I am acutely aware of the hardship, both emotional and financial, being experienced by farmers in the vicinity of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Proleek in County Louth. The herds of farmers in the 1 km. and 3 km. zones have been compulsorily slaughtered. However, I am sure there is general consensus on all sides of the House and in the farming community and the wider public that this work, while traumatic for those involved and unpalatable for us all, is absolutely necessary.
In each case of compulsory depopulation, my Department has arranged for valuations of the relevant animals by experts prior to slaughter so that the farmers in question can be paid the full market value for their stock. My Department will ensure that these payments are processed as quickly as possible to avoid any exacerbation of an already difficult situation for those affected. In addition, my colleague, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, in conjunction with my Department, has put in place arrangements to fast track assessments for eligibility under the farm assist scheme in cases of particular hardship. Compensation received for compulsory depopulation will not be taken into account in the assessment of means under the farm assist scheme.
Regarding the provision of information to farmers whose herds are likely to be depopulated, I assure the Deputy that every effort is being made to contact those affected as soon as possible after the decision is made in each case. Arrangements have been put in place to decide, where possible, on the following day's cull by 6 p.m. each evening and to provide the necessary information to Teagasc in the first instance to enable it to contact the farmers concerned. A list of farmers affected is also being supplied to the local IFA branch to allow farmers to check through that channel in the event that they are in any doubt about their inclusion in the following day's cull.
While the prior notice given to farmers will be short, there is little alternative in the circumstances obtaining at present. I am satisfied that, however traumatic the experience will be for the farmers concerned, undue delay in giving effect to a decision to cull animals will only serve to exacerbate the situation and magnify any risk of transmitting the disease. I have arranged a follow-up visit by Teagasc and-or departmental officials to individual farmers whose herds or flocks have been depopulated.