Following on from my previous post, it appears that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) may soon find themselves in further difficulties over the recent Farm Modernisation Scheme debacle.
DARD could soon face legal confrontation with the EU Commission over the manner in which funding was allocated under the Farm Modernisation Scheme (FMS) after the EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel waded into the row.
Commissioner Fischer Boel has said that the way DARD distributed funding for the FMS was 'unacceptable' and that the 'first come-first serve' basis for funding allocation had broke EU laws.
This revelation further compounds the widespread criticism of DARD's handling of the issue and places the beleaguered Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew under further pressure.
The Minister's handling of this issue has been nothing short of ignorant and disgraceful. Never mind the fact that the move breached EU law - the manner in which farmers have been treated has been despicable.
It has had a major demoralising impact on the local agricultural sector with many farmers complaining that they felt demeaned, humiliated and like beggars.
Due to the current pressures on the industry farmers hands are tied financially and as a result they were virtually forced to stand in desperately long queues to compete for a small portion of what was already a small pot of funding.
£6m does not go along way in agriculture and the Department knew from the very start that demand for these funds would be high. They can not fake surprise now at a situation that has been looming for some time.
This allocation highlights considerable incompetency within the higher echelons of DARD and these people must be held to account.
If DARD has broke EU rules then it may be forced to launch a renewed process of fundiing allocation which will cause even further pain to those farmers who were first in line.
Considering the current state of farming industry the Minister should have known better than to approve the allocation of funding in this manner. It was unethical, inequitable and now possibly illegal.
The Minister must be held to account before the Assembly and more importantly she must apologise immediately to all those farmers who have been hurt by this whole mess.