The position is that, following very depressed markets for sheep in the autumn of 1998 coupled with a severe shortage of fodder, I introduced the ewe supplementary measure 1998. Under this measure farmers with commonage land in the six western counties of Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo, Galway and Kerry who were not already participating in the rural environment protection scheme, were required to reduce their ewe number by some 30%. Arrangements were made with the meat factories whereby the sheep removed from the commonages were slaughtered at no expense to the farmers concerned. In addition, all of the sheep farmers with commonage land in the counties concerned were entitled to a fodder related top-up payment equal to £10 per ewe on 70% of their sheep quota. In total, fodder related payments amounting to some £5.423 million were made to 5,436 sheep farmers under this scheme. In addition, some £887,462 was paid to the meat factories that facilitated disposal of boner and condemned ewes removed from commonages.
The EU Commission has indicated that approval will be forthcoming for that element of the scheme which involved fodder related payments to individual farmers with commonage land. There should be no question, therefore, of farmers having to repay the money they received under this scheme. Final approval for that element of the scheme which involved payment of £887,462 to meat factories has not yet been secured. My officials are in contact with the Commission with a view to securing final approval for this particular element of the scheme.