“may be penalised for allegedly being too generous or lenient in the administration of EU finances.”

According to the Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew, she “will fight this on all possible fronts.” This being the European Commission Audit’s disallowance of £28.5million in EU subsidies paid out to Northern Irish farmers during the period 2004-2006. Back to the Minister – “The next step in line with Commission protocol is to take our case to the Conciliation Body and that is what we will do.” If that proves unproductive, as the Irish News report puts it [subs req], “Farmers may be forced to pay back thousands of pounds in subsidies because Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) officials were too lenient when dealing with claims.” That’s assuming an Agriculture Minister was prepared to face down the farming lobby.. Anyone have any idea how long it would take to exhaust all avenues of appeal?It’s also worth noting the Minister’s statement more fully

The Minister said: “DARD has always taken steps to ensure that all possible aid gets to the farmer and those in the front line in the industry. I and my colleagues in the department are extremely disappointed that effectively the North may be penalised for allegedly being too generous or lenient in the administration of EU finances.”

“If I stand accused of being sympathetic to the farmer I plead guilty. But what I do not want to see is money being disallowed to the North and its farming community. I will fight this on all possible fronts. The next step in line with Commission protocol is to take our case to the Conciliation Body and that is what we will do.”

“I am staggered by the disallowance proposed. We knew that the Commission Auditors were not completely satisfied with certain aspects of the department’s mapping system. During their visit in 2006, they were critical of farmers for not reporting changes to fields and, in particular, that DARD had not been advised of changes to or the presence of ineligible features such as buildings, laneways, trees or scrub. They also criticised our inspectors for accepting land as eligible, when in their view it was not.”

She continued “Once again, I urge farmers to ensure that their maps are correct and to advise us of any changes to their fields. This is vitally important if we are going to be able to convince the Commission that we have a mapping system that reflects the true situation of our fields.”