Poots has ‘no intention’ to overturn appeal panel decisions

Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has said he has “no intentions” to overturn decisions on direct payment appeals made by the Independent Panel.

In March it was announced the Minister of Agriculture will be the final decision-maker in future reviews of area-based scheme payments, which have been heard by an independent panel.

Current cases where the department has not yet issued a decision will now also be referred to Minister Poots.

However, Poots has now said that while he will now be the final decision-maker for the purposes of the scheme’s management, he has no intention to change decisions made by the panel.

‘No point in having a panel if decisions are overturned’ – Poots

Responding to a question from Ulster Unionist Party MLA Rosemary Barton during his most recent Minister’s Questions slot, Poots said: “Legally, it would appear that it ends with the minister, but I have made it very clear that this minister has no intention of overturning the views that have been expressed by an independent panel.

“Unfortunately, that was not the case for many years, and quite a number of appeal cases that went to the independent panel were overturned. I disagree with that.

“There is no point in having an independent panel and the minister then being lobbied by officials and overturning the views of the Independent Panel.

“It is a much fairer process if someone goes to an independent panel and makes their case and argument and it is accepted that the minister will accept the decision of that panel.”

The news will be welcomed by those who have been long campaigning for change to the appeals process.

Under current arrangements, where a farmer is dissatisfied with the department’s decision on their scheme application, they can ask for a review.

As part of the Review of Decision process, an independent panel will give its assessment of the case.

Currently, the Independent Panel hears the case and makes a recommendation to the department, which makes the final decision without the minister’s input.

However, the process has come under scrutiny following the Barnwell Farms judicial review – a case in which a favourable decision towards the applicant made by the Independent Panel was overturned by the department.