Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

EU farming map error 'unfortunate'

Government maps used to process EU funding for farmers contained mistakes, the agriculture minister said

Mistakes on thousands of Government maps used to process EU funding for farmers were unfortunate, the Agriculture Minister has conceded.

Michelle O'Neill was forced to bat away criticism of the blunder which affected more than 3,000 farmers across Northern Ireland. Speaking during Question Time at the Assembly, she said the issue should not be blown out of proportion.

She said: "It is unfortunate that it happened but it was identified very quickly. All farmers have been informed and have been given additional time to complete their paperwork."

A total of 38,000 maps were issued in three batches to farmers applying for a share of the £300 million Single Farm Payment European Union subsidy. A computer glitch resulted in errors being made on 3,000 maps which were despatched during the final stage.

Many farmers found they had 'lost' fields in the new maps.

Ms O'Neill said those affected had been granted a two-week extension to complete the necessary funding paperwork. She also said she was content the issue was being dealt with.

"I am confident that we have been on a difficult journey but we are very close to being complete - having maps that are fit for purpose," Ms O'Neill added.

The Ulster Farmers Union claimed the mistakes had put farmers under increased pressure.

Jo-Anne Dobson, Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann, said: "This sorry episode is really only typical of what we have come to expect from a department which blunders from one humiliation to another. In any other profession the Minister and those responsible would have been sacked months ago."

Ms Dobson claimed the mapping mistakes had also impacted on farmers whose maps were correct because they had experienced difficulties in making appointments with their local DARD direct office.

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