I and Deputy Fox wish to share time with Deputies Timmins and D'Arcy.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue for discussion. Scrapie has been described as an age old disease and since 1992 it has been a notifiable disease. Random testing was commenced in 1998. In the autumn of this year there was grave concern expressed about what looked like a very negative report from the British authorities. It was widely rumoured at the time that the report would link scrapie and BSE. In October a statutory instrument was signed into law and the following Monday inspectors from the veterinary section of the Department served section A restriction orders on specified farmers in a number of counties. In all, 35 flocks have been locked up since those notices were issued, five of them in the constituency shared by me and Deputy Fox and 16 in Wexford.
In the middle of October the IFA met officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the process of negotiations about how the crisis would be dealt with got under way, with particular reference to farmers whose flocks were locked up. Two days after these discussions commenced the news broke, to everybody's surprise, that the UK research report had been discredited. A fundamental error in the science had occurred and the report was effectively useless.
On 9 November the IFA and the Department began meetings on this issue in Agriculture House. On 20 November the summary position was reached and following a meeting in Brussels, as IFA delegations reached Dublin for further negotiations they were given a copy of what they understood to be the position. Later that morning there were further discussions. A letter was issued from the Department on 23 November. This letter, it was agreed, set out the final position resulting from the negotiations. Four days later a further version of this letter was issued by the Department. This letter had a paragraph which has caused grave difficulties for farmers as it was a fundamental departure from the agreed position. The paragraph dealt with the issue of scanning sheep matter which had not been dealt with prior to this. Since that letter arrived, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has effectively dug its heels in and has presented the farmers affected by this with a most invidious choice. It is a Hobson's choice. They can either keep their flocks locked up or surrender to the Department. I suggest to the Minister here tonight that this issue can only be resolved by co-operative arrangements between the Department and the IFA. What has happened should be changed and I ask the Minister to instruct his Department officials to do that.