The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Mr Joe Walsh TD, has defended his Department`s approach to the valuation of sheep culled on the Cooley Peninsula in the context of the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak there.

Minister Walsh explained that the policy of the Department, as provided for by law, is to pay the market value of animals culled for FMD reasons. Following representations from the IFA when the cull in Cooley was at an advanced stage, the Department had accepted that certain sheep farmers appeared to have a case for review of their initial valuations. The Department made a commitment that it would conduct such a review along lines which were generally understood. The basis of such a review was a perceived inequity in the valuations of flocks culled, particularly those dealt with early in the process relative to those culled at a later date.

The Minister said that in line with its commitment, the Department had carried out a detailed review of such cases and concluded the exercise on 14 May. The review comprised an examination of valuations on 286 files, followed by a further investigation of 182 cases where it was established that this was warranted. Valuers were requested to re-examine these files and supplementary payments, totalling £415,000 and ranging in individual cases up to £ 23,500, were recommended. Supplementary payments were recommended in all but 34 of the 182 cases which were reviewed in detail. The Minister said that he had accepted these recommendations and the supplementary payments had been made to all concerned.

The Minister acknowledged that in the context of the necessary speed of response to the FMD emergency which faced the nation, it was perhaps inevitable that some anomalies in valuation of culled stock would arise. “Where such anomalies occurred, I was anxious that the Department would address them objectively and fairly and that is why we agreed to the request to conduct a review of certain initial valuations”, the Minister said.

“It is however important that all concerned recognise that the focus and parameters of the exercise was the market value of the animals which were actually culled. It could never be a case of the Department simply paying farmers in Cooley or anywhere else where animals were culled in the context of our response to FMD what each farmer thought his animals were worth. Nor was it the case that payments would be equivalent in all cases, given variations in the type and quality of stock involved. The Department was bound to take account of market values and demands which could not be justified on that basis were from the very outset clearly outside the scope of the exercise”.

Minister Walsh said that he was satisfied that the valuation review in relation to the Cooley flocks had been conducted in a fair, detailed, professional and speedy manner, and that he considered the matter closed.

The Minister added that his Department had begun the process of permitting on a case-by-case basis the limited re-stocking of cattle on the Cooley Peninsula. Re-stocking of sheep is not yet permitted and certain areas may not for the time being be re-stocked with cattle. “The limited re-stocking which we are facilitating, which will in time lead to the eventual re-population of Cooley with cattle, sheep and other species, signals the beginning of a gradual return to normality in farming in the area. The repercussions of the FMD case which occurred in Cooley have been particularly difficult for the people of the area and I am glad that the first steps are now being made to restore livestock farming there to normality. This will take time and my Department along with other Departments and State agencies will play its part in the process”.