Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, has announced the commencement of balancing payments to all eligible farmers under year two of the Sheep Welfare Scheme.

The scheme is co-funded by the EU as part of Ireland’s Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2014-2020 and provides support to farmers undertaking actions which make a positive contribution to flock welfare.

“Following the issuing of the 85% advance payments to farmers in mid-November, I am happy to confirm that the 15% balancing payments under the Sheep Welfare Scheme have now commenced,” the minister said.

“This scheme continues to reflect the commitment of this Government to the sheep sector in Ireland and has provided a welcome additional stream of income to sheep farmers which was not previously available.”

The minister went on to say that the roll out of the balancing payments brings the total paid under the scheme to almost €17 million.

“19,000 farmers have also been provided with a significant financial boost as has the sheep sector in general and the wider rural economy,” he continued.

“I would urge farmers with outstanding queries to respond to the department immediately in order to facilitate payment. Payments will continue to issue on an ongoing basis as eligibility is confirmed for farmers with outstanding queries.”

‘ICSA protest’

Meanwhile, the announcement comes just days after sheep farmers protested outside Irish Country Meats in Co. Wexford.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association’s (ICSA’s) Sheep Committee staged the protest in an effort to highlight to the powers that be that sheep farmers were being “hammered with savage price cuts”.

Chairman Séan McNamara added: “There is no way sheep farmers can bear these sorts of price cuts and if they continue most of us will not be able to stay going.

Our produce has been rendered virtually worthless; we might as well be giving it away for free.

“It costs a lot of money to rear these lambs and we need to be getting a minimum of €7/kg to make it viable.”