A top-up for hill farmers in the proposed new sheep scheme has been ruled out by the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed.

The idea had been mooted by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, which called on the Government to provide additional support to hill sheep farmers.

However, in the Dail this week Minister Creed said the Department of Agriculture is aiming to develop a scheme that will include a menu of options that will reflect the different management practices associated with either lowland or hill sheep farming.

Therefore, he said there will not be additional costs incurred by hill sheep as opposed to lowland sheep farmers in the suite of options available.

“The necessity for a top-up payment would not arise because there would be appropriate measures in place for hill and lowland sheep farmers,” he said.

The Minster also said that it is his ambition is to have payments made in 2017 as per the commitment made in the programme for Government and, therefore, to conclude the negotiations with the Commission.

“In that respect, I appreciate that sometimes we await decisions from the Commission and that sometimes we have to finalise the paperwork. We have a broad outline of the scheme and are discussing the detail with the Commission.

“That process will continue, but I hope to get Commission approval in 2016 and be in a position to invite applications, if not late this year, certainly early in 2017 with a view making payments at the earliest possible date thereafter,” the Minister said.

The Programme for Government has made a clear commitment to providing €25m for a new sheep support scheme under the RDP.

It is understood an across-the-board payment in the region of €10/ewe will be made to all those involved, with the Department insisting that the menu of options available will take account of the different management structures in place on individual farms.

The sheep sector is the third largest farming sector in Ireland with over 34,000 producers and exports worth €230m in 2015. It makes a vital contribution to our rural economy.