North’s SFP errors may cost £100m

EVERY field in Northern Ireland is being re-mapped after mistakes in agricultural subsidy claims have landed it with a bill from Brussels for up to £100m.

The Northern Ireland Executive has been alerted by the European Commission of farm subsidy disallowances totalling more than £30m, resulting from errors in the administration of annual subsidy payments to farmers.

But the North’s department of agriculture is believed to be making provisions for a possible final bill of up to £100m.

Re-mapping 742,000 fields currently used to claim the Single Farm Payment subsidy will cost £4.8m, with Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew saying 60 staff had been re-deployed from planning services to help with re-mapping.

She said: “It is unfortunate that the EU decided to take a hard line and impose a £31m disallowance for the 2004-6 scheme at such a difficult economic time, both for the Executive and the wider economy as a whole. That said, the EU decision has been made and we have to move to mitigate future disallowance.

“The quicker we can identify areas which are ineligible for specific claims and get them corrected, the sooner we can address EU criticisms and provide reassurance. In the meantime, I will continue to fight the existing disallowance threat with support from the local industry and our three MEPS.”

The Department of Agriculture hopes to begin producing revised maps for farmers by early 2011.

A campaign by the Department in Dublin to clean up the mapping system resulted this year in penalties totalling about €6m for 8,500 farmers, mostly due to ineligible areas being submitted for SFP, and eligible areas are being checked throughout the country in the annual random inspections of farms.


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