Sinn Féin’s spokesperson for agriculture, Claire Kerrane, has called on Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, to provide clarity on the measures he plans to implement to support Irish sheep farmers. This comes after similar appeals from the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA), the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), and the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) for financial assistance for the sector. Meat factories have recently reduced prices for spring lambs, while cautioning farmers about poor killouts. Deputy Kerrane highlighted the significant challenges faced by sheep farmers, with lamb prices falling and input costs rising.
The IFA has described the situation as a “crisis,” while the ICSA has stated that sheep farmers cannot sustain themselves with consistently worsening prices. Kerrane has repeatedly raised this issue with Minister McConalogue, seeking clarity on the support measures he plans to implement. While the minister has acknowledged the difficulties faced by sheep farmers, he has not specified any additional support for the sector. In a parliamentary session in May, when questioned about this matter, the minister stated that officials are monitoring the sheep market situation and that the government will make every effort to support the sector.
Kerrane also mentioned the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) as a potential avenue to explore for funding. However, the minister dismissed this suggestion. While funding under the BAR has been announced for the organics sector, the exclusion of sheep farmers from receiving funding raises questions. Kerrane called on the minister to provide details on the terms considered by his department and the reasons for not utilizing the BAR to support the sheep sector.
There have been demands for the €9.5 million funding allocated to Ireland by the EU Commission to be used for financial assistance in the sheep sector. This support package aims to help farmers affected by adverse climate events, high input costs, and market and trade-related issues. The government has the option to top up the allocation by 200%, resulting in a potential total fund of €28.5 million. The minister has yet to clarify how he plans to utilize this package, but member states are required to inform the commission about their allocation plans. Kerrane has requested that the minister publish this information as soon as possible.
Kerrane stressed the importance of the minister providing much-needed assistance to the sheep sector and called on him to do so immediately. It is crucial for the future of Irish sheep farming that the government takes concrete steps to support farmers facing ongoing challenges in the industry.