LESSONS MUST BE LEARNED FROM SPECTACULAR BEAM SCHEME MESS

‘It cannot be emphasised strongly enough that ICSA and others warned the Minister and his officials at the very outset that the scheme was unworkable’

Sligo News File

Edmund Graham, chairman ICSA Beef Committee

ICSA Beef chair Edmund Graham has said the final figures for the BEAM scheme show what a spectacular mess was made of devising a scheme that was meant to help farmers in deep difficulty. “It is a stunning indictment of the Department that a scheme that was meant to deliver €100 million to farmers has ended up delivering about €60 million. Lessons must be learned from this.

“It cannot be emphasised strongly enough that ICSA and others warned the Minister and his officials at the very outset that the scheme was unworkable. It all went wrong when officials accepted unworkable conditionality in the EU regulations for a scheme that was specifically tailored for Ireland.

“Lessons must be learned. This fad for conditionality is creeping in more and more and it must be tackled head on. Either there is a case to help farmers or there isn’t. In the case of BEAM, farmers had suffered a serious price collapse due to Brexit disruption which was not their fault. The EU and the Department of Public Expenditure both accepted that there was a case to help farmers in trouble and accordingly allocated €100 million.

“The initial application process showed that farmers foresaw difficulties with the scheme as their applications were for about €78 million. However, the final results show that about 11,000 of the 33,00 applicants will be subjected to clawbacks, and some 95% of those will lose the full payment.

“This is shocking stuff. ICSA has been contacted by members who are now in deep difficulty. In some cases, the immediate clawback of €10,000 is causing serious cash flow stresses. It is very wrong that to add insult to injury, these farmers are being threatened with punitive interest charges. ICSA is insisting that farmers should not be charged interest especially given that Irish government bonds are at close to zero rates.

“However, the big lesson that must be taken from this is that the Department must engage in a meaningful way at an early stage with farm representatives when designing schemes, in order to iron out problems. Unfortunately, the trend in recent years has been to present schemes as a done deal far too late in the process.

In addition, the Department has allowed Brussels to impose its views, even though it is evident that the EU has increasingly taken an idealistic view in relation to policy which is divorced from reality on the ground. This must be challenged, and it is particularly relevant to the CAP plan. We need our Minister to do much more to engage with farm representatives and to stand up to EU bureaucrats.”