As details emerged this week about the Department’s final stage of issuing farm maps, Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA has slammed the Department of Agriculture for ‘continuing to preside over a catalogue of failures.’
The Upper Bann MLA made her points at this week’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee meeting at Stormont at which the issue of farm mapping was discussed.
She said: "Once again the Farmer is left at the mercy of DARD. We have just learned from them that there is a‘software error’ within their LPIS mapping system, but yet they have given us precious little details about it.
“Farmers have a right to know the full details of this error, but from what little we do know, maps sent to farmers in the final batch may well have mistakes and missing elements on them, including missing fields. We were told that in total, 4,786 maps were sent out to farmers in this batch on 6 February.
“I have written directly to the Minister for her urgent clarification on this issue, especially for details of how a ‘software error’ could occur in a system which costs the taxpayer so much to administer and is no-doubt operated by a considerable number of DARD officials.
“The Department have just made the job of farmers checking their maps doubly difficult; as if it wasn’t a difficult enough process to begin with. They must not be left at any disadvantage because of any errors within the Department.”
The Upper Bann MLA also raised the issue of the time in which farmers who received their maps in the final batch have to discuss any errors or omissions on their maps with department officials at DARD Direct offices.
She said: "For farmers, through no fault of their own, to be handed such a short window of time in which to discuss any issues they may have with their farm maps is wholly wrong.
“This, coupled with the fact that maps could now contain errors, is clear proof if it were needed that DARD continues to preside over a catalogue of failures. The true nature of these errors must be disclosed, and I am determined to work to this end.
“Were the shoe on the other foot, we can be absolutely sure that the Department wouldn’t show any leniency at all toward farmers. However, they expect them to comply with their rules even when they have not made a single mistake, or put a foot wrong. This is entirely unacceptable.
“Whilst I am told that DARD Direct offices which are experiencing high demand will operate outside normal opening hours, this still leaves many farmers disadvantaged.
“The Department must own up to their responsibilities, immediately contact those farmers who have been affected by this ‘software error,’ to give them full information and assistance with their maps to make sure that they are in no way disadvantaged.
“They must provide those farmers who have received their maps in this final batch a fair timescale which will let them fully address any issues and, if necessary, amend their maps.”