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Minister Coughlan re-affirms her commitment to simplifying Single Payment Scheme

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan T.D., today pointed to her continued efforts to simplify procedures and controls in delivering the Single Payment Scheme. Her Department had now made arrangements which will allow farmers to apply on-line for the Single Payment Scheme in 2007. The facility is available to farmers and their agents, who register for on-line services with the Department of Agriculture and Food. Minister Coughlan said that more than 8,000 farmers had already registered and she was advising other farmers that wish to submit an on-line application in 2007 to register immediately.

Minster Coughlan said that she had been consistent in her support for simplification of the Single Payment Scheme conditions since taking office in 2004. She and her Department had raised issues concerning inspections, advance notice and tolerance on several occasions with the Commissioner and the Commission services, and was particularly happy to give her fulsome backing to the simplification initiative of Commissioner Fischer Boel last autumn. More recently the Minister had again formally put her concerns and simplification requirements to the Commissioner and the President of the Council, Minister Seehofer. She had been most active in putting forward her views at the January Council of Ministers meeting when several Ministers lent their voices to the demand for more simple and clear-cut processes. Minister Coughlan believed that the Commission was now listening intently to the Member States and she looked forward to the Commission's proposals regarding simplification and to their report on cross compliance expected in the next month or so. She very much welcomed the commitment of the German presidency to the simplification process and the priority given to the subject by Minister Seehofer.

While being in the vanguard in promoting the Single Payment Scheme simplification agenda, Minister Coughlan recognised the legal requirements to ensure proper controls and accountability in the disbursement of taxpayers money - EU and national. She said that she could not put at risk the annual €1.3 billion Single Payment Scheme funding for Irish farmers. The Minister believed, however, the adequacy of the safeguards and necessary controls under the Single Payment Scheme, would in no way be compromised by sensible and proportionate adaptation of the current rules set down the European Commission.

While it is sometimes forgotten that we have moved from 18,000 inspections a year under the old coupled system to 8,000 under the decoupled system, Minister Coughlan said that she is fully aware of the concerns of farmers regarding the Single Payment Scheme controls. Her Department will be meeting the farm bodies in the coming weeks before the start of the 2007 inspections and will consider carefully their viewpoints. The Minister said that the Department would be availing of any discretion open to it but that there were limits clearly established by Brussels. Any further flexibility delivered by the Commission in the simplification process would be reflected in the Department's procedures at the earliest opportunity, Minister Coughlan concluded.

19 February, 2007

Date Released: 19 February 2007