TUV leader Jim Allister has spoken out in the Assembly about the delay in Single Farm Payments to his farming constituents in the Portglenone area, whose area was chosen by DARD for remote sensing inspection.
Speaking during the debate on the topic Mr Allister said:-
“If there is one sector in our economy that is absolutely vital, it has to be the farming agriculture sector. It produces much of the food that all of us eat, and yet it is the sector that is probably the most regulated of all. Indeed, it is over-regulated and is constantly burdened with endless inspection and regulation. This episode is, in itself, an illustration of that.
“As I understand the situation, from last May, the Department had the satellite images. It then embarked on aerial photography during the summer and then what did it do? What has it been doing since? We arrive at December with notification, when farmers are expecting their payment, but the Christmas message that they get from the Department — the supposed champion of farming — is very different. It is this: you are not getting your payment.
“Why did the Department hold off? It held off quite deliberately and consciously to stem a tide of protest and complaint, including MLAs and others campaigning on behalf of the farmers for the matter to be expedited. The Department said, in effect, “Don’t tell anyone; we’ll just bounce them. Come December, we’re not going to make the payment”. It was not because the Department was trying to prevent some cover-up by farmers of what the actuality was on their farms. It is not that sort of situation. It is aerial-type inspection. Quite a cynical hand has been at play in the Department in that regard.
“I have a number of questions for the Minister. As we sit here tonight, how many field inspections that are now being resorted to are still outstanding? She has told us that she expects the payments to be made mostly in February. Here we are past the halfway point in February; can she tell us how many field inspections are still outstanding? That will help us to judge whether the indication that the payments will be made will be met.
“Can she give the House an assurance that the areas selected this year for random aerial inspection will not be selected in the coming year? Will they be exempt by virtue of the fact that they have been inspected this year, or could we face the scenario in which the same farmers will be subject to the double whammy of another such inspection next year? There are so many different areas, so there is nothing to be lost by giving an undertaking that those areas will be exempt from future inspections.
“This whole episode amounts to another indictment of a failing Department. Under EU rules, it is allowed to make advance payments as early as October. However, it has not put in place anything to allow that to happen, so we are still restrained to December. Then, come December, a large number of families received that Christmas box from the Minister. The Minister presents herself as a friend of the farming community, but she presides over a Department that seems to excel in placing obstacles in the way of success for the farming community and starving it of funds.
“The single farm payment is not a luxury or an extra that farmers happen to get; it is the lifeblood for many of them. It was how many of them were going to pay their bills in December. Not only was it going to pay for Christmas, it was going to pay their suppliers as well. What does the Minister do? With a sweep of her hand she says, “You won’t be getting it. We didn’t bother telling you. Why would you need to know? You’re only the supplier”.