The Northern Ireland Assembly’s agriculture committee is in Brussels today where they are reportedly seeking a reduction in the £60million fines imposed due to the NI Agriculture Department’s mal-administration of EU farming subsidies.
But a spokesman for the EU Agriculture Commissioner has told the BBC that any reduction is unlikely.
Roger Waite said he could not see the commission changing its mind on the size of the fine.
“There is an appeal and a conciliation process going on which will only be finalised by the end of the year and so legally speaking I can’t comment on that,” he said.
“But what I can say is that in the past the commission has been absolutely firm and cannot change the amount of a fine that is imposed.”
Roger Waite also told Talkback that £37.1million of the £60million total in fines had already been confirmed by the Commission, with the remainder to be confirmed later this year.
Additionally, he pointed out that the latest fines came about because the required administrative checks had not been implemented in the subsidy scheme by the time of the most recent audit – the suggestion being that the department was aware of the problems and had failed to make the necessary changes.
At least one local politician seems prepared to break the cozy consensus on this. From the BBC report
Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said someone must take responsibility for the original error.
“Accountability is important in a democracy,” he said.
“Clearly there is an issue of how forms have been filled out by farmers, but there are also issues about the administration of the department as well.
“This is a major statement of poor financial management from the European Union, directed towards a government department in Northern Ireland.
“This may have major consequences for the rest of the Northern Ireland budget at a time of major financial pressure coming from the UK treasury.”
No doubt his party colleague on the Agriculture Committee, Kieran McCarthy, MLA, has been saying the same thing…
Update BBC NI Newsline interview with Roger Waite. The initial payment due of the fine is now confirmed at €35million.