Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann has revealed that the Northern Ireland Executive was forced to pay the European Commission a total of £19m last year due to failures of the Department of Agriculture to administer EU schemes.
Robin Swann, Chair of the Stormont Public Accounts Committee and who also sits on the Agriculture Committee, said:
“In response to an Assembly Question I tabled to the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister I was shocked to learn that last year the Northern Ireland Executive was charged with a disallowance of £19m by the European Commission. In reality that means the Executive was fined for deficiencies in its controls for the administration and payment of EU funded schemes.
“By far the biggest scheme affected will have been the issuing of Basic Payments, better known in the past as the Single Farm Payment. The Department is regularly monitored to ensure that it administrates this scheme, which last year had a value of €326million to our farmers, in the correct and efficient manner as requested by the European Commission.
“Unfortunately however, the revelation that there was a £19m charge made to the Executive in 2015/16 confirms that major mistakes were made and that public services in Northern Ireland have been undoubtedly affected by this fine as it was paid from general expenditure. Those shocked probably the most by this fine will be farmers themselves given that they have had to endure the Department’s interpretation of the scheme rules on the frontline. Maybe if the Department had properly understood the rules of the Common Agricultural Policy they wouldn’t have burdened our farmers with such a botched and disorderly implementation, and importantly saved the Northern Ireland public purse this £19m.
“What makes this revelation even more startling and exasperating is that the Executive has a startling poor track record on the implementation of farm subsidies and that it would appear lessons are still not being learned. For example, in 2011 the Executive was slapped with an almost £70m disallowance for the major failures in the administration of the Single Farm Payment in the years up to and including 2009. The vast majority of that money was never later recovered, and as a result left a major shortfall in public finances. I am shocked that the same mistakes are still being made five years later.”