IRISH FARMERS have launched a stinging attack on their agriculture minister Joe Walsh following a further delay to introducing the new Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

The REPS 3 scheme was expected to come into effect this week, following approval by the Brussels-based STAR committee.

But it was held up when the Spanish delegation complained that the payments were being targeted at a limited number of hectares rather than the farm as a whole, as required by EU law.

This will have to be sorted out so the scheme can be passed at the next meeting in late June.

The delay has come as an embarrassment to Mr Walsh who last week briefed the industry that REPS 3 would be up and running this week.

“Not for the first time, the minister has failed to deliver on his commitments,” said Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association president Pat O’Rourke.

“His miscalculation has created serious problems for those farmers planning on joining REPS 3.”

Irish Cattle and Sheep Association president Malcolm Thompson said the delay would jeopardise participation targets.

“It is particularly disappointing that one member state could block the new scheme, when it is clear REPS is a successful programme delivering huge environmental benefits.”

REPS 3 was expected to pay farmers a basic €200/ha (£136) on the first 20ha, €175/ha (£119) on the next 20ha, and €75/ha (£51) on the last 15ha.

These rates may have to be looked at again if it is confirmed that the money has to be spread over a farm‘s whole area.

But the Irish Farmers Association said there must be no dilution of the first payments.

“This mess is not the farmers‘ fault or the IFA‘s fault. It is a problem between the government and the commission that should have been spotted years ago,” said IFA environmental adviser Gerry Gunning

The department of agriculture did have one piece of good news for the industry.

Following further discussions with the commission it was agreed that, once REPS 3 is approved, farmers in REPS 2 will be able to benefit from the new higher payments immediately if their anniversary date falls on or after March 1.

It had been expected that no backdating would be possible.