Agriculture minister meets farmers over aid package

The Department of Agriculture published a list of farmers eligible for help that did not include areas in Tyrone and Londonderry

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has met farmers in the Sperrin mountains following concerns over the aid package for those affected by recent snowfall.

She said she wanted to reassure them that they will be included in the hardship payments.

The Department of Agriculture published a postcode list of places eligible for help, but it did not cover all areas.

However, the minister said any farmers affected would be included.

Last week, the executive agreed an aid package worth up to £5m to help those who have lost livestock in the recent heavy snowfalls.

The executive will also pay for the collection and disposal of sheep that died in the blizzard.

Ms O'Neill said the postcode list had originally focused on counties Antrim and Down because they had been affected by heavy snowfall in a "widespread manner".

"I want to assure farmers that if they were affected by the snow storm and they are having their animals collected, they will be included in the scheme," she added.

"There will be no different treatment for the farmers in the Sperrins as there will be for the farmers in Down and Antrim."

However, the president of the Ulster Farmers' Union, Harry Sinclair, said farmers have been told few details of the hardship package and they needed clarity.

'Help needed'

"People who are affected know there is supposed to be help coming but when you are in that moment of despair, you need to know what is going to happen now," he said.

"They need help to maintain the stock that remain. A lot of extra feed is needed and most of these farmers, because of their low income from last year, do not have the resources to fund that.

"They are not the type of people who would be able to go and negotiate large bank overdrafts so a lot of them are in a difficult position and need help immediately," said Mr Sinclair.

Frankie McCullagh has a farm on a remote part of Slieve Croob, near Castlewellan, in County Down.

Start Quote

I've lost 30 ewes already, some had to be humanely killed and 20 are still missing”

End Quote Frankie McCullagh Farmer

He said he had been digging dead sheep out of the snow and had to buy extra food for the remaining livestock.

He claimed because of where he lives he will not have to pay for the disposal of the animals, but will not be eligible for hardship payments.

"I'm just outside the post codes DARD have called a priority. My farm reaches the very top of Slieve Croob and I have it just as hard as anyone," he said.

"I've lost 30 ewes already, some had to be humanely killed. Twenty are still missing. Forty lambs died as well and we're still finding more.

"It's not near over when the thaw comes."

BBC Northern Ireland's Ita Dungan filmed the scene at Mr McCullagh's farm.

In a statement, DARD said farmers must have been severely affected by the snow and have fallen livestock collected by approved renderers during the period 2 - 15 April to be eligible for aid.

It added: "While there is a list of 'eligible postcodes, this does not exclude other farmers from other areas who have suffered severe livestock losses as a result of the snow storm.

"We appreciate that there are smaller discrete areas in other locations in the north where farmers have been equally affected by the snow storm."

Farmers who feel they should be eligible, but are not in the published postcode areas, are being urged to ring the DARD helpline 0300 200 7852.

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