NI’s £60million farming subsidy mal-administration fines – Redux

The Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew, and the Chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jnr, teamed up today on the Stormont Live sofa to defend farmers – an aging and confused group, apparently – and to criticise media coverage of the £60 million fines imposed by the EU Commission for the department’s mal-administration of EU farming subsidies.

Although, they weren’t entirely on the same page…

What they did agree on was that the £60 million is a penalty imposed by the EU Commission.  It’s not the amount over-claimed by farmers.

According to the Minister the amount over-claimed was just under £2 million.

And since 2005 the department has been building a fund to pay the penalty fines imposed, and that fund now amounts to £11 million.

But whereas the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jnr seems to think that the fines will be taken out of the funds allocated to the NI Agriculture Department by the EU Commission [at source?], the Agriculture Minister was emphasising her belief that it would be drawn from the “central government pot”.

One other point to note is that the £4.8 million the Agriculture Minister secured from the Finance Minister is to be spent on improving the mapping system used in assessing future claims. 

Inaccurate maps, apparently, are one of the few things to be blamed for the mal-administration by the department.

But, as Mark Devenport pointed out yesterday, we’ve been here before…

Seamus pointed out that some of the over payments are being blamed by the authorities on poor mapping of land, and that the Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew had said nobody was to blame. But he reminded me that way back in 2001 the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee investigated allegations of fraud in farm payments.

Their report contained the following paragraph (and this is where Yogi Berra’s malapropism came to mind) “we were astounded to hear that maps as old as 1938 and 1963 were still being used by the Department and that this contributed to the ridiculous outcome that grants were being claimed on the basis of land at Clement Wilson Park, Barnett’s Demesne (including car park area), Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park and Dunmurry Golf Club and included large areas of recreational land, a wildlife reserve and rosebeds. It is equally surprising that staff in the Lisburn Office handling these claims did not recognise their fraudulent nature. We welcome the assurances by the Accounting Officer that they are moving very quickly towards a much more sophisticated mapping system and that site inspections are now undertaken of all new land registered by farmers.”

Good we sorted out those mapping problems so promptly.

Indeed.

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  • Cynic

    Why is she still in post?

  • Because she might be replaced by Catriona Ruanne!

  • aquifer

    So the Department of Agriculture made minus £52 million on the deal.

    If this is the new enterprise economy lord help us.

  • aquifer

    You know that if they had put the whole lot online that the neighbours would have checked it for us.

    Public money should mean just that.

  • medillen

    Naysayers and cynics unite!

    This was one of the most positive interviews I have seen in a long time, where two mature politicians from opposite ends of the political spectrum showed how it could be, and showed determination to work together to right an injustice. Typical of some on this site and Martina Purdy to try and turn into into a negative.

  • Oracle

    Yeah Yeah Yeah …….medillen blame the big bad media…..
    when you’re forced to come up with the nasty media arguement and the piece is by Martina Purdy a safe middle zone reporter, then you just highlight your lack of or inability to provide….. answers

  • I know, and have always known that Ian Paisley jun. is, to say the least, a ‘poor’ politician but amongst the DUP what more could be expected…

    I had thought Michelle Gildernew was the best of the SF shower and a good politician. Regrettably it seems she may still be the best SF have got, but a good politician? In her and SFs dreams.

  • daisy

    She’s certainly not a good administrator of public funds. Forcing farmers to queue for her to bestow money on a first come first served basis wasn’t the best idea she ever had.

  • vanhelsing

    ——-‘Because she might be replaced by Catriona Ruanne!’——–

    that’s a doosy of a move:) Ruane aways reminds me of that anecdotal story about Churchill..

    Woman on Street: ‘Mr Churchill Sir, you are drunk; very, very drunk’

    Winston Churchill: ‘Madame, you are ugly; very, very ugly; but I shall be sober in the morning’

  • Drumlin Rock

    They certainly spoke better than Green MLA Brian Wilson did on Nolan today, he hadn’t a clue what he was talking about and it was obvious he was just jumping on a band wagon. Lets try a few facts..

    The amount over claimed amounted to less than £2 million, most if not all was recovered from claimants when the mistakes were discovered.
    The claimants who make genuine mistakes in 99% of the cases were then personally punished by withholding payments and excessive delays in the payment of the SFP.
    The £60 million is a “punishment” totally out of scale with the “offense” it will probably come out of the part of the EU subsidy payment that goes towards rural development, this affects all communities outside of the largest urban areas.
    The executive block grant wont be affected, BUT many of the areas currently being funded by these grants will go elsewhere seeking funding, having a knock on effect, or else they will disappear and lead to job losses.
    what can we do? nothing, apart from beg, cajole and suck up to European officials, so much for democracy in Europe.
    Yes mistakes were made, and a small amount of them were possibly scandalous, but these were new complex rules introduced in a short period of time and applied in a very draconian manner, I would wonder are they being applied as strictly elsewhere?

  • Hello DR

    Do they not sample and extrapolate hence the scale of the fine.

    Articles

  • Barnshee

    “Do they not sample and extrapolate ”
    Ah ha the $64000 question –of course they did the £2m + will be the amount discovered from the claims audited and then “grossed up” to arrive at £6om-unless of course the EC auditors examined ALL the claims

  • willis

    Well it looks like the MSM have not been reading Slugger for guidance.

    Maybe Ed knows something the Minister doesn’t.

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/columnists/ed-curran/health-service-deserves-better-than-a-slow-death-of-1000-cuts-14832496.html

    “In the past week, we heard about farmers milking £60m out of European Community grants with bogus claims.”

  • meagain

    Aside from maladministration leading to the fine, the real scandal here is that probably 95% of the population are completely unaware of a £60 million shortfall which will affect them. It’s an additional 50% on top of the £128 million cut announced the other week, but the silence from the politicians and media is truly and staggeringly deafening. The Minister says no one is to blame and there are no calls for resignation. It justs goes to prove how we have all given up on accountability and good government so quickly.

  • Drumlin Rock

    we never had it in the first place, dont tell anyone this but much as I would like to we cant blame Michelle for all of this mess (althought some of it will land at her feet) the direct rule ministers didnt give a stuff about agriculture, and let the officials run the show, with the usual consequences….

  • willis

    I presume everyone has given up on this story, however I am surprised that:

    A search for info/press releases just brings up the same news stories.

    The last word on this on the DARD site is this from last year:

    http://www.northernireland.gov.uk/news/news-dard/news-dard-december-2009/news-dard-081209-changes-to-create.htm

    It looks like the auditors were already unhappy with the lack of action and decided a big fine might wake someone up.

  • Drumlin Rock

    its still better than the sectarian handout she is planning to use to replace it.

  • DR

    Why are you sure it’s sectarian?