The European Commission will provide a ‘letter of comfort’ to the Department of Agriculture so as to enable it to open key new schemes in advance of full approval of Ireland’s Rural Development Plan (RDP).

Having already mooted the move in the Dail, prior to the Christmas recess, the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney told the Joint Committee on Agriculture that Commissioner Hogan has recently confirmed the move.

Minister Coveney said intensive negotiations with the Commission are ongoing and the Department has provided a range of requested information and clarifications to the Commission in relation to their observations and queries.

A total of 266 observations were received by the Department incorporating a range of informational, technical, legal and policy issues.

Minister Coveney said further meetings to clarify outstanding issues are scheduled to take place over the coming weeks.

According to the Minister, Commissioner Hogan has recently announced that the Commission will provide letters of comfort to Member States whose RDPs have been agreed with the Commission but are awaiting the full formal and legal adoption of the Programme.

This development, he said, should facilitate the earlier implementation of RDP schemes and supports across Member States.

“Given the need for continuity in relation to RDP schemes between Programming periods, my overriding goal now is to expedite the approval process,” the Minister said.

The Minister said that he hopes that by the middle of February he will be in a position to at least able make progress on the opening of GLAS with a view to opening other schemes in the middle of March.

“We are pushing really hard to get agreement in detail around the key schemes and to get a letter of comfort as soon as possible,” he said.