Report calls for appeals review panel
A LONG-AWAITED review of the legislation governing agricultural appeals has been published.
It follows concerns over inspections raised frequently over the years by farming bodies, with the spotlight on north Tipperary last year.
The Agriculture Appeals Office received 9,708 valid appeal cases since 2002. The 77page report said several review submissions had remarked on the “perception” of the independence of the Appeals Office. It found that evidence would suggest the appeals officers “do act independently” of the Agriculture Department, however, there were mechanisms that could be put in place to provide for “greater transparency”.
It found there is a need to provide farmers with full details of the decision-making process from the time of initial decision and inspection, the review process, the Appeals Office, the Office of the Ombudsman and the right to initiate legal action. “Such information should be provided as a hard and soft copy booklet so it can be available to all claimants,” it stated.
The committee recommended the introduction of an independent Agriculture Appeals Review Panel where reviews of the decisions of appeals officers are sought would “underpin public confidence”.
It recommended a review should only be sought for six months from the date of the decision by the Appeals Officer. A fee was recommended for taking the appeal to the next stage of the independent review panel. In addition, it found the Department should broaden the pool from which appeals officers are recruited and plans for training for appeals officers should be developed further.
It found general difficulties raised by the appeals office should be submitted to the Farmers’ Charter committee.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said the programme for government had provided for a review of the Agriculture Appeals Act 2001 to “ensure the independence and efficiency of the office in dealing with appeals from farmers”.
He said the recommendations were currently being considered.