Irish sheep farmers cannot “take punch after punch” without financial assistance from Government, Sinn Féin’s agriculture spokesperson Matt Carthy TD has said.
Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, he took aim at Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State Martin Heydon.
On 9 March, Minister Heydon told the Dáil that they had asked “officials in the Department to examine what potential supports, if any, could be put in place to support sheep farmers in light of the recent challenges”.
This Thursday, Minister McConalogue said that the issues in the sector are being monitored “very closely”.
Deputy Carthy said he was surprised with the response from Government.
“When I raised this issue as a priority oral question at the beginning of March, the response to the question was that the Minister had directed officials in the Department of Agriculture to examine potential supports,” Deputy Carthy said.
“What are officials being directed to do now? They are now asked to continue to closely monitor developments. We’re actually further away from what sheep farmers need, which is direct new supports, than we were a month ago.
They can’t take punch after punch without assistance from Government
“Sheep farmers, like many sectors, weathered what has been an unprecedented confluence of challenges over the last couple of years,” he added, stating that 47,000 sheep farmers in the State are under pressure.
“The majority of sheep farmers are very close to being organic as they are. The reason they don’t move towards organic is because there’s no market for that product.
“It’s simply not good enough that the Government has no role in the market, that the agri-food regulator can have no role in competition. Farmers understand economic viability and the swings that markets can have.
“They can’t take punch after punch without assistance from Government.
“Just as farmers put money aside to prepare for good times as well as the bad, the Government must support farmers to help them absorb the blows in more challenging times,” he said, adding that the Minister “hasn’t invested sufficiently” in sheep farmers.
He reiterated his call for a €20/ewe scheme.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice called on the Minister to intervene and sought a package to rescue the sheep sector.
“If we don’t, we’re going to lose the sector,” he said.
Sinn Féin TD for Carlow-Kilkenny Kathleen Funchion said that the price farmers get for wool can’t be considered as “fair trading” and that money from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve allocated to meat factories, in the absence of a fund for sheep farmers, was a “bitter pill” for sheep farmers to swallow.
Fine Gael TD for Mayo Alan Dillon questioned who will farm the land if sheep farmers exit the sector.
Minister McConalogue reiterated to the Dáil that Government has no role to play in the setting of sheep prices.
He said he has requested Bord Bia to intensify its marketing of Irish lamb and noted that lamb prices are now around the €6.70/kg mark due to demand for religious festivals.
“It’s something I will monitor very closely. I’m doing all I can in relation to underpinning and providing a platform for the sector,” he said.