My Department is continuing to support the farming community in these difficult times, in particular, by ensuring that scheme payments can continue to issue to farmer clients. Officials of my Department and I are very conscious of the challenges and concerns for all stakeholders posed by the COVID-19 situation. At all times, our priority is to safeguard the health and safety of farm families, our staff and the wider community, while still facilitating scheme payments. Where possible, inspections are being done remotely, thereby avoiding the need for on-farm visits but, in certain situations, a farm visit is required in order to complete the pre-payment checks and controls to allow vital payments to be made to farmers.
Inspections are carried out with HSE guidelines and Government requirements concerning COVID to the fore. All inspections are notified in advance and the farmer is afforded an opportunity to defer the inspection for up to three weeks should there be COVID-related concerns or issues. In addition, inspectors are required to adhere to an inspection protocol which gives clear guidance to inspectors on procedures to be followed during the inspection. We cannot defer inspections indefinitely as this would impact payments to scheme participants.