Estimates 1990 (Resumed). - Bovine Diseases (Levies) Regulations, 1990: Motion:

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:

Bovine Diseases (Levies) Regulations, 1990,

copies of which were laid in draft before Dáil Éireann on 27th June, 1990.

The proposed Regulations are being made under the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act, 1979. Their purpose is to provide an increased financial contribution towards the cost of the bovine TB and brucellosis eradication schemes. The additional funds are required primarily to fund the bovine TB eradication scheme which was initiated as long ago as 1954. By 1965 the level of infection had been greatly reduced but unfortunately progress since then has been very disappointing. Various explanations have been advanced for this failure with the unfortunate tendency to each of the interest groups involved to blame the others. The Government, therefore, in a new initiative established ERAD in 1988 with a management board made up of these interest groups. In this way it was hoped that a co-operative spirit would be developed which would enable sectional interests to work together towards the objective of disease eradication. ERAD were established with a Government commitment to maintain their financial contribution to the running costs of the eradication scheme at £31.585 million and to maintain bovine disease levies at £22 million.

Every Member of the House will be aware that this was a unique commitment given the overriding need to restore order to our public finances. The basis of the financing was that the farming community and the Government would fund the running costs in a ratio of approximately 2 to 1 and so a 50:50 basis when allowing for the costs of administration. Both the Government contribution and the rates of disease levies were increased in 1989 to provide for increased rates of grants to farmers for reactors. For some years before ERAD was established about 30,000 reactors were discovered each year and the finances for ERAD were broadly based on this level of extraction. However, the vigorous programme which ERAD implemented in 1989 identified 43,400 reactors. While the increase in the number of reactors might be seen as a cause of concern, one could equally interpet it as an indication of progress. Indeed this is my interpretation. The increased effort and expense incurred will be wasted if the necessary measures to finish the job are not accepted by all concerned and strenuously pursued.

I want to give full recognition to the improvements to the scheme which ERAD have brought about. For example, special measures were introduced aimed at high risk herds and blackspot areas. A reactor collection service was introduced to ensure that reactors are removed as quickly as possible. This service is provided free of charge to the herdowner and experience has shown that factory quotations are better under this system that those available to individual farmers.

For some time the Government have been giving serious consideration to these schemes and they have concluded that a number of aspects still require improvement. There is general agreement that the present provision whereby a pre-movement test is required before an animal may be moved unless it has been tested within four months does not provide adequate protection against lateral spread of infection. This is particularly important given the huge number of animal movements, which are estimated at 12 million per annum. In other words, a proper pre-movement test is critical to the success of the scheme. Various suggestions have been put forward to improve the situation, including a 30 day pre-movement test and a 60 day two stop test. This latter system would permit one further movement within seven days of a sale within the 60 days. I have considered the situation carefully and I consider that a reasonable compromise which would be fair to all sides and which would not unduly disrupt the cattle trade would be to introduce a 45 day pre-movement test. I have seen suggestions that this change will cost farmers an extra £10 million. I do not know the basis for this figure but it is unreasonable to look at a pre-movement test in terms of cost without taking any account of the benefit. The cost of buying-in an infected animal is much greater than any test.

I would like to take this opportunity to refute a belief which seems to have gained a certain amount of currency. I refer to the suggestion that only about 40 per cent of reactors prove to have TB onpost-mortem examination. I emphasise that the absence of visible lesions on postmortem examination is not proof that the animal in question is not infected. It is essential, if we are to make progress in the elimination of the disease, that all animals which react to the tuberculin test are removed and that this necessity is accepted by the farming community. It is the best test currently available to us.

The Government have accepted that additional funding for ERAD is necessary. While it is not possible at this stage to predict accurately the number of reactors which will be disclosed in the current round it is clear, nevertheless, that the number will exceed the capacity of the ERAD budget. The same will apply for 1991. ERAD are facing a shortfall in this year alone of up to £13 million and this budgetary problem will have to be resolved if the current programme is to continue. It would be unreasonable to expect all this amount to come directly from the Exchequer and the taxpayer generally. It has, therefore, been decided that as and from 1 August 1990 the rates of bovine diseases levies will be increased from £6.90 to £7.90 per animal slaughtered or exported live, and from 1.2p to 1.4p per gallon of milk received for processing. The increases in the levies are estimated to yield over £1 million in 1990 and approximately £3.5 million in a full year. These new rates will have to be maintained until such time as the farmer-Exchequer funding ratio of 2:1 is restored.

The Government have agreed that the Exchequer will provide £9 million extra this year and this signifies their commitment to the eradication programme. Therefore, the Exchequer will be meeting more than its share of the shortfall this year, a point which seems to have been forgotten by those who have been so critical of other aspects of the scheme. The provision of adequate financial resources is the cornerstone of a successful eradication programme. Stop-go funding has traditionally been identified as the main culprit in the lack of success. Stop-go funding is no longer a problem and the Government are determined to keep it that way. Even with adequate funding, the detailed elements should operate to the highest standards of efficiency. The quality of testing has become a cause of some concern in recent times. In this regard, I am pleased that ERAD have set up a quality control monitoring system as well as introducing new procedures to deal with cases of below standard testing. On the question of the testing arrangements generally, I have accepted a recommendation from the ERAD board which would allow for a detailed examination to be carried out with a view to achieving appropriate improvements for the 1991 testing programme. That is the earliest it can be done. In addition, the establishment of a task force to carry out a certain amount of testing is being examined at present within ERAD.

The involvement of wildlife has come under the spotlight. This is an emotive subject and, because of the strong views on either side, the debate tends to generate more heat than light. The Government have agreed that ERAD can carry out projects in two black spot areas and I believe that this, plus the normal licences issued for survey purposes by the Office of Public Works, will provide a useful and worthwhile programme on the ground.

In the area of research ERAD are engaged in several different projects at present. By far the most important is the work being done into the development of a blood based test for TB which initiated in Australia. A success in this area — and early indications are optimistic — would be of enormous value in both the disease eradication structures and their cost effectiveness. The Government also accept that a computerised movement permit system would be of enormous benefit to ERAD. However, such an expensive and complex project could not be introduced in isolation from the other computer needs of my Department. Work on the overall computerisation for my Department is advancing and ERAD will, or course, benefit accordingly. In the meantime, herdowners should consider the benefit of keeping their own records of the movement of cattle in and out of their own holdings.

This House and, indeed, the general public, are well aware of the very considerable State funding expended on the TB scheme since its inception in 1954. Considerable funds are still being pumped into the scheme and we are now at the point where results will have to be achieved.

It is important to point out that I have endorsed practically all the recommendations which have come from the board of ERAD. I am, therefore, very disappointed that the veterinary profession and the farm organisations have seen fit to withdraw, or threaten to withdraw, their representatives from the board of ERAD — it must be perplexing for the taxpayer. Expenditure on fees for private veterinary practitioners in the current year will be in the order of some £20 million which, incidentally, includes a substantial increase in the level of fees as recommended by independent assessment and accepted by the Government. In the circumstances, surely it is not unreasonable for ERAD to insist on a system for quality control of testing. Anything less would create a credibility problem.

To the farmer I repeat the national eradication effort has been undertaken to benefit the farming community and it is unrealistic and, indeed, unfair, to expect the taxpayer to continue to pay the costs of these programmes unless the full co-operation of the interests involved is forthcoming.

Even today, in confirmation of a view already conveyed to me, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, understandably, conveyed their dissatisfaction with the fact that the general taxpayer has been asked to fund such a major contribution to the scheme at this stage when the farming community are complaining about paying one-ninth of the cost of the extra levy this year. ERAD were intended to achieve a consensus on the approach to this vital task. Certainly there are difficult decisions to be taken. I stress that if all the decisions taken by the Government or ERAD were easy and comfortable, there would be no need for ERAD or the Government. We are now at the point where we have to face up to these decisions. Time is rapidly running out and the advent of the Single Market from 1 January 1993 will have severe repercussions if the time left is not availed of to greatly reduce our levels of bovine TB.

This is not the time for individual interests to steer their own course, nor is it the time for posturing. It is, however, the time for teamwork, common sense and common purpose. I appeal now to the interests involved to return to ERAD which they initially asked us to establish. The people who left — or who are threatening to leave — are those who demanded that they should be involved in this area. I appeal to them, on the basis of their own original demand, to return to the board of ERAD and to take a sensible view of the difficulties facing the farming community in finally ridding themselves of this disease.

In conclusion, I should like to draw the attention of Members to the recent European Community decision setting the level of EC financial participation for approved national disease eradication programmes in member states. I am very pleased that I was able to bring about that decision during the course of our Presidency and I should like to tell the House that a request for such funding has already been made to the EC Commission.

However, it is stipulated that a national programme has to be prepared and approved by the Commission of the EC. I am arranging, therefore, to have this programme drawn up as a matter of urgency but, realistically, it is mot unlikely that such funds will come on stream before the end of 1990. If funds become available from 1991, and I intend to press very hard to secure them, then the disease levels can be reduced in line with the agreed ratio between farmer and Exchequer contribution. I made that commitment with the farming organisations at the beginning of the ERAD programme. Any reduction in overall expenditure would be applied to the benefit proportionately of both the farmers and the general taxpayer, and I intend to honour that commitment in the event that this arises. In that event the Commission will more than likely insist on specific conditions which we will have to meet. Therefore, we should relish the opportunity of establishing our own conditions under our own responsibility rather than having to respond to conditions that would be imposed on us.

TB eradication has always been a controversial issue. I appreciate that the leaders of the various interests can come under pressure from their members at certain times and from certain sectoral groups who have an interest in the number of movements an animal can have and how and where it is traded. I also appreciate that disease outbreaks can cause severe problems for individual farm families. That is why it is so vital to break the back of this disease once and for all. That can be done only with full co-operation. I would urge all concerned to renew that spirit of co-operation and commitment in a final push to bring TB under control.

I recommend that these regulations be accepted by the House.

I am thankful for the opportunity to reply to the Minister. The decision to increase the TB levies on farmers is regrettable and totally unwarranted. The increase of 14 per cent in the disease levies comes when ERAD are being forced to reduce dramatically prices for reactor cattle.

I understand there are to be eight different categories of payments for reactor cattle as against five at present. The reduction in the prices paid by ERAD for reactor cattle is not justified. Farmers must receive reasonable compensation for their diseased animals if there is to be any of the type of co-operation the Minister spoke about a few moments ago. ERAD's decision to pressure for financial resources from the Government to relate prices paid for reactor cattle to the current cattle trade can be both misleading and very costly as far as the farmer is concerned. Many farmers would never contemplate selling cattle at a particular stage until demanded to do so because of TB infection. Relating the price of these totally unsaleable animals to the current cattle trade is not comparing like with like. Indeed, the farmer will lose on the double. His replacement costs will be likely to be much higher if his herd is locked up for the minimum 240 days which I understand the regulation provides, or eight months as the new regulation demands.

The decision to pile on 14 per cent extra bovine TB levies at this time when the trade for cattle and sheep has collapsed is insensitive, to say the least. Farmers are taking up to £120 less for cattle now and last week the ultimate was reached where farmers could not sell factory heifers. However, the biggest objection of all by the farming community to the increased levies and to the reduction in the pre-movement test from 120 to 45 days is that the Minister and ERAD seem to have no clearcut policy or strategy on the TB scheme. We all know a generation of young people picked up the historical fact at school that over £1 billion of taxpayers' money has been spent on the scheme since its inception almost 40 years ago.

A number of basic objectives must be tackled. Besides the compensation factor I have covered there is the question of the quality of testing procedures. I am asking the Minister two straight questions tonight. In his view, are the private vets leaving reactor cattle behind as is suggested? Is the quality of test what it should be? All indications from ERAD that I can see at the moment are that there seems to be some discrepancy between the testing results obtained by the private vets and similar tests carried out by ERAD. The Minister in reply to a Dáil question some time ago suggested that no such discrepancy exists. If ERAD are correct, how could a TB scheme be successful if over 10,000 reactors are left on Irish farms every year? I understand ERAD want a new veterinary task force to oversee testing procedures. Would it not be reasonable to allow this request? If there is no such thing as substandard testing by private vets, then the task force can be disbanded after a couple of years. Let one thing be quite clear. There must be quality control on testing.

(Interruptions.)

The question of infected wildlife has taken centre stage. There is now sufficient evidence to show that badgers and other animals act as carriers of TB. Recent events in County Offaly show that where there is a concentrated effort to eliminate badgers the effect is quite immediate as far as reduction in TB is concerned. The Minister seems paranoid about tackling the badger issue.

Paranoid? Why?

Paranoid about tackling the badger problem.

In what sense?

In the sense that he makes no decisions one way or the other and I understand there are plenty of memoranda going up from the ERAD board and he will not act on them.

"Paranoid" does not mean that.

That is exactly what is disgraceful. I appreciate that badgers are not the only cause of TB.

(Interruptions.)

I understand 25 per cent of badgers carry TB and it must be acknowledged that they pose a huge threat to TB-free cattle.

I have two more questions for the Minister. Why has he decided on a 45 day pre-movement test? Why did he want to introduce the 60 day pre-movement test with the famous two stop sale concept?

Which does the Deputy want?

I do not want either of them and if the Minister was right he would not want either of them either.

(Interruptions.)

Order. Deputy Connaughton, please, if you would direct your remarks through the Chair we might avoid interruptions. In any event, I want to insist on no further interruptions. There is a strict time limit on this debate and interruptions are most unwelcome if not disorderly.

We had a 30 day pre-movement test, a 45 day test at one stage, a 60 day test and a 120 day pre-movement test. Will the Minister lay before the House any scientific evidence to prove that one or all of the above pre-movement tests contributed to the control of TB? There is not a single shred of evidence, and I defy contradiction on the Floor of this House tonight.

No such evidence exists, but I will tell the House why. I have seen them all, inside and outside this House both in the marts and as a farmer. They all put unnecessary pressure on farmers to sell at inopportune times, a costly procedure on the farming community, and they do almost nothing to control TB. Why is such a draconian measure being foisted on farmers at this stage? Why did the Minister try to introduce the two stop sale which would crucify the marts of Ireland altogether? The answer lies in Brussels and the Minister referred to it at the end of his speech.

The Minister has announced that Ireland may receive financial support from the EC for our disease programme. In itself that is good. Obviously, the Minister wants to impress the EC authorities with a clear signal that the Government mean business on animal disease. Whether the measures are sensible or prudent from a scientific or veterinary point of view does not seem to be relevant. What is relevant is that whatever financial assistance we get, be it £4 million or £5 million or a sum far exceeding that, the Exchequer funding is likely to be reduced by this amount. If the money comes it will be very interesting to see from whom the burden will be taken. This ploy will not work. I call on the Minister to give a solemn undertaking in this House this evening that when such EC funds are made available a corresponding reduction will be effected on the disease levies paid by farmers.

The Minister must give this undertaking tonight. Farmers cannot have confidence in a regime where silly schemes like the two stop proposal are dreamed up. Where did that come from? This would upset the entire cattle trade. It apparently was meant for cattle dealers. Not alone would it have put half of them out of business, but it would have closed half of the livestock marts as well. Backbenchers on all sides of the House know exactly what hapended during the last fortnight. It would have meant that farmers would have had to sell at the first sale which would depress prices. Imagine a farmer bringing an animal again to the mart seven days after it had been brought out in the first place.

There is only one way to control animals in transit. We must have a proper computerised system recording the permission granted and the destination of all animals. That would be worth all the pre-movement tests one can think of. Why cannot this section of the Department of Agriculture and Food be computerised? For three years the Minister has been saying that it cannot be done. Where is all the technology? Every other Department seems to be computerised so why cannot the Department of Agriculture and Food be computerised? Let nobody try to convince me that we have not the technology. What is wrong is that we have not got the will to do it. In relation to this carry on about pre-movement tests, there is no evidence to prove that it controls TB. Computerised permits are the answer.

We do not seem to have a detailed research programme. Farmers are still at sea as to what causes TB and how it spreads. Farmers have to pay £7.90 on top of all the other costs for cattle being either exported or killed. This is another crippling burden on them. I understand that one type of reactor cattle will fetch £100 less than they do at the moment. How can one expect the farming community to be happy with that type of procedure?

Our back is to the fence with the approach of 1992 but the Minister will not get the type of co-operation he seeks with those mickey mouse schemes, and extra cash from farmers who know that they must pay up every time something goes wrong.

I like the concept of ERAD and I hope it will continue to do the job. I know ERAD are going through turbulent times and I know tremendous pressure is being exerted on the constituent bodies of ERAD. There seems to be some sort of barrier between ERAD and the Department. I understand that the Minister is not sympathetic to some of the decisions made by ERAD. Many people agree that there is not a good relationship between ERAD and the Department. It is time for the Minister and his officials to strongly support what ERAD are trying to do. The proposal the Minister has laid before the House tonight will not contribute in any way to controlling TB.

The Deputy has three minutes left.

The Minister should postpone the introduction of the increased levies until the end of this year. I would like to know how the Department calculated so early on in the year that there would be a huge shortfall? How do the Department know how many reactors will be identified between now and next December? Why did the Minister not wait a few months to find out what way the budget was likely to go? Some people in authority tell me there are more reactors than ever before being identified, others say there are fewer. It appears to me that the Minister is applying the soft touch to get money and that we will talk about it later; that we should hold on until the end of the year to make sure we want the money. Neither the Minister nor I, nor ERAD have any way of knowing how many reactors will be identified between now and next December.

The Minister's proposal to introduce a 45 day test should be scrapped. A 60 day test would be reasonable but what we need above all else is to computerise the Department so that we can have on computer the knowledge in relation to where every animal is at a given point. That is possible, it is done in other countries, and there is no reason it should not be done here. When summing up, I would like the Minister to say why he is not going down that road. There is no hope of controlling the disease properly without that sort of facility.

This topic is important to every farming family. It is the chief talking point at every farm meeting and I understand that a great number of Deputies on the benches opposite are very worried about this. There is no point in being worried about it unless we do something about it. The people who believe that the scheme is not going anywhere should come out and say so now.

I welcome the opportunity to have this debate, it is timely that we have it now. There has been a total collapse of confidence in the bovine TB eradication scheme. The blame for this must be laid squarely on the shoulders of the Government. ERAD have failed to put forward the policies they know are necessary. To a considerable extent they are limited in what they can do and they are proposing policies in desperation, notably the proposed indiscriminate slaughter of badgers. It is understandable that the farmers have withdrawn from ERAD and that they feel aggrieved at the proposed increase in bovine levies. It reeks of throwing good money after bad, increasing levies only to see the money spent on a bureaucratic black hole. This and other Governments have avoided one policy option that could have a major effect on the level of bovine TB, namely, the establishment of a rigid and comprehensive movement permit scheme, I understand the resistance such a policy would face. However, politicians and policy makers who suggest that there is any other way to defeat bovine TB are only misleading the farmers.

Some progress has been made in recent years but despite the introduction of the national reactor collection system, the introduction of the new tags, the nomination of testers, and other improvements, until we are able to establish a movement permit system so that the origins of all animals are documented and traceable the problem will continue. A movement permit system should be established in line with other initiatives.

It is estimated that there are about 400 chronically affected herds. These should be put down immediately and adequate compensation paid to the herd owners to ensure that they do not suffer financially. We must extend restriction measures where infection breaks out in a herd. Up to 15 per cent of high risk herds break down at the six month check. In Australia where there are multiple reactors the herd must go through a 90 day check, one six month check and two further six month checks before they can obtain a confirmed free status. Such measures should be implemented here now. The special Garda scheme where a uniformed garda was assigned to every district veterinary office should be reintroduced. All cattle trucks should be required by law to be disinfected before leaving slaughter houses and marts or the owners fined heavy penalties and there should be special measures for disinfecting buildings and controls for slurry spreaders. Those additional initiatives should also include an increase in funding for epidemiology research, that is, our understanding of the disease, its transmission to other animals and, therefore, its eradication. This is woefully inadequate at present.

However, those measures will not be effective without the introduction of a movement permit system. While ERAD are projecting the introduction of such a system by 1992, the Government should expedite the introduction of one and ensure that transitional measures, such as the establishment of TB clearance zones, are put into effect immediately. However, Dr. Liam Downey, Director of ERAD, has stated that present staffing arrangements are insufficient to implement a national clearance zone strategy.

If the Government and ERAD established a clear strategy and ensured the proper and consistent funding of the scheme, the bovine TB eradication scheme could regain the confidence of all concerned. However, this will mean taking difficult long term decicions and there will be no room for a cop-out by taking short term measures to give the appearance of doing something, but something which is useless. I refer specifically to the proposed slaughter and gassing of the badger population.

A report prepared for ERAD by the ESRI states that the badger was not the sole or, indeed, primary source of bovine TB in many areas. The report stated that the most serious risk of cattle infection in most areas was from direct or indirect contact with infected animals. The report went on to state that the eradication of the badger population would not eradicate bovine TB here. They are not my words but the views of the ESRI in a report commissioned for ERAD. On whether the elimination of badgers in TB blackspots is necessary for the control of bovine TB the report was inconclusive. However, on other measures to control bovine TB, notably a movement permit system, the report was unequivocal stating that such a system was essential. The badger population is being used as a scapegoat for political and administrative incompetence. There is no doubt that control of TB infected badgers would be necessary to ensure that in bovine TB-clear zones cattle are not reinfected. However, proposals about wholesale clearances will amount to an ecological disaster. The Labour Party will oppose at every level possible the indiscriminate slaughter of the badger population.

The Minister made the point that additional resources were required to fund the scheme but he has made no serious attempt to get those resources from the EC. He will now coat-tail behind the French and Germans who are now making such demands. Tonight he appeared to take credit for the new proposal, which did not come from him in the first place. We must ask why the Minister, during his Euro Presidency and before, failed to make this case for Ireland. Was he trying to hide something from our European partners, namely, that we have a serious bovine TB problem or that our eradication scheme was so tired and ineffective that nobody would throw more good money into the black hole that has swallowed more than £1 billion of taxpayers' and farmers' money to date? For an effective Euro assistance would be available, if sought. However, the Minister went for the easy option, the same tired old scheme, an increase in the levies on farmers and further burdens on taxpayers.

The Labour Party are opposing these regulations for the simple reason that we can see no clear strategy emerging from the Government. We are not the only group opposed to them. The withdrawal by the IFA and the vets indicates that they no longer see any merit in the scheme. The Labour Party will support the Government if they decide to take sterner measures to protect this vital industry, the jobs it creates and the vast majority of farmers. However, we are not going to give credence to the whistling-in-the-dark policy being pursued by the Government. The scheme reminds me of Sisyphus, the Greek god, who after his defeat was condemned to eternally push a rock up a hill. To farmers, taxpayers, and others the scheme appears to be an enternally futile activity of pushing a rock up a hill knowing that as soon as it is let go it will roll back down again.

On 14 November last, when we were discussing regulations to increase bovine TB levies, I indicated that we were prepared to support the increases, but wondered if we would be back in another ten years increasing levies yet again to fund yet another campaign of disease eradication. Little did I realise that we would be back not in ten years, but in less than ten months, seeking new levies. That we should be back on this topic within eight months is symptomatic of the whole disastrous way in which campaigns to eliminate bovine diseases have been handled by successive Governments, and it is no wonder that the patience of the taxpayer is now beginning to run out.

The operation of the bovine disease eradication scheme, especially in relation to bovine TB, was described some years ago by the former Secretary of the Department of Finance and former Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. T. K. Whitaker, as the "greatest financial scandal in the history of the State". It is hard to argue with this description in the light of the huge amounts of money spent over the years and the spectacular lack of success. Twenty-five years ago, Deputy Haughey, who was then Minister for Agriculture, was able to claim that the country was virtually free of TB in cattle. A quarter of a century later the reality is that we are as far away as ever from that objective.

The cost to the State of this unsuccessful campaign has been enormous. In today's terms more than £1,000 million of taxpayer's and farmer's money has been spent and thousands of public servants have had to be deployed in administering the various schemes. Taxpayers, in particular, cannot be expected to continue footing this bill indefinitely.

A number of vested interests have strongly resisted measures which could have contributed to the more effective tackling of bovine diseases. About one-third of the money spent each year has gone in veterinary fees. Fees paid annually to private veterinary practitioners for testing under the disease eradication schemes were as follows: 1983, £10.6 million; 1984, £8.3 million; 1985, £11.5 million; 1986, £11 million; 1987, £12 million and the figure for this year will be £20 million. That money is being paid to the veterinary profession. That is nothing short of a scandal and it is they who should be brought to heel and we should not be talking about the little badger, like Deputy Connaughton. That is only a smokescreen. There is no doubt but that the veterinary surgeons are responsible and we have been talking about them for years. I accept that a small number of farmers are not co-operating. I hope the Minister takes up this issue and ensures that progress is made.

Much of the work done by vets in this area could just as easily be done by qualified technicians. If you go into hospital for a blood sample, it will more than likely be taken by a nurse. Why can the blood sampling under these schemes not be done by properly trained technicians? When the Bill to establish Teagasc was going through the Dáil in 1988, the new body were specifically excluded from carrying out disease eradication tests, largely, I understand, as a result of objections from the vets.

Those small number of farmers who continually flout the regulations also have a lot to answer for. They are not only endangering their own livelihoods, but also the interests of their neighbours and the taxpayers who are footing the bills.

When ERAD was established many people hoped that it would be the final phase of the campaign to wipe out bovine TB. Unfortunately, almost before it got a real chance to tackle the problem ERAD is on the rocks. Firstly, the vets withdrew their representatives, followed by the IFA and the ICMSA. The vets are blaming the farmers, the farmers are blaming the Department. It is the usual story: everyone blames everyone else, while the taxpayer continues to have to dig ever deeper in his pocket to fund yet another campaign that probably has no more prospect of success than the last one.

Disunity and division among those who have most to gain from co-operation in eliminating bovine diseases hardly increases our prospects of getting money from the newly established European Community veterinary fund to compensate farmers for the loss of diseased animals. I have no doubt that the European Community will ask why it should make money available to compensate farmers for the loss of diseased animals when farmers, vets and the Department cannot sit down together to discuss a common action programme. Unless action is taken immediately the agriculture industry will face enormous problems from 1992 onwards when farmers with infected herds will not be allowed to sell milk or animals from their farms. Not only will this adversely affect the incomes of farmers but it will affect the entire community. Farmers and non-farmers alike are paying a high price because of our failure to eliminate bovine diseases which have been dealt with effectively in other countries. If we fail to tackle the vested interests in this area, we will continue to pour huge sums of money into this bottomless pit and make no progress.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to contribute to the debate on the motion before the House. ERAD was established in 1989, as a semi-State organisation, under Dr. Downey, a Corkman, who did excellent work in many other fields. I wish to take this opportunity to wish him every success. I also wish the Minister for Agriculture and Food every success in his efforts to rid this country of tuberculosis before 1992.

I appeal to organisations such as the IFA, the IVA and the IVU to rejoin the board of ERAD to co-operate and for us all to work together in implementing a disease eradication programme which may become the model for other countries in Europe. The ICMSA have not yet joined the board and I appeal to them to reconsider their position. I compliment the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society for indicating that they will continue to be a member of the ERAD board.

A considerable sum of taxpayer's and farmer's money has been spent on disease eradication over the past 36 years. The process began in 1954, but since then we have been plagued by the disease at farm level. We have to change direction between now and 1992, as from then on we will not be allowed to sell milk or meat from farms with locked-up herds. We must now make a genuine effort to try to control the disease. It is worth noting that we have the highest incidence of tuberculosis in the western world. For example, we are at the bottom of the league, with Spain, in the European Community, while New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada have disease free status.

We should join together to try to solve the problem once and for all. In all, we have spent £1 billion in an effort to eradicate the disease, yet there are still 10,000 infected herds within the country who pose a threat to 150,000 other herds. It should also be borne in mind that it is the small farmer who suffers most. I am aware of small farmers who fear that their herds may become infected, given the problems that would arise not only for themselves but for neighbouring farmers.

Approximately £25 million will be brought in by way of levies, to be paid by the 150,000 herd owners each year under the programme. They cannot afford to continue paying these levies. Because of this it is important that we receive the co-operation of all farmers and all those involved in the livestock industry, such as hauliers, cattle dealers, traders, exporters, factories and the livestock marts who have a vested interest in this matter. In view of this they should be more vigilant and introduce stricter controls.

The veterinary profession are paid approximately £20 million per annum. It must be made quite clear to the vets that they have to maintain the highest possible standards in carrying out tests. As a professional person, I am not prepared to question; but let me repeat it is absolutely vital that the highest standards are maintained.

The Minister has given a promise that moneys will be made available from the new EC veterinary fund. However, before any moneys will be paid I have no doubt that it will insist on strict guidelines being laid down. Pressure may even be brought to bear to break the link between the vet and the farmer. One may well ask if the time has come to consider the introduction of a contract system whereby vets would be given a contract. No other group employed by the State and in receipt of £20 million per year operate without contracts.

I submit that a sensible scientific study should be carried out to see whether or not the badger is responsible for the spread of tuberculosis. There is a danger that enraged farmers in blackspots will take the law into their own hands and kill badgers in a reckless manner. This would not be desirable. I am glad that, in addition to the Offaly project, the Minister is to initiate two major pilot studies on this question. Ten years ago it was considered that polluted ponds, rivers and streams presented the greatest danger to herds. However, corrective action was taken and I know of no farmer who depends on these as a source of water. As a result of the generous grant aid provided by Government they have installed running water supplies. We are now, at the eleventh hour, putting the blame on a helpless animal. From what I know of this animal they do not present the problem in my area which it is alleged they cause in other areas.

There are two-legged ones there, too.

It is a pity everything went wrong between 1983 and 1987 when the Coalition Government were in power. They failed to introduce a programme as they had promised to do and instead reduced funding with the result that 1,000 young vets who had been promised jobs were left high and dry. I also have to say that they published inaccurate figures and gave the impression that the incidence of tuberculosis was not as high as it actually was.

That is all I have to say on this matter and I now wish, to share my time with my colleagues, Deputies Leonard and O'Toole.

Does the House agree to the sharing of the eight minutes remaining? Agreed.

I rise to support the regulation the Minister is introducing this evening. I come from a county which is now a black spot in terms of TB eradication, having been an area that was practically TB free. The previous speakers appear not to agree with anything in this matter. They do not agree, for instance, with what is being done in relation to movement or that the badger is a problem. My view is that this is a compromise between different proposals and a 45 day free movement test. There is no doubt that had it been the 60 day two stop test, it would have been restrictive and it could have done much damage to the cattle trade at a time when prices were not as high as often as they were before.

We must look with grave concern at ERAD at this time and at the farmers and the veterinary profession who have withdrawn from that board. ERAD were set up and given an opportunity to run the programme as they saw fit. They received a fair amount of finance as they were talking in terms of £23 million from the Exchequer. They had a free hand. Fianna Fáil, since their return to office in 1987, in every area of agriculture where there was a need for extra finance or where there was a need to change the system——

What about headage payments?

——responded positively. Practically every aid and grant aid that Fianna Fáil left behind in 1982 and 1983 were dismantled. If you look at the testing record from 1983 to 1987 you will see that that was when much of the damage to herds occurred.

The Deputy is getting windy, he should take another deep breath.

Whatever about the four legged variety, we are not going to have badgering here. Anybody who feels that he or she might indulge in such will be asked to leave. Let us have a civilised debate.

I would like to answer the charge about badgers. It has been proved in many areas where checks and surveys were taken that badgers were infected, were TB carriers. If there were infected animals, they should be taken out.

That is what we have said.

Still there is a huge reaction when wildlife is mentioned. This is an area where we have got to be very responsible. We are now approaching the Single European market and there is no doubt that the time is running out and we will not be in a position to command the price for our produce which we could if we had a completely clear herd. What the Minister is asking for is £1 per animal slaughtered or exported and 0.2p per gallon on milk. I would be the first to admit that it is not the best time to seek additional moneys but is there any time that would be regarded as the best time? We all react when we have extra——

Anything is better than nothing.

I have been in the agriculture business a long time and I have watched the movement since after the war years, in a co-op where you had your finger on the pulse. I saw the build-up of agriculture from that stage. I resent it and I hate to hear people adopt the attitude: "We'll all be ruined, says Hanrahan," before the year is out. That is the line the Opposition are adopting all the time. They are doing no good to their party or to the farming organisations nor to our exports——

The Deputy has spent many a long hour on this side.

——be it meat, milk or whatever. In conclusion I would ask for a responsible and co-ordinated approach to this problem. I appeal to the vets and to the farmers' organisation——

More of that.

——to be responsible, to go back into ERAD and do their job.

Deputy O'Toole rose.

I suggest to Deputy O'Toole that after the next 15 minutes which are being taken by the Opposition side, he will have 15 minutes in which to disperse himself in any fashion he likes. I am now calling Deputy Sheehan.

I propose to share my time with two other colleagues in my party, Deputy Hogan and Deputy T. Ahearn. I would like to remind the Minister for Agriculture and Food that Irish farmers have been at the receiving end of a constant stream of penal measures in the TB eradication scheme. We are now half way through the four years eradication programme and there is not the slightest shred of evidence that any worthwhile progress has been achieved in reducing the incidence of TB. The issues of infected wild life and the number of reactors missed during each annual test still have not been effectively tackled. If the Minister does not come to grips with the situation in combating the estimated 25 per cent of the disease that is left behind each year and if the spread of the disease by affected wild life is left unchecked farmers will still be paying £30 million annually on TB levies for the next two decades.

I ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to explain to the House how he visualises that farmers must pay £4 million extra per year plus the £25 million which they are already paying — making a total of £29 million per year on bovine TB levies. How can the Minister in his sane senses impose a reduction of up to £50 per head in the already miserable rates of reactor compensation? Does the Minister understand the serious predicament in which Irish farmers find themselves at the moment? Is he aware that milk prices are down almost 50p per gallon this year? Is he aware that cattle prices have slumped to a fraction of what they were two years ago? Is he aware that the bottom has completely fallen out of sheep wool prices? Is he aware that farmers are leaving the land at the rate of at least five per day? The Minister does not seem to have his ear to the ground when he insists that the already over-burdened farmer must find a further £4 million to finance the eradication of bovine TB. The time has come to call a halt to the imposition of further crippling levies on our hard pressed and already over-burdened farming community. Does the Minister realise that eight out of every ten farmers are trying to exist on an income of less than £100 per week? In 1989, Ireland's beef industry received £450 million approximately from the CAP support system. This represents the equivalent of £250 per head on all cattle slaughtered and exported live from Ireland in the same year. Of this figure, a total of £55 million approximately was paid to our Irish farmers in the form of suckler cow beef and calf premium schemes. The remaining £395 million went directly to the factories and cattle exporters. Why does the Minister not take immediate steps to rectify that serious anomaly and pay that £200 approximately per animal directly to our farming community? This would meet with the GATT demands of the USA and they would have no objection whatsoever if the Minister for Agriculture and Food pursued that policy. Then and only then could these exorbitant levies be met by a beleagured farming community. I call on the Minister to accede to my request before it is too late.

I call on him also to reinstate immediately the county committees of agriculture and the county animal health committees, two committees which were the watchdog of our farming community. For some unknown reason they were abolished and faceless people put at the helm to command this bovine TB eradication scheme. If we want progress those committees must be reinstated. I call on my constituency colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, who is listening to me, to reinstate those two committees straightaway. If he does not, TB will never be eradicated from our cattle herds.

The total failure of the bovine TB eradication scheme to date is scandalous and disgraceful. It has cost taxpayers billions of pounds and has cost many farming families their livelihoods. It has retarded agricultural development and dominated debate on agriculture. Yet the position obtaining is no better than it was when the first attempts to eradicate this disease were made some 36 years ago. One might well ask why it is that today one in every four of our cattle herds is restricted. One might well ask also why such fumbling with the scheme was allowed continue. Indeed, one might even dare to contemplate the terrible trauma and hardship experienced by so many farming families who suffered immeasurably as a consequence of this disease. I still hold vivid memories when, as a child, I observed our family herd of cattle depopulated in 1960, an experience no farmer wishes to have repeated.

The time has long passed when lip service can be tolerated on the matter of the eradication of bovine TB. The attitude of the Minister and Government is intolerable. The first actions I have noted being taken by the Minister in this regard were, first, to increase levies and, second, reduce compensation for reactors. Surely they represent two steps no Government would take were they serious about ridding the country of TB? If the Minister for Agriculture and Food really understood the human trauma occasioned by herd depopulation, if we could only get him to accept that farmers are experiencing an alarming decline in their incomes, then he might realise that the measures he has taken should have been the last to have been considered.

Today farmers pay £24 million annually for disease eradication. The Government now say they will give an extra £9 million to an already seriously under-funded programme if farmers pay an additional £4 million, bringing their total contribution to some £28 million per annum. I must stress that the increased levy, from 1.2p to 1.4p per gallon and from £6.90 to £7.90 per annum is totally unacceptable, representing an incredible demand on farmers at a time when their incomes have fallen by almost 20 per cent. The reason for the increases in these levies is given as the dramatic increase in reactor numbers resulting from better identification of disease in the national herd. Why should this additional burden be borne by farmers already struggling to survive? Surely responsibility for past inadequate management and testing lies entirely with the Government. I would suggest that in order to cater for the increasing numbers of farmers seeking compensation, the Government should secure EC funding or alternatively increase the Exchequer contribution. These new proposals are intolerable. The future of ERAD based on such proposals is not alone doubtful but questionable.

The level of compensation for reactors is inadequate and does nothing to encourage the farming community to co-operate fully in the implementation of the scheme. The Minister must accept that the financial problems occasioned by an outbreak of TB are shattering. Any farmer or banker will say that it has been the cause of major financial disasters for many farming families. A reduction of up to £40 per head by way of reactor compensation, depending on the category of animal, is appalling and cannot be sustained by the farming community. I agree that the withdrawal of the IFA and the ICMSA from the ERAD programme was indeed justified.

The recent proposal — under the new free movement restriction — places a farmer in the position that if he fails a test such movement could be restricted for up to eight months. It is my belief that this will eradicate farmers, not TB. In addition, does the Minister realise that his proposal for a 45-day test will involve farmers paying the extra funding on account of the extra testing required? I concur with the suggestion of Deputy Connaughton that a reversion to a 60-day test is reasonable.

I agree — as I am sure does every Member of this House — with the need to rid the country of TB. But any bovine TB eradication programme that does not have the support, confidence and co-operation of the IFA, the ICMSA and the farming community will not be acceptable. The Minister's recent proposals are doomed to failure because they have failed to capture the trust, confidence and support of the farming community. Any scheme for the eradication of TB and brucellosis will be successful only if accompanied by credible testing, the most important factor of all. Adequate finance must be provided and the role of the badger must be thoroughly investigated. It is my belief that to date such investigation has not been undertaken as thoroughly as I would like. No real progress will be made until these issues have been addressed.

Infected herd owners should have available to them special advisory services in order to ascertain how the disease may have entered their farm; how to prevent its spread within that farm; how to prevent it spreading to neighbouring farms, with proper compensation being provided. Unless these issues are addressed the bovine TB eradication programme will continue to be as successful in the future as it has been in the past and the only change will be that the numbers of farmers will have decreased.

I am convinced that the traumatic experience of having one's herd locked up or depopulated is not fully appreciated by the Minister. His failure to tackle realistically the eradication of this disease is disgraceful. Of course, the only losers in all of this are the farmers themselves; farmers have suffered and paid most. While there is just concern at the cost to the taxpayer it must be remembered that farmers pay £3 for every £ contributed by the Exchequer.

Everybody, most of all our farmers, wish the country to be rid of TB. The farming community are willing to give their fullest support to a successful programme. However, the responsibility lies with the Minister to initiate a programme based on the many proposals advanced here this evening and those he will have received from all the farming organisations. I seriously question whether the Minister has the will to undertake this task. I would seriously remind him that the future of many farming families rests in his hands.

Deputy Hogan rose.

I might remind Deputy Hogan that, after 9.20 p.m., he will be in Deputy O'Toole's pastures.

I could find myself in worse pastures. In introducing these regulations here this evening the Minister misled the House when he stated that he had always accepted in total the recommendations presented to him by ERAD. Yet one of the main bones of contention has been that the reason the scheme is in such disarray at present is that many of the sensible recommendations presented by ERAD have not been accepted by the Minister, particularly if they carried any taint of political implication. This is best exemplified by the request of the board for a controlled system to sample wildlife. The only response the Minister could give to that request was to request the board to undertake additional research into the problem despite the fact that there is a fine volume of research incorporated in the document produced by Professor Bob O'Connor. Indeed, the results of such an experiment carried out in parts of Offaly — many of the details of which have been conveyed to me by my colleague, Deputy Enright — clearly indicate that when this study was undertaken, compared with the remainder of the county, there had been a significant decrease in the incidence of disease among wildlife in the parts of Offaly subjected to this scrutiny.

The Minister is seeking to increase levies at a time when the spread of disease appears to be escalating. It is my belief that this is a panic reaction. It is difficult to understand where the Minister will get the necessary finance, particularly when farm incomes are decreasing. I plead with the Minister at least to wait until the end of the year, in the interim to review the overall position and ascertain how much money he will get from Brussels, thereby ensuring that the burden will not fall so harshly on an already depressed sector of our society. I also call on the Minister to provide an adequate income supplement scheme, particularly as there is a stricter regime being implemented for classification of a disease free herd. I regret that the Minister for Agriculture and Food has panicked and sought to put through this Bovine Diseases (Levies) Regulations tonight and that his only solution to the problem of bovine TB would appear to be to increase levies every time there is a greater number of reactors. I reject this policy totally. The Minister has sabotaged the great work of ERAD by his lack of action. His credibility, and that of ERAD are intertwined and, unfortunately, in total shreds in the eyes of the farming community. At the end of the day the losers are the farmers and their families and the people they have to feed rather than the animals. The buck stops with the Minister.

I will not repeat everything that was said here this evening. I will just say that we are all to blame. Nobody is in a position to blame anybody else. We have failed for 36 years, to eradicate bovine TB. The Government and An Foras Talúntais decided to hand over responsibility for the eradication of bovine TB to a board that has widespread knowledge of the people involved, the farmers, the veterinary profession, the Department and all the people who should be in a position to know how to go about eradicating this most dangerous disease.

I do not want to blame anybody. If I were to blame anybody I would not do it in ten minutes, or in two hours when, in 36 years, we have not got rid of bovine TB. The House should co-operate with the Minister and ERAD. Dr. Downey, who is responsible for the management of ERAD, does not want to see the scheme fail. Neither does the Minister and neither do we, but pouring money into a system that is going down the wrong road is not the answer. The first sign of failure is when one leaves the playing pitch, and the IFA and the veterinary profession, the people we trusted most to eradicate this disease and who were highly paid to do so, have left the playing pitch. I appeal to them tonight to come back into ERAD.

I believe ERAD, and the Minister, are on the right road. Scientific research has not yet identified the reason for the continuing increased spread of this disease. We have more TB in our herds now than we had 36 years ago when we had no eradication programme. Donegal was declared a free accredited county, and Sligo and Leitrim came closely behind in being declared disease free, at a time when there was no testing. That could not be said today. We have made no progress but have gone in the opposite direction.

There are a number of things we should be doing. Improving the quality of testing is one. I would come down in favour of 45-day testing. It is the one that comes closest to veterinary advice with the least disruption to the farming community. That is most important. I will not go into the badger scene because investigations are being carried out. There will be two other scientific tests in two other locations which will decide once and for all whether or not badgers are responsible for the spread of the disease.

In the meantime we should ask our farmers to consider keeping log books or stock books. In the absence of computerisation, which is on the way, the farmers must co-opeate in this. It is very easy to blame the farming community, but only a very small number of farmers do not comply with the stringent regulations imposed. Most farmers have sacrificed a lot to bring about eradication. The worse this gets the more damage will be done to the farming community, and they are the ones who will be hurt the most. I want to bring to the notice of Deputies that if a farmer has what is known as a multiple reactor herd he will be penalised considerably. A farmer who has carried out all his tests, and has done everything he has been asked to do by the veterinary profession and, through no fault of his own, is found to have a multiple reactor herd can have his cattle locked up for eight months. That is penal and I know there are some small farmers in the west who will not be able to bear the brunt of that decision.

The Whips have today been running around trying to facilitate speakers on both sides on this issue, and that is an indication to the many people who have been here, that we are all here to do what is right. If the blueprint for doing that is not in keeping with our views we should hand it over to a board comprising people from all sections of the community, including the veterinary profession, to do the job for us. It is time this disease was wiped out, If we are not ready by 1993 I know what our herds will be faced with on the European scene. The challenge is great but we can only meet it with the co-operation of everybody.

In our discussion earlier I understood that Deputy Michael Kitt was to have five minutes.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

One of the reasons I was very much in favour of ERAD when set up was that there was farmer representation on that board. I hope these people fight particularly for the replacement value of reactors. It is regrettable that one farming organisation have already withdrawn from the scheme, as have the veterinary unions, and the ICMSA are also considering withdrawing from it. There is confusion because no definite decision has been made that the board will continue in operation. I greatly admire the work Dr. Downey has done. He has met with many of us and with many groups and explained what he and ERAD are doing.

There has been a lot of hype about badgers and that is regrettable. We should concentrate on infected wildlife generally rather than just talking about badgers, which is a very emotive issue. Dr. Downey has said that there is evidence that the removal of wildlife from north-east Offaly resulted in a reduction of 13 per cent in the incidence of TB, whereas in the rest of Offaly it increased by 33 per cent. That proves the point that has been made by many speakers in this House — that it is not sufficient to remove the reactor cattle but that the infected wildlife also has to be removed. As the Minister has said, there are also other black spots where wildlife have infected cattle with TB.

ERAD have given examples of what has been done to alleviate this problem in New Zealand. A scheme was introduced there whereby herds are locked up for two years. This shows how difficult it is to eradicate TB. ERAD have said that if we continue to take out the same number of reactors each year as we have been doing up to now it might take until the year 2020 to solve the problem. But we cannot afford to wait that long, especially when small farmers have been so badly hit by this dreaded disease.

I have already said that the farming organisations should fight for the replacement value of reactors, but it is important that the grants be paid punctually. One of the major problems is that grants are not paid on time. This applies not only to agriculture but to all areas. The Minister should ensure that reactor grants in particular are paid promptly, especially when a farm is locked up and there is a shortage of cash.

I welcome the recent announcement by the Minister of two important measures, one of which is the computerised movement permit system which has been referred to by speakers here tonight. This is a very complex and expensive under-taking but it is important that if be implemented. Secondly, ERAD are undertaking work on blood tests for bovine TB and we are hoping for a breakthrough in that regard. I would appeal to the representatives on ERAD to work together because it is only in a spirit of co-operation that bovine TB will be eradicated.

How much time is available to me?

Twenty minutes.

Could I share my time with Deputies Andrew Boylan, Tom Enright and Bernard Durkan?

It has been agreed that Deputy Deenihan was to share his time with me also.

Could I share my time with Deputies Andrew Boylan, Tom Enright and Michael Ferris?

Sorry, 15 minutes is the amount of time available. Will the Deputy repeat who he is sharing his time with?

Deputies Andrew Boylan, Tom Enright and Michael Ferris.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The increase in levies proposed in this motion will be a further burden on our hard-pressed farmers, many of whom are facing financial ruin because of the collapse in prices in the farming industry. Farmers have already been hit hard enough with the reduction in the price of milk without this additional imposition. The proposed increase in the levy from £6.90 to £7.90 per animal killed or exported will add further to the gloom in the beef industry. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that a 45-day pre-movement test is more effective than a 60-day or 100-day pre-movement test. The 45-day pre-movement test will encourage unrecorded movement of cattle, resulting in an extra cost to the farmer.

In regard to reactor compensation and the income supplement scheme, the Minister knows this is totally inadequate. ERAD have stated that the income supplement scheme is totally inadequate and indeed flawed in its design. On 2 July the Minister made an order to continue this flawed scheme in spite of the advice of ERAD. This will have a devastating effect on some farmers. For example, in the case of multiple reactor breakdown a farmer may suffer a considerable loss of income as he could be restricted from selling for up to ten months. As a result of this scheme he will only qualify for income supplement as this is based on animals removed and not animals on hand. Therefore, the scheme should be reconsidered immediately. Unfortunately, the Minister has left the House but I would like to ask him whether ERAD recommended that an expert study group, chaired by an independent expert, be established to report and make recommendations for a comprehensive and adequate reactor compensation and income supplement scheme. If not, would he agree that such a study group should be established as a matter of priority?

What is required is a totally new management structure to manage the scheme. The Minister should engage a firm of consultants to report on the present management and make recommendations.

This scheme costs £70 million to £75 million annually, and there are reports that it is not being properly managed. We are still two years away from computerisation in this area whereas the system has been computerised in Northern Ireland.

There is a lot of hysteria on the wildlife issue as a result of ill-informed and uniformed reports. Scientific and veterinary evidence clearly shows that in certain areas the badger is totally infected with TB. In this respect the Minister has taken a very pragmatic approach. He seems to have the balance right and I would urge him to continue with this approach. As Deputy Ahearn has said, the absence of epidemiology studies is one reason for repeated breakdowns in herds. We have to consider this whole area because we will never be able to eradicate TB until proper studies are carried out.

The Minister should listen to the farming organisations who have co-operated with ERAD despite pressure from many of their members. It is very difficult to continue co-operating when the Minister rejects all reasonable proposals for compensation and a proper income supplement scheme.

Finally, I suggest that the Minister listen to the farming organisations and not ignore what they have to say. In line with what Deputy Connaughton has said, I think the 45 day pre-movement test should be extended to 60 days. In addition the levy proposed here tonight should continue only until the end of July 1991 so that the £10 million that is then due can be passed on to the farmer.

I welcome this opportunity, brief and all as it is, to speak on this important motion. A number of Deputies have already said that the time allocated to this debate is insufficient and I could not agree more. It is nothing short of scandalous that a major motion should be rushed through the Dáil in a matter of an hour and a half with Deputies being confined to three and five minute speeches because so many want to contribute. This is not my fault because I have been asking the Taoiseach for the past ten days to give a full day for a debate on the agricultural crisis, and this motion could have been included.

I am far from being a pessimist; but I am a realist and anybody who is not aware of the crisis in farming should not stand up and discuss agriculture. Prices are going through the floor. The farmers are taking a hammering right across the board and nobody is offering a glimmer of hope. The least we can do is discuss this matter and make provision for what will happen towards the end of the year when there is no market for the large number of cattle. It is obvious that the Minister is not in touch with what is happening or he would not impose levies at this point in time when farmers' incomes are practically gone. It is nothing short of insensitive.

The Minister made a number of points to which I would like to refer. I am disappointed with the attitude he has adopted because he appears to be trying to play the unions against the farmers. He quoted a union official as saying that his members as taxpayers were tired paying for the scheme. I suggest that the Minister go back to that union official and advise him that if it was not for the agricultural industry he would not have as many members in his organisation. It is time that people realise that this is an urban-rural problem and that it is in all our interest that the problem is solved once and for all and that we are not attacking each other over who contributes most. I contend that the farmers have played their part and I will not take it from anybody that farmers did not do their bit to try to control this disease. They certainly have. When farmers saw their good stock leaving the yard, in desperation they fought with the officials and tried to play for time and I certainly cannot blame them for doing that.

However, if the farmer had been paid adequate compensation for the stock leaving his yard, things would have been different. There was no effort made to offer a farmer whose cattle were taken away an income until he got back into farming and such a policy does nothing to eradicate the disease.

Whether you are a blue or a white collar worker, there is a social welfare scheme whereby income is made available in difficult times. Such a scheme was never offered to farmers. I suggest that the Minister should go back to the union official and put him straight on the importance of the agricultural industry for his members.

The Minister said that he could not afford to put the details of all herds on computer. That is very strange to me, because in the headage payment section or the farm grant payment section the excuse is that your file is on computer and there is nothing the officials can do about the delay in sending out payments. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If farm grant payments can be held up for eight, nine or even ten months because of computerisation, the details of the cattle herds can also be computerised. However, I would suggest that the Minister get better operatives because it is not good enough to delay the payments to hard pressed farmers.

The badger has been blamed for the spread of disease, but I do not accept that. In fact, when I was going home from this House the other night a badger crossed the road in front of me and I wondered if the poor little fellow realised how much turmoil he was causing. I wonder if the Minister realises how much turmoil he is causing in this country?

I am amazed that the Minister is bringing in these regulations tonight. Even at this late stage I would point out how dangerous these regulations are at this point in time. Most people in the farming community cannot understand why the Minister is increasing the levies at present. The Minister would have to agree that the farm organisations have been very responsible and helpful to the Minister to date and I do not think they made the decision to withdraw from ERAD lightly. They must have given it careful consideration. Increasing the levies at this time will aggravate what is a difficult and delicate situation.

I do not think the Minister or the Government fully understand the seriousness of the situation in Irish agriculture throughout the length and breadth of rural Ireland. Almost every aspect of farming is facing difficulty. As Deputy Boylan has said, farm incomes are dropping on a regular basis. Indeed, the farmers I meet across Laois-Offaly are suffering declines in their incomes on a regular basis. It is forcing people out of farming. Milk, beef and sheep prices are declining while costs and outlay are increasing; indeed interest rates have increased.

There is a real danger of forcing the cattle trade out of the marts. The marts are the only real area where the Department and ERAD have a way of controlling the sale of cattle. The Minister needs to be careful because cattle dealers and the mart officials are very concerned about the effects of these regulations. If two movements only are allowed, if cattle are brought to the Birr or Tullamore mart, for example, but are not sold because of low prices, the cattle are only allowed one more movement within the 60 day period. If they are not sold on the second occasion they have to be retained for a further 60 days. This is very serious.

If the Minister were introducing new proposals I think the IFA and the farming organisations would be happy, but the Minister is tinkering with a scheme that has failed to get rid of TB. In fact, things are being made far worse because the Minister is taking further moneys out of the farmers' pockets.

The badger has caused a great many problems for the farming community in County Offaly. In fact, I saw a case where disease broke out on a farm which never had disease before. A dead badger was found on his land and it was quite obvious that the badger was the cause of the outbreak.

I was hoping, if I had a little more than two minutes, I would share my time with Deputy Foxe — I would share some of my time with the badger as well as the fox.

This is an important debate and all sides should be heard. My contribution is slightly different from anything I have heard simply because of my experience on the Animal Health Council and my involvement in the pilot scheme in Bansha since the fifties. One of the welcome aspects of the Minister's speech is that research is being carried out on an alternative means of identification of reactors. The present comparative interdermal tests lead to sensitisation of the skin and continuous testing in the same location and interpretation by humans in extraordinary conditions cannot lead to good results, irrespective of the commitment to the veterinary profession. I suggest that we try to make progress in epidemiology to find out how the disease is transmitted. We cannot test live badgers, whether we like it or not, and we can only identify the disease in them when they are dead. One of the problems I see in the field using the present method of testing is that, irrespective of how well it is done, it is very difficult to identify the bacillus and thus reactors that should have been identified can be left in the herd.

Time is the great imponderable; and I do not wish to be unfair to the Chair, who has allowed the available time to be spread as widely as possible. I want to give my colleague, Deputy Foxe, an opportunity to contribute. I will talk to the Minister and Dr. Downey when the debate is over because I have much more to say.

I should——

Strictly speaking, I should look to the Minister of State to make an announcement.

Debate adjourned.