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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Feb 1980

Vol. 93 No. 9

Disease Eradication Programme: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to modify the Disease Eradication Programme to alleviate severe hardship on farmers.

I want to thank the Leader of the House for allowing this motion to be taken at this particular time. I also welcome the new Minister for Agriculture, Deputy MacSharry, and I wish him all the best. The fact that he is a west of Ireland man will not take away from him. He will bring to agriculture some of the approaches that are necessary for this day and age. I certainly wish him well on his own behalf and on behalf of the farmers of the west.

This evening we have what I would regard as one of the most important motions laid before this House for many a long day. It is very important in the history of agricultural development at the moment, and in regard to our animal disease position vis-a-vis the other EEC states. As an overall view I want to say that I appreciate the necessity to have this nation cleared of TB and brucellosis. I also appreciate that we are living very dangerously. We are living from one derogation to the next. I quite understand that there is an impatience on the part of our European counterparts that we must get down to the problem of cleaning up our animal disease problem. Furthermore, I appreciate the need to safeguard the most important export commodity we have—I understand it is valued at around £600 million at the moment. By doing so, we safeguard the standard of thousands of farming families living on the land and indeed thousands of others who are working in related industries. I am as conscious as anybody else of the magnitude of the task before us. The movement of cattle has always been very difficult to control at the best of times and particularly when there are some unscrupulous characters who would sell their neighbour's livelihood down the drain for a few pounds in their own pockets.

The Department of Agriculture has been far from imaginative with disease control over the years. Some 20 years and millions of pounds later there are still large areas of black spots in the disease eradication scheme. Not enough research has been done in the best methods of identifying disease, in particular brucellosis, amongst our female cattle.

If you take Great Britain and America you will see that the use of their Rose Bengal test for brucellosis has proved very effective. This is a place test, the results of which can be ascertained quickly, cheaply and reliably; it could be handled by the district veterinary officer in each county. Will it take the Department of Agriculture another 20 years to latch on to this, or would it be too much to expect that a pilot area be set up to see if the Rose Bengal test is as suitable to Irish conditions as it has been to English and American?

To further pinpoint the failure of the Department of Agriculture to get the optimum results from the expenditure on the disease eradication programme over the past few decades, let us look at the farcical situation in relation to the tuberculin used to identify tuberculosis in cattle. For years, and until a few months ago, the vets used what is known as the Weybridge tuberculin, seemingly happy in the knowledge that it was the best available. However, 20 years later, when most other countries had reduced the incidence of disease down to an acceptable level, we found that we were using a weak tuberculin that had the effect of not identifying all possible reactors. Now we use a Rotterdam tuberculin with much greater effect. I count this an unforgivable blunder; obviously the blame rests with several successive Ministers for Agriculture and a plethora of Department officials and vets.

It is apparent that in most countries the fight against animal disease is being won—we are delighted to say that—and 1979 has been a good year as far as disease eradication is concerned. However, 1979 also saw the introduction of the 30-day test, or the pre-movement test as it is called. The powers that be in the Department of Agriculture and the former Minister, Mr. Gibbons, saw fit to impose this legislation, on the basis that the EEC authorities had put the gun to our heads, that time was running out on us and that we had been given a very short time to put our house in order. I have no doubt that that was the reasoning behind it. I still think—as do thousands of farmers in Ireland—that the Minister of the day over-reacted. This 30-day pre-movement test has caused untold hardship to farmers. It has certainly seriously upset the cattle trade. Also, because of that, farmers have only, on average, two weeks to sell their cattle. It has been stated that the results come back from Thorndale much quicker than that but, on the ground, by the time the farmer has the cards in his hand for the animals he wants to sell, he certainly has no more than 13 or 14 days to do so. Indeed, it would be true to say that many farmers have only seven days because of this delay in getting the blood samples back from Thorndale. Let us look at the consequences of that on the ground. The Minister knows all about marts, that even in times of good trade, for some unknown reason, you hit a black spot; as we call it, in the mart world on a particular day at a particular sale, that prices could be depressed for a lot of reasons. If a farmer happens to be present on that, he has only two choices. He can take the poor price for his cattle—there is nothing to stop him from doing that—but he will lose a lot of money—or he can take his cattle home. He will have to wait 42 days—thanks to the present Minister; it was 60—before he can test and another 14 days or so before the blood samples are back and he has the cards in his hands and he can sell again. That makes up a total of about 60 days of a delay. Anybody remotely involved with farming would know that that is the type of programme that very few farmers can go through, particularly in winter time. Having extra cattle on the farm for an extra two months makes terrible problems for the farmer concerned and, indeed, I might add, for the trade generally, but we will come to that later.

This 30-day test law, in itself, has frightened a great number of small cattle producers to take whatever they can get at the mart on the day they are out but, worse still, a number of farmers are beginning to by-pass the marts and to sell on the land. Nobody can tell me that that type of thing is conductive to a good animal disease control programme. It is not, and however the laws are tightened up, we must try to guard against it. It is well to remember, too, the 30-day test is very expensive. Take cases of farmers testing three cattle or fewer, which would be a fairly reasonable average particularly in the western area, in the small cattle-producing areas. They will be asked to pay £10 or £12 for that, if not more in some cases. There is no doubt in the world in my mind that the 30-day test has contributed to the depressed cattle trade and is still doing so.

The store cattle areas of the west are particularly badly hit. It is significant that, by and large, the western counties are a free or clearance area. It is peculiar that the people who did their best over the years in the free and cleareance areas, and did what they were told, are now being penalised more than anybody else. This is something that I could not stand for. Those people have done what has been asked of them over the years and they are now being over-penalised.

I put it to the Minister that, no matter what Brussels says about our disease status, you cannot over-penalise any particular section of our farming community. The duty is on the Minister to help such people, in so far as he can. I want to place on record that I understand the position in which we find ourselves, where the people who are paying the piper are certainly beginning to call the tune. At the same time, I cannot understand why a law would be enacted that would over-penalise people. Considering, as well, that we have relied on a certain system for over 20 years to clear brucellosis and TB is it not amazing that we decide to screw farmers in such a very difficult way all of a sudden? It is going from one extreme to another. Why did the Minister not bring in a 60-day test? A 60-day test would break the disease cycle much better than the annual test would. It would catch most of the movement of cattle and this is important because one of our special problems here is that the interchange of cattle per farm is much greater than it is anywhere else on the Continent. We have a special problem there because cattle shift, on average, four to six times in their lifetime. The 60-day test would be a reasonable one in that it is not as expensive as a 30-day test. It would also cut out irregulat dealing because it would give farmers at least four or five weeks to get rid of their cattle inside the law. At this stage the Minister must give serious consideration to this matter. A lot of talk and rumours have been emanating from Brussels in the past few weeks that the boot is down and there is nothing that we can do about it. But 60-day test comes as near as one would want to a 100 per cent effective control without at the same time over-penalising the farmer, particularly the smaller farmer.

While I have this opportunity, there is another bone of contention. I cannot understand why suck calves or baby calves from the main dairying areas of the south, some of them coming from TB and brucellosis herds, are allowed to enter the free and clearance areas. The likelihood of their bringing disease with them might not be very great but I understand that about 3 per cent of the identified disease problems can be attributed to this type of thing. From now on until April or May the dealers' lorries in their thousands will be coming from the southern counties into the store-producing areas that are supposed to be clear. I cannot see how that could be a good control programme.

At a time when all the blood testing is done at Thorndale in Dublin, I cannot understand why the Minister does not immediately embark on a programme of getting the regional laboratories organised to test the blood at regional level. If we have to have the 30-day test—and I hope we have not got to have this—there is no way in the future that we can trust the post for such a very important function. Considering that we have regional laboratories geographically very well placed around the country, I cannot see any reason why these would not be immediately equipped and put into operation to do the testing at regional level. It was very bad forward planning by the Department not to have thought of doing something about regional testing facilities before drafting the legislation to carry out the 30-day test.

I cannot agree that there is no money to do this 30-day test. If I have my facts and figures right, over £5.5 million earmarked for brucellosis eradication last year was never actually used for that and in fact was put back into the Exchequer. It is a criminal thing that that happened and I would like to hear the Minister's explanation. I cannot understand why it was not used to get equipment for regional blood testing.

While we are talking about disease generally, I cannot understand why the regional laboratories do not concern themselves about this whole question of identifying lead poisoning in calves. This might seem a very minute problem but in fact it is a very big one. The laboratory in Athlone, for example, is not in a position to identify certain problems concerning the intake of lead. A part of the animal in question has to be sent to Dublin and in one case it took at least six days before it was sent back. I understand from the veterinary profession that if the type of lead that the calf actually died from could be identified it would be possible to treat the other calves with a reasonable chance of keeping them alive. I also understand that 7 per cent of all calves appearing at the laboratory in Athlone in 1979 had lead poisoning in one degree or another. I would ask the Minister to ensure that those facilities are down in the country because it is of very little use to us to have facilities in Dublin if we cannot get the necessary information back quickly enough.

On a more general note, there are cases around the country where the relationship existing between the district veterinary offices and some of the veterinary practitioners is not all that we would like it to be. I find this very disquieting because one would assume that in this business of disease eradication it would be very important to have a united effort. I must say that some counties are very good but, to my knowledge some are not so good. It is very important when there is an outbreak of disease in any county or in a specified area that we would be able to call on all the veterinary advice and all the Departmental assistance that can be given to the farmer concerned and to the adjoining farmers.

If one has been critical of the Department over the years it is because of the very lackadaisical way that the whole process and method of taking reactors off the farms is carried out and veterinary advice given. The first man to see a farmer after he has been told he has disease in his herd should be a member of the veterinary profession. This is a very important factor because there has to be some reason for the disease being there and the sooner everybody knows it the better. This whole question of identifying the source and trying to do something about it is of vital importance. To this day I am not convinced that the Department of Agriculture are on the ball as far as that is concerned.

Another factor that I cannot understand is why the annual test is not carried out in time. Only two nights ago I met farmers who did not have a test for 16, 17 and 18 months. I cannot understand this because, if we are to be reasonable, while the 30-day test would catch cattle on the move, nevertheless the vast percentage of the cattle of Ireland, particularly the breeding stock, would only be subject to the annual herd test. I cannot understand why it is not possible, with all the veterinary surgeons that are available, to organise the annual herd test inside the 12 months. If the Department are serious about stamping out disease at that level no farmer should ever be able to say anything but that he had his herd tested inside 12 months.

Many farmers are beginning to brace themselves to possibly paying for their herd testing in 1980. It has taken a longer time than was expected to have it done and it has cost much more because they might have to pay for their herd testing in 1980, and I would like to hear the Minister reassure the House that this will not be the case because they certainly paid enough through the 30-day test and the disease eradication scheme itself without being burdened with this levy as well.

At this stage I would like to bring the Minister's attention to the whole question of the cost of the disease eradication scheme itself as far as farmers are concerned. I know there are many people outside farming who will argue that disease control is within the capacity of the farmer himself and that if he happens to have the misfortune to run into a disease he should also have the obligation to get himself out of it.

It is not nearly as simple as that because what happens is this. Individual farmers might not in many cases have any control particularly over the incidence of brucellosis in his herd, and if you consider at the moment that most farmers now, with all the aids that are there and payments which we will come to in a minute, are losing between £200 and £300 an animal on their market value, not to speak of the replacement value. When the time will come when they will be allowed to buy in, it might be much greater than that and there is no doubt that there are many hundreds of farming families in a very bad state because of the incidence of disease, and because the Government subsidy is not high enough, and because the hardship grants payable in certain cases are also insufficent.

I will be asking the Minister—it is a hard time to be asking it from a Minister for Agriculture—for an increased subvention from the budget. But I can assure him of one thing: you cannot over-penalise anybody, and I do not have to tell the Minister that any farmer who happens to be hit with bovine disease will never want to see disease again.

It is fair comment to suggest that there are a number of people abroad who would suggest that farmers have actually made money out of disease. I have never seen a farmer actually emerge well financially from having disease in his herd, and to my knowledge 99.99 per cent of farmers would not want to see disease of any description in or near their farms.

I ask the Minister to think seriously about the hardship grant. I think the initiation of that was a good idea. It meant that a farmer who was hit severely could have recourse to that scheme. I ask him, therefore, to hike up the payments and make a greater variety of animals eligible.

Another fault we find with the hardship grant is that is it quite difficult to get the money: there seems to be a long interval between the time when the disease arrives on the farm and when the hardship grant is paid. The hardship grant was initially introduced to get people over lean periods. Some farmers have been through very lean periods while they are waiting for this hardship grant to come.

Good progress is being made on disease eradication. It is belated, but it is important that progress has come. I believe that the percentage of brucellosis in the free clearance areas is now down to 2.53 per cent of herds and 0.31 per cent of all animals. To give an idea of how bad it is at the other end of the scale, in the pre-intensive areas, which are basically in the south of the country, the percentage is now as high as 22.3 per cent of herds. That would lead us to believe that there is a tremendous amount of work to be done in the whole eradication scheme. However, the present progress can be maintained with a revised pre-movement test and a general tightening up of the regulations.

I should like to refer to an important inhibiting factor: wash facilities at marts and factories. There is no doubt that—and I speak as somebody who has been very closely involved in the marts business—that, unless the Department of Agriculture are actually seen to be enforcing the regulations fairly and strictly, the scheme will not be a success. For some unknown reason many of the regulations are circulated, but they never seem to be enforced. I ask the Minister to insist that Department officials will make sure that a vehicle arriving at a factory, or a mart for that matter, will be guaranteed to be disinfected on its way out of the yard. If there is a sure way to spread disease it is through those old trucks. I am told that there are factories to this day that do a very bad job in cleaning and disinfecting lorries. There should be very big penalties for that, because, if somebody brings a lorry load of reactors to a factory and 24 hours later that lorry will be carrying a load of cows or incalf heifers, that is criminal. People guilty of such negligence will have to be stopped.

The regulations and the law governing people who tamper with identity cards, who change ear-tags and so forth have been tightened up. I notice that there have been a number of convictions and fairly heavy penalties, but one would hope that it would become easier to bring people who are always flouting the law before the courts. I have always found that the Department officials through lack of evidence, even though everybody knew that a certain section of the community were messing around, have experienced great difficulty in getting them before the courts. For that reason there has been a lot of underhand type of activity hard to prove. I understand that at the moment when a herd owner is about to have his cattle inspected for the ordinary test by a local vet he or she is asked to sign a declaration form. This has a legal implication; and if it means that all cattle on the farm are tested, well and good, it is a job well done.

I suppose it is most important for most farmers that that TV advertisement the Department of Agriculture see fit to screen should go into every house in Ireland. There is no doubt it brings to attention the danger of getting disease into your farm. However, there are more culprits than the poor farmer with his open mouth, a depressed figure. I think that the cameras should be swung around to catch a number of other people—and there are a fair number of them. I would have a look inside the Department of Agriculture and I would have an odd look at the vets and dealers before I would be finished with it. I would put the whole lot of them on trial because I think more people than the farmer have been involved in the deeds or misdeeds or sins of omission during the years. I think it is unfair to nail the farmer with the image that he has been the cause of all his own troubles.

I second Senator Connaughton and join him in wishing the new Minister for Agriculture success in his office. We all realise that the Minister for Agriculture holds the most important Cabinet office and that the economic well being of the country to a very large degree depends on the success that might attend his efforts. It is absolutely necessary to have the goodwill of the farming community and if there are points in the operation of the scheme that annoy them they should be removed if it is safe to do that.

There is a large body of opinion among the farming community and among practising veterinary surgeons that a 60-day test would be equally effective. If that is not the case it should be clearly stated and nobody should be left in any doubt on that point. There is a belief in the country at the present time that the measures taken here are not as effective as those adopted in Britain and in the United States, that if we had used the same tuberculin as they are doing we would have had better results before now. We want a statement on that and a statement as to why it is absolutely necessary that it should be a 30-day test when such a big body of opinion holds that a 60-day test would be sufficiently effective.

The objections to the 30-day test are those outlined by Senator Connaughton. Because of the delays in returning the blood sample—postal delays mainly—the 30 days are very often reduced to 14 days and in some cases even to only seven days. That is a fact. If it is unanimously considered by the expert that we cannot extend the 30 days, then measures should be taken to ensure that the results of the test are available in a shorter time. I do not know if that can best be done by increasing the staff in central laboratories, or whether we should have had laboratories located at different centres throughout the provinces, a suggestion made by Senator Connaughton with which I agree. If it were efficiently done it would mean that the blood test would be back at a much earlier date and the 30 days would be 30 days instead of 14 days or less. That is the point that is being made throughout the country. If the Department showed a desire to meet the wishes of the people by setting up laboratories at strategic centres throughout the country it would clearly indicate goodwill on their part to meet the wishes of the farmers in cutting down the long delay that prevails with regard to the return of the blood test. That is a very important point and one that has led to dissatisfaction.

It is the experience of people with whom I have discussed this matter that very often they are left with a choice of only two marts at which to sell before the test period expires. It happens often that there are fluctuations in prices at marts. Even though prices may be very low a farmer knows that if he does not sell he will be held up for 42 days until the next test. I should like to join with Senator Connaughton in thanking the Minister for that concession but because of the fee situation, the fact that fodder might be running out and so on, the farmer is forced to accept a price that does not pay him for his trouble and his efforts. That arises because of the very short time he has between getting the test results back and the expiry of the 30 days. Anything that can be done to help the farming community in this matter would be very welcome. As I said at the outset, it is important that it be seen by the farming community that every possible effort is being made to meet their wishes.

Senator Connaughton has dealt exhaustively with the question of compensation paid to farmers when their cattle fail the test. There are many farmers all over the country who when things are going well can just manage, but if they are faced with a loss of income as a result of cattle failing the test and if they are also faced with the fact that the grants do not come near meeting the cost of replacement then it is quite natural that they would be less than fully co-operative.

This is a matter that has given dissatisfaction for a very long time. It is the cause of annoyance to farmers and in many cases it puts them in a hopeless financial position. The matter must be attended to. As I said already, the goodwill of the farming community and 100 per cent co-operation is desirable and indeed necessary if the scheme is to be a success. Like Senator Connaughton. I agree entirely with the imposition of severe fines on people who try to circumvent the scheme and who use all sorts of dodges to escape. There would be less of that if the grants were near the replacement cost.

It would be wrong to give the impression that the farming community have been less than responsible. A farmer knows as well as anybody else that it is of the greatest importance to him, more so to him than to any other section, that the disease eradication scheme be successful. I believe that certain measures taken by the Minister now could generate much goodwill and thereby improve co-operation right up to 100 per cent. The scheme has cost so much to date and it is only right that people should objectively examine it to see why it has cost so much and why it has not been completely successful. If the Department are at fault in the operation of the scheme that should be admitted and an immediate change should be made. If it can be shown that the grants or payments made to the farming community who incur these losses are not adequate, then whatever the cost they should be increased. In the long run it would save money.

We are now at a stage—the scheme having been in operation for so long, having attained less than the success we anticipated, having cost a huge amount of money—when there should be an objective examination carried out of how the scheme has been operated with a view to ascertaining means of making it more successful. Undoubtedly, one way it would gain success is through the whole-hearted co-operation of the farming community who will ensure that every effort is made to have their wishes met, that reasonable cases advanced are examined, ensuring that no one farmer or section be called on to bear an intolerable burden. I hope what has been said here today will go some way to bringing about that state of affairs.

May I endorse the words of the previous speakers, Senator Connaughton and Senator O'Brien, in congratulating our new Minister for Agriculture on his appointment? I wish him many years of success in what I regard as a major portfolio, probably the second major portfolio in this country. Like Senator Connaughton, I am glad the Minister comes from an area and background that understands exactly what we in the west mean when we speak about live exports and store trade in general. I have no doubt but that the motive for introducing this motion was to appeal for co-operation from farmers generally, to have open discussion in order to alleviate any hardship and indeed eliminate any lack of co-operation from the people involved in the trade.

The main complaints I have were occasioned by and occurred during the postal strike. During that period I was very critical of the delays encountered in having brucellosis blood samples returned to the veterinary officer and thence to the farmer, which in turn delayed his period of sale, thus reducing the value of his animals. With regard to the export trade, if the animal appeared in the ring with at least a fortnight's test in hand, it would increase considerably its price. This set-back was not the fault of the Department or of the farmers. I remember being a member of a deputation from the animal health committee in Mayo to the then Minister, when we discussed and endeavoured to extend the period of 30 days. We felt that a happy medium might be reached between the 30 and 60 days. I am glad the Minister has introduced a regulation to meet what we were requesting, or would have accepted on that occasion, but which we failed to achieve when we met the Minister's predecessor. On that occasion the veterinary people opposed it bitterly. The Minister had given them a job to do, had told them to get on with the work and that he would hold them responsible if they did not produce a national animal disease free herd by 1982. The Minister then was not a veterinary surgeon and had to be guided by the most knowledgable and highly qualified veterinary people in his Department. That was the scheme devised. I join Senator Connaughton and others in maintaining that there was a great deal of harassment of farmers who were endeavouring to be co-operative under the scheme. Nevertheless, one must be cruel to be kind. In the final analysis I think the scheme will prove to be of benefit to the whole of the farming community and of the nation if we can achieve the targets laid down.

Now I should welcome the blood test being returned on the day the vet gives one one's certificate for TB. That would be a very suitable arrangement, giving the farmer his 30 days free, affording him a re-test within 45 days from the date he received his cards. Of course, it was unfortunate that there was a breakdown in the TB eradication scheme for a year and a half. Again, I shall not blame the Minister's predecessor. However, nobody can deny that he had a disagreement with the veterinary association, taking 18 long months to be resolved. People had to mark time throughout those 18 months when they would have been eradicating disease at a much lower cost than at present. Therefore, we lost 18 valuable months of intensification in the eradication of disease here. I must compliment the Department and their officials on the way they tackled this matter. Perhaps the gun was to their heads which, even if it were the case, I am sure will not be revealed now with the change of personnel at top.

The deadline has been set from Europe. We should be appealing continuously to everybody in the trade—whether he be a mart manager, an auctioneer, a factory manager, livestock exporter, farmer, veterinary surgeon or whoever—to achieve a disease free herd here by 1982. It may be asking too much. We in the West have made our contribution. The incidence of disease in the West now is very low and indeed was at the outset of our major operations many years ago. We in Mayo were one of the first, with Donegal, Sligo and other counties, to be declared a free TB accredited county. The Shannon was the greatest boundary we could have had for control at that time. I do not know why the Department traversed it into Westmeath, Kildare and other areas when they had that natural boundary for control and movement of cattle into the whole western region having a geographical boundary which could have been controlled at the few crossing points of which we are all aware. I read recently that some association—whether it was the Associated Livestock Marts, the IAOS or whatever—was appealing to the Government to provide grants for washing bays at marts and factories. I agree with Senator Connaughton that this constitutes a first priority, that we should have plenty of water pressure and a washing bay compulsorily provided. Unless the Minister makes this compulsory regulation no mart or factory will provide a service.

There are such regulations in every other country. Anyone who takes a load of cattle to a market in Britain must take his truck to the washing bay before going out for another load, regardless of whether he may be collecting from the same herd and the same farmer. This is something which only takes a few minutes under a very high pressure hose. There is some controversy as to who should pay for such facilities. Perhaps the marts and factory operators who are getting good incomes from the sale of cattle and the slaughtering of animals whould provide these washing bays. This should not present any difficulty assuming that water pressure is good. I appeal that this be done in the interest of hygiene and of the eradication of disease generally.

Since 25 January the Minister has made available in Doonally laboratory testing facilities whereby the north-west part of the country will be so serviced for testing in the future. Since the closing of the exportation market from Sligo, they have not been doing the extensive work that they had been doing up to then. I welcome the making available of certain staff for the provision of this service at Doonally.

I should like to see such a service in Athlone, also. The provision of such facilities in An Foras Talúntais at Creagh in Mayo would service the Galway area and tie in with the one in the south. Naturally, Senator Connaughton would like such a laboratory in Tuam but I must look after my own people. The Foras Talúntais research station at Creagh would be the ideal situation from where to synchronise with the Athlone, Sligo and Limerick laboratories.

It is important for our people that we have immediate brucellosis eradication. It is a very dangerous disease and one that anyone unfortunate enough to contract will suffer from for the remainder of his life. It is regrettable that many veterinary people and farmers contracted this disease through no fault of their own but simply by being in contact with it in their day-to-day chores.

When regulations are being made by the Department, the people on the islands off the west coast are always forgotten. I represent two large islands off the Mayo coast. These island people must send samples away for testing, have vets in to examine their cattle and have the cattle hauled into boats and at a mart for sale within 30 days as from the beginning of the whole procedure. In such cases some concessions should be made. We went a long way in providing facilities in Mayo such as pens and catching crushes at Roonah Pier which services the two islands I have mentioned. The Department should make available some enclosure whereby these animals could be fed for the three days that they would be awaiting confirmation as to whether they are to be cleared for sale.

There is some difficulty regarding warble fly dressing in these islands as well because of the problems involved in reaching the islands. If there are three or four vets servicing an island, they are going in at various times. I suggest that there be some co-operation with the Department's vet and the local vets in this regard with a view to having one vet service each island. In this way all the herd on an island would be tested at the same time and, consequently, would all be ready for sale at the one time.

I appeal to everyone concerned to co-operate with the Department in regard to all these matters. I am confident that the farmers will co-operate as they have cooperated in the past.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity of speaking on this motion but, first, I should like to welcome the Minister to his new office. I have every confidence that he will continue to promote the interests of the livestock trade not only commerically but health-wise. I am sure that he has as much knowledge of the problems associated with the sale, transport and the health of animals in the west of Ireland as has anybody anywhere in Ireland.

As far as we are concerned the animal health problems that confront the Department, the trade and the producers are national problems and must be tackled on a national basis. The circumstances associated with the production of animal products such as milk, butter or cheese may be taken individually from the very first stage of production. Indeed, one might go back to the time of the birth of the animals. Unfortunately, farmers are not always as responsible as they should be in regard to taking the necessary precautions with their herds in relation to the prevention of disease. In fairness, it must be said that in many cases this is due to circumstances over which the farmer has no control. Very often he is the owner of an animal in a herd of perhaps ten, 12 or 15 cows. He knows very well that as soon as one of his cows aborts and the matter is reported to a vet, an inspector will be sent from the Department to test all the animals in that herd. The farmer knows that if a TB or brucellosis case is found, he is confronted with a problem in that his herd may be locked up. He fears that circumstance and does not want to face up to it. The result is, and has been, that he buries the foetus, continues to milk the cow, and forgets about this grave circumstance. While that is happening, his neighbour's animals are infected. As far as the herd owner is concerned, this disease is caused more through ignorance and fear than through any deliberate action.

I mentioned this at animal health committee meetings and emphasised that a particular parish in County Longford became infected with tuberculosis and brucellosis. That had been happening in many areas for a number of years. The Department sent inspectors to carry out inspections. I am not quite sure what the results were, but it appeared, for one reason or another, a whole area was allowed to become infected with these diseases and was not checked at any particular time. That could have been a consequence of the practice by one, two or three farmers of the type to which I referred initially, not having an inspection, not reporting the abortion and TB being allowed to ravage not only one, but several herds.

The haulage of cattle in trucks and trailers is rife in rural life. These vehicles help spread TB and brucellosis throughout the country. It is not unknown for people who have animals suffering from brucellosis to take them into factories. The truck owner is not expected by law to wash, disinfect or do anything about the truck when he unloads these cattle. This is another source by which disease is spread. The truck driver may take healthy cattle to a mart and they may come in contact with infection. These are serious problems. The incidence of tuberculosis has reduced considerably, and now brucellosis is the greatest infection among herds. Apparently veterinary surgeons do not have the authority to carry out spot checks on suspected animals. It is possible that a farmer unknowingly might sell an infected beast. There are people who buy animals suffering from TB or brucellosis. They advertise in the public press that they are in a position to buy these animals. It is well known that if those people came to a man's house they could pay him much more than he would get at a factory. When that happens, what is the farmer to do?

I am not mentioning this for the first time. I mentioned it at animal health committee meetings. As far as the veterinary profession are concerned, they want to stamp out this practice as rapidly as possible. If the Department tolerate this—and I have brought this to the notice of the Minister's predecessor—how can we expect an immediate or even a distant clearing of brucellosis or TB? These are the problems the Minister and the nation must tackle. These are the problems farmers will have to be protected from. Whatever tightening up is done to make our herds free from tuberculosis and brucellosis it will have to ensure that there will be no possibility of somebody being able to buy a diseased animal and letting it out into his field with the possibility of infecting his neighbour's cattle. This is a serious situation. This is a matter the Minister should take immediate cognisance of for the purpose of making the country what we want it to be—that is, free of animal disease.

There is no use presenting on television a very high-sounding advertisement telling the farmers to be certain lorries are not dirty, not to buy outside marts, and so on, because a man could buy cattle in the mart which had been carried by a lorry which had already carried infected animals. The Department will have to apply themselves very vigorously to these problems in the future.

The problem of brucellosis in animals is serious for farmers. It can hurt not only their pockets but their health. In certain parts of the country where these tests are carried out and levels of bacteria are found in the milk, this can result in a reduction in the price paid per gallon. Stronger steps should be taken to stamp out this disease. Where a person suffers this terrible loss because his herd is put down, he should be compensated financially rather than penalised. It is well known that the Irish farmer will work more efficiently if he is compensated, but the same cannot be said if he knows he will be penalised. This is a national issue. Our greatest industry is at stake. I appeal to the Minister to ensure as far as possible that the eradication of these diseases takes place as rapidly as possible.

I welcome this first opportunity as Minister for Agriculture to speak to this House. I want to thank the Senators who have spoken so far for their very fine contributions to this debate and for their nice words of congratulations to me. The motion as it reads to me calls on the Government to modify the disease eradication programme to alleviate severe hardship on farmers. Except for the suggestion of a 60-day test rather than a 30-day test, which I will come to later, there have been no other proposals for modification in the scheme that are not already in train or being carried out.

It is probably unnecessary to go back on the history of disease eradication in this country. Suffice it to say that we have been 25 years endeavouring to eradicate bovine TB and we commenced brucellosis eradication in 1965. The cost to the taxpayer has been roughly £140 million. This is estimated to be equivalent to well over £300 million in terms of today's values.

It is universally acknowledged that down through the years we did not get results commensurate with the enormous outlay of money, time and effort that went into the eradication campaign. This led to a very radical review of the situation after this Government took office. This coincided with renewed anxiety in the European Community about the prevalence of disease, particularly in a few member states where incidence levels were very high. This, of course, included Ireland.

The outcome of this review was that we submitted to the EEC and got approval for a revised programme designed to speed up eradication of bovine TB and brucellosis here. The main features of the programme were the introduction of a 30-day pre-movement testing which was, in fact, insisted upon by the EEC. Therefore, it is time that everybody involved in this business realised that it is pie in the sky to be talking about a 60-day test at present. It is just not on.

Other conditions were the immediate punching of reactors and their slaughter within 30 days, special attention to areas where the disease incidence was high, increased penalties for breaches of the regulations, and more rapid extension of the brucellosis eradication campaign.

Since the accelerated programme commenced significant progress has been made. In the round of testing completed in May, 1979 the herd incidence of TB was cut almost by half from 7.5 per cent to less than 4 per cent. The animal incidence was also halved from 0.55 per cent to 0.25 per cent, the lowest figures since eradication began.

Progress continues to be made in the current round of tests although not at the same dramatic pace. So far the TB herd incidence is down to 3½ per cent and the animal incidence is also down. The marginal improvement this year confirms that the final phase of eradicating TB will not be easily achieved. The most difficult part of the job, getting the present 3 per cent down to the EEC standard of 0.2 per cent, is still ahead of us. There is no getting away from the fact that even now one herd in every 30 of those previously cleared is turning up reactors. Obviously in this kind of situation there can be no argument whatsoever for a softer approach in this campaign. Indeed, when I met a number of farming bodies recently they were not calling for any relaxation of the present rules and regulations. On the contrary, they pressed me very very hard for a more stringent and effective application of all the measures now in force.

On the brucellosis side we are of course, at an earlier stage of the eradication effort. Compulsory measures now cover 16 counties. Kerry and Cork were the two most recent additions. In the compulsory area generally, good progress is being made this year and, leaving out Cork, all counties show a gratifying reduction on last year's levels. Nevertheless, a few counties continue to have unacceptably high levels of brucellosis even after a number of test rounds. Everything points to the need for more intensive efforts to get on top of the job in those counties.

In the remaining counties I expect to be ready for full compulsory measures before very long. The task facing us in those counties is a daunting one since one herd in every four in them has some degree of brucellosis infection.

The 30-day test remains an elemental feature in the present eradication programme. It does, undoubtedly, cause inconvenience at times, but it is certain that its value far outweighs any problems it might cause. As many as 4,000 reactors altogether have already been turned up on the 30-day test. Without this test all these reactors and several thousand other animals from the same herds could be moving freely and spreading disease among clear herds around the country.

It has been said before, and it is worth saying again, that for every seller there is a buyer. Buyers of cattle here are entitled to go into the market secure in the knowledge that what they buy is safe. This is what the 30-day test is all about.

There has been criticism—I have to accept that this was justified on occasions—about the time taken to get the test results back to farmers, but I do not accept that, as has been said by Senators today, that that situation now exists. These difficulties have now been sorted out as far as the testing service in the laboratories is concerned. It is my intention to see that herd owners should have adequate time, if possible at least 21 clear days, in which to sell their cattle. As I said publicly on other occasions the Department, and I particularly, want to know of any situation where a farmer has less than that amount of time to sell his cattle. If such a situation exists we will make every effort to correct it. The testing facilities have been expanded and will be further extended to ensure a better all-round service. I have to say, of course, that delays can and do occur elsewhere, rather than at the laboratories. It has been found, for example, that samples are not always posted on the day they are taken from the animals. I appeal directly to the veterinary profession to bear in mind the interests of the herd owner who is waiting to sell his cattle. I ask them to ensure that all samples are posted promptly, as far as possible on the day they are taken. One of the things that farming bodies and others are constantly bringing to my attention is the filthy condition of lorries used to transport cattle to factories and marts. Dirty lorries are a positive menace. Senator O'Toole and other Senators have already referred to this. Any Senator can see the risk from the lorry which today carry reactors to a factory and the next day goes unwashed on to farms to collect cattle for the mart. This must stop and I have given clear instructions to the staff concerned in my Department that they are to be totally ruthless in pursuit of the problem. I say to farmers and mart owners that in their interest they should not allow lorries in that condition near their premises. It is evident to me that farmers now recognise the real urgency of our disease problem; they realise that we must succeed in eradicating this problem. If we do not, they know that it is the farming industry which will be the prime loser. Failure would mean exclusion of a lot of our produce from EEC markets. Our colleagues in the community are only too well aware of our situation; we cannot expect that they will for ever extend the same degree of tolerance towards us as they have in the past. We cannot afford to put our exports at risk. We cannot afford to relax the eradication campaign. What we must do is get on with the job and complete it as rapidly as possible. Then, and only then, can we relax.

A number of points were made by Senators. I will do my best to reply briefly to them. Senator Connaughton raised the question of the Rose Bengal test. It is not recognised by the EEC for export purposes; neither is it recognised for control of inter-herd movements under the EEC rules. For those reasons it is not used here in any general way. It is not a better test for diagnosing brucellosis than the internationally recognised serological test. It is not a simple test that can be done anywhere, it is meant to be done under laboratory conditions and under very careful measurement and absolutely accurate timing. It is very much a subjective test and different people reading it would get different results. Widespread dispersal of the testing adds to the cost in terms of staff and equipment; its supervision would tie up a lot of veterinary manpower, and veterinary manpower is very scarce. The Rose Bengal is a very good test for a quick diagnosis in cases where an abortion occurs or some other emergency demands an immediate result. It is used at present in a number of district veterinary offices for this purpose and its use will be extended. It is also proposed to try it out on a more general basis in a pilot area, probably in one county, at any rate.

Senator Connaughton also referred to the kind of tuberculin that was and is used and said that there was not enough research into this question. A variety of trials and research have been conducted under EEC auspices. We had access to the results and, indeed, some of these experiments and trials were done in Ireland. EEC research did not show that the Weybridge tuberculin was bad; it has succeeded in eradicating TB in Britain. The research did show that the Rotterdam tuberculin is better and it was for that reason that we switched last year to Rotterdam. The results so far confirm that it is likely to have some advantage over the Weybridge product.

Another point raised by the Senator was the movement of calves. We acknowledge that the risk from calves moving up the country from the south is a matter for concern to some farmers, but the information available to me suggests that the risk is minimal. It is very difficult to test and control the movement of all calves; this is probably a refinement that will be desirable when we get diseases down to a much lower level. The minimal risk involved at present would not justify the very considerable amount of time and manpower that would be needed. The question of annual testing was raised by Senator Connaughton and we agree totally with him that the minimum should be at least one year. We now have an agreement with the Irish veterinary union to complete the present round in ten months. This round started late, because of the months lost during the postal strike. I was informed, no later than today, that we are on target for completion of this round at the end of April or early May.

We have the thorny question of com pensation for reactors. The present rates of compensation were fixed in 1978 and a hardship fund operates to help out those who suffer exceptional losses from disease. In the case of TB, the present average number of reactors per infected herd is two. This average conceals much more severe cases and the hardship fund is there to help those. In areas where brucellosis testing is fairly well advanced, the average number of brucellosis reactors is less than two. The vast majority of herd owners do not suffer severe losses in that situation; even those who do would obviously have a lot more to lose if the disease went unchecked. The cost of disease eradication is already very high and farmers are being called on to pay a share of that cost. In that situation it is difficult to justify increasing the reactor compensations. Neither do we want to see, Senators have agreed, a situation where people make profit, or seek profit out of disease.

Senator O'Toole mentioned the provisional laboratory facilities in Athlone. I have already said that, in addition to the announcements that I have made about the improvement in the situation in other areas, we were looking at this possibility; I hope to make some announcements about this in the not too distant future. The Senator also made a very important point—and I have taken note of the points he did make—about the situation on some of our islands.

Our very serious situation regarding the control and elimination of these two very serious diseases has become generally recognised. It is the duty of all of us; Deputies, Senators, Government, farmers, vets and all concerned, to ensure every co-operation regarding speedy eradication of these two dreadful diseases.

I am very glad to have the opportunity of supporting this motion. I welcome the Minister and am pleased to see him take this debate himself. I feel reassured at the points in his statement to the House. I reiterate my belief in, and support for a disease-free status of our national herd. I am conscious of the tremendous amount of work that has gone into the successive programmes over the years and sincerely implore all herd owners to co-operate fully not just to work to control or to comply with regulations in order to sell, but to make a determined effort to eradicate bovine TB and brucellosis from the national herd and from our farms once and for all.

I appeal to the farmers and dealers and, indeed, the marts, indeed to all involved, to play a part and to play that part fully. Nevertheless, I must express some disappointment at the manner in which the administration of the schemes have been carried out and the, to my mind, unnecessary hardship and inconvenience that many herd owners have been caused. If we are to invoke the best response, the Minister must decentralise the administration of these schemes even more than he has.

I suggest to the Minister that he should at least have a district veterinary office in every county. The Minister gave an undertaking that farmers would have 21 days in which to sell their cattle and that gives them time to exhibit their cattle at marts or at fairs. This is quite an advancement and I accept the Minister's statement. Nevertheless, my experience is that in order to get cards out or to have cards corrected one has to go to the veterinary office which is 50 or 60 miles away. Therefore each county is entitled to that measure of decentralisation. We must remember that, taking the industry as a whole, many farmers at present are in the higher age bracket and it is a problem even to get to the veterinary office. I am glad that the Minister has made such a determined effort to improve the situation.

But my own last test was in October and I ended up with two days out of the 30 in which to sell even though I went to Poplar Square twice. While the staff there are very reasonable and they do a good job, that is just one farmer's personal experience.

That would not happen now.

I am glad to accept the Minister's undertaking and I will be watching out for the next full herd test which will be due soon as far as I am concerned.

Farmers are at present going through a period of great uncertainty. This has been added to by the oscillation of mart prices in the last few weeks. There was an announcement a few weeks ago that the prices had gone up a ½p a pound in the midlands. That does not cheer up a lot of the farmers. I have heard people say that it is costing up to £18 or £19 to sell a bullock at present. This is something that we should not lose sight of.

In drafting regulations I hope that the Minister and his senior officials will always bear in mind that the vast majority of the farmers are honest and decent people who try to do a good job. So far as the people who would take shortcuts or deliberately try to defraud the system and to contravene the regulations are concerned, the penalties cannot be high enough and we must tackle this problem once and for all. Having said that, the greatest hardship that can befall a farmer here at present is to be locked up with the double test and that can now happen so easily. Finance is costing at least 18 per cent and the national average return on capital invested in agriculture is 2 per cent. The majority of farmers in this country are small farmers, the highest category being those with under 40 acres, and for them to have their herds locked up and to have to, perhaps, purchase additional feed such as milkstuff or just ordinary bales of hay—and bales of barley straw were going 70p a bale in the last few weeks—and also service a loan from the ACC or from the banks at 18 per cent or even more, is a considerable hardship. Therefore I would like to join with my colleagues, Senators Connaughton and O'Brien, in asking the Minister wherever possible to expedite the payment of all grants, not only in relation to this scheme but across the board. I know from my own experience that a lot of people are facing a rather difficult time and I am sure that the farmers, for their part will co-operate with the Minister and with the Department.

I had thought that the Minister would be able to give us an idea of when he would hope that this present campaign would come to a successful conclusion. It would be nice if we could look forward to a successful conclusion in two or three or five years' time.

I would love to see it tomorrow.

It would encourage people to put that extra bit of work into it. I wish the Minister success in his undertaking and I am glad that he has attended the House this evening. It indicates the high priority he is allocating to the whole problem of disease eradication in his administration. Too many people in the country do not seriously think on the problems that would face us if an important export industry, such as the cattle trade, were to be further handicapped by the lack of disease-free status.

Somebody mentioned the Department's advertising scheme on television. That could be extended a little. It is difficult to get any message across and this advertising is helpful. But it could go a little further and it would be money well spent because there are many people who do not think deeply enough on that problem. When a notice comes asking for a test, perhaps it is the annual test, people look on it as a chore and a problem. There are considerable numbers of farmers who have staff problems in getting in their cattle and, with the brucellosis. TB and, possibly, the warble schemes, when it comes to the second or third test each year the cattle can become extremely difficult to handle. When one considers that the vast majority of farmers are in the higher age bracket and that it is very difficult in some places to get casual labour, it is a problem. I hope the Minister will leave no stone unturned in looking for new ways of doing the job, perhaps trying new vaccines. It is possible in the EEC. With the Minister and his senior staff going abroad, they can see and compare procedures and the rate of progress achieved in other countries although they are under different conditions. Nevertheless we should be brave enough to try different ways to ensure that we find the quickest and the best possible way to enhance the value of our national herd through a disease-free status.

I wish the Minister and his Department success and I hope he will be able to get the full support of the entire community in doing this job. It is not just a matter for the farmers and the Minister, it is the work of the nation and I hope people will look on it as being that.

First, I wish, like my colleagues on both sides of the House, to congratulate the new Minister on his elevation to what, in my opinion and in the opinion of my colleagues on both sides of the House on the Agricultural Panel, is the most important Ministry as far as this country is concerned. I would especially like to wish him well and many years of success in that job.

With regard to the motion before the House, it is the first motion of its type that I have seen here since I became a Senator. We should have more motions on matters affecting our agricultural industry which after all is the prime industry of the country.

Senators Connaughton, O'Brien and Howard, who put down the motion, did so at a time before the alterations had been made by the Minister with regard to the period between testing and also with regard to the other changes which he made. I feel that the introduction of the 30-day test provided the farming community with an opportunity to safeguard themselves against the dangers of importing into their herds diseased animals. Before that, and especially during the period of non-testing by the veterinary surgeons, farmers were forced to buy at public marts animals which might not have been tested. I personally had that experience on a number of occasions.

The question of hardship is mentioned in the motion but when I look back to those days I think of the hardship imposed on farmers because animals that were purchased for export during that period were detained in the marts and tested by the purchaser at the farmer's expense, because he no doubt deducted during that period the cost of testing and storage for those cattle prior to their being moved from the marts.

Senator Connaughton said he objects to on-farm sales of livestock. He should realise this is one of the surest ways of tracing where an animal has gone if it carries disease with it. As he is well aware, under the regulations a farmer is not entitled to move cattle from one farm to another without having a 30-day pre-movement test. If he does so he is infringing the law and is liable to be punished, in my opinion. The 60-day test as introduced originally was a test to bring about the upgrading of our disease standards. Our disease standards had been allowed to slip for a number of years. The fact is that routine testing, which started originally with a pilot scheme in County Tipperary in 1950, had reached the stage where the incidence of TB had been reduced to in the region of 4 to 5 per cent but was coming no lower and had come no lower for a number of years. To get down to the EEC requirement of 0.2 per cent, the Minister had the courage in conjunction with his veterinary staff in the Department to set about tackling the problem, That they did. Under the change introduced by the new Minister the waiting period is reduced from 30 days—you had to wait 30 more days before you could re-test—to 15 days. The world standard laid down that the minimum period between testing for TB can only be 42 days.

Senator Connaughton suggested that a longer period could be allowed and that possibly the extension would mean the validity of the test could be explored. If he looks back to the statement issued by the previous Minister on 1 November with regard to cattle for export from this country he will see that Britain was no longer prepared to accept cattle unless they had a 30-day test prior to export. This, under severe interpretation, is the reason why 30 days should and must be the period between tests. If the other situation were to be allowed you would have twice as much hardship imposed on farmers because you would have exporters buying cattle and when they check their cards in the office they would immediately refuse to pay for or take the cattle. The net result would be a telegram to the farmer on the following day to collect his stock. Something no farmer wants is a telegram the following day to collect something that he feels he has sold.

With regard to delays I feel the Minister should examine the possibility of having the vets under order to have the tuberculin test report in the veterinary office within 48 hours of testing in cases where cards have to be issued. If that was done I have no doubt that cards could be back to the farmer, where only TB was involved, within four to five days of the date of the test.

I have found from my own experience of the veterinary office in Sligo that the staff and the field men there are more than willing to help farmers who wish to sell cattle. They go to no ends of trouble to see to it that cards are sent to the marts where the farmer is going to sell his cattle. This I feel is one way to help to get rid of the delays and the hardship being caused to farmers. There have been cases where vets have not sent in the test report for ten to 14 days. That is not the Minister's fault nor is it his officials' fault. The fault lies with the veterinary practitioners who do the test. I feel that this should be brought to the notice of the vets through the Veterinary Union with a request that they send them in within 48 hours. I feel that two days is sufficient to give any vet time to have his returns at least in the post to the district veterinary office.

With regard to the brucellosis situation, blood from all over the country previously had to come to the Thorndale laboratory in Dublin, but now the Minister has extended the facility to the various areas. I would especially like to welcome the announcement which he made recently on testing facilities at the veterinary laboratory in Sligo for farmers in the north west. This is a major step forward and he is to be complimented on it as a way of doing away with the hardship element which had been caused due to blood having to be sent to Dublin and possibly having to await its turn in the queue in the Thorndale laboratory before it was tested.

This motion is a good one, a motion with which, had it come six or eight weeks ago. I would have agreed more. The new Minister has a direct interest in the livestock farmers of this country and in the livestock exporters and dealers and has made a determined effort to ease the hardship on farmers and others directly involved in livestock production. No doubt he will be prepared to give us his full commitment for the next two years and say to us that by 1982 we will not be told that our cattle, due to the health qualification, are not suitable for export live. As far as I am concerned, you must have the competition between both the meat factories and the live exporters to see to it that farmers get the maximum price for their produce.

It is with a feeling of not inconsiderable trepidation that I rise to speak on this motion. Given the very full membership from the Agricultural Panel in the Seanad at the moment and the agricultural expertise which is clearly here, I will speak for only a minute or two. I describe myself as an outsider who has had cause in the past to hear farmers speak of the difficulties that they experienced, and more so as a legal practitioner who has been involved in a couple of cases relating to prosecutions under the Acts and regulations. I have had to sit in court and listen to some of the cases that have gone on.

I think Senator Ellis put his finger on the point when he said there have been times in the past 25 years when the regulations have not been enforced. It is a hit and miss business. Department of ficials are under pressure to do something about this and many farmers feel they are being vindictive because the eradication of bovine diseases has not been pursued consistently and because the prosecutions that have been brought appear to have been brought on a selective basis. I do not say that has been the case but it is the opinion of farmers as a result of the stop/go policy in the Department over 25 years.

When one remembers that £300 million in present-day money terms has been spent over that period it is appalling that we have not advanced the cause of disease eradication in any significant way. I have been horrified and appalled listening to court cases where Department officials have had to admit that they ignored regulations. I recall one case in which my firm were involved where I heard a Department inspector admit in court that in order to re-test beasts in a locked-up herd on an outside farm they brought these cattle to the yard of a neighbour, who was clear, to use the testing facilities that he had, namely a good chute. That was in the course of prosecuting a farmer who to my knowledge had advanced the scheme in every way he could since its commencement but who over the years had become disillusioned with the stop/go policy of the Department and also with what he felt was the vindictive approach of some Department officials. I was horrified to hear that. There is a principle in equity—Senator Ryan may contradict me if I misquote it—which says. "He who comes to equity must come with clean hands", but on that day Department officials came to the court with "filthy hands" to prosecute somebody who had committed one alleged misdeed. That case was very widely publicised at the time in the national and farming papers. After that many people came to me and expressed the view that they felt Department officials were sometimes vindictive and that farmers did not trust them. Given that atmosphere of ill-will, it is easy to understand why £300 million in present-day money terms has been spent without any success.

The regulations under the Bovine Diseases Eradication Acts are so complex that some Department officials do not understand them. I heard from a colleague of a case in Birr District Court recently in which the claim was made that two articles of recently passed regulations were contradictory. The Department prosecuted under one regulation and in fact the defence was put that if another regulation had been followed it would have been quite impossible to comply with the regulation that the particular farmer was being charged with breaking. Unfortunately I was unable to contact the solicitor who had carriage of that case but I propose to contact him and I will write to the Department about it. I appreciate that many of these regulations are extremely difficult to draft, that it is a very technical area, but it is important that events like this do not happen. One sees apparent blunders being made in court by the Department but I do not blame the Department officials because it is a difficult problem. There is such pressure now to do things right that there is a danger that many prosecutions will be brought to court where the proofs will be inadequate or where Department officials will be seen to have taken shortcuts. If farmers see this—these cases are headlined in farming papers and in local papers—they will begin to think that the whole thing is a cod. They feel when they are prosecuted for some minor breach of regulations that the Department are coming down heavy on them in order to show that they are doing something. This is an area in which the Department need to concentrate very heavily. They should ask officials to go out of their way to show their bona fides and their interest in co-operating with farmers. I know that the Minister is anxious to make his mark in his Department in this particular sphere and it is in a genuine spirit of goodwill that I make what may appear to be very critical remarks.

In conclusion, let me join with the other Senators in wishing the Minister a very happy stay in his Department. I hope it will not be too long a stay but as long as Fianna Fáil stay in Government, I have every faith that he will do a good job there.

I cannot let this occasion go without raising a point which has bothered me. I welcome the new Minister for Agriculture to the House and wish him the very best in his new responsibilities.

I have always had tremendous regard for the work done by the various State institutions working in the agriculture sector, for instance, An Foras Talúntais and, of course, the Department of Agriculture. Ireland is recognised worldwide as an authority in this area for the technological achievements it has produced in agriculture and in the store of knowledge that exists in this country about agriculture and agricultural development. We have been hearing in this debate of our difficulty to apply the knowledge in relation to the eradication of diseases in our herds. This is one of the main arms of our economy.

I did a simple sum about a year-and-a-half ago and I found a rather interesting fact. I am always worried that in this country technologists do not seem to get into positions of policy responsibility and it is only in latter years that this has begun to happen. I am always keeping an eye on the number of technologists working in particular areas as opposed to the number of administrators. Over the years we seem to have rapid expansion of administrative Departments, for instance, the Department of the Public Service. The sum I did was to add up the total of agricultural type animals, cattle and so on and divide it by the total number of veterinary surgeons in the country and I compared this with other European countries. I found that Ireland has a third fewer veterinary surgeons than other countries. This worries me and I would like the Minister to have a look at it. It appears we have not a sufficient number of veterinary surgeons and yet we are spending all this money on disease eradication——

And over-administered.

I would be interested some time to hear from the Minister as to whether he agrees with this conclusion.

First, I wish to thank the Minister for his contribution to the debate. His statement was a bit like the curate's egg, good in spots and bad in spots. I am delighted to know that the Rose Bengal test is being closely examined. It is obviously going to be applied to a county. Like the Rotterdam tubercular test, it might have a lot of uses in this country. We shall all be looking forward to what might happen. Even if it does not fit the bill, certainly we will have it tried out on a scale that will ensure the end of debate once and for all as to whether it is suitable or not.

Bearing in mind what Senator Ellis had to say about the former Minister—that he turned down the idea of a reduction in the number of days from 60 to 42—I make the same point to the present Minister. I adhere to my view. The Minister made a very clear announcement that there would be no change in regard to the 30-day test. He also made the statement that all the farming organisations he had met were adamant that he should stick to his guns. I want to put on record here that, if there happened to be an IFA man, or any ICMSA man, on the deputation west of the Shannon, he would not be happy about the 30-day test. Perhaps I am meeting a very different type of farmer or individual who decides to speak only to me against the 30-day test. However, after this absolute pronouncement by the Minister, I believe nothing can be done about it. But it should be borne in mind that I heard the Minister's predecessor say that absolutely nothing could be done about a reduction in the days; yet the present Minister could do so. Perhaps in ensuing months and in the next year it will be found that we are getting on top of this.

I knew that something different would have to be done, certainly a more fundamental job than was being done on the yearly test,—but to think that we had to go to such extremes. It must be recognised that there is a certain section of the community in the midlands and so on buying cattle from the west, and certainly it will suit them that we have a 30-day test. The point I am making is that the Bill is unfair to our small cattle producers. I will stand on any platform and contend that that is what the small producers are talking about tonight; whether or not it reaches anybody else's ears, I do not know.

But the Senator should explain to them what disease eradication means. In all honesty, the Senator should do that. Nobody likes the inconvenience of it, but it has to be so.

The point I am making is that it is over-penalising a certain section, and there would be many not too far from Sligo who would not like it.

We will be delighted to talk to them and explain it at any time.

I am as anxious as the next man and more anxious than most, as my record will show, to ensure that things be done properly. But this has been the subject of a joke. The national Exchequer cannot uphold it, and there will be a rebellion against it. I am disappointed that that is the outcome because obviously it is an absolute official "no" to any extension of the 30-day test.

I might mention one matter of which the Minister might take note and which is of great importance to any farmer it might affect. Take a case of blood sampling where the blood clots. Take the example of a farmer with five heifers. The blood is sent to Thorndale and it turns out that one of the samples clots. As far as I am aware that blood has to be retaken and sent back before an absolute decision is given on the other four animals. Where the herd happened to be clear for a year or two before that, where the other four animals passed the test, I would assume that all that should be missing from the test should be that particular animal, and the Department should allow that farmer sell the remaining four.

I will check that out.

I thank the Minister. I am extremely thankful to the Minister for his view, indeed his guarantee, that farmers will have their tests back allowing them a 21-day selling period. I have several names of people, admittedly not in the last fortnight or three weeks but before, who would be nowhere near that. Unless the regionalisation programme continues and is accelerated when there are a lot more cattle in the south being tested, as the pre-intensive campaign continues, my fear is that Thorndale will get jammed. If that happens, and if we encounter any more postal problems, then we will be in great difficulty. I am very thankful to the Minister for his assurance that he will oversee the situation and that he would like the name forwarded of any farmer who does not get his results back in a week or nine days. That is a reasonable commitment on the part of the Minister.

I do not particularly agree with the Minister's view on calves from the south. It would be very difficult to police. I would plead with the Minister in regard to anybody selling calves out of a locked-up herd—whether the disease be brucellosis or TB in the south—to ensure that there be some identification on such calves. If one takes a clear area such as we have now in the west, even if there is only a remote possibility that a calf from an infected herd could bring a very small amount of disease with him, it could constitute the nucleus of a flare-up. Indeed, perhaps that is the reason why some counties clear heretofore experienced such a flare-up in disease.

This has been a good debate. A lot of the things that should be said were said. I am very disappointed about the 30-day test, a view I hold firmly. On other matters I congratulate the Minister on his stand. I should think that a lot of farmers will feel that much happier tonight, being somewhat more assured as they forge ahead.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 7.50 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 20 February 1980.