Setting out her priorities for 2015 Minister O’Neill said: "It was fitting to note that we ended 2014 with a record performance of 95 per cent of approximately 30,000 farmers receiving their Single Farm Payment (SFP) in December. These are the best results the department has delivered since the introduction of SFP in 2005. However, my officials will continue to process remaining claims as quickly as possible and I would appeal to the farming community to work with us to ensure any outstanding claims are settled quickly.
"In 2014 tough decisions were required under reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and in doing so I undertook comprehensive engagement across the farming community before reaching what I firmly believe were balanced decisions for the betterment of all farmers right across the north of Ireland.
"2015 will herald significant changes in payments to farmers. The eligibility rules will change so my Department currently has a major focus on communicating these new rules to farmers. The new payments for 2015 are the Basic Payment, the Greening Payment and the Young Farmer Payment.
"One of the biggest changes here is that the payments are not designed for landowners who let their land in conacre. The eligible claimant is the active farmer using the land. It is not sufficient simply to be the owner of the land. The Department will put new controls in place to identify claimants who are not themselves the active farmer.
"The Greening Payment will have particular implications for farmers who have larger areas of arable land and the Young Farmer Payment is intended for younger farmers with a qualification who are taking control of the farm.
"The detailed rules and requirements are largely in place now and a considerable amount of information is available on the Department’s websiteexternal link. I have also committed to invest in the information and communications technology to comply with Europe’s requirements and help farmers avoid penalties. My message to claimants in 2015 is simple: make sure you claim online rather than on paper, make sure your maps are accurate and make sure you meet the eligibility rules to ensure faster payment."
Having recently secured an increase in prawn fishing quotas for 2015 Minister O’Neill said she will welcome the opportunity to work with the fishing industry on a number of forthcoming strategies.
She said: "I look forward to progressing the implementation of the Inshore Fisheries Strategy that was launched in December 2014 in partnership with inshore stakeholders and to the launch, later in 2015, of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which will replace the current European Fisheries Fund, and which will provide support to the fishing industry up to 2020."