Speaking in the Assembly debate on the impact on the farming community of the widespread errors in DARD’s LPIS mapping system TUV Leader Jim Allister described the situation as a ‘colossal failure by government’ for which no one was taking responsibility.
In the course of his remarks Mr Allister said:-
“Various words, such as “shambolic”, “appalling”, “pathetic”, and many more besides, have been used to describe the situation that has resulted from the mapping crisis. In truth, few of them are adequate. This is a failure of a colossal nature. It is a failure by government. You would think, to listen to some people in this House, that we did not have a system of government in which there is supposed to be a Minister who takes responsibility. One would think that it was always enough to say, oh, technical difficulties, or someone else’s fault. When do we ever, in this House, get to the point when a Minister will stand up and say, “My Department has failed, and failed lamentably: I take responsibility for it and will act accordingly.”? It seems that we never get to that point in this House. I suspect that we will not get to it today as the person who is replying to the debate is a Member who knows nothing about farming and is someone who represents West Belfast. I suspect that the chances of this debate reaping anything of value are nil, but there are points that need to be made.
“The situation is aggravated when the Minister’s apologists tell us, “Oh, all it takes is a phone call to get it sorted out”, as Mr McMullan did, or, “Do not worry so much about it. Did we not put wonderful money into childcare?”, as Mr McAleer did. Sorry; we are talking about issues that touch on the survival and, sometimes, the sanity of farmers, who are so pressurised and so at their wits’ end that this is not to be trivialised and swept aside by saying, “Oh, it is terrible that it has happened, but it is only 9%”. There is a responsibility on government that goes, or should go, something like this: if you implement a scheme and a system, you have a duty of care to those affected by it. Where is the duty of care demonstrated by the Department towards the farmers who have been detrimentally affected by this scheme and by the maps that are utterly useless and riven with errors?
“We who are in touch with the farming community could regale the House with many episodes and incidents of farmers affected by this matter. Let me deal with one: a farmer who farms marginal lands in the foothills. Some of the land is classified as low and raised bog, and it has been accepted into the countryside management scheme because it meets the fundamental criteria of that scheme for such land: it is available to provide forage, has access for grazing and has a history of grazing. All that is set out in, I think, OT3 of the guidance. It is accepted into the countryside management scheme, but then the maps come along, and the land is coloured purple, meaning that all of it is disallowed. An inspector photographs cattle grazing the land, but it is still disallowed. The restriction on grazing to three months of the year is because of the countryside management scheme obligations, and yet the Department seeks to maintain that that farmer is not entitled to include that land. When he complains, the answer is, “Oh, you can appeal it”. Yes, he can appeal it, but when? By that stage, he is liable to be bankrupt. His single farm payments for 2012 and 2013 have been denied, but he is simply told, “Oh, you can appeal it”. What use is that? Where is the sense of responsibility for a Minister who recognises that this is a shambles of her making? It is time that she faced up to that. It is clear that she is not bearing any pain but there are many who are. It is pain that she should feel but sadly does not.”