Dáil Éireann - Volume 632 - 21 February, 2007

Written Answers. - Farm Inspections.

Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of farmers penalised under the 2006 EU farm inspections scheme; the amount of penalties incurred; if all other EU countries administer this on farm system; if Germany operates this scheme by way of giving 24 to 48 hours prior notice to German farmers; if her attention has been drawn to whether prior notice is given in any other EU country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6717/07]

  Mary Coughlan: My Department, 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 environment, 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 are 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 18 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.

In 2006 the policy of my Department towards on-farm inspections was to give advance notification of up to 48 hours in all cases. However, this was unacceptable to the European Commission and my Department was obliged to perform a number of inspections without prior notification in 2006. 7,514 farmers had their holdings selected for on-the-spot inspection out of some 130,000 who applied for the Single Payment Scheme (over 100,000 of these are also applicants for Disadvantaged Areas Scheme). The vast bulk of on farm inspections 6,899 — 92% of the total farms selected for Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme inspection [305] in 2006 — were all notified in advance to the farmers concerned.

A total of 1,421 farmers were subject to cross-compliance penalties under the 2006 Single Payment Scheme while a further 809 farmers, while technically in breach of the requirements, did not suffer any penalty because of the tolerance regime applied by my Department. The total amount withheld under Cross Compliance penalties amounts to €712,799.34 or 0.05% of the €1.3 billion envelope available for the 2006 Single Payment Scheme. The value of both schemes (SPS/DAS) to Irish farmers is some €1.55 billion.

The EU regulations governing the Single Payment Scheme would allow my Department to give pre-notification of inspection in all cases where certain elements of cross-compliance are involved e.g. the Nitrates Regulations. However, my Department is committed, in the Charter of Rights for Farmers 2005-2007, to carrying out all Single Payment Scheme and Disadvantaged Area Scheme checks during one single farm visit in most cases. This then 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 a proportion of cases.

Since the inspection requirements are based on EU regulations applicable throughout the European Union it is my understanding that Member States including Germany, carry out a number of inspections without prior notification.

I am continuing to pursue a simplification agenda etc at EU level.