The MEPs hearing the case have asked Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to fully investigate why the farmers have been treated like this.
Supporting the case, MEP Jim Higgins described it as “bizarre”.
The eight own land in common in Keelderry on a part of Slieve Aughtry in Galway, for which they received disadvantaged area and single farm payments from EU funds of around €4,000 a year. However, no money arrived in 2010, and several of the farmers have received nothing since.
Two of the farmers had the money for their home farms cut off also. One of them, Martin Murphy, received no replies to registered letters he sent to the department for more than a year.
He took the matter to court, but a few days beforehand he received a cheque in the post from the department. However, as a result of the way it calculated the payments for 2010 and 2011, he finds his future entitlement has been reduced.
Sean Lawless explained that he has not received any of the payments since 2010, and for a year he did not receive the payments he was due for his home farm near Loughrea.
“It meant I had to depend on an overdraft as the money normally helps pay the farming costs — very few can exist on what you make just from farming now,” said Mr Lawless.
Barrister Theresa Murphy, who explained the case to the parliament’s petitions committee, said one shareholder went through the department’s appeal process, which upheld the department’s view that the land was eligible for no more than 10% payment.
She presented the findings of an agricultural expert, showing that the land at issue was identical to commonage the other side of a stone wall on the same hill which now qualifies for 95% payments.
Some shareholders of the commonage, which qualified for 90% payments, have been treated differently.
One shareholder, who is also an employee of the department, is taking a case for harassment while some shareholders with identical rights have received their payments.
Ms Murphy explained that the case had been prevented from reaching the courts because it was tied down in a lengthy department internal inquiry since 2010, which could last five years and no court action could begin until the internal probe is completed.
Mr Higgins said his fellow MEPs were shocked by the case.
“They could not understand how EU AGRI funds could be withheld upon the whim of officials in the Department of Agriculture,” he said.