The Irish government has re‑opened the Poultry Welfare Scheme, to help egg producers upgrade their facilities in advance of the conventional cage ban on 1 January 2012.

The scheme was suspended on 8 June as minister for agriculture Simon Coveney TD wanted to clarify the availability of funds. Now he has announced a further €4.8 million, bringing the total grants to €16 million.

According to Owen Brooks, secretary general of the Irish Egg Association, one million caged hens are now in compliant accommodation, but about 200,000 remain.

“Given that you cannot start (work on facilities) until the grant is approved, it would be difficult enough to complete, but they were looking at extending the completion date,” he said. He added that the grant may be more suitable for those who were ready to apply when the scheme was suspended.

The department of agriculture said the final date for applications is 12 August 2011. Application forms for the suspended scheme can still be used, and the standard terms and conditions will continue to apply. If applications exceed the allocated funds, selection criteria will be used.

According to Mr Brooks, the majority will be compliant in Ireland by January 2012. Of more concern is the estimated 20%-plus of hens in the EU that will not be compliant to cage legislation and will distort the market, he said.

It is estimated that conversion will cost the Irish industry €40m.