Fianna Fáil’s Seanad Spokesperson on Agriculture, Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, has revealed that farmers in Co Donegal were forced to pay out nearly €500,000 in penalties under the Single Farm Payment scheme in 2013.

In reply to questions from Fianna Fáil, the Department of Agriculture has said admitted that more than €5m was taken in penalties from farm payments last year.

Farmers in Co Donegal were hit with among the highest level of penalties in the country, totalling an extortionate €499,118.

Senator Ó Domhnaill said the hefty fines are causing real hardship to farmers across Co Donegal.

“These fines are extremely harsh and totally unnecessary in most cases. Many of the penalties imposed are for innocent errors made because the process is overly complicated and bureaucratic,” said Senator Ó Domhnaill.

“I know many smaller farmers across Donegal who are already struggling with cuts to supports and increased operating costs. On top of all of this, they are being hit with hefty fines for errors mainly caused by the unreasonable level of red tape they must go through to receive their Single Farm Payment.

“It’s disgraceful that in Minister Coveney continues to allow Donegal farmers to pay the highest price when it comes to cuts and penalties. It’s further evidence of the Minister’s failure to stand up for the smaller farmers across the North West who are crippled by cuts to supports and unnecessary bills.

“Many Donegal farmers are becoming increasingly distressed about the high level of bureaucracy, penalties and inspections for extremely trivial issues. Many are choosing not to apply for supports because of the enormous amount of paperwork and procedures involved. Others are fearful of being hit with a penalty because of a minor mistake.

“This penalty system is a blunt instrument that makes no consideration of innocent errors and why they occurred. I am appealing to Minister Coveney to immediately review the scale of these penalties with a view to cancelling them or reducing them dramatically.

“I am also calling on the Minister to ensure that where innocent errors were made that were not the fault of the farmers themselves, the money taken from them be repaid in full,” said Senator Ó Domhnaill.

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