Northern Ireland challenges ‘unfair’ SFP fines

Northern Ireland has vowed to challenge a £64m fine handed down by the European Comission for breaking rules over administering farm subsidies.

Farm minister Michelle Gildernew said she intended to file a legal challenge against the commission for its “heavy-handed approach” towards farmers in the country.

The fine related to discrepancies in the implementation of the control system for area based payments and the Land Parcel Identification System between 2004 and 2006.

But addressing the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this week, Ms Gildernew said the commission’s demands for repayment, made earlier this year, had been disproportionate.

A legal challenge against the fine had “a reasonable prospect of success”, she added.

Ms Gildernew said she was committed the latest mapping system would meet the commission’s standards and that the government was working closely with the Ulster Farmers Union and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers’ Association to ensure maps were issued to farmers in an orderly way.

The Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development had begun a project to re-map all farms in the LPIS in a bid to correct previous errors, which comprised of almost 750,000 separate fields, she added.