Dáil Éireann - Volume 628 - 29 November, 2006

Written Answers. - Farm Inspections.

Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason her Department insists on unannounced farm inspections; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40725/06]

  Mary Coughlan: The Department of Agriculture and Food, in the context of delivering the Single Payment Scheme, is required to carry out on-the-spot inspections on a number of farms covering such issues as eligibility under the Scheme, compliance with EU legislation in the areas of the envir[1511] onment, food safety, animal health and welfare and plant health and ensuring that the farm is maintained in good agricultural and environmental condition. A minimum of 5% of Single Payment Scheme applicants is required to be inspected under the eligibility rule. Up to two-thirds of these inspections are carried out without a farm visit and using the technique of remote sensing. The rate of on-farm inspection required for cross-compliance is 1% of those farmers to whom the Statutory Management Requirements (including the Nitrates Directive) or GAEC apply. However at least 5% of producers must be inspected under the Bovine Animal Identification and Registration requirements as this level is prescribed under the relevant Regulations. On-farm inspection is a requirement of the main schemes operated by my Department including REPS, Early Retirement, Farm Waste Management and other measures included in the €6.8 Billion funding package recently agreed for the 2007-2013 period. In carrying out the inspection function my officials try to be reasonable while respecting the regulatory requirements of the schemes involved.

In 2006, 8,200 farmers have had their holdings selected for on-the-spot inspection out of some 130,000 who have applied for the Single Payment Scheme — over 100,000 of these are also applicants for the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme. The value of both schemes to Irish farmers is some €1.55 billion in 2006. My Department’s policy towards on-farm inspection for the Single Payment Scheme has been to give advance notification of up to 48 hours in all cases. This policy of systematic pre-announcement of inspections was questioned by the Commission in July 2006 and its unacceptability, was conveyed to my Department in a formal communication in August. As a result my Department was obliged to agree to a proportion of Single Payment Scheme inspections being carried out in 2006 without prior notification. Some 650 farms out of 130,000 involved in the Single Payment Scheme were subsequently selected for unannounced inspection. The balance of inspection cases, representing 92% of the 8,200 farms selected for Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme inspection in 2006, are all pre-notified to the farmer.

The EU regulations governing the Single Payment Scheme allow my Department to give pre-notification of inspection in the case of certain elements of cross-compliance e.g. the Nitrates Regulations. However, my Department is committed, in the Charter of Rights for Farmers 2005-07 to carrying out all Single Payment Scheme and Disadvantaged Area Scheme checks during a single farm visit in most cases. This obliges my Department to respect the advance notice requirements applicable to the most stringent element of the inspection regime viz. maximum of 48 hours notice but with no advance notice in [1512] a proportion of cases. My Department is committed in the Charter of Rights to pursuing with the European Commission a strategy to deliver advance notification of 14 days for inspections under the Single Payment Scheme. The matter has been raised with the Commission on a number of occasions since 2004, particularly in the context of the Irish situation where we are applying a fully decoupled and essentially area-dependent Single Payment Scheme. I have personally made the case again recently to Commissioner Fischer Boel and this issue will be a key point for Ireland in the CAP simplification initiative of the Commission which is now under way. I had a meeting last week with my German counterpart, Horst Seehofer, who takes over the chair of the Agriculture Council in January, where I gave my wholehearted support to his proposal to make simplification of the CAP a core issue during the German presidency.

I believe that pre-notification of Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme inspections, fits in with the practicalities of Irish agriculture where increasingly, farmers are also engaged in off-farm employment. In a decoupled Single Payment Scheme system, the provision of advance notification of inspection to the farmer should not negatively impact on the effectiveness of the control. However, as the EU regulations stand, my Department is obliged to carry out a small proportion of inspections without prior notification and this is what is being done in 2006. My Department is seeking authority to allow advance notification in all Single Payment Scheme inspection cases and I will continue to press in the CAP simplification process.