The Department of Agriculture has agreed to conduct a review of the equality and human rights implications of ending the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme.
Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer welcomed the move, which comes in response to concerns raised by Sinn Féin, and called for the scheme to be protected.
The West Tyrone MLA said: “Sinn Féin raised concerns with the department regarding their equality and human rights processes because we do not believe a decision to end this scheme is consistent with their equality obligations.
“The ANC scheme, which is worth almost £20 million per annum, provides vital assistance to hill farmers and those struggling to make an adequate income from land that would not otherwise be viable.
“If the scheme ends as planned this year, these already disadvantaged farmers will be severely hit so it is our view that the Department needs to urgently review its plans in line with its equality obligations.”
A spokesperson for the department explained: “An Equality and Human Rights Screening template was prepared and published as part of the public consultation documentation on Options for Future Support to ANC in February 2016. No comments were received from stakeholders in respect of the content of the Equality and Human Rights Screening template during the consultation.
“Sinn Féin has recently sought a review of the screening decision contained within this template based on paragraph 4.14 of the DAERA Equality Scheme 2016-2020 which states, “If a consultee, including the Equality Commission, raises a concern about a screening decision based on supporting evidence, we will review the decision.
“The review will assess the analysis and decision making undertaken in the preparation of this screening exercise.”