Sheep farmers to get €54m over three years
STRUGGLING sheep farmers have been given a €54m boost that will amount to a payment of €10 per sheep.
Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith yesterday launched the three-year scheme, which is coming from unused Common Agricultural Policy funds, saying it "would provide a very important and timely boost to support incomes in the sheep sector".
Sheep numbers have halved from 4.4 million in 1996 to just 2.2 million because of poor returns and strong competition from New Zealand, and Mr Smith said he had identified it as a vulnerable sector.
Lamb production was worth around €250m a year to the Irish economy, and two-thirds of the meat produced here was exported to Europe, making it an important export market.
Irish Farmers' Association president John Bryan said the move would give a strong confidence boost for the start of the new lamb season.
But Fine Gael agriculture spokesman Michael Creed said that there was a lack of strategic objectives in the new scheme, even though the €54m allocation should be good news.
"I regret very much the minister's failure to achieve a single strategic objective in return for this much needed capital injection for the industry," Mr Creed said.