I propose to take Questions Nos. 82 and 109 together.
The recent statistics from the Central Statistics Office indicate the difficulties faced by the sheep industry. The decline in the Irish sheep sector is not an isolated phenomenon. Similar declines are evident in most of the sheep-producing countries of Europe. The Sheep Industry Development Strategy Group recognised the problems facing the industry and put forward a series of recommendations to address them. Some considerable progress has been made by my Department in implementing the Group's recommendations which are within its remit. These include: A new company called ‘Sheep Ireland' which will take over the Department's current breed improvement programme has been established to develop a new programme. An interim Sheep Board, comprising representatives of farming organisations and breeders has been established to oversee this process, with the Irish Cattle Breeders Federation (ICBF) providing the technical and professional service required.
My Department secured European Commission approval for a new supplementary measure in REPS 4 promoting mixed grazing of cattle and sheep. Under this supplementary measure a farmer can qualify for a top up on his or her basic REPS payment. A trial to examine the feasibility of mechanical carcass classification for lamb was conducted last year. The results of this trial are being analysed. It is hoped that the system will allow for the accurate and objective mechanical classification of lamb carcasses and will gain universal industry support. This would aid greatly in price transparency, which is a prerequisite for efforts to improve quality and respond to the needs of the market.
The Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme was established in 2007. This Scheme which is operated by Bord Bia, now has over 7000 participants and it is hoped to increase the participation rate during the current year. Bord Bia has intensified its efforts to promote lamb on home and export markets. Together with its UK and French counterparts it is part of a generic promotion campaign on the important French market.
Teagasc have developed a comprehensive plan to restructure their sheep support services, including a programme for Technology Evaluation and Transfer farms, which include hill and lowland areas. This approach will provide an opportunity to develop a dialogue with sheep farmers about the application of the latest management practices to their enterprises and to identify research and development needs.
The actions being taken by my Department and the state agencies under its aegis are in addition to those being taken by the Industry. I am satisfied that taken together, all of these actions will in the long term, be of significant benefit to the sheep sector. It should also be pointed out that this sector benefits significantly from the main schemes operated by my Department — the Single Farm Payment, the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme and REPS. I was also conscious of the needs of the sheep sector in deciding that the €7 million available from the National Reserve in 2009, should be used on the sector. That funding will be used on a new Uplands Sheep Payment this year, which is expected to benefit approximately 14,000 hill sheep farmers. In addition, Bord Bia will spend up to €1 million on the promotion of sheep and lamb at home and abroad in 2009, and Teagasc has allocated almost €1.5 million for sheep research.
You will also be aware that under the final agreement on the Health Check of the CAP, Ireland will have access to additional funds of the order of €25 million annually from unspent CAP funds from 2010. In accordance with the requirements of the regulation, these funds can be used to address specific disadvantages affecting farmers in the dairy, beef and veal, sheep and goat and other sectors. My main priority in allocating these funds is to ensure that they are used in the most efficient and effective manner for the development of Irish agriculture. Having consulted widely with all stakeholders, I am currently examining all proposals received, including those for the sheep sector and I hope to make an announcement in relation to the use of these funds in the coming weeks.