EU Beef Proposals and Foot and Mouth Outbreak: Statements.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Davern): I welcome the opportunity to inform the House of the EU Commission's proposals for reform of the beef regime and also to deal with the foot and mouth disease issue.
I will first deal with the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The situation in Great Britain is deteriorating on a daily basis and is posing a growing threat to Ireland. The House will recall that the first outbreak of this disease was con firmed in Essex in south-east England on 20 February last. Since then, cases have been confirmed at 21 other locations throughout Great Britain, including one in Anglesey yesterday. I understand that other suspect cases are under investigation in Great Britain as we speak.
More seriously, I can inform the House that a suspect case is being investigated in Moy, County Down. I must stress that this case has not been confirmed but I am extremely concerned at this development and I am taking appropriate action. The Northern Ireland authorities have restricted the suspect premises. An eight kilometre exclusion zone has been established around the premises within which animal movements are being prohibited. The Border bisects the exclusion zone and it is therefore necessary that my Department takes appropriate precautionary measures with immediate effect to restrict all animal movements within, into and out of an area immediately south of the Border in north County Louth. Arrangements are being made to give effect to this measure.
This development brings into clear focus the potential risks to Irish agriculture and the economy generally from this disease, and the need for strict enforcement of the controls my Department quickly put in place over the past week. I stress the enormous complexity of putting controls of this nature in place so quickly. Measures have been introduced in such a way as to address the areas of greatest potential risk and have been enhanced as the situation evolves. It has been necessary to engage the assistance of a number of Departments and services, farming organisations, dealers, marts, transport companies and all others involved in any way in the agri-food industry.
A high level interdepartmental group has been established to co-ordinate efforts which will meet each morning to assess new developments and develop strategies to address new issues as they arise. Representatives of my Department, the Department of Public Enterprise, the Department of Finance, the Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and others are involved and the first meeting was held this morning at 8.15 a.m. The assistance of others will be sought as required. I assure the House that with the support of this group, the situation is being monitored on an ongoing basis and whatever further actions may be required will be taken.
In the past 24 hours a number of additional steps have been taken. The importation of horses from Great Britain has been banned. The IRFU, on strong advice from my Department, cancelled the Walesv. Ireland rugby match scheduled for this Saturday. I thank the IRFU for its decision and its concern which predates the cancellation of the match. The Irish Kennel Club has cancelled working farm dog classes at the forthcoming St. Patrick's Day dog show. The Office of Public Works has suspended all work on arterial drainage and is closing Dublin Zoo. It has also been requested that all horseracing, including point to point meetings, and all greyhound events be cancelled until further notice.
It has also been advised that Irish horses and their connections do not travel to the forthcoming Cheltenham festival of racing and that Irish racing followers do not attend the festival. I was disappointed this morning to hear people say they would go to Cheltenham irrespective of the situation. I do not believe the festival will be held as that would be totally irresponsible.
These measures are in addition to those already taken, which include a temporary ban on imports of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer from the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and on a range of animal products from such animals from 21 February. In addition, staff of my Department throughout the country were put on alert on Wednesday last, four or five hours before the EU Commission took action, while arrangements were made with the Garda and Army authorities for appropriate resources to be sent to the Border area immediately. Advice notices were issued to the industry on the implications of the ban last Thursday. A voluntary ban was imposed on livestock marts in Border counties and on hunting last Friday. Advice to the public on the disease and its implications was included in extensive advertisements in the weekend papers and staff of my Department were on duty over the weekend to assist the public.
Live sheep imported from Great Britain since 1 February have been monitored and these animals will now be slaughtered. Arrangements were put in place from the outset to ensure that the disinfection of vehicles and people took place at entry points. These arrangements were enhanced over the week and significant resources have been diverted to ensure that disinfection arrangements are fully enforced. This is now the position at all relevant entry points.
Advice has been given to the public by various means on the measures required to minimise risks of introducing the disease to specific areas. Yesterday we announced a temporary nationwide ban on sales at livestock marts and controls on the importation of used farm machinery from Great Britain, excluding Northern Ireland.
Undoubtedly there is a very high level of awareness among the public on the dangers posed by foot and mouth disease to the economy. This is partly attributable to the campaign launched by my Department since the first confirmation of the disease in Great Britain, but also to the near blanket coverage this topic has received in the media. This level of coverage is to be welcomed because it is clear that the effectiveness of the comprehensive range of measures put in place by my Department will depend to some extent on the behaviour by individuals travelling to and from the UK. Therefore, anything which raises public awareness is to be welcomed.
In this regard I am extremely concerned at reports on "The Marian Finucane Show" and elsewhere concerning the quality of controls at Dún Laoghaire port. Ferries from the UK have not arrived in Dún Laoghaire since Sunday. It was clearly implied by the Leader of the Opposition in the other House this morning that this happened yesterday. Any incident of the type referred to could not have happened since then. Nevertheless, I am having the matter fully investigated. In the meantime, I am making immediate arrangements to redeploy staff from other areas in my Department to Dublin Airport, Dublin Port and Dún Laoghaire port to ensure that the measures in place are being effectively implemented.
I appreciate that many of these measures will cause inconvenience and regret, but they must all be taken as part of the major effort in which we are engaged. With all that is at stake, I am fully confident that the co-operation of all will continue to be forthcoming in giving immediate effect to these and whatever other measures may be required. We will not succeed without such co-operation and commitment. Regardless of the efforts of civil servants, the Garda Síochána and the Army, we need the co-operation of all the people, both North and South. We have the proud status of being a disease free island and we want that to continue. However, we must alert every person on the island about this problem because their future is at stake.
We also need the co-operation of people from England. I heard someone saying this morning that someone had come from a farming school in England – I presume it is Cirencester. That person, who is returning to a farm, should not have returned home. It is the moral duty of people not to come home now. No one should be more aware of that than someone involved in farming.

It does not excuse the fact that there should have been people at the port.

There were people at the port.

That is not what was said.

We are investigating that matter.

Senator Norris will have an opportunity to make a contribution.

I appreciate the Senator's concern about this matter.

People were not at the North Wall.

We appreciate any reports of these matters and we will check to ensure the orders we have given are being implemented. In 1967 we asked people not to come home from England for Christmas and they did not do so. Perhaps they had greater discipline then than they have now. We asked people, particularly those involved in farming or animal livestock, not to travel unless it was essential. Whatever chance we have of keeping the disease from coming here on the wind, as the wind direction seems to be in our favour, we must ensure that the people are disciplined and that they co-operate with us, particularly when Anglesey is only 60 miles from here. We must tell those who wish to travel that they are not welcome here at this time because our national interest is at stake.

As regards the proposals for reform of the EU beef sector, the proposals were adopted by the Commission on 13 February and were discussed in the Agriculture Council for the first time on Monday last, 26 February. The background to the proposals is the outbreak of the BSE crisis which erupted in a number of member states last November and which has led to a substantial reduction in beef consumption within the Union and the loss of major third country markets. The current estimates are that beef consumption in the EU has fallen by 30% and up to 50% of third country markets have been lost to European tenders. These developments pose serious difficulties for the beef sector and the Commission's proposals are designed to enable the industry to cope with the crisis both in the short term and in the longer term.

Before I comment on the proposals, it would be useful to outline them in general terms. As far as short-term measures are concerned, the ceiling of 350,000 tonnes on sales into intervention will be abolished for 2001 and 2002 to avoid recourse to safety net intervention. In addition, the Commission intends to replace the purchase for destruction scheme with a special purchase scheme which will run until the end of the year. The main difference between the new scheme and the purchase for destruction scheme is that member states would have the option of storing the beef for eventual distribution as food aid or free food to the poorer sections of the community or to destroy the beef if there is no market outlet. In addition, steers would no longer be eligible for the scheme. The rationale behind this proposal is to attempt to circumvent the "ethical" problems which a large number of member states have with destroying healthy beef.

The longer-term proposals provide in the main for changes to the premium system. It is proposed that the special beef premium quota be converted into an individual producer quota subject to regional limits based on payments made in one of the years 1997 to 2000, whichever is the highest, plus 3%. The option currently available to member states to waive the 90 head limit is to be removed. The 20% heifer facility in the suckler cow premium is to be amended to require producers to submit heifers for at least 20% of their suckler cow quota. In addition, the option would be increased to 40%. It is also proposed that unused suckler premium rights be frozen in the period 2002 to 2004. The stocking density limit for the suckler cow premium and the special beef premium is to be reduced from 2.0 lu/ha to 1.8 lu/ha.

While I have major difficulties with the Commission's proposals, it cannot be denied that the situation facing the beef industry is extremely serious and that effective measures are needed at EU level to rebalance the beef market. We are in the middle of a crisis which is unprecedented in its scale in any sector, let alone the beef sector. This crisis has led to a major reduction in beef consumption in some European markets. In the case of Germany, consumption has dropped by 80% and prices have fallen by approximately 40%. Given the dependence of the Irish beef industry on export markets both within and outside the European Union, it is in the interests of Irish beef producers that effective measures are taken to restore balance in the beef market. Otherwise, the current market difficulties will continue indefinitely and Irish producers will suffer as a consequence.

That is not to say we are prepared to accept the Commission's proposals as they are currently presented. I have considerable difficulties with these proposals, particularly as they do not include effective supply control measures and, to the extent that supply control measures are being proposed, they are targeted at the suckler herd. This would have a disproportionate impact on Ireland. In addition, I have strong objections to the individualisation of the special beef premium quota because it would give rise to additional bureaucracy and impose severe impediments on inter-farm trade. The proposed reduction in the special beef premium quota is also unacceptable. However, I welcome the proposal to remove the intervention ceiling for 2001 and 2002. Unfortunately, the scale of the problem facing the beef sector in the European Union is such that it is likely it will be necessary to purchase substantial quantities of beef into intervention over the next two years. The abolition of the ceiling is designed to prevent prices from falling and that is to be welcomed.

The proposed replacement of the purchase for destruction scheme is designed to ensure that the burden of this scheme is spread more evenly across the member states. At present, only a small number of member states are implementing this scheme which means it is less effective than it should be in removing the surplus and the burden of adjustment is being borne by a small number of member states. That is unfair and I welcome the efforts of the Commission to ensure that all member states become involved in the scheme. However, we have made it clear to Commissioner Fischler, both in the Council and in bilateral discussions, that we are extremely concerned at the proposal to exclude steers from the new scheme at least until the backlog of steers has been removed from the system. I am extremely conscious of the importance for winter finishers of retaining steers in the purchase for destruction scheme and I made this point strongly to Commissioner Fischler. The Commissioner has a good understanding of the significance of this measure for Irish producers.

As I said earlier, effective measures are needed to rebalance the market. The calf processing scheme proved to be a most effective measure and I will be seeking to have it reintroduced. Many member states are opposed to it on animal welfare and ethical grounds but it has proven its worth in the past. Additionally, it is a mechanism to ensure that member states where beef comes predominantly from the dairy herd make a reasonable contribution to the supply control effort.

While the Commission's most recent proposals concentrate on eliminating the new beef surplus through supply control and intervention type measures, I emphasise that the best long-term solution is to restore consumer confidence in beef and secure the re-opening of those third country markets which have been closed.

The measures which have been taken at EU level in relation to the ban on meat and bonemeal, the extension of the SRM list and the introduction of rapid BSE testing, are all designed to restore and achieve these objectives. In addition, I have been pressing the Commissioner for an increase in export refunds which would facilitate exports to third countries.

It is difficult to contemplate the danger posed by the possibility that there may be foot and mouth disease within the island of Ireland. If this occurred, the damage would destroy our beef industry – and I use the word "industry" in the sense of its financial value – in addition to social and cultural values inherent in entire communities.

This is the most important debate the House has had recently concerning the agriculture industry. We cannot understate how critically important the situation is for the nation. As the Minister rightly said, this will have a huge effect on many aspects of agriculture and life in general. While I do not wish to criticise for the sake of doing so, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, and the Minister, were quite lax in reacting to the emergency at an early stage. There was no realisation of the difficult and critical situation the country is facing, and in recent days we have heard stories which illustrate this fact. On Sunday evening, I spoke to a person who arrived in Dublin Airport from England. They may have been on a farm but no questions were asked and no signs were displayed at the airport concerning foot and mouth disease. The point has been made vociferously that the necessary action was not taken. Television advertisements were not used, even though television is the best way of getting a message across. We did not strike a blow which reflected the emergency. While I want to be constructive about the matter, we were not proactive at an early stage in dealing with this problem. Many people have spoken about their personal experiences. We have heard stories about people arriving in the country who were not required to walk across disinfectant mats. I agree with the Minister who said that anyone travelling from an agricultural college to a farm must be responsible in this regard.

Not enough notice was given about the foot and mouth emergency, particularly at our ports and airports. The fact that 21 cases of foot and mouth disease have been discovered in Britain brings home the seriousness involved. There is now a real worry that the disease may be north of the Border. The crisis is not only becoming worse by the day but also by the hour. The effect of this situation on the country cannot be underestimated. It will affect people in every walk of life and is not confined to those involved in agriculture. Huge numbers of people are involved in the agricultural sector and the economy depends upon that industry. Towns and cities are dependent on agriculture. We must all be concerned about this national crisis and no one should take the opportunity to have a swipe at others over how the problem is being handled. We must be constructive in handling the matter.

There will be much hardship as a result of the problem. Farmers are probably at their most vulnerable at this time of year when much expense is incurred due to the use of animal feed and fertilisers. Farm incomes are reduced at this period because not much milk is produced and few cattle are sold. People need to come to the aid of the agricultural industry at this time in order to rescue it. Co-ops and banks should not force farmers to sell stock. Now that the marts are closed I have heard reports that farmers will sell animals privately. The Department must address that situation and not encourage people to sell calves from farm to farm. Something should be done to curb that activity so that people are not forced to sell animals because of hardship. Co-ops and banks should be interested in helping farmers and the country in general. This is a time for everybody to stand up and be counted, and work together. No animal should have to be sold until this crisis is over.

Other sectors of the economy will be affected if the crisis becomes prolonged, including tourism. I was speaking recently to someone in the tourism industry who was concerned that everything possible should be done to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. People in the tourism sector believe that if this crisis drags on into the summer it will have a detrimental effect on them.

Much comment has been made by those involved in the sporting world. The gentleman from the rugby football union must be commended for the way he spoke on television yesterday. He put the nation's business before sporting interests in calling off a major sporting event. That was a positive response to the crisis, even though many people will be disappointed by the cancellation of the Ireland-Wales rugby game.

This morning, my own party decided to call off its Ard-Fheis. I would encourage other bodies and organisations to follow that lead. Fine Gael was on a roll and things were going well for us in recent weeks, so it was a big decision but we took it in the national interest. I am delighted to have been a part of taking that decision and I am sure people will appreciate and understand why we took it.

I forgot to mention in my speech that all sales will be banned, except for direct sales to the meat factories.

Very good.

There will be no movement anywhere. I agree with the Senator about the dealing situation. We can put that problem down to Northern Ireland as well.

Right. I welcome what the Minister has said about dealers and I hope there will not be any sales.

Will the Minister of State review the farm assist scheme because some farmers are experiencing hardship? They must buy groceries and other essentials to sustain their families. Perhaps the scheme could be extended on a short-term basis to help such farmers. We are experiencing a crisis about which everyone is concerned and I hope no stone will be left unturned. Young people who did not live through the previous crisis in 1967 do not understand the broader implications of foot and mouth disease and the restrictions that must be put in place to curtail it. They do not realise the effect it could have. A constructive debate and a good advertising campaign are needed. That is why I welcome the debate and much of the Minister of State's contribution. We on this side of the House will do everything to be constructive and helpful.

I refer to the new EU proposals to address the BSE crisis. I believe Ireland has not yet explained to the EU its heavy dependence on agriculture. We have failed to point out how dependent our economy is on the industry. The new proposals from Brussels are another indication of the need to explain our dependence on agriculture. Ireland is not given credit for the grass-based beef it produces. Ireland produces the best beef in Europe. We have failed to sell that point in Brussels and the proposals will create further hardship for the farming community. The Government must stand firm and promote our case which is unique in terms of the dependence of smaller beef producers. We are not feeding out of feed lots. Most of our beef is produced on grass-based farms and that point must be pushed home.

I urge the Minister to stand up to the proposals and fight for what is good for small and mid-size farmers. Never in the history of the State was such a determined fight required to take on the bureaucrats in Brussels and explain Ireland's dependence on agriculture. I wish the Department well in the negotiations and I hope at the end of the day there will be a good reward for the agriculture industry.

I welcome the Minister of State to debate these important and serious matters. When the first outbreak of foot and mouth dis ease was detected in England on 20 February we hoped there would only be a few cases but the outbreak has become much more serious and 22 cases have now been confirmed. Every precaution and measure must be taken to ensure the disease does not reach Ireland. There is a suspected case in Northern Ireland which is a serious development.

Senator Hayes approached the debate in a sensible and co-operative manner, which is important. We must all be at one in making sure that everything is done to ensure this dreaded disease does not reach Ireland. Measures were taken quickly before the EU Commission decided to do anything. Patrols were set up along the Border and 30 points of entry have been manned. I listened to a report by Philip Boucher-Hayes on radio yesterday as I travelled to Dublin. He visited ten farmers and was surprised at the lack of concern among them. They did not appreciate the seriousness of the crisis. A number asked where was the JCB when an animal was found.

That was an outrageous remark.

It was an outrageous remark. They displayed the wrong attitude and we should try to discourage it. That is the wrong mentality but I do not know how it can be tackled because a number of farmers think like that.

Everybody concerned must display goodwill and co-operate because that is most important, especially along the Border and at other points of entry to the State. As the Minister of State said, it is deplorable that anyone connected with a farm in England should enter the State without taking the necessary precautions.

I recall the previous outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 1967. All sporting fixtures were abandoned. I kept greyhounds at the time and was a keen coursing enthusiast. I was disappointed when all coursing fixtures were abandoned in late October 1967 for the rest of the season. People were asked not to travel home from England that Christmas and many co-operated. It is essential that people co-operate by not travelling now and that all sporting fixtures are cancelled.

The first outbreak was detected last Tuesday in England and on Wednesday the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, the Minister of State and the Department moved swiftly to put in place the first wave of protective measures. They introduced an immediate ban on the importation from the UK, including Northern Ireland, of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, meat and meat products, milk and milk products. Arrangements were put in place in conjunction with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to enlist the assistance of the Garda in enforcing the ban. The arrangements were put in place in Border areas with effect from last Tuesday evening and were further consolidated over the past week. Major resources are being focused in this area. Defence Forces involvement will be a feature of the next phase of the exercise.

We have not had a case of foot and mouth in Ireland since 1941. I was very young at that time but I remember people talking about it and I think there was an outbreak not far from where I was living. The fact we have had no case since 1941 has been due in no small way to the manner the country responded to outbreaks elsewhere in Europe, most notably the outbreaks in the UK in 1967 and 1981. The Minister is determined that on this occasion we should respond to the situation as effectively as in the past and that every necessary measure be taken to prevent the spread of the disease from the UK to Ireland. This must be done with the co-operation of all concerned.

Public information meetings for farmers on early retirement have been cancelled, including one in Sligo on 23 February, in Cork and Ennis on 26 February, in Killarney and Newbridge on 27 February, in Clonmel on 28 February and in Longford and Nenagh on 1 March. Very importantly, the Minister has imposed a temporary nationwide ban on all livestock marts in order to minimise animal movements off and between farms. As Senator Hayes said, it imposes hardship on farmers, especially dairy farmers who might have very little income and are anxious to sell. I agree there should be no pressure and financial institutions should play their part in ensuring no undue hardship is placed on farmers who cannot sell their stock. There should be no cattle movement whatsoever and I am sure this will be adhered to.

With effect from midnight yesterday the importation of horses and greyhounds from Britain has been banned. Requests have also been made to the relevant authorities that all horse racing, including point to point events, and all greyhound events, including coursing, be cancelled. The Cheltenham race meeting has not been cancelled but—

The Senator should not go to it.

I will not go to it, though I would like to. Neither should anybody from Ireland attend it. With the number of outbreaks in England now reaching 22 I am sure the UK authorities will think further and extend the one week ban on race meetings and other events.

The Department asked the IRFU to postpone the Ireland v. Wales match and I commend the union for being very positive in taking this advice. I heard a person on the radio today saying he was very disappointed it has been postponed, but it is essential that all movement of people, who might mix with farmers in the UK, is minimised given that this dreaded disease can be carried very easily and the danger that it could spread to Ireland.

The Minister said there was a suspected case in County Down but according to breaking news a farm in Armagh has been sealed off. That is bad news. Bríd Rodgers, the Minister for Agriculture in the North, said that as a precautionary measure they have placed the holding under surveillance and a restriction zone around it. Laboratory reports will be required before it can be confirmed whether the animals have the disease. We hope the tests will prove negative.

It is essential that all precautions are taken, especially at our ports. There seems to be some difficulties and mention has been made of the fact that we have insufficient disinfectant at ports. I do not know whether this is true, but everybody coming from the UK should contact the officers of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development at the airports and ports. We are always told on coming into Dublin Airport by air hostesses to visit the officers of the Department if we have had contact with cattle or farms. It is essential this is done to help prevent the disease spreading to Ireland.

The Council of Ministers met in Brussels to discuss BSE and reform of the beef sector, where there is over-production. I am delighted the main difference between the new scheme and the purchase for destruction scheme is that members states will have the option of storing beef for eventual distribution as food or free food to the poorer sections of the community. This special purchase scheme is welcome as the processes used in the destruction scheme did not look well as portrayed in the media, with good animals being painted with green paint, something we did not appreciate.

What colour would the Senator like?

The calf slaughtering scheme should be reintroduced. It was an effective measure and would be less expensive than this destruction scheme. Dairy breeds are not suitable for beef production and I would appeal to the Minister to get the calf processing scheme approved at EU level. Such a scheme would remove many of our problems in the beef industry and would be most welcome.

I wish to share time with my colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn, who has indicated that he would like three minutes, if he is able to get back in time. He is usually very accurate.

I agree with what my colleagues have said. This really is a national crisis. We have to be constructive and I pledge my full support to the Minister and his officials. I would like to express my compassion for the farming community, particularly those who have been affected in Britain and those who may be affected in Northern Ireland. Please God it will not come down here. If it does, we should support the farmers in every way possible financially to get them over this intensely difficult period.

I put down an amendment to the Order of Business yesterday and was going to call a vote on it. I was persuaded not to because of the seriousness of the issue. For political advantage I also thought to put down a request under Standing Order 29. The Cathaoirleach would have had to rule it out of order and say it was not an emergency. That would have given me the ruling I have wanted for a while. It would have highlighted the fact that these rulings are nonsense. They do not relate to whether there is an emergency or not. This is so serious that we must not play politics with it.

I listened very carefully to what the Minister said. I won a trip to Britain on one of the scratch cards which fall out of the Sunday papers. I had arranged to go over on the tenth or eleventh. I am certainly not going now. I think people have to take certain actions. I am really sad that the people in Cheltenham have not yet made an announcement and I call on the authorities there to do so. This morning I heard their spokesperson say on the radio that they were likely to lose £700,000. So what? That is a flea bite compared to the destruction of the agricultural industry here.

This crisis coupled with BSE makes it quite clear that in the longer term we have to look at intensive farming methods. We have got to examine factory farming and the role of the middleman. There was the example of the man in the north of England. He was not a farmer at all. He was not a resident. The man who owned the farm did not even live near it. He rented it to a pig dealer. This is how foot and mouth disease comes in. I heard on the BBC last night that they are travelling from the north west to the south east. Middlemen profit and do nothing in terms of animal welfare, husbandry, growing or producing. It is like the buying and selling of futures on the stock market. That has to be looked into.

I absolutely support the Minister and his colleagues. It is perfectly obvious from the Minister's expression that he is concerned. This is a deeply worrying situation. I do not wish to add to it in a niggling way but I do have criticisms. I got a phone call from my brother at breakfast on Monday morning. He was in France and rang me to say that as a citizen he was extremely concerned. He drives long distance lorries. He said that he had been going out early from the North Wall. As a person of a curious nature he walked around to see what was happening with the lorries coming in. There was no disinfection going on. There were no sprays and no mats. He told me that there was an abattoir at Gaerwen on Anglesey where there was a suspected foot and mouth outbreak. The local word was that it was definite and the main transport route is within 300 yards of the abattoir's front door.

I immediately rang the office of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, and told them to get on to the British. They should be doing something. It has emerged yet again that the British authorities are not good neighbours. They were not good neighbours in the BSE crisis, failing to take immediate, decisive action. It is the same in this case. However, I do not want to start attacking the English.

That was what so disappointed me from the Fianna Fáil side of the House when I raised the issue yesterday. They were attacking people from the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body who had warned us that there was nothing happening at Cork Airport where they felt there should be precautions. They were right to alert us.

I would like to defend the young woman who came back from England. I heard her mother speaking on this issue this morning. She was a student at an agricultural college and was instructed by the authorities to go home. All the students went home but when they got to Holyhead they were concerned that there was nothing happening there. When they got back here their bus was disinfected but nothing was done to the passengers. They were so conscientious that they actually reported themselves. That was an honourable young person and I do not think she should be subject to this criticism, particularly when there are such deficiencies in our approach.

I was really taken aback to hear that the Minister, Deputy Walsh, had said on Monday night that he was considering the introduction of strict measures and controls at ports of entry. I hope it was not true because it should have been considered long before. We did not seem to have a plan ready. In the event of flood or a major outbreak of fire in the city we have an emergency plan. I do not know if we have an emergency foot and mouth plan but we certainly should have. It should have gone into action immediately. There is no doubt it did not. I do not want to excoriate people who must be exhausted and tired at this stage but we have to learn for the next time. There will be a next time.

We have free movement in Europe. We have to ask questions about that and about rabies and such things. Poor old Dominic Behan used to sing, "Thank God we're surrounded by water". That will not protect us because this bug can travel over 100 kms.

I am very glad that Senator Rory Kiely mentioned Philip Boucher-Hayes's excellent and balanced report. I was horrified to hear people from South Armagh cracking jokes and indicating that they would drive trucks up and down across the Border if they felt like it. They mentioned the farm near Heddon and asked if the man involved did not have a JCB to shove the problem out of sight and allow it infect the whole country. What kind of attitude is that from south Armagh? I am certain that the majority of people there are very decent and responsible but they have a problem. It is time they addressed their county's cowboy element. I see their behaviour when they come down for GAA matches. It is the worst of all the counties that play in Croke Park. I have seen the horrid little sign they have up there "Sniper at Work". They are great republicans. They are very patriotic, yet they are ready to spread foot and mouth disease. It would be unfair to tar all of the people but the majority have to look their neighbours in the eye and when they know this kind of thing is going on they have to stop it. That mentality is what is going to spread the disease.

It is significant that two gardaí, one female and the other male, were injured by people driving back across the Border into Northern Ireland. One of them – I do not remember which – was talking to the driver with their arm resting on the open window when the car pulled off and they were dragged along the road. What kind of behaviour is that? Are these the people who are aching to be united with their counterparts in the Republic? I would like to see a united Ireland but on this occasion I wish the Border could prevent disease penetration because of the irresponsible attitudes of some persons in the North.

I salute Deputy Noonan for cancelling his party's Ard-Fheis. In my opinion he will benefit politically in the future as a result of taking such action. It was an imaginative, useful and good step to take because the last thing we want is people travelling from rural areas and converging in a single location in Dublin. It has been a good day for politics in Ireland, particularly in terms of the action taken by Deputy Noonan, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Deputy Ó Cuív, in refusing to take up a £500,000 bequest from a certain woman's will. That shows there is a very high standard in certain areas of Irish political life, across the party spectrum, and I hope the newspapers give these stories the same coverage as that given to the less respectable aspects of our profession.

The tragedy for Ireland is that, as a result of this crisis, we could lose our white list status, which allows us to export to many countries throughout the world. If one case of foot and mouth disease is discovered here, we will immediately lose that status. That is the scale of the problem. We must consider this in the context of the irresponsibility of certain people in England where the disease was incubating for five or six weeks? Why did the owner of the original farm affected not notice that his animals were sick? The reason is that, as far as I understand it, he is not a farmer.

Foot and mouth disease is highly dangerous. There is an interesting article about it in The Irish Times today which lists it as an “aphthovirus” of the family “Picorna viridae”, and states that this is probably an outbreak of Asia 1 or O virus, the most virulent strain of the disease. The article further indicates that pasteurisation does not kill the disease but that, fortunately, weak solutions of “citric acid solution and washing soda, sodium carbonate” can do so. I find it difficult to believe that we do not have sufficient quantities of these materials.

We do have them.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for making that clear. I am glad he is volun teering information and I wish to ask him another question. Is it correct that we are sending biological material to a laboratory in England?

That is a pity. There is a virus reference laboratory in UCD which played a significant role during the hepatitis and AIDS crisis which affected humans. Why do we not have an animal virus reference laboratory? In the aftermath of the current crisis we should, perhaps, consider putting in place such a facility. There may be practical reasons for not having such a laboratory but they are not apparent to me.

A number of speakers raised the question of slaughterhouses. I am glad the Minister of State indicated, during Senator Hayes's contribution, that he will restrict or completely ban all movement of animals, except direct to the slaughterhouse. We must carefully monitor the activity that goes on in slaughterhouses. I cannot comment on what has been happening here, but I recall some of the evidence given at the beef tribunal about the appalling standards which applied at that time.

In my opinion, what happened in Wales was unforgivable. A deadline of midnight, by which time all traffic in and all acceptance of animals was to cease, was put in place but people did everything in their power to beat it. Animals that were accepted for slaughter were not killed. As I understand it, a similar position obtained in Northern Ireland. Animals were imported from Carlisle on the basis that they would go for instant slaughter, but instead they were redistributed to farms. That is appalling. It is the kind of behaviour which makes it clear that we are in great danger of having a major outbreak in this country.

The discussion of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease is the most important part of this debate and I hope that it has been properly addressed. With regard to the other part of the debate, namely, the EU's beef proposals, the Minister of State referred to the ethical concerns of some European countries. He stated:

The main difference between the new scheme and the purchase for destruction scheme is that member states would have the option of storing the beef for eventual distribution as food aid or free food to the poorer sections of the community or to destroy the beef if there is no market outlet. In addition, steers would no longer be eligible for the scheme. The rationale behind this proposal is to attempt to circumvent the "ethical" problems which a large number of member states have with destroying healthy beef.

The term "ethical" should not appear in quotation marks. This is an ethical problem, not an "ethical" problem. Does the destruction of perfectly good food for economic reasons not give rise to ethical problems? I think it does and Ireland should insist on ethical standards. It is because we have no ethical standards in terms of our treatment of animals that we have landed ourselves in this mess.

We should use this matter politically and we should be unapologetic about doing so. We should trade it off against the introduction of a proper fisheries regime. Our fish resources are being squandered and raped, particularly by the Spanish, and we should be prepared to trade off the issue of ethical standards against the introduction of a proper fisheries regime. We are over-producing but we can make some gesture towards the economy if we reap the benefits of such a regime.

I wish to correct a statement I made earlier. I referred to an outbreak at Moy, County Down, whereas it actually occurred at Meigh, County Armagh, two miles from the Border. The eight mile exclusion zone includes land in both the North and the Republic.

I am glad the Minister of State made that correction because it underlines the point about activities in south Armagh.

I thank Senator Norris for sharing time. I wish to make three points. For approximately eight years I have been saying that farmers needed to act in the interests of consumers. On this occasion, consumers must act in the interests of farmers, the agriculture industry and Ireland as a nation. There is much at stake here, particularly in terms of the number of jobs that will be affected by this crisis. For example, two weeks ago the United States, Canada and Mexico banned the importation of beef from Brazil, even though there has not been a problem with BSE in that country. This illustrates what happens when confidence is shaken.

I welcome the Minister of State's comments to the effect that he wants to emphasise that the best long-term solution is to restore public confidence in beef and secure the re-opening of third market countries. He was referring to BSE which affects cattle, but foot and mouth disease affects cattle, sheep and venison. This is a major crisis – indeed it is a national emergency.

I have high regard for the steps which have been taken, but three weeks ago the European Commission's veterinary committee allowed Britain and Portugal to sell T-bone steak on the bone while Ireland and other countries were not allowed to do so. We have known about this problem since 26 March 1996, as did the rest of Europe, and we thought we had taken the right steps, but it looks as though those measures were not enough to convince the scientists. I said we should listen to the scientific knowledge rather than the emotional knowledge. In this case we thought we had taken the right steps but it turned out that we had not. I know we hope to get a derogation in coming weeks but we were not included when Britain and Portugal were allowed to sell beef, which shows we did not take the right steps to convince the scientists. I congratulate the Minister of State on the steps which have been taken and on the urgency which seems to be a feature of the approach. I hope those steps are enough because the steps we thought sufficient in the past were not; let us make sure they are this time.

I welcome the Minister of State's statement. We face a national emergency of the first order. Past debates about BSE were very important but they pale into insignificance in comparison with the potential disaster posed by foot and mouth disease in Britain. This has the potential to take one leg off the Celtic tiger, if not bring it to its knees. That is the gravity of the situation. We have ordered a debate on reform of the EU beef sector, which is important, but it is not important relative to the foot and mouth issue, and it will not be important at all if foot and mouth disease reaches the Republic.

The disease was originally detected in an abattoir in Essex but it is apparent that it was in a farm in Heddon-on-the-Wall in Tyne and Wear for some days, if not over a week, before the detection at the abattoir. I am sure the British Ministry of Agriculture is dealing with the questions this poses but it seems to be the case that someone had sick animals and knew them to be sick, even if they did not know that illness was foot and mouth, but was still prepared to send those animals around the country to abattoirs and marts in an effort to get rid of them. That may be a harsh comment but the evidence suggests it. It only takes one cowboy, whether in Britain, Northern Ireland or the Republic, to bring the whole industry crashing down around our ears and we must pay attention to that fact.

The pattern of modern agriculture has been referred to – there is a concentration of farms among fewer owners with large acreages and high numbers of livestock. The need to transport livestock over long distances to marts or abattoirs has brought a contingent problem which did not exist to the same extent during the 1967 outbreak, which I remember clearly. I was an agricultural student in UCD at the time and I visited Wales in the early stages of the outbreak. The outbreak was in Oswestry in Shropshire, which is on the Welsh border, and obviously there was great concern, but there was also complacency about the disease's ability to cause damage. At that time, if one looked at the spread of the disease, it was almost all downwind of the original outbreak in Oswestry. As far as I can recall, over 90% of the cases were in Shropshire, with the minority in the surrounding area, which is interesting in view of the recent intensification of agriculture. The areas now affected are Tyne and Wear, Essex, Devon, which is hundreds of miles from Tyne and Wear, as well as Anglesey and Hereford, which is close to Cheltenham. It has spread throughout the country, which illustrates the problem of dealing with the disease in Britain as well as our own problems.

This disease is no respecter of land or sea borders. There are 3,000 animals impounded in Gaerwen in Anglesey and they will be slaughtered, which is correct, but it only takes one seagull to come across on the ferry mast to transfer the disease. That is the reality and that is why the measures must be draconian to the extent that it becomes almost impossible to move between the two islands and even between farms. Senator Rory Kiely is a farmer, as I am. He comes from Limerick and I come from Kildare, and we met in Leinster House. Would it occur to either of us coming in the gates that we might transmit the disease and carry it home? Those realities have not sunk in to the extent that they should.

The Minister of State referred to the appeal made in 1967 to people not to come home to Ireland for Christmas and if they did, they were asked not to go on to farms. That was almost universally honoured even though it meant significant hardship because the degree of travel back and forth between Britain and Ireland was not nearly as great as it is now. The Christmas visit might have been a person's only trip home in a year or in two years, but people took a very responsible attitude, which brings us to the issue of individual responsibility, a point the Minister has stressed.

I saw a BBC television programme recently about cattle dealers who move large numbers of animals over significant distances, and in the Devon case animals were transported to the Continent. The EU imposes many regulations on us regarding how we may farm, but those regulations must also extend to the cattle dealing and transport sectors, they cannot stop at the farm gate. Fortunately, we have made progress in terms of traceability and tracking animals' movements but even if we have that information after an outbreak it is all post factum. It is a help in dealing with the problem but the fact that it comes is a disaster in itself, irrespective of what we do subsequently, even though we must of course take all measures necessary. I come from near the Curragh of Kildare – think of the potential for disaster here with the sheep on the Curragh. Should people even be allowed to golf on the Curragh or drive through it? We still have not grasped how seriously we must deal with this.

I applaud the Minister of State's decision to stop inter-farm sales and to stop cattle going to mart. However, the presumption seems to be that sending cattle to an abattoir will in itself prevent the spread of infection. In Gaerwen in Anglesey there are 3,000 animals impounded and due for slaughter. However, where are the trucks which brought those animals to Gaerwen? Where have they been since? The funeral pyre is very impressive on television but has little to do with preventing the subsequent spread of the disease and that is why disinfectant is so important. The organism is amenable to destruction by disin fection and I am glad the Minister of State said there are adequate supplies of disinfectant available. An official of the English National Farmers Union said on television that one of the common questions farmers in his area were asking related to where they could get disinfectant, as there was a serious problem in getting it. I presume one can get disinfectant in one's local supermarket, but getting a sufficient volume of it to deal with this problem on a farm would be very expensive. Farmers need five gallon and ten gallon drums.

The disease is no respecter of land borders. Am I correct in my assumption that while we made every effort to ensure that nothing came south, we were not so vigilant in ensuring that nothing went north? Pigs from the Republic were going into the North to be slaughtered. It prevents the spread of the disease from those pigs, in the unlikely event of those pigs having the disease – and I am not suggesting that they had. The fact that they were brought to an abattoir in the North exposed the vehicle bringing them to the infection and it could come back across the Border.

I saw last night defects in the matting used at Larne port, or perhaps Belfast, where they had difficulty keeping it in place in the wind and it was being broken up by the large trucks coming across it. I hope people at ports or elsewhere do not think that, simply by putting some straw on the ground, they have solved the problem. It requires management of whatever precautionary measures are invoked.

It is incumbent on us to seal the island from all movement of livestock, whether horses or other animals. There is an obligation to ensure that there is no inter farm movement and that animals cannot travel from place to place. That is the only way to stop this. If and when we get it in, we are closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

I accept the reality that cattle must be allowed to be moved into slaughter facilities, otherwise it will not be possible to feed people. However there must be the most rigorous precautions at the abattoirs to ensure that when vehicles come in contact, they do not return to farms with the potential to create problems. If the measures were sufficiently draconian, it would not take more than 14 days or three weeks at most to ensure that we have passed the problem. There would still be the potential to create infection from the United Kingdom, but domestically, bearing in mind the incubation period of the disease, if after fourteen days there is no outbreak, then movements within the country can resume but nothing can come in from outside the country.

This morning, on the Order of Business, I congratulated the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union for taking the action they did and I know the Minister has echoed those sentiments. I was particularly struck by the statement by Philip Browne, the chief executive of the IRFU, on television news yesterday that rugby football was secondary to the national interest. It was good to hear that because some people in the racing profession in the previous days were not quite as vocal in their defence of the national interest as he was. I have here two tickets at £33 each for the stand in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

How did the Senator get them?

Friends in high places. A mere £33 each is a small price to pay and in any event, I had decided not to go to the game. I was disappointed that when I phoned Stena Line to cancel the booking I was told I would have to forfeit the fare, which had been booked through a credit card. I could re-book at a later date, but I would have to use it. I notice in the paper this morning that Irish Ferries are saying they will not give a refund. They might adopt a slightly more liberal approach in this case. The Posthouse hotel in Cardiff is reported in the papers as saying that they would not issue refunds. That is very onerous on people who have paid up-front. I appreciate there is an economic consequence for the hotels as well but perhaps some common ground can be found. In 1967, the New Zealand game was cancelled. Before that, in 1963 I think, there was a smallpox outbreak in Wales and the Ireland versus Wales match was cancelled, so there are precedents.

I welcome what the chief executive of the Irish Horseracing Authority had to say yesterday evening on the news when he adopted a very similar attitude to the IRFU and that is to be applauded. Even if there were not confirmed outbreaks in Hereford and in proximity to Cheltenham, the worry is over large numbers of people congregating in one area, many of whom will then go back to farms. It is very unfortunate and I sympathise with people, including the syndicate which has a potential runner at Cheltenham.

We decided yesterday morning that the horse was not going because of this issue.

I am pleased and reassured to hear that from the Minister and it is no more than I would expect.

I have another example of minor mundane things that are significant. During the week my wife had to go to a rural funeral where the removal was from a farmhouse. There were a huge number of vehicles in the farmyard. Something as simple and mundane as that can be an agency for the spread of the disease.

I agree with the Minister on individual responsibility. It is going to be extremely difficult to keep this disease at bay. I hope that we are successful at doing so because otherwise the consequences are catastrophic, not just for farming and agriculture but for the whole economy.

Can the Minister make an order unilaterally, without legislation, stopping movement within a certain area? I do not know the answer. Maybe even the Minister for State does not know. I cannot expect him to answer it immediately.

St. Patrick's Day is close and a large number of people will be coming into the country. There must be the most extreme vigilance in terms of the procedures when those people enter the country. Aer Lingus hostesses in the past used to inform people, who had been on a farm or in contact with farm animals or on an agricultural facility, to report to the Department officials. I spent several years farming in England and at that time it was routine to report to those officials at Dublin Airport on every occasion that we came back. I am not sure that it is as vigorous now as it was then. Even if we did not have this crisis, that obligation is still there to report to the officials if we have been on a farm or in contact with farm animals, so that they at least have the traceability and they know where we have gone to. In the old days, bearing in mind Spike Island and isolation etc., perhaps the people who had less scientific information and sophistication than we have had a lot of good common sense in putting those procedures in place and it reinforces the value of them.

I know that the EU proposals are of secondary importance to the foot and mouth issue. I agree with the Minister and his sentiments. I hope the Government will be successful in achieving its objectives in the negotiations. The exclusion of steers in particular is a very serious matter. That brings me to the point I made on the Order of Business this morning. It was very worrying to hear the French yesterday mention the possibility of re-nationalising the Common Agricultural Policy. The whole European edifice has been built on the Common Agricultural Policy, on the policy of Community preference and on the policy of shared responsibility. It would be extremely damaging to us if that philosophy were to gain ground and there were a momentum in Europe that each member state should finance its own agriculture. It should not be allowed to happen and I am confident the Government would not allow it to happen.

All livestock trucks must obtain a certificate of cleansing coming back into the Republic from Northern Ireland. A mailshot will go to all farmers and all private vets tomorrow outlining the actions to be taken. The Minister does have power to restrict movement.

I would like to share time with Senator O'Dowd.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister for State. I and all Members share his anxiety over the gravity of the problem that confronts us in relation to the foot and mouth outbreak in England and the possibility that it has spread to Northern Ireland. In human epidemiological terms it could be equated with an outbreak of virulent flu even though the economic consequences of an influ enza outbreak would not be as grave as this is in the livestock industry. Nevertheless it goes to show how the virus can be spread. The only way you keep out of the way is by not congregating in groups. During a flu epidemic if you want to avoid the flu the ideal remedy is to stay at home. One Senator asked if we had a foot and mouth plan for the nation. We seem to have a hand to mouth plan because we seem to react to the gravity of the situation as it unfolds rather than having an overall plan.

The Minister, the Department and the Government should look carefully at events planned for the coming weeks. Major St. Patrick's Day parades are planned. We usually have bands from England, Northern Ireland and many other places but we have no policy yet in relation to that. The Government should introduce a ban on all St. Patrick's Day parades immediately. Most of our county councils send delegates to conferences in both Northern Ireland and England. There was a major conference in County Down last week attended by many members of our local authorities. The Government may not be aware of this but all county councils should be notified immediately to suspend all conferences in Ireland and England. These issues are being disregarded at present and show we have no overall plan. There should be procedures ready to be put in place automatically so that we are fully aware of what is going on. I cannot stress enough the overwhelming gravity of the situation.

Fine Gael has cancelled its Ard-Fheis for the coming weekend and the rugby match in Wales has also been cancelled. These cancellations needed to be made in the national interest. Nevertheless our whole approach needs to change from the catch up attitude we have at present. We are reacting to the gravity of the situation rather than pulling out all the stops to contain this epidemic which, if it gathers momentum, will desecrate the entire livestock industry here. Over the past few months we have discussed the horrendous consequences of BSE and it amazes me that these epidemics seem to originate in England. We need to question what type of animal disease controls they have. It is suggested that this epidemic started as a result of hotel swill imported from Asia. It is outrageous that England would allow swill be imported from Asia to a major pig fattening farm. The last outbreak of foot and mouth also occurred in England. We must insist our neighbours put the proper controls in place to prevent this happening. We have been the victims on every occasion that an outbreak of foot and mouth has occurred in England and will continue to be the victims until we bring pressure on the British Government to ensure the integrity of the food chain there.

This is a golden opportunity for the people and administration north and south to work together to ensure we fight the spread of this disease. I welcome and support the Depart ment of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Department of Agriculture, Northern Ireland, for the efforts made in this regard. This is a crisis of confidence in our food and a crisis of confidence in the way animal husbandry is managed in Britain. As County Louth is now included in the exclusion zone I represent a county within which there is a major alert. The importance of agriculture in the local economy there is significant. Thousands of people are employed in the industry and if this is proven to be an official outbreak of the disease it will have a major impact on the local and national economy. In consequence I support fully all the actions taken by the Irish and Northern Governments.

I am not a farming expert but I recognise the significance of this outbreak and I cannot understand how the UK can import swill from Asia to feed their animals as reported in The Irish Times today. Mr. Donaldson was quoted as the source of that story. What is going on? The major issue here is consumer confidence in our food and agriculture. Confidence is an increasing problem as a result of BSE and other problems arising in the food chain. We need to go back to less intensive methods of rearing our animals. We must look again at the high-tech operations we have which in some cases conflict with the nature of the animal and how it is reared. That is another issue. I fully support everything that is being done. Vigilance is the only way to deal with this issue and whatever steps the Government has to take must be taken and will be supported by all sides of this House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This is a rather sad evening to be debating the subject of foot and mouth disease. It is now very close to us and part of our own Twenty-six Counties is now included in controls arising from a suspected outbreak in south Armagh.

I am a farmer and farmers have a habit of saying that with God's help, things will go right. On this occasion I say that with sincerity. We almost need a miracle now to save the national economy and to save Irish agriculture.

What has happened in Britain has occurred through the large scale movement of animals, particularly by dealers. The movement of all animals within this State has to stop immediately. The movement of animals to processing and meat plants will have to continue, but the most rigorous and stringent controls must be implemented.

When a lorry leaves a farm and travels through the countryside, it will pass through farming areas. Farms have all sorts of vehicles going through them. I must emphasise that there should be no question of cattle being returned home from any plant. They must stay once they arrive. Disinfecting of all vehicles must be carried out at all factories.

The movement of people must be controlled. The public must be asked to co-operate for the next few weeks until it is known that the disease is under control. I acknowledge the responsible actions of the IRFU. All major sporting activities must stop and the sporting organisations should be asked for their co-operation.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has said that nothing has been ruled out. I say to the Minister that red alert time has arrived. Everything that needs to be done has to be done now. All the regulations must be implemented. That will be an enormous task but hopefully the result will be worth it.

This is a national emergency. The importation of meat from outside the EU, from unknown sources, branded as suitable for commercial use, is not good practice. I mentioned this last week and I now repeat it. The practice of control of importation must be rigid and strict in order to protect the industry.

In 1985 or 1986, I was at a meeting of one of the committees of agriculture which were in vogue at the time and we met with the Minister and his officials. I asked then why had there been an acceptance of the lowering of controls by a European directive. Part of that control was quarantine. I believe Ireland should have quarantine regulations. I do not think it was a wise decision to lower controls. No matter what Europe thinks, I think we should have quarantine regulations. We have a national obligation to protect the single biggest industry in this country.

In relation to the movement of people, we can ask for the public's co-operation. In 1967, there was a lot less movement of people and goods and fewer trucks travelling between Ireland and Britain. It was much easier then to successfully protect the country.

The message must be loud and clear – we need the co-operation of all the population of this island. People must understand that there is a crisis and we must face this crisis together. This affects the whole Irish economy. I urge that whatever steps can be taken must be taken now. I left West Cork yesterday and travelled here through farming areas. The Minister lives on a farm; so do I. Perhaps the gates of Leinster House should have disinfectant mats. I urge that all necessary precautions be taken. I began by saying that with God's help we will keep it out and I end by saying that if God is willing we will keep it out.

I wish to share my time with Senator Henry, if the House agrees. I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on the efforts he is making. I know there will always be people who will be critical about whether enough is enough. The Minister and the Department seem to be doing all they feel is correct. I ask the Minister to take suggestions from the Opposition benches if that is required.

The news is probably a lot worse. An update from The Irish Times website says that according to the British Ministry of Agriculture, sheep suspected of having foot and mouth disease in Northern Ireland have already moved into the Republic. The Ministry are now trying to trace the movement of over 200 sheep bought at a market in Carlisle before the disease outbreak was confirmed, and then transferred to Northern Ireland as certified for slaughter. Senator Norris pointed out that the belief is that the animals were kept in south Armagh and a majority were then moved across the Border into the Republic.

There are so many things wrong in this case. The animals were certified for slaughter, they were moved over borders and these failures get to the nub of a dangerous and difficult matter. Everyone is entitled to due process but if the suspicion that animals were moved over the Border is true, the people responsible must be jailed. Hopefully, the animals are not foot and mouth cases but I understand that people are being questioned and action should be taken whether this turns out to be a confirmed case or not.

To take a longer-term view we must repeal the ridiculous Act of 1991 or 1992 relating to abbatoirs. I have been like a stuck gramophone on this matter for several years attempting to draw attention to legislation which has stopped local butchers killing their own animals off grass or off farms. There was instant and absolute local traceability before this legislation was enacted and people had confidence in the food industry. I have been appealing for years to Agriculture Ministers on the subject.

The Minister knows, and has outlined in great detail previously, the efforts that are being made at Brussels level to achieve traceability of beef in particular. There is a simple way to do that and it is for people to buy their meat in local butchers. I do not eat much red meat but I have not given it up, and I find the current meat quality very good. To buy meat from a local butcher who slaughters his own animals taken off the grass is to buy from the most secure environment imaginable.

Due to the current legislation, butchers instead go to the nearest big town to buy a side of beef. Even if they bring in their own animals they are never sure that what they get back is their own meat. The main reason for not bringing these animals in for slaughter is the expense of transport. Butchers simply buy and sell and it is for that reason that it is possible that a butcher could purchase meat that has been transported over the Border. I do not want to create any scares or health difficulties, but the matter under discussion highlights the lack of traceability.

Those responsible for reassigning animals which are sold for slaughter in the North are liable for intense action by the state if they are found to have acted improperly. The same should be true here and those responsible for accepting animals deserve to feel the full brunt of the laws of the State and the weight of public opinion.

I thank Senator O'Toole for sharing his time. We must get the facts to the general public. There is considerable confusion as to how foot and mouth disease relates to BSE and whether it affects humans. When we have episodes like this it is not simply the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. The Department of Health and Children must help explain the matter to the public, especially as the natural history of foot and mouth is that of a very infectious disease.

We do not know the natural history of BSE which makes it a greater long-term problem and its real importance is that it affects humans as well as animals. Foot and mouth does not affect humans, or at least the type we are discussing currently does not. This message must be got across by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin. He needs to make a statement because many people are now under the impression that we will have to stop eating everything, and that all foods are affected. This is not so.

It is important to stress that foot and mouth has a short incubation period so that if we take precautions for a short time, which is surely not impossible, we should deal with the situation. Those farmers with livestock have a huge responsibility because there is a lack of confidence in the food industry. This is due to the use of meat and bonemeal as animal feed which was perhaps inadvertent at times, but at other times was to save money on fodder.

Farmers must remember that they are under scrutiny at present. I was shocked to hear farmers interviewed on RTÉ yesterday saying they would not report cases and that this was the time for the JCB. That attitude must be stamped out and I see the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Davern, nodding his agreement. If anybody knows a neighbour who is acting in that fashion they should come forward with the information in the national interest.

There has never been a more obvious indication that we need a total animal health policy on an all-Ireland basis. We have done well in achieving co-operation with Northern Ireland in the area of human health and I am sure that efforts are under way to improve matters in animal health also. We now see that it is imperative that north and south work together, that we co-ordinate television campaigns, etc., and try to achieve a synergistic effect. This will make a difference to subsidies but we must try to co-ordinate matters as this is vital for the health of the whole island rather than people in one part or the other.

We must look at the movement of animals. The distances that animals were shipped around Britain in particular is unbelievable. We know why they are being shipped back and forward across the Irish Border and it is not for the good of the animals' health. Unfortunately animals are more likely to be susceptible to disease after suffering the stress of these long journeys.

It was very wise of the Irish Rugby Football Union to agree to postpone the match in Cardiff. I was delighted to hear that Sealink are to give refunds to ticketholders and I wish that Stena would do the same, although I understand that Stena tickets can be used at a later date. Aer Lingus is to give refunds, as are travel agents catering for matchgoers, but according to the lunchtime radio news Ryanair has said it will not give refunds as it is a cheap airline and this is its policy. Maybe those who bought the cheap tickets are those who need the refunds most. Is Ryanair going to run these planes to Cardiff despite the match being called off? Do we run the risk of people using their tickets to travel to Cardiff anyway if they cannot get a refund? Perhaps Ryanair could be asked to make a gesture to the nation during this crisis by giving people refunds.

Is it cheap or inexpensive?

The past four years have been difficult for the Irish agriculture industry. The beef sector, in particular, suffered greatly from the BSE crisis as a result of a sharp fall in beef consumption in the EU and the loss of major third country markets. We have suffered most unfairly because the controls put in place in Ireland have ensured the safety of Irish beef. The consumer should have complete confidence in the quality of our beef.

While this has been a difficult period, farmers have survived. However, foot and mouth disease presents a disastrous threat not only to the agricultural sector but to the entire economy. Our major exports of food produce would be in ruins if foot and mouth disease were to strike this island. I compliment the Minister and all involved in the swift response to the crisis in England. As I live close to the Border, I am acutely aware of the immediate response in sealing the Border and preventing agricultural produce coming south from Northern Ireland. I also compliment the Garda Síochána, the Army, the Department's officials and all personnel working through the current difficult weather conditions to maintain this operation.

I cannot sufficiently emphasise the importance of keeping foot and mouth disease out of Ireland. Everybody must co-operate in combating this major threat. Unfortunately, it was announced on the one o'clock news programmes today that there is a suspected case of the disease in Armagh. The Minister for Agriculture in Northern Ireland should act swiftly and have all the sheep that were brought from mainland England slaughtered immediately. It is most unfortunate that these animals were in that part of Armagh for the last two weeks.

There is also an unfortunate suspicion, which I hope is not true, that some sheep have been moved across the Border from Armagh to the Oram area in County Monaghan. I have been informed in the last few minutes that a five mile exclusion zone has been imposed in that area. The Minister, the Department and the district veterinary office in Ballybay have moved swiftly in visiting the area. I hope it comes to nothing and that the suspected case in Armagh is not con firmed. If it is, it will be a disaster for this country. The cattle and pig industries have been in turmoil in recent years but foot and mouth disease would be the final blow. The economy would suffer greatly and the agriculture industry would disappear.

I welcome the decision to postpone major sporting events, including the rugby match between Ireland and Wales next Saturday. It will cause great inconvenience and disruption but if it will keep this dreadful disease out of Ireland, it will be worthwhile. The last major outbreak of foot and mouth diseasein Britain in 1967 was successfully kept out of this country. However, travel between the two countries has increased greatly since then, which makes the task much greater this time.

The recent EU Commission proposals on the beef industry have an unfair impact on Ireland, particularly the proposal regarding the suckler cow sector. The Commission must ensure that its proposals impact fairly on each member state. The Minister addressed these issues in his speech today and I welcome that.

This is a time of crisis and great danger to the Irish economy. Everybody is aware of the importance of agriculture for both the direct production of agricultural produce and the spin off impact it has in terms of markets and employment. To hear about the suspected outbreak of this disease in south Armagh is a clear indication that this country is unlikely to escape it. A case in south Armagh or anywhere along the Border is extremely ominous.

It is only a week since the first case of the disease was detected in Britain. There are now 21 confirmed cases and many more suspected cases. The disease has travelled to Anglesey and now, it appears, to Northern Ireland. If it is in the Border area of Northern Ireland, one can bet one's life that it is only a matter of time before it reaches this jurisdiction. That is the tragedy that is upon us.

The Minister spoke about the BSE crisis and what is being done about it in Europe. He pointed out that there has been a 30% reduction in the consumption of beef in recent times and that there has been a 50% loss of beef tenders to third countries. In Egypt the Irish component of the beef industry has been eliminated even though we had 80% of that beef market. There is, therefore, a huge crisis of confidence in relation to the agricultural sector.

The BSE crisis is a health scare and now we have this crisis, which is not a health scare. However, the disease is hugely contagious and is dangerous and damaging to the industry. It will also damage consumer confidence in agricultural produce. That is extremely serious.

The Senator should emphasise the point that there is no danger to human health from the disease.

There is no danger but, as the Minister is aware, it is extremely difficult to separate issues of that nature in the public mind. It is seen as part of the suspicious aura that hangs over the agriculture industry as a result of so many crises, diseases and dangers. This is just another extremely serious disease even though there is no direct health factor for humans involved. There is a crisis of confidence.

I attended the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body meeting in Killarney this weekend. As I mentioned on the Order of Business yesterday, the British delegates detailed the absence of precautionary measures at Irish airports. "The Marian Finucane Show" highlighted the case of a young woman from an agricultural college who came into Ireland through Dún Laoghaire where the precautions seemed to be just as lax. It is important that not only do we have precautionary measures, but that all personnel charged with implementing those precautions know what to do and that there is supervision to ensure they do so. The Minister of State and his office can offer advice, introduce bans and implement exclusion zones and so on. However, if he is not satisfied that the personnel involved are taking the work seriously, we are in trouble. Movement between this island and Britain shows that the precautions have not been implemented with the necessary rigour to ensure confidence and the Minister of State must keep a close eye on this situation. Foot and mouth disease is the most easily transported virus and can be passed on by air or on clothes or animal fur. However, it can be dealt with if rigorous measures are put in place and there is necessary vigilance.

Many people have congratulated various organisations which have taken responsible positions. I commend the IRFU for the manner in which it behaved and stated its responsibility in this matter. The union put the situation into context and stated that, even though sport has large numbers of enthusiastic supporters, a national crisis must take precedence.

The IRFU's position contrasts starkly with the racing industry, of which the Minister of State and I are very fond. The industry does not appear to be exercising the same level of responsibility.

The Irish racing industry is exercising responsibility.

The Minister of State said in his speech that he had made requests that all horseracing, including point to point events, and all greyhound events be cancelled. However, he earlier stated that his Department had strongly advised the IRFU. Why should he just request the racing fraternity while giving strong advice to the IRFU?

We know the racing industry will give an immediate response.

I do not know about that. A headline in today's edition of The Irish Times, eight days after the outbreak, with a suspected case on the Border, reads, “Istabraq will run despite Irish ban”. This is the view of Istabraq's owner who does not see a problem.

The Senator is wronging the owner. The article quotes the trainer.

The Minister of State is right and I make that distinction. The article goes on to state, "The transport of horses to the Festival would not present major problems". What sort of world is the author living in? It goes on to quote Willie Mullins as saying:

I could see the good horses with reasonable chances travelling over... There would be less than 70 horses from Ireland anyway which would be a manageable number to look after. These horses would go from their own yard to the Cheltenham stableyard and not mix with any of the English horses when they're being stabled.

The horses would not just be stabled, they would go on to the racecourse and run and mix with British horses and with people. It is naive in the extreme for people to expect that anyone would pay the slightest attention to this argument. However, it is unacceptable that such comments are being made.

The problem is not so much with horses travelling to Cheltenham. If 70 Irish horses travel, or even Istabraq on its own, not to mention Arctic Copper about whom I am sure you are disappointed—

Arctic Copper will not go to Cheltenham.

I was delighted to hear this news and that is very responsible of the consortium. I would have expected no less, even though it did not include me.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I would ask the Minister of State and the Senator to address their comments to the Chair, particularly those regarding Arctic Copper.

I recognise the Chair's priority in that matter. The horses are only one concern, the other is the attitude of the trainers referred to in the article. However, what if these champion Irish horses travel to Cheltenham with Istabraq about to set a record? One could understand the disappointment but some Irish punters would surely also travel. It is impossible to imagine that a festival like Cheltenham would not attract large numbers of Irish people. It would be impossible to stop large numbers of people going to the festival. A large number of such punters would be from rural and family communities. Taking horses to Cheltenham would encourage large numbers of punters to travel.

Many of our practices under EU policies have assisted the spread of the disease. Farms now operate on high animal densities, there is greater intensification and farms are larger. Such farms have holding areas for large numbers of animals which go to large abattoirs. This means that animals are being moved from all over the country to central areas so the disease is more likely to spread now than during the last outbreak. The amount of transport, the structure of the industry and other factors inevitably mean the disease will be harder to contain on this occasion so the precautions need to be greater. Other Senators mentioned that one outcome of this situation may be that we have to look at the structure of agriculture under EU policies.

The UK's chief veterinary officer has been the main spokesperson on this disease. What is the situation on this island in terms of our chief veterinary officer and his counterpart in Northern Ireland? Are they operating together? Can we not have a common regime in terms of veterinary inspections whereby there is a common plan in both parts of the island? It is easier to deal with this issue as an island than on the basis of a land border which will be extremely difficult to police.

One can imagine the number of personnel required to deal with small roads and cross-Border fields and activity if we find that there is a North-South threat of foot and mouth disease, now that there is a suspected case in south Armagh. The sea is the obvious boundary and we should ensure a common veterinary regime as regards livestock so that we deal with this matter on an all-island basis. Co-operation on this issue should be seriously examined in the context of cross-Border institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement.

There are crises such as serious explosions, bombs or floods, and the relevant Department or local authority has a plan in place to deal with it. We have set up an interdepartmental group to try to manage this crisis. However, there should be an agreed plan which involves all the relevant agencies. The Department would be responsible for it but other agencies, such as airports, ports, ferries and local authorities, would have to come on board. There must be people responsible for training the personnel to put the plan into action immediately. Is there an ad hoc plan? I have not heard that a plan is in place. The Minister of State announced the measures being taken by the Department but there is not an overall plan that can be put into action. People must be trained and they must know where to go. We do not want people who do not know what to do. We must learn from this issue and we must ensure that a disaster plan and the necessary personnel are in place for any future such disasters.

A penalty of £5,000 will be imposed on anyone who refuses or neglects to report the disease on their farm. That is not a significant penalty for something which can maim an entire economy and ruin confidence in an industry. We must re-examine the penalties. Anyone who refuses or neglects to report the disease must be subject to a custodial sentence. That must be included in the legislation to highlight the seriousness of this issue. As well as increasing the fine, the threat of a custodial sentence is sine qua non. The Minister of State should consider that. Consumer confidence both here and abroad will be another casualty. Some 90% of our agricultural produce is exported and 50% of third country markets have been lost to European tenders. That figure will probably increase as a result of this crisis.

There is no doubt that livelihoods are being ruined in Britain at present. The danger is that if our fears are realised, people's livelihoods here will be ruined as well. One of the fears I have is the manner in which compensation is paid out. We have not been successful in eradicating bovine TB, despite the billions of pounds spent on it. The best we can do is blame the badger for spreading it. The badger is a four legged creature but I would put my money on a two legged creature being responsible for the continuation of bovine TB. This is the only jurisdiction which seems hell bent on blaming the badger for the continuation of this disease. Many people did well in terms of compensation in the attempt to eradicate bovine TB.

We have seen how herds were infected with BSE and slurry so people could get compensation for their animals. Any level of compensation should be less than the market value of an animal. Once compensation equal to or in excess of the market value of an animal is offered, it provides an incentive for abuse. As a consumer and someone who was born and raised on a farm, this type of abuse does not instil confidence in the credibility and integrity of those who produce the animals we consume. I am sure that 99% of people produce a fine product, but there is a certain level of abuse. We cannot under any circumstances provide a compensatory mechanism, as we have done for bovine TB and BSE, which is not fully sensitive to the dangers of spreading the disease rather than curtailing it.

This is a potential disaster. We all hope it does not spread to this jurisdiction. We must introduce stringent measures and we must ensure that all sectors of the community, regardless of how privileged they might think they are, play their part in ensuring they are implemented as rigidly as possible.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this crisis. I do not use the word "crisis" often because it is overused. Senator Costello used it when referring to many things in recent months. Yet this foot and mouth disease is a national crisis in so far as we are on the verge of identifying a case. The situation in Meigh in County Armagh is extremely worrying as is the situation in Wexford where animals, which were imported from Devon earlier in the month, are being destroyed because Devon is close to one of the sites where foot and mouth disease has been identified. We cannot overstress the seriousness of this situation because of the effects it will have on our economy if we fail to keep it out. Unlike any other economy in Europe, our agricultural industry is totally dependent on exports, and we must maintain our disease free status if possible.

Many Senators have contributed this afternoon and many sensible things have been said. While I do not wish to restate the points made, I reiterate and enforce some of what has been said. While the measures imposed by the Department after the initial outbreak of this disease in the UK were welcome, some of them should have been implemented earlier. The attitude of the Department has been positive.

Congratulations must also be offered to the IRFU. I heard its president speaking last night on the television about the cancellation of the international rugby match in Wales this weekend. It was his attitude to the matter that impressed me more than the cancellation itself; he felt this was a far more important issue than a game of rugby. I know that many people, including the Irish team members, will be put out because the game is not going ahead. Other sporting events come to mind that may also be affected, including the Cheltenham race meeting. The fact that the IRFU put the emphasis on the national interest was very encouraging, however.

The attitude of the public has also been extremely positive. It is the first time in many years that I have seen such a positive reaction by the public to an agricultural issue. They are supporting the national interest to ensure that we will not have any outbreak of the disease here. Senator Costello mentioned the huge movement of animals that occurs all the time now, compared to the 1967 outbreak of foot and mouth disease which was relatively easy to confine. At that stage, the UK did not have anything like the movement of animals that exists today, nor was there anything like the same amount of movement of people who can act as carriers for the disease. Therefore, the current situation is much more serious.

The EU needs to rethink its entire policy concerning the location, standard and size of abattoirs if they are to function properly. In recent years, many butchers have closed down their own slaughtering facilities because of the rules and regulations laid down by Brussels, and the difficulty in attaining those standards based on the volume of animals. That situation needs to be re-examined because I am not sure that big is best in this case. In the past, butchers had excellent abattoirs. There may be more benefit from maintaining smaller abattoirs since the traceability of animals would be faster and more effective in a crisis such as we have now.

In the last week's debate on BSE I called for all producers and hauliers to be licensed. Everyone must have their cars licensed so I do not see why there should be any difficulty with this matter. I am gravely concerned that trucks used to move animals from one farm to another are not being properly disinfected. Rules and regulations governing cleanliness are not being implemented as effectively as they should. How often have we driven along the road behind cattle trucks and seen the state of them and what comes out at the back? That should not happen but it does. We need to tighten up on that area. We have rules for everything but we are not implementing them.

I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Costello that a penalty of £5,000 is not enough. People need to be stung seriously. We have to inculcate a spirit of everyone being part of the one big picture, and in this case it is food production. In order to achieve that we must all work together. Rogue farmers, dealers or hauliers must be rooted out of the system as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the 99% of people who do their jobs properly are being tarred with the rogue's brush and it is not fair to them. We must ensure that does not happen because it undermines the primary industry on which we are so dependent internationally.

Many mares appear to have come to Coolmore Stud in the last week or so. If that is the case, it would indicate that the stud is more interested in covering fees than in keeping the very damaging foot and mouth virus out of the country. Coolmore is spoken of, quite rightly, as one of the best studs in the world but if that is their attitude it worries me greatly.

For many different reasons the foot and mouth virus is extremely difficult to contain. It is so easy to transport and, unfortunately, the weather has not been favourable for eliminating it. If we had more sunshine and heat it would be easier to eradicate. We must contain it as strenuously as we possibly can. At times, however, I wonder whether certain people are more interested in making a quick buck and penalising the agriculture industry and the entire country for the sake of an extra £5 on a sheep or £10 on a bullock.

To date, the Minister's handling of the issue has been extremely good. I appeal to him, however, to ensure that the existing regulations are implemented as quickly and as strenuously as possible. We must try to generate a society that is based on the bigger picture rather than a fiver.

Foot and mouth disease is the stuff of nightmares. Two weeks ago we had a debate on BSE, yet little did we think we would be back in the House so soon debating one of the worst plagues known to agriculture. One can only imagine the damage it would do to our national herd, the value of which, including all beef and dairy animals, is between £5 billion and £6 billion. Unlike BSE, foot and mouth disease threatens the basic seed capital on which the whole industry exists. It would pose a nightmare threat to our meat exports totalling £3.5 billion, and to exports of dairy products, including processed foods, worth almost £2 billion. Foot and mouth disease is the worst possible scenario and the nightmare is compounded by the ominous reports coming from South Armagh. The statement by Northern Ireland's Minister for Agriculture is also ominous. She has all but admitted that there may be an outbreak of foot and mouth disease there. That would be the first time the disease has been on this island since 1941. We do not know what contact there has been in trading animals to the Republic from that source in south Armagh, which adjoins County Louth and is very close to County Monaghan. We can only hope there has been none.

While I know they will not thank me for saying so, I must be critical of the British authorities on this issue. I am not convinced it was noticed or handled properly in the first instance. The first outbreak of the disease was confirmed in Northumberland. The next case was reported on the west coast of Britain, followed by cases in Essex and Devon in the south east. These cases were hundreds of miles apart. A map of Great Britain, which was used to illustrate the spread of the disease, on a television programme last night contained many dots representing new cases in the middle of England. The disease is widespread on the adjoining island, with 24 or 25 cases having been confirmed and more awaited.

Foot and mouth disease was confined to one or two locations in the UK in 1967. I recall the sense of siege in Ireland at that time. People could not travel home from the UK at Christmas but there was a great sense of national solidarity against the spread of the disease. The House must call for such solidarity again among all sectors of the population. I have to declare my interest in the debate as I am a beef producer. We are often not popular with certain sections of the community but the entire population must recognise Ireland is under serious threat.

I hope the Minister's Department has the resources to deal with the disease. The Department has little experience of the disease as it has not been witnessed on the island since 1941. That was a confined outbreak and very few people remember it. People can recall the outbreak in 1967 in the UK but it never reached our island. I hope and pray that the resources to address the disease are available should the case in Armagh be confirmed, given the inherent danger of the spread of foot and mouth disease to this part of the island. There is an enormous amount at stake. We do not fully realise the gravity of the crisis.

I concur with the congratulations of the IRFU and the WRU for cancelling the rugby international on Saturday. The Cheltenham racing festival will have to be cancelled but, should it go ahead, Irish people should not travel there under any circumstances. Major and minor gatherings in Ireland will have to be cancelled. I do not mean to be self-indulging or boastful but I am delighted my party has cancelled its Ard-Fheis next weekend.

Is that a major or minor gathering?

There is no doubt ours will be the major Ard-Fheis this year. The Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis is due to be held soon and I am sure in the context of this crisis it will be cancelled in the national interest.

A farmer contacted me yesterday who had a fallen animal on his farm. The animal had died as a result of pneumonia. One can no longer bury an animal on one's farm under regulations. The local DVO insists the carcase must be collected by a fellmonger and disposed of, usually at a tannery. The man who contacted me did not want the fellmonger's truck on his land because he did not have the facility to disinfect a large truck and he also had misgivings about a truck that was used to convey dead animals coming on to his farm in the current circumstances. He wanted to bury the animal on the farm using quick lime. He telephoned the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development office in Roscommon town and was told that it was not possible to do that and that the animal would have to be picked up by a fellmonger. I do not know whether the animal is still on the farm, but such regulations must be examined.

If animals should be buried on farms, it should be done under the supervision of officials of the Department using substances such as quick lime, if necessary, as long as the soil quality is known. There is a difficulty in regard to burying BSE-infected animals but we are all buried in the earth at the end of the day. Regulations of this nature must be examined. Farmers, such as the unfortunate man I mentioned, should not be left in limbo when they have a dead animal on their land and do not want vehicles used for the conveyance of fallen animals on their land, with good reason, yet because of the rigidity of one of the Department's regulations they do not know what to do. I ask the Minister of State to take this on board.

The current strain of foot and month disease is very virulent. It has its origins in Asia and is known as the "pan-Asian topotype". It was discovered in India, spread eastwards towards Mongolia and then spread westwards. It is such a virulent strain that only ten viruses are enough to infect an animal. That demonstrates the difficulty of containing the disease. It is a hardy strain since it has spread throughout parts of the world where foot and mouth disease is endemic. The grasslands of central Asia are the natural habitat of bovine animals and exotic diseases such as foot and mouth disease are endemic. Foot and mouth disease is also endemic in Latin America.

The source of the 1967 outbreak in the UK was canned meat from Argentina. The source of the current outbreaks is thought to be swill imported from Asia. It is extraordinary that waste food from restaurants and hotels can be imported from Asian countries to be used by the pig industry in the UK. I do not know whether Ireland imports swill, but talking about it is revolting. There is no guarantee this product has been properly pasteurised before it is fed to animals. If swill proves to be the source of the outbreak in the UK, it was not properly treated. I do not know whether Ireland imports swill, but I am glad the Minister of State is shaking his head.

However, in the context of our membership of the EU and the protection of a healthy agricultural industry, we should ensure there is an EU regulation in regard to the importation of such products which can be the carriers of diseases such as foot and mouth disease. If left unchecked, in a number of weeks it could infect every cloven-footed animal in this country.

That is the potential nightmare we face and we can only hope and pray that what was reported from Armagh earlier will prove to be a false alarm. If not, one hopes the disease will not spread south of the Border. I am a farmer and for that reason I might understand the situation better than others. I wish the Minister of State well and his officials, who must ensure regulations are implemented. They must be imaginative in what they do because they are dealing with new circumstances which they have not experienced in the past. It will not be easy but we can only wish them well.

I welcome the Minister and thank and congratulate him and his Department on the action they have taken to date in trying to ensure the country remains free of foot and mouth disease. Quite a number of important points have been made by many speakers. The problems which would result from the disease spreading from England to this country are too serious to contemplate. Unfortunately, there is a suspected case in Northern Ireland.

I clearly remember the precautions taken in the 1960s when there were real problems. However, at that time we did not have the same volume of ro-ro traffic in terms of lorries and cars coming from England to Ireland and it was easier to contain the disease. Unfortunately, given the number of people moving between the countries, it is now very difficult to contain the disease. Every person coming here, and every Irish person, should realise they have a serious responsibility to ensure they take the required precautions. If possible, those abroad should not return until the disease has been controlled.

Many organisations have taken steps to assist in controlling the disease. Teagasc has abandoned all farm visits, closed agricultural colleges and has recalled people on placements, which are steps in the right direction. The IRFU has cancelled the rugby international, for which great credit is due to the union. Soccer authorities and the GAA have a major responsibility to immediately call off games over the next number of weeks to ensure they play their part in stopping the spread of foot and mouth disease. We know that very large crowds gather at games, with people travelling from England and further afield to participate or spectate. If this problem abates and does not come to Ireland there will be lots of time for playing games later in the year. These organisations have a responsibility to help the Minister and the Department in curtailing and stopping the spread of the disease. If it spreads here the consequences will be dire for the farming sector.

I watched the destruction of infected animals on television over the past few days and saw vermin and birds – grey crows and magpies – which spread the disease. Something must be done to curtail them to ensure they do not carry or spread the disease.

The Minister outlined the steps he has taken in terms of curtailing the spread of the disease and the involvement of the Garda, the Army and officials from the Department. If necessary, the FCA should be called in to back up those officials who are trying to do the best they can.

I spoke about the responsibilities of those travelling to Ireland, but the country from which they travel, if it has outbreaks of the disease, must also take responsibility and ensure people are disinfected in the required manner so the full onus is not on the country of destination. At all times Aer Lingus announces that those who have any contact whatever with farming should make contact with officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. It saddens me to hear people saying they came through certain ports and saw no facilities for disinfecting. If those people have an interest in the country they should look for the facilities and ensure they are disinfected.

Regarding BSE, the changes to the destruction scheme are important and welcome. The Minister said a special purchase scheme will run until the end of the year. It was wrong and sad that cattle over 30 months were being purchased for destruction. The change will mean meat can be used, if needed, to feed the hungry. The quota system has also changed and now will be regionally based. The period in question is 1997-2000, with a quota plus 3% being available for those years. I hope there will be flexibility as a number of herds, for one reason or another, may have been destocked. I hope officials from the Department will look favourably at such situations to ensure farmers in suckler schemes who destocked will be afforded the opportunity to return to the scheme.

Regarding the destruction of calves, I very much welcome the increase from 20% to 40% in terms of the heifer facility and suckler cows, and credit is due to the Minister and his officials. This will ensure we are not destructing much stock and that even maiden heifers will qualify under the scheme.

Many other points have been made. The situation is grave in terms of Ireland. Regarding slaughter facilities, perhaps smaller abattoirs are easier to control. There are too many lorries transporting stock that do not have effluent storage facilities. There are facilities at marts to power hose out those lorries but unfortunately they are not being used. I want to compliment the Minister sincerely for making every effort. It is a very difficult time for him, for his officials and for the country.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, to the House. We are in a very serious situation. In the last week the necessary level of urgency was not instilled by the Department and by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in particular. The Minister of State in his address stated:

Staff of my Department throughout the country were put on alert on Wednesday last while arrangements were made with the Garda and Army authorities for appropriate resources to be sent to the Border area immediately.

That may very well be so but there was no great evidence of it on the ground. Increasingly instances are arising where people are walking through air and seaports without any restrictions or disinfecting.

A quite lackadaisical approach has been adopted. Despite the situation developing in Armagh since the Minister of State commenced addressing the House we still have traffic travelling on the main Belfast-Dublin road. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development said in the Dáil that the exclusion zone is in the process of being determined. At 12 noon today it was decided that there was a serious crisis on a farm in Armagh. Five hours later we are still deciding where the exclusion zone is and no diversion of traffic has taken place. That is unacceptable. Perhaps the required sense of urgency will arise now that the crisis has come so close.

The incubation period for this disease varies from 14 to 20 days in sheep. A lot can have happened over the last week to ten days. In relation to that particular farm, sheep have been sold or transferred across the Border since 1 February. Can the Minister advise the House what has happened to those sheep and what monitors have been put into place? Three consignments have been imported since 1 February. Two went to Wexford and the other went to the West for slaughter. What has the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development done in relation to the consignments? What monitors have been put in place and what action has been taken to have these animals slaughtered? They are here but we do not know where they are or what action has been taken.

The movement of people has been widely discussed and I take the opportunity to congratulate those organisations which have responsibly decided to call off events where there would be major gatherings of people. That is the least that should be done. Every citizen has a duty to act in a responsible fashion due to the terrible effect this potential crisis could have on a wide range of families and on consumers.

There is no information available on the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development website regarding the details of this disease. Farmers are not able to identify it until it is at a fairly advanced stage; they could not identify a potential case. It is important that a website be created immediately. The British Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food website carries clear details of symptoms to help farmers identify potential dangers within their herds at an early stage.

I urge the Minister to get his officials on local radio and in touch with local newspapers to highlight the urgency in relation to foot and mouth. This is a crisis and it should not be underestimated. The lackadaisical approach and the incidences reported of people coming here without checks from agricultural colleges in England and from British farms is extraordinary. Every vehicle that comes in must be disinfected and monitored closely. To do that needs additional personnel at the ports. It is not going to happen by chance. I disagree with Senator Moylan who says that the onus is on the person coming in. The onus is on us to make sure that no one comes in without being vetted. It is vital that people arriving at Dublin Airport are directed into a disinfecting area. The same is true of Rosslare or crossing the Border where vehicles and passengers should be subject to the same procedure.

Of particular concern is driving across the Border through south Armagh possibly in the exclusion zone of an infected area. At the very least traffic should be diverted to another route. The Minister of State, Deputy Davern, may well shake his head and say it is all hogwash. This issue is too serious to treat in a dismissive fashion. I am somewhat concerned by his facial responses to some of the things I have said.

He stated in his address that there are extensive advertisements going up. They are not that extensive. The level of the crisis has not really registered with the vast majority of the public. He stated that "arrangements were put in place from the outset to ensure that disinfection of vehicles and people took place at entry points". The reality was very different. There is ample evidence that many vehicles and people have not been disinfected.

This is a very serious matter and it is only just beginning to register. There is an onus on the Department to be much more proactive and to highlight the issues in local media and farming organisations. The farm organisations are not in a position to inform their members as to the details and symptoms of the disease. That is where the Department is falling down. It has not clearly advised in detail what the situation is and it has a duty to do that.

It is highly commendable that sporting organisations have cancelled many events. Other organisations have a responsibility, in the national interest, to cancel any events they intend to hold in the coming days or weeks. In my opinion, no risks, no matter how minimal, should be taken and there is a need to communicate this to all organisations and bodies.

The Minister of State also referred to the Commission's proposals for the reform of the beef regime. In my opinion that matter will have to be debated in greater detail when the opportunity presents itself. I do not believe that the proposals put forward are in the interests of small or medium farmers or the Irish economy and we must object to certain aspects of them. I hope we will have an opportunity at a future date to discuss that issue in greater detail.

I wish to share time with Senator John Cregan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I compliment the Minister of State on the measures he has put in place to date. I was travelling down from Donegal on Sunday evening and, passing through Monaghan, I encountered a Garda Síochána checkpoint at which were stationed officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development who had laid out disinfectant mats, etc. It was obvious that they were taking their job seriously. However, on Friday night when I was passing through the Six Counties on my way into Donegal there was a solitary member of the Garda Síochána on duty at Pettigoe. He did not stop me, wave me down or question me and there were no disinfectant mats to drive over. That was on the main artery taken by people travelling from Cavan, Navan, Belturbet or Enniskillen into Donegal.

I am not sure that this matter has taken hold in the national consciousness. This is not merely a crisis in farming, it is a national crisis. If there is an outbreak of foot and mouth disease here, millions of pounds will have to be spent in compensating people. That money could be better spent in some other way. If there is an outbreak, the economy will be destroyed. I have discussed this matter with people since I returned to Dublin and, in general, they stated that it involves farmers, that it is a disease similar to BSE and that it does not harm humans. I hope the Minister of State can pressurise the media into highlighting on every news bulletin ways in which the disease can be identified early, the symptoms involved, the need to take precautions when entering and leaving farms or when travelling from place to place and the ease with which this disease is communicated.

We have been very fortunate that there has not been such an outbreak in the past 15 or 20 years. However, foot and mouth disease can take hold very quickly and destroy an entire economy. The Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Walsh, are aware of that fact. I appreciate the work they are doing, but I still believe that the members of the public, particularly city dwellers, have not grasped the seriousness of the situation. Due to the fact this is not just a farming crisis but one of national proportions, it is essential that we get the message across to people. I call on the Minister of State to do everything possible to encourage the media to co-operate. I am not stating that people are not co-operating or that anyone is to blame; I am merely stating that the implications for the economy have not yet permeated the public consciousness.

I trust that everyone will play a part in getting the message across. The Opposition parties have all promised support for the measures we must put in place. I hope that we can keep the disease out of Ireland. In that context, everyone will have to do a great deal to ensure that there is no outbreak.

I welcome the opportunity to comment on this important issue. The Minister, Deputy Walsh, in Europe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, at home have worked effectively and efficiently in recent days to ensure that the necessary precautions have been taken. From Sunday or Monday onwards, the goalposts moved when we realised the full extent of the spread of this virus across the UK. Initially, it appeared that it would be contained locally but that did not happen. As a result we had to up the ante in various ways in recent days.

The Minister of State has been at pains to point out that everyone must take responsibility for ensuring that this terrible virus does not spread into this country. Senator Taylor-Quinn stated that this matter does not involve responsibility on the part of individuals. However, I believe it does. The IRFU and other sporting organisations took it upon themselves to shoulder responsibility by cancelling fixtures following encouragement from the Government, the Minister and the Department. However, the decision to cancel or postpone was voluntary and I compliment those involved for assuming responsibility in that regard. In the same way, every individual travelling from the UK must ask themselves whether it is necessary to make the journey in the first instance. If the answer is yes, then every necessary precaution should be taken because the agriculture industry and other industries will face devastation if proper care is not taken. The agriculture sector is already in the midst of a difficult period, particularly in terms of trying to restore confidence in beef following the BSE crisis. It is incumbent on everyone to take the kind of responsibility to which the Minister of State referred in order to ensure that the disease does not spread to Ireland.

I was contacted this morning by constituents who expressed grave concerns that poultry and poultry products are still being imported from Europe. What is happening is that loads are being split: one part of a load is delivered to a destination in the UK while the remainder is delivered here. The poultry is very important to west Limerick, where three large poultry concerns are located. Approximately 40% of those employed in the industry are related to people who are directly involved in farming. I ask the Minister of State to consider this matter further. I am aware that poultry are not considered to be carriers of the virus. I do not mean to be alarmist but if a lorry driver delivers part of his load in the UK it is quite possible that someone might step on to the vehicle and that the virus could be spread in this manner. I have no evidence to suggest that but surely it is common sense. If the virus can spread as easily as we have been told in recent days, it is possible it could spread in this way. The position must be examined and, if necessary, this practice should stop immediately in order that there is no outbreak of foot and mouth disease in this country.

I thank the Minister of State and the Department for their efforts. I hope that the regulations and restrictions that have been put in place will be successful in ensuring that the virus does not spread to Ireland.

In my opinion members of the public are being very sensible in their approach to this matter. I refer in particular to sporting groups, farming organisations, etc. To place this matter in context, any party's ard fheis is a major event. The fact that the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis, with the exception of the Leader's speech on Saturday night, has been cancelled is sufficient to alert people to the dangers posed by the spread of this disease. This move is a major public relations exercise on the part of Fine Gael. Such is our concern about this matter that we have limited the Ard-Fheis to the Leader's speech on Saturday night. Deputies and Senators have been requested to remain in Dublin between now and Saturday to ensure that they do not return home and mingle with people before travelling back to the capital.

I agree with Senator Cregan that people are not aware of what foot and mouth disease is like in animals and the Government must work with the media to get that across to everyone, particularly given Irish people's high level of mobility. A newspaper advertisement is not a sufficient deterrent. There are similar advertisements in newspapers about scares but not everyone reads the newspapers. I am concerned by individual cases, such as the young man whose family contacted me when he returned from hill walking in Northumberland. He looked for a disinfection method in Dublin Airport last Thursday but found none. He lives on a farm but he did not return there; he stayed elsewhere and then went to work. He was horrified by the situation. The Slieve Felim singers from my area on the Tipperary-Limerick border returned from Britain to Shannon last Sunday night. They rang me early on Monday morning to tell me they had not been asked where they had been, where they had come from or whether they had visited farms, nor was there any disinfection.

The public is leading this debate and asking the questions. That is unusual, but such is their concern and civic responsibility regarding the importance of agriculture and the devastation that may occur if foot and mouth breaks out here, though please God that will not happen. I read today accounts of burning pyres of thousands of cattle in Britain. There was a huge reaction recently from farmers when their beef cows were destroyed due to BSE, which shocked the country. This is a very hard time for farmers, given this is a second scare. The virus can spread unbelievably quickly. According to an eminent expert quoted in The Irish Times today, this virulent virus can be carried by wind for up to 300 kilometres. There is no safe haven, particularly with the extraordinary weather changes we have experienced.

This disastrous outbreak is now more widespread geographically than the 1967 outbreak, which I remember. The television clips of that period show the country coming to a complete standstill. The primary routes for infection are through animal to animal contact, meat products, animal to human contact, vehicles and even dirty boots. Precautions must be very stringent and that is why I was disappointed when, after the alert in the middle of last week, officials were not sent to the airports. Putting up a sign is not sufficient, as that leaves it up to the person to state whether he or she has been on a farm. There should be officials stopping passengers, as the latter would not mind having their journeys delayed because it is in the public interest.

The outbreak in Anglesey is so close to us that it was one of the reasons we in Fine Gael were so concerned and decided to cancel our Ard Fheis, but even when we made that decision we were not aware of the suspected outbreak in Armagh. Every hour the news gets more and more negative. I hope the farming population can survive this and that God is on our side. I hope we can say after this that every single precaution was taken. I compliment the Government on certain aspects of its approach but I would prefer to be able to say that every precaution has been taken and I cannot, particularly given the two cases I outlined earlier.

The extermination aspect of this crisis shocks me and we should empathise with the farmers of Britain and Northern Ireland. I know the Taoiseach is meeting the British Prime Minister to discuss this and to see what more can be done, but I hope there is contact every second of the day with the Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture, Bríd Rodgers, and that we are on red alert to ensure that the infection will not spread here.

This is a national emergency. In the Dáil debate on this matter today Deputy Dukes mentioned a road which goes through an exclusion zone but the Minister said he was not aware of it until 12 p.m., though he said that at 4.30 p.m. I would have thought the Garda or another appropriate body would have put a rerouting operation in place but apparently not. I hope it has been done by now.

The precautions being taken in Britain indicate that this emergency will be very costly. Britain has more resources than us but the lesson for us is that we must be vigilant even during safe times. We have had the BSE scare and now we may face an epidemic, possibly because a lorry was not washed. Do we consider these matters in safer times and ensure we have absolute cleanliness everywhere in the meat and haulage industries? Every aspect of Irish economic life is affected by this. It is not just a farming problem, it requires industrial and environmental involvement also. Our party will co-operate with the Minister and the high level group which straddles other Departments that he has established to deal with this problem. We will be vigilant and supportive and perhaps it will stop short at either a sea or land border, but let us take every necessary precaution.

I propose to share my time with Senator Ryan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I congratulate the Minister and the Department on the steps that have been taken but, like other Senators, I feel we need to make the public more aware of the enormity of the problem we face. I sympathise deeply with the farming community North and South, to whom this is yet another hammer blow, but there is a feeling among the urban population that since the disease is not transmissible to humans it is somehow not as important as BSE. I have lived through two of the previous crises and I know how serious it is. In the past there was great co-operation between the Department of Agriculture in the North of Ireland and the Department in the Republic, even when there were no North-South bodies, and I hope it will be possible to build on that. We should realise we are an island surrounded by water and, apart from the danger of wind-blown infection, that should increase the possibility of keeping this dreaded disease out of Ireland.

Four hours ago, I came through Meigh on the train. This is one of the problems when traffic is diverted around that particular exclusion zone. The main road to Belfast runs right through that town, as does the main railway line, and it is difficult terrain to find alternative routes or divert people. It may be a case for some degree of lateral thinking. I remember when going to Australia, people marched up and down the plane with an aerosol disinfecting the passengers and we put up with it in the interests of health. It may be that vehicles on the main road to the North and trains on the main line could be made to pass through some sort of tunnel in which disinfectant is spread on the body and wheels. Like other Senators, I came through Dublin Airport towards the end of last week and found no precautions being taken. I know how difficult it is, but nevertheless it is utterly important that it should be done.

I commend the rugby authorities and the Fine Gael Party for the steps they have taken to cut down on travel. In so far as rugby and racing are concerned, we were all thinking about travel to and from Great Britain. Since there is a real possibility of an outbreak in county Armagh, we should ask the GAA, in particular, to review a number of their matches, which I enjoy going to myself. There is a broader national interest and people should not travel as happened in the past. I remember all-Ireland finals being postponed on account of foot and mouth disease. I commend the Minister for State and wish him well in the steps he is taking.

Mr. Ryan

I thank Senator Hayes for allowing me to share his time. I am known for giving the farming community the sharp end of my tongue occasionally, but this is a time for solidarity across the whole country. Those of us from an urban background have a particular obligation to reiterate the seriousness of this matter. Because there is not a human health dimension to this, people living in urban areas are inclined to underestimate its significance. It is potentially the greatest economic catastrophe we have suffered, perhaps in 15 years. By an immense proportion, it is the biggest economic crisis since the beginning of our new-found prosperity.

It is perfectly possible for people, including me, to say that things could and should have been done better. Perhaps they should, but there has been enough of that now. Every constructive suggestion made will be listened to and acted upon, and Senator Hayes made a series of them. We should all believe that this is a question of national solidarity in which everybody's interest is threatened. It is not just farming and agri-business, it is the country's future that is threatened.

All of us should do everything we can to encourage awareness and a practical patriotism. I do not believe that statements about going to Cheltenham, even if they are only aspirational, are the stuff to create a sense of crisis. I am sorry for the rugby players, the supporters, the Fine Gael members and everybody who is inconvenienced by this. That is not to say that anybody would have the right to do otherwise. It is far too serious a matter for that. It is potentially a catastrophe and the ramifications are great for a large part of our economy, a part which is becoming a real industry as opposed to something dependent on EU support.

We need to think big when responding to this. Senator Hayes suggested large groups of people be disinfected. People might not like the smell of disinfectant on their clothes, but that is a minor inconvenience by comparison to what could happen, not just to farmers and to agri-business but to the whole country. We could turn from boom to a serious economic crisis if this threat materialises.

We must learn a lesson about the way the European Single Market works and the freedom of movement. Even though it is 34 years since the last outbreak in Britain, we have had a single European market without customs boundaries for perhaps only eight years, since 1993. In that period, we have had one major outbreak which may have originated in Greece – we are not sure – or outside the EU, and in a liberalised trade regime it has moved around Europe. We need to review the way in which animals and livestock can move around a region as large as the European Union. It is only in the past eight years that Europe has been without customs boundaries and without checks. If once in eight years we are to have a catastrophe of this scale, it is clear there are issues about how we regulate the movement of livestock, which we have not yet dealt with satisfactorily. It may be necessary, not perhaps on a customs basis but on an animal health basis, to re-introduce significant controls on cross-border transport of livestock. We have now learnt that our controls, which we believed were perfect, are not perfect.

I wish the Government success on this issue. It is not a question of the Government succeeding but of the country succeeding in averting what it is not exaggerating to call a potential catastrophe.

I thank Members of this House for their very supportive comments and practical suggestions. Senator Hayes suggested spraying individuals. There would be many objections to that and we could be open to the possibility of being sued. It is something we will have to consider. We thought about using air disinfectants etc.

If foot and mouth disease is on the island of Ireland, we have a major disaster. That will mean the restriction of individuals and preventing farm ers from allowing anyone on their farm, except veterinary officers. Other Department staff will not go near farms until this is over. The movement of cattle from farm to farm will be stopped. The sale of cattle will only be allowed when they are being brought for slaughter, and even that may have to be reviewed in the next few days.

This is a disease that is not of our origin but has come in through people who have been less responsible than others. This is a national emergency. We need the widespread co-operation of everybody, including people completely remote from farming. I was horrified and disgusted at the lack of reaction to a statement this morning that, irrespective of whether there was a disease, people would go to Cheltenham, particularly when I see what the IRFU, which is not directly involved in farming, is prepared to do. We are deeply concerned about the situation today and that the outbreak may have spread across the Border. Traceability of movement is difficult as people do not always co-operate. At this stage whatever measures need to be taken are a matter of national interest.

I hope and pray the disease is not on this island. Within the jurisdiction of the Twenty-six Counties, in co-operation with the Northern counties, we have taken all the measures possible to prevent it spreading. The animals concerned came in before or after 1 February and the disease was not notified to us until 21 February. The incubation period could be between 20 and 30 days in sheep. It is a less virulent type of disease that sheep get but nevertheless it is one that can infect during the incubation period. I hope the Members will understand that I do not wish to say anything further until we have confirmation on the actions, in addition to those already taken, we will take in a purely extremely emergency situation.