It will be 1 December at the end of the week and people's financial cashflow is under extreme pressure. We still have 1,400 cases awaiting payment of the single farm payment, 1,500 cases awaiting a greening payment and more than 1,200 cases awaiting areas of natural constraints payments. Would it be possible for applicants to be paid their advance payments and if there was a need for penalties or reductions that they could be taken out of the balancing payment issued later in the year? That would be a common-sense approach and would allow a person's cashflow to meet their living expenses and pay their bills. People depend on the single farm payment and payments for areas of natural constraints to pay their bills. I accept the hit rate is high but anyone waiting for a payment is one person too many. It is almost 1 December and a total of 1,400 people are waiting for single farm payments. What I have suggested would be a compromise and a common-sense solution, with regard to allowing penalties arising to be paid from the balancing payment.

I accept the point and it is often made in engagement I have with farmers and farm organisations. I wish it were so but the regulations are quite clear. They state that if a case is selected for inspection the inspection must be concluded and processed before payment is made. Regrettably, this is the EU regulation under which we operate. This is why every effort has been made to get applications online. This has increased the efficiency of the process. We are comfortably within the targets set out in the farmers' charter. A total of 119,135 farmers have been paid out of 122,000 applications. For those still waiting approval, it is a significant financial issue.

As I said, there are difficulties with over-claims, boundaries, commonage problems and dual claims. We are trying to work through them as quickly as possible with a view to getting out balancing payments at the earliest possible date.