High-resolution satellites have detected that half of Co Kerry’s 8,000 farmers are claiming EU farm payments for agricultural land which is not suitable for farming.
Farmers are required to exclude from their annual payment application all ineligible features, such as buildings, farmyards, scrub, roadways, forests, and lakes.
The Government has this year been able to use the latest crystal-clear satellite technology to take thousands of images of farmers’ land to check how much of the land is eligible for payments.
Now it is going after farmers who have over-claimed.
According to the department, over-claims have no impact for 75% of farmers, because they declare more than enough land to cover payment entitlements.
However, 4,000 farmers in Kerry alone have received letters telling them they were applying for grants for ineligible land.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney rejected claims of unfairness by Kerry TDs, saying farmers in receipt of €11,000 in annual single farm payments would be paying back €400 where under 3% of their land was over-claimed.
Local TD Michael Healy-Rae branded the “accusation” against the thousands of farmers in Co Kerry as “outrageous” and said that many would have been misled when agreeing to designations of their land as special areas of conservation back in 2008.
He said a significant number would lose all their payments and he knew at least one farmer who would now have no money for Christmas because it was alleged 20% of his land was not in fact agricultural.
His fellow Kerry TD, Tom Fleming, said that most of those targeted were in the poorer land areas and it had to be remembered the mountain terrain in Kerry “breaks the cloud”.
“They are trying to keep scrub off their land and wipe out the rushes, which is impossible,” said Mr Fleming.
Acknowledging the issue was of particular concern in Kerry, the minister said the European Commission was demanding increased scrutiny.
“The commission is demanding that every country in Europe assess whether payments have been drawn down on land parcels that have been ineligible,” said Mr Coveney.
“Unlike many countries, Ireland has gone through an extraordinary detailed process of trying to assess every single land parcel in the country.”
All 950,000 land parcels in the country were being reviewed in what is known as the land parcel identification review.
He said that since the summer, his department had been working flat out to avoid penalties from the commission.
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