Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

226 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if he will pay an early instalment of the ewe premium scheme to sheep farmers, in view of the fact that they are now unable to sell sheep other than directly to the factory; if his attention has been drawn to the financial problems that many sheep farmers have due to the restrictions on trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7658/01]

I appreciate that the current controls, which are necessary to minimise the risk of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, may be causing difficulties for certain sheep farmers.

I regret, however, that it is not possible to pay an early instalment of the 2001 ewe premium, as the EU regulations governing the scheme do not permit me to do this. In addition, the retention period for the 2001 ewe premium has not yet been completed.

Payments totalling £25 million under the final instalment of the 2000 ewe premium began last month. Furthermore, I would point out that market prices in recent weeks have been extremely strong for Irish sheep producers.