3,634 BEAM (Beef Exceptional Aid Measure) participants are facing clawbacks amounting to a potential €8 million.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Matt Carthy TD, has called for Minister Charlie McConalogue’s intervention.
To avail of the scheme, farmers were required to commit a 5% reduction of bovine livestock manure nitrogen.
However, Carthy said the scheme was “beset with confusion and delays from the offset” as to how the reduction would be calculated.
The DAFM offered farmers an updated reference period last February, effectively facilitating an extension in meeting the 5% target.
Teachta Carthy said:
“The issues that arose with the BEAM scheme were apparent from the very beginning. Sinn Féin highlighted this at the time, but warnings fell on deaf ears.”
“In February of this year, we warned the minister that while flexibility with regard to the reference period was welcome, in many respects, he would only be kicking the can down the road.
“It has now been reported that 3,634 farmers, who did not avail of the deferral, did not reach the required 5% reduction.”
“On a pro-rata basis, this would amount to the Department of Agriculture seeking to recoup some €8 million from these farmers.”
“It is worth recalling that at the time the extension was secured, reports suggested that the crux of the issue was that Teagasc and other agricultural advisors differed from the Department of Agriculture as to how to calculate nitrate figures.”
Given the confusion surrounding the scheme, he believes it would be “unfair and callous” to place the “blame and burden for this debacle laden” scheme solely on those individual farmers alone.
“Given that many other farmers who entered the scheme on the same basis will now be continuing to work towards meeting the reduction over an extended period, I am calling on the minister to find an alternative solution to simply penalising these farmers.”
The deputy suggested that the fairest solution would seem to be to implement a blanket extension across the board for those farmers who have not yet met the scheme’s requirements.
“As such, the first question that needs to be asked is whether the minister even bothered to ask the European Commission about such an extension in the weeks leading up to the deadline?
“At a time when we have not yet emerged from the pandemic, and with new Brexit challenges on the horizon, the idea of removing such a significant sum of money from family farmers and rural communities would be unfair and frankly inexcusable,” he concluded.