29/09/2010

Gildernew Slammed On Mapping 'Fiasco'

The Stormont Agriculture Minister has been challenged over her role in what has been labelled a "fiasco".

The newly elected Ulster Unionist Party Leader Tom Elliott has said that Executive Minister, Michelle Gildernew, has "serious questions to answer" over the satellite mapping problems which led to the European Union Disallowance of European Agricultural Funds.

"While I agree that efforts must be made to prevent the EU Disallowance threat, the Department must take responsibility for its failings," the MLA said last night.

The attack comes juts hours after a statement to the Assembly by the Sinn Fein Minister who confirmed that the Depratment of Agriculture was "taking its fight against EU disallowance to the European Court of Justice".

"I can confirm that the Department is taking the necessary steps to take a case to the European Court of Justice and that it has the support of the Executive in this matter.

"The action will be taken by the Department, with appropriate legal advice from the member state and from the Attorney General's office," she said, but noted that action is being taken "to mitigate against further disallowance by ensuring greater compliance with the Commission's requirements".

She said that the mapping system had proved largely satisfactory for the purposes of production based schemes, but turned out to be unsatisfactory for the purposes of Single Farm Payment (SFP).

"We have commissioned the re-mapping of all farms within the system and will systematically review, and where necessary amend, every field within the mapping system - that's nearly 750,000 separate fields.

"Additional resources are being brought onstream to do this work, including 60 planners who have been redeployed to assist in this work," she told fellow MLAs.

"We have also improved the quality of the on-farm inspections by providing better training for inspectors; introduced mobile mapping with all inspections being supported by ortho-photography since 2009; increased the resources available for inspection and issued new guidance to inspectors."

Commenting on the problems suffered by the Minister, Tom Elliott said: "A geographic information system (GIS) was introduced for the purposes of more accurate mapping.

"At the time there was a great deal of controversy, with farmers deeply concerned by the disparity between old farm maps and this new system.

"Having been told that the GIS system was the official system to be used, we now find that it has brought us to a situation where questions are being raised about its accuracy, and millions of pounds are owed to the EU," he said.

"This scandalous circumstance is not acceptable, particularly in a time when farmers are under increasing pressure, as indeed is the entire economy.

"There is something very wrong when an system with such startling inadequacies was implemented in the first place.

"Indeed, with the EU seeking to claw back vast amounts of money, it seems like a case of too little too late," he concluded.

(BMcC/GK)

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