Foot and Mouth Disease: Statements.

Everybody in this House knows agriculture is at the heart of much of the social, cultural and economic life of our country. As a result of that, we must always treat very seriously every possible threat to its vitality. That is the approach of this Government and has been the approach of all previous Governments. It is only very recently we discussed the unprecedented measures we had to introduce to address the BSE issue. We thought at that stage we knew what was a serious crisis in agriculture and food.

However, for the past ten days we have been addressing a crisis that carries with it a "once in a generation" threat. The potential impact of foot and mouth disease on our agriculture and food industries would be on a scale few of us could imagine. This unprecedented threat has required unprecedented action, and that is what has been taken.

From the first moment we were alerted to the risk of foot and mouth disease, we have taken aggressive action to establish if it is here and to keep it out if it is not. We have worked on the basis of a number of simple principles: provide every resource required; take every action necessary; and respond quickly.

Over the past week, I and the key Ministers involved have received regular briefings on all emerging concerns. Daily action meetings have been held from the time of the first notification of threat of the disease. Officials of my Department have been fully involved. The Cabinet has discussed the issue on a number of occasions, including two specially convened meetings. In addition, daily cross agency meetings are being held, chaired by me or the Minister for Agri culture, Food and Rural Development and with appropriate Ministers and officials present. This crisis has had my full attention and that of the entire Cabinet at all stages.

In each of the key moves taken over the past ten days, action here has preceded that in other countries. As we are all aware, the EU imposed a ban on exports from the UK with effect from 21 February, but we had already acted to prevent imports to the country of susceptible animals and relevant products. The ban on imports has since been extended to horses and greyhounds from Britain.

Arrangements were made with the Garda and the Army to send the necessary forces to the Border immediately and Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development staff at entry points to the country were put on alert. Prior to confirmation of the outbreak in Northern Ireland, these measures were strengthened and a massive security operation was put in place.

There are now more than 750 gardaí on Border duty and almost 200 gardaí are working on this issue at ports and airports. In addition to the 200 Army personnel who have already moved to the Border, the Minister for Defence has arranged that all necessary permanent and part-time members of the Defence Forces will be made available.

While the complete sealing of 253 miles of the Border is obviously not possible, the advice of the Garda is that coverage is required on 141 roads to effectively monitor all cross Border traffic. The security authorities have confirmed to me that each of these 141 roads is being manned.

We have monitored all imports of sheep from Britain from three weeks before its first confirmed case. I will return to recent developments later. Even though the tests undertaken have been negative so far, reasonable caution requires that these animals should be slaughtered. This is being done. France, Germany and Spain are also engaging in such slaughtering programmes.

A nation-wide ban on livestock marts has been implemented and on Wednesday last a ban was introduced on the movement of all relevant livestock within the country other than those going directly to slaughter. Arrangements were put in place to ensure that people and vehicles were disinfected and these are being enhanced on an ongoing basis.

At a special Cabinet meeting last night, a number of additional measures were agreed: every public office has been instructed to install a disinfectant system; all avoidable farm visits by State agencies are to be cancelled; all non-essential gatherings of large groups of people are to be cancelled; and from next week postal deliveries will be made only to farms where there is a disinfectant mat.

A widespread information campaign has been undertaken through the media and through direct contact with farmers, industry and other interested groups and individuals. I acknowledge the essential help of various parts of the media in distributing important factual information to the public. Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development staff have manned help lines throughout the week and Department offices will remain open through this coming weekend to provide advice.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is distributing advice leaflets to farmers throughout the country and this information is being made available to the widest possible number of people and organisations. Teagasc is also assisting by making advice available to farmers.

The House should be aware of the huge logistical task undertaken by the various agencies involved. We have had no direct experience of this disease over the past six decades, nor have we been threatened directly with it for more than three decades. In spite of this, a wide range of agencies have reacted swiftly and on a major scale and we have reacted as if the disease was already present. Comparison has been made with the threat in 1967. I have been informed that the current controls surpass those in place at that time in regard to their scale and speed of implementation.

More than 1,000 security personnel have been active in enforcing measures in the Border region alone. I pay tribute to the two gardaí who were injured in the course of carrying out their duties on this matter and wish them well.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has applied every available person who could be pulled from tasks to help with the effort. This has involved up to 800 people. For a Department which was already handling an emergency scheme, its response has been very impressive. I pay tribute to everybody in the Department who is involved. I and my colleagues very much appreciate their professionalism and commitment.

The control of livestock movements is obviously the most important element of the effort and it addresses the most significant potential cause of infection. However, we have been very conscious of the fact that there are many other ways in which the infection could spread. As a result of this, many other measures have been required which have inconvenienced, and will severely inconvenience, large numbers of people.

The various Irish sporting organisations, which responded to discussions with Ministers by cancelling or postponing events, have acted in an extremely responsible manner. Indeed, they have shown a lead to sporting organisations in other countries. Yesterday's decision by the Racehorse Trainers Association regarding Cheltenham was also the responsible decision to make.

Reference has been made to the movement of animals around the country and the role of dealers. There are controls on movement and, in particular, there is legislation in place to regulate dealers. This legislation is in the process of being updated, but we need to revisit this aspect in the light of recent developments. We will continue to do whatever needs to be done in this context.

The State services will continue to provide advice and information to farmers and others to ensure the most effective action possible by everyone. Anyone who is in doubt about any issue, and especially anyone who has any concerns or suspicions about the movement or health of animals, should contact their local Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development office immediately. There is absolutely no room for complacency or misplaced local or family loyalties in this matter.

It is also important for me to say that, as great as the threat from this disease is, it has no serious implications for human health. With all the attention understandably focusing on this issue, some people may harbour concerns on this matter. I am advised that very occasionally people can get mild respiratory symptoms from contact with infected animals but people cannot become infected by eating meat from such animals.

We must all make a few things very clear. As of now, there have been no confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease in this jurisdiction and there have been no cases with the clinical signs of foot and mouth disease identified in this jurisdiction. Similarly, we have no evidence available to us of movements of animals in breach of the controls we introduced on 21 February.

A movement of sheep on to a farm in County Louth is currently under investigation. Last night the authorities here became aware of this movement of sheep from Northern Ireland and, therefore, the full details are not yet available. As in the other cases of post 1 February movements from Great Britain or Northern Ireland, gardaí and departmental officials moved on to the farm during the night and a number of sheep have been slaughtered. A meat plant in County Kildare which may have received sheep from the farm has been closed. Every possible action and precaution will be taken in this case.

Clearly the introduction of the Single Market increased the possibility of movement and the risk of disease. The Single Market is one thing, but racketeering and illegal movement are a different issue. The situation is complicated by the fact that there has always been free movement of sheep between ourselves and Northern Ireland. As such, movement of sheep prior to the introduction of controls cannot, of itself, be viewed as suspicious.

Since details of the Athleague case emerged, it has not always been emphasised by commentators that the illegal importation took place on the day before the introduction of our control measures. I discussed the matter of such illegal importations with the Garda and officials of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and they stressed that they treat these cases as fraud and organised crime and that they work to deal firmly with those involved on an ongoing basis. I appeal to members of the pub lic to report to the authorities any similarly suspicious movements of animals and I assure them that these reports will be dealt with on a confidential basis. Huge efforts are being made by people all over the country to fight the threat of this disease, and actions that undermine this will not be tolerated.

One lesson which we should take from the past two days, and from the evidence to date, is that we must be very careful that we do not talk ourselves into an immediate problem with our trading partners. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and our diplomats throughout the world have been working energetically to ensure that other countries know that there have been no confirmed cases in this jurisdiction. There are few things which could be more unhelpful to their work, and more dangerous to this trade and the livelihoods of those who depend on it, than careless descriptions of the facts to date. Everybody should realise that we live in a highly competitive environment. The world is paying attention and we must all act responsibly.

For all of us in this House, we must continue to work on a non-partisan basis, and I thank the House for having done so. We cannot use such a serious matter as material for the everyday cut and thrust of adversarial politics.

I thank Deputy Noonan for the position he adopted here yesterday on my address to the Welsh Assembly. For many years the people of Wales have sought a form of self-governance – it is something they cherish and their pride in the Assembly was very evident yesterday on their national day. The visit allowed me the opportunity to discuss in detail the outbreak of foot and mouth disease with the Welsh Agriculture Secretary, following from my discussions with Prime Minister Blair the previous evening.

The Minister, Deputy Walsh, and the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, have been in the House for four days in a row, for a total of eight hours' debate and questions on this issue. They and their officials have worked incredibly hard to keep the House informed of developments and to respond to points raised by Deputies. They have all been under considerable pressure to carry out the many functions of proposing measures, overseeing an unprecedented control and monitoring exercise, disseminating public information and servicing the needs of the Oireachtas. I appreciate their work very much.

As I have said, the Government has been striving to put in place stringent and effective controls. At most stages of the process, we have implemented restrictions before Britain, which actually has confirmed cases, or other European countries. We see this as an emergency and have been acting accordingly, but no one can let their guard down. Any extra measures which may be required will be implemented and any extra resources which may be required will be provided.

I appeal again to people to heed the advice being given by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. I stress that this is advice aimed at everyone, not only farmers. We can all contribute to the fight against this disease by doing nothing which could increase the threat of infection.

The extent and nature of the actions which we have implemented are fully justified by the importance of the agri-food industry to this country. The agri-food sector accounts for 10% of GDP, 11% of employment and 27% of net earnings from trade. Far more importantly, however, farming and food are the bedrock of our rural communities. Anything that threatens that industry, as foot and mouth disease does, is a threat to a large section of Irish society – it threatens the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families who earn their living either directly or indirectly from farming and the food industry. For this reason we must continue to address this threat with absolute determination and vigilance.

I thank the public for their co-operation and forbearance and ask them to continue to co-operate with the extra precautions. This is a national emergency with livelihoods and prosperity at stake for many people and, by extension, for the whole country.

I wish to share time with Deputy Farrelly.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The enormous threat posed by foot and mouth disease to the economy places a responsibility on all of us to take precautions. A confirmed outbreak on this side of the Border would have catastrophic implications for the entire food industry and cause damage to exports which could take years to repair.

The confirmation yesterday of a case in south Armagh greatly increases the risk of an outbreak here, but it is important to state that there has been no outbreak in this jurisdiction. The geographical spread of the 32 confirmed cases throughout Britain indicates that the outbreak there is moving towards epidemic proportions.

Fine Gael will support all measures announced by the Government to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease to the Republic. We will, however, continue to scrutinise the Government's actions and hold it accountable to the Dáil. Fine Gael believes that there is a yawning gap between the regulatory announcements being made by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Minister of State and the follow-up actions on the ground.

The response in Britain to this catastrophe has been slow and questions arise as to when the British authorities first began to examine the possibility that there was foot and mouth disease on certain farms. In Ireland, the response earlier this week was languid and lethargic. It has improved since and I hope the measures now being put in place will be effective.

Over the past few days, however, we have heard story after story from people who have entered this country from Britain whose attempts to act responsibly by making themselves known to the authorities have fallen on deaf ears. We learned about the group of British politicians who went through Cork Airport on their way to Killarney without being checked. A young woman travelling home from an English agricultural college, which had been closed because of foot and mouth disease, was allowed to travel to her family farm in Limerick after officials in Dún Laoghaire noted her name and address.

The laid-back approach of the Government is in sharp contrast to the truly patriotic response of many sporting, cultural and voluntary organisations which have cancelled virtually all their planned activities. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to these organisations for putting the national interest first. No doubt their initiative will help to prevent foot and mouth disease taking hold in this country.

The most worrying aspect of the confirmation of the case in south Armagh is that it appears that many sheep from the same herd where sent to the Kepak plant in Athleague for slaughter under the pretence that they were the property of a local farmer. This raises the appalling prospect that infected animals were transported into this jurisdiction. The meat in question was exported to France and this is probably the reason the French authorities will today ban the import of Irish animals.

Earlier this week the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development appealed to race-goers not to go to Cheltenham. He got a supportive response and the racing industry has agreed that horses will not go to Cheltenham. The conventional wisdom has been that while horses may not get foot and mouth disease they may be carriers. Yet, when this point was put to the spokesperson for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, the assistant chief veterinary officer at the Department, on "Morning Ireland" this morning, he flatly denied that horses could carry the virus. I was surprised at how categoric he was and asked somebody to check the Department's website. Since the website was not clear on the issue, the person phoned the Department's help-line. The young woman on the phone said horses were not carriers and when pressed she checked with the veterinary officer on stand-by who gave categoric assurances, through the person on the help-line, that horses were carriers and that the action taken by the Minister in banning their movement was eliminating a serious risk.

These kinds of muddled messages from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and his Department are reducing confidence. The lack of clear information for farmers – I have seen the advertisements in today's newspapers – the failure to notify district veterinary officers in Border counties during the early days of the outbreak, the lack of instruction to the Garda, the stories of scarcity of disinfectant and the general feeling of inefficiency are sapping confidence.

The Taoiseach must take control of the issue and I am glad to see him back in the House. I pledge the support of my party for all reasonable measures. If the virus moves southwards it will have an appalling consequence, not only for farming families but also for the tens of thousands of people employed in the food industry and the wider economy. If there are outbreaks of the disease in this jurisdiction consumer confidence will weaken. If confidence goes then we will face a difficult situation and much of the good work which has been done in the economy over the past seven years will be reversed.

I am surprised that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development did not have an emergency plan to deal with this possibility. Those of us who have served on local authorities know that there are local emergency and regional plans in the event of a serious rail crash, road accident or an aeroplane crash. We presume that there are emergency plans in place if, for example, there is a blow-out at Sellafield. This is the agricultural equivalent of a Sellafield blow-out and I am surprised that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development was not ready to take action.

I compliment the Garda, Army and officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, both centrally and throughout the country, who have worked late into the night and far beyond their job description and responsibility in the national interest to combat the threat. In particular, I wish to be associated with the Taoiseach's tribute to the two gardaí who were injured in carrying out their duties in this respect.

I wish to raise a number of issue with which I would like the Minister to deal during the question and answer session. If an outbreak occurs, what will be the position – the Tánaiste may inform him – in regard to the provision of fresh meat to consumers? Thirty-four years ago fresh meat was available in every parish because at the back of every butcher's shop there was a small abattoir for the killing and preparation of animals which were provided locally within a mile of the butcher's shop. The situation has changed and meat is now supplied from central abattoirs which frequently are 100 miles away from the local village butcher. This question has, in prudence, to be dealt with by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment who has responsibility for consumer issues. I ask the Minister to give more information about the movement of sheep on the Louth farm and the connection between this and the factory in Kildare. Obviously it is an important issue.

It seems that people are seriously concerned about the safety of food. There seems to be little confidence either in Ireland or across Europe in food which is produced in large factory farms. Herbivores should not be fed meat. We have seen the difficulty in respect of mad cow disease. It looks as if the source of this infection has come from international airlines' swill in the north of England being fed to pigs, an infection introduced through the feeding of meat to herbivores. This should not happen and it does not happen on family farms. Rather it is happening in industrialised factory farms whose mandate is to produce the greatest quantity of food possible at the lowest possible cost. I ask the Taoiseach to raise this issue at European level and to restore the production of food for the citizens of the European Union to the family farmers of Europe, particularly those in Ireland.

I welcome the opportunity to comment on the outbreak of this dreadful disease which hopefully will not come to this State. We are aware of the serious work carried out during the past week or ten days, but I was appalled last night to hear the comments on an RTE programme in relation to inspections of the ring of steel which was supposed to be put around the Border and the infected farm. Why did it take the Government so long to ensure that only 200 Army personnel were made available to police Border crossings to protect the State from this infectious disease? Two days ago I was informed that in 1941 within four miles of every four cross-roads Army personnel stopped people moving from one side of a parish to another. I was disappointed to learn that sufficient manpower was not made available by the Government until after its second or third meeting on this issue.

I want to raise some issues with which I hope the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development will deal. The first relates to the animals from Armagh which were sold at a mart in County Louth last Monday two weeks. Have those animals been found and what farm did they go to? I presume these are the same animals which the Taoiseach said were being investigated. What effort has the Minister for the Environment and Local Government made in response to my request two days ago to ensure that local authorities made proper disinfectant mats available at all places where people congregate, for example, tax offices and other local authority offices? I have not had the opportunity to visit Navan to find out what measures have been put in place.

Did the veterinary inspectors employed by the State to protect its animals carry out ante-mortem inspections of the animals prior to their slaughter in Athleague? If so, why were they allowed to be slaughtered, taking into account that the tags had been removed from them? Animals imported from England are normally tagged. How could veterinary inspectors stamp this meat as being of Irish origin following the slaughter? It is an indictment of all of us and the Department if its officials allowed such practices to take place. It also shows that this type of practice has been taking place over the past number of years and that nobody in the Department has taken notice of the efforts made following the beef tribunal. They have put this country at risk by not standing up and being counted on this issue. What action has been taken to deal with people who have turned a blind eye to the animals being slaughtered in plants in this part of the country?

For more than a week, my party has been looking for a dynamic and concerted response to this crisis. The signs are that only in the last 24 hours is that type of response beginning to take place. The confirmation of a positive testing for foot and mouth disease at a farm in South Armagh has finally woken up the Government. As the exchanges last night on "Prime Time" confirmed, there is still a considerable amount of work to be done if we are to contain the disease which may not yet be in this country but which is an enormous threat.

This is not a time for party politics but neither is it a time to be silent. It is difficult to disagree with what Deputy O'Malley said here yesterday which is that what we have seen so far in response to this crisis has been a case of regulatory failure. It is clear that, despite our dependence on agri-business, no substantial action plan was in place to deal with an outbreak of this disease. The yawning gulf between what is supposed to be the position and what is actually the position is proof of that. Even as late as yesterday, the number of gardaí and soldiers on the Border was pitifully inadequate. I welcome the Taoiseach's statement that personnel are on their way but I wonder why we had to wait this long and whether even these numbers are adequate.

I listened last night to the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, talk about newspaper advertisements this weekend, which I welcome. I notice the difference in prominence between today's advertisements and those that appeared last weekend. I will illustrate that for Members.

It is not in order to display newspaper clippings in this House.

One would not know what the advertisement is. It could be an invitation to tender for material as distinct from what is in today's newspapers. That was the position last Sunday, this is the position today. I welcome the improvement but I must say it is very late. These advertisements should have been running all week as well as at the weekend. I am talking about the current advertisements, not what was in the newspapers last Sunday.

The Taoiseach should have taken the opportunity to address the nation. This is not just an agricultural problem, this is a national crisis. It is all very well to talk about the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development website but where has been the massive campaign to direct people to it? That is the real difference between being pro-active and reactive. The establishment of five help lines in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development while the same Department did not even have proper disinfectant procedures in place is not the hallmark of a pro-active campaign. There is a consensus emerging about how we have responded to this crisis which was articulated last night by Professor Quinn on "Prime Time". That analysis is that we have been far too slow to react.

The Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development are correct to repeat that there is yet to be a positive case or even signs of symptoms in this State, but neither is it a point that should be over-stated. An outbreak of foot and mouth disease two miles from our Border and the extension of the control zone means we should act as if the scourge is here. As we all know, this disease does not respect national political boundaries. To describe newspaper headlines, however exaggerated, as treasonous, as the Minister, Deputy Walsh, did here yesterday, is a mistake. These headlines, unlike the advertisements, at least conveyed the sense of national crisis which has not been properly communicated to all our people by the Government during the course of this week.

The Government must face a number of realities, including that there continues to be, and has been all week, a gulf of difference between assurances given to this House and what has been happening throughout the country. Let me digress for a moment. I am not holding responsible, as such, individual Ministers for taking at face value what they have been told is happening on the ground. However, if we have learned anything as politicians over the past ten years, it is that sometimes the assurances from various State agencies and people working on our behalf falls far short of the reality. Therefore, we can no longer assume that because agency X or agency Y, region B or region C, have given information to the relevant section of the Department, the Minister has been given the information in good faith by the official in the Department in Dublin and he has communicated that information in good faith to this House, that it is necessarily fact. Our recent collective political experience on either side of this House has been that frequently we have not been told the full truth and that there have been gaps in what was actually desired or directed to happen. Therefore, I am asking that the anecdotal evidence from this side of the House be listened to. As recently as last night, Taoiseach, a daughter of one of the members of my parliamentary party flew from Manchester to this country and was not confronted with any of the safeguards or requirements we are being told are being put in place. We are not coming here to taunt the Government or to try to prove it is not doing its job. We are simply saying the job it is directing to have done in some cases is not being done or monitored in a full and comprehensive way. We would be derelict in our duty if we did not convey this information to the Government. I am sure the Department officials are listening to the talk shows not just on national radio, but on local community radio throughout the country. I took part yesterday in a radio programme for Kilkenny Radio and throughout the programme people were saying that things were not happening. This House must convey what is actually happening on the ground. Information should be double checked because what people are being told does not necessarily tally all of the time in all of the places with what the Government has directed.

The Government must face a number of realities, including the one I have just addressed. I will list what I believe should happen. First, the Border with Northern Ireland has been porous all week and, from some reports, this continues to be the case. I know that to be the case not just from listening to local and national radio bulletins, but from colleagues who have been in the area. I suggest the response by the rainbow Government to the BSE crisis in 1996 was far more convincing than this Government's response to foot and mouth disease, despite the comparative virulence of foot and mouth disease. Second, we have known that controls and information at our airports and ports have been totally inadequate. I have spoken to people who have travelled back from England in the last week. They confirmed that no special efforts were made to inform them of their obligations. A full week after we were put on notice, yesterday's newspapers continued to report inadequate arrangements for disinfection and high levels of ignorance among passengers. This simply is not good enough.

I have stressed the importance of imparting information to the public and farmers, which is critical. All this week the Government has exhorted people to be responsible and to consider the national interest. However, there has not been enough effort to explain precisely what it is people must do. Farmers organisations remain concerned that farmers are not adequately equipped to recognise this disease. All week in this House the issue has been fronted by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development or, in his absence, by the Minister of State at his Department. I acknowledge and respect what the Taoiseach has said in relation to the amount of time both people have contributed to this House. I suggest to the Government that this has been an error. As Deputy Penrose told the House yesterday, this is not exclusively an agricultural problem. It requires an effort from us all. It is truly a national crisis and it requires national leadership. Only one man, the Taoiseach, can assert the appropriate level of authority in these circumstances. Deputy Noonan said yesterday that he understood why the Taoiseach travelled to Wales this week. I do not share that understanding, even though I did not under-estimate the dilemma facing him. The Taoiseach made a serious error of judgment. The National Assembly could have been addressed another time. Of all people, the Welsh people would have understood. The Taoiseach was right to be concerned about cancelling his visit at a late stage and the message that might have sent to Wales, but he did not give enough consideration to the message he sent out at home. Some travellers who paid to attend a sporting event in Wales cannot have their money refunded. They will perhaps use the Taoiseach's action to justify their own.

Each and every citizen has a role to play and a duty to fulfil if we are to be successful. It is incumbent on all employers to allow part-time farmers working in their businesses the necessary time off to complete the checking of their animals as recommended by the IFA. We do not have time for fatalism as that could turn a small outbreak into a larger one. If the disease occurs in the State it will have to be contained. A possible outbreak in County Armagh does not mean that Munster is in any way less threatened than Ulster. We should not allow our minds to focus exclusively on that situation. The possibility of importing the disease from the UK to any port or airport in the country remains high.

There is no room for complacency. People should be wary of making comparisons with what is taking place in Britain. The scale of the catastrophe facing both countries is not comparable because of the relative importance of the agri-business sector to our economy and society, especially in rural Ireland. Now is the time for concerted and determined action. My party will give full support to the Government in this national effort. We will take any action and support any necessary measures until the threat is defeated, but we will do our duty and hold the Government to account.

The possibility of foot and mouth disease spreading to this country threatens our economic security and the livelihoods not just of our farmers and the agricultural food sector, but potentially virtually every citizen. Agriculture and livestock are of such vital importance to the whole economy that we have been thorough in our efforts to ensure this plague does not spread with disastrous consequences. There is a responsibility on us all to take every precaution to prevent the spread of this scourge.

Tourism employs over 150,000 people and brings over £3 billion to the economy. It is very important that every step is taken to ensure that the risk of foot and mouth disease does not jeopardise this industry or the agriculture industry. As Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation I have taken the following initiatives to reduce the dangers of the disease spreading. I have asked Bord Fáilte to urge all carriers between the two islands to increase their vigilance and to assist with any further strengthening of protective measures, such as disinfectant programmes, at embarkation and disembarkation. However, there is a very low risk of the disease being car ried by people. It is susceptible to and can be controlled by using disinfectant.

My colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, has already called for the cancellation of parades throughout the country planned for St. Patrick's Day. I support that call. As the situation developed I was in contact with the chairperson of the St. Patrick's Festival Company, Senator Quinn. The board of the company met yesterday evening and decided in light of the serious situation for the country, to postpone the St. Patrick's Day Festival, including the parade. The company will also be considering, in the absence of a normal parade, how best it might mark the national day without jeopardising the protective stance against the spread of the disease. I appreciate the disappointment this must mean for all those committed organisations and individuals. Where the Dublin parade is concerned, the intention is that when the danger has passed, a similar festival event could be organised in the early summer.

In response to the call by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development for the cancellation of all hunting, fishing, hillside walking etc., Bord Fáilte has suspended for the time being the promotion of holidays based on such activities in the British market. It is reviewing on a case by case basis promotions in all other markets.

In response to the crisis the Irish Hotels Federation and the Restaurants Association of Ireland have agreed to my request to ask their members to take preventative measures by placing disinfectant mats, etc., at all of their entrances. Also at my request, the Irish Sports Council has written to all of the national governing bodies of sport asking them to examine, as a matter of urgency, all upcoming events and competitions and to consider any actions necessary to protect the country against the spread of the disease.

Already many sporting organisations have confirmed that they will be cancelling events and I welcome these decisions. I especially welcome the early decision by the IRFU to postpone the Six Nations rugby match against Wales, scheduled for next Saturday. I believe all Irish supporters and our Welsh neighbours will understand the reason for this decision. In addition, I am grateful to the IRFU for its decision not to proceed with any all-Ireland league matches this weekend. I also compliment the GAA on its decision to postpone all inter-county fixtures scheduled for this weekend and the ladies' GAA who, at an early stage, cancelled their annual conference scheduled to be held in Cavan this weekend. The FAI has also generously cancelled its fixtures.

The Irish Sports Council is in contact with the Golfing Union of Ireland to see how best it can ensure that the necessary precautions are taken to prevent the spread of the disease. I note the union has cancelled many of its events where groups would have come together. I urge golf clubs who allow sheep and other animals to graze on their courses to be especially vigilant at this time. It is imperative that all clubs make thorough disinfection arrangements and that all their members take care to abide by them. I am confident the golfing community will not be found wanting and will wholeheartedly support these protective measures in the national interest.

In addition to the four sporting organisations to which I have referred, many others have cancelled events and I commend them all for their civic minded responses in this emergency. Sport is playing its part. The words "silence" and "eloquence" might appear contradictory, but our silent and empty stadia and sports grounds this weekend are an eloquent testament to good citizenship and responsibility.

We are all aware of the crisis facing the nation. When value added and other factors are taken into consideration, over 40,000 are employed in the agri-food industry. We have taken the right measures to address the crisis. The importation of the disease to County Armagh was some time in early February, before the date of the declaration. That is an important issue which we must consider. The inspection today by a County Louth farmer is in respect of an issue that arose before the notification of dates. No other animals have been transported since.

As with what happened at Athleague, dealers appear to be in the middle of what has happened in County Louth. This must be stamped out. If we want to guarantee traceability in the food chain we must eliminate these practices. These people are irresponsible and have no respect. There will be criminal charges and I hope all the people concerned will be brought back to this jurisdiction to ensure they answer before the law.

It is not possible to eliminate all aspects of risk. Now that the disease is in Northern Ireland, it is vital that we in this Republic take all necessary action, be it west County Cork, south County Kerry, County Louth or elsewhere. Every farmer must consider his own farm to be a fortress. Nobody should visit it. The milk lorries should not visit unless there is adequate protection. The postman can leave the post at the local post office or shop. All these are contingency plans. When farmers socialise at night some enter pubs without changing their clothes or wellingtons. I am today asking all pubs to ensure they have disinfectant dips for shoes or wellingtons and that disinfectant mats be provided. They must play their part because of the danger of a person picking up a piece of clay and bringing it back to a farm.

It is a national emergency and I am grateful to the Opposition for its response. We can all help by emphasising how dangerous this is and how volatile the situation is at present. The situation in 1941 was different. We had a national emergency during World War II. There was less traffic and fewer animals but there was more discipline among people. Now is the time for the farming community to up the barriers and to make sure their farms do not get this in so far as they can prevent it. However, if this disease comes in, it will be a matter of containment – we must make sure it is contained within an area.

I thank the officials who have worked extremely hard in recent days. They have worked long hours and late into the night and started again at 6.30 a.m. It has been extremely difficult. I respect the criticism by the Opposition and we have checked out a great deal of it. I heard it said this morning that Dublin Airport did not have a sign. There is a six foot sign in black and white that states: "foot and mouth disease", yet somebody came in last night and said he had not seen it. We must remember that in saying these things we are reflecting on people who are giving hours of their time. It is an individual's moral duty to look for the relevant person and inform him that he or she has been in Manchester or London. It is important that the individual takes on that responsibility.

The eyes and ears of the Department, the Garda Síochána or the Army are not sufficient. We need the support of 3.5 million people – seven million eyes looking around this country – and particularly those in the Border area where there has been a tradition of not informing on neighbours and reporting people. We are now seeking to protect the incomes of all the people. It is important that the people along the Border respect that and make sure they protect not only themselves, but the whole nation. We have an £11.5 billion industry – it is a huge business. We sell to 100 countries around world. All of that is in danger at the moment. The ongoing effects of this will not just be containment but six months down the road, we still may not be able to sell. It may be another seven or eight months after that before we get clearance. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that everybody adopts a positive attitude to this and decides to do something themselves. Together, if we cannot prevent the disease, we can at least contain it.

I wish to share time with Deputy McGinley, my Border colleague. I welcome the opportunity to comment on this most serious issue. We must deal with it as if the disease was in the country. We must adopt a fortress mentality. The agriculture industry is worth at least £5 billion per year, or £15 million per day, to the nation. It is still the engine that drives this nation. My party thanks all sporting bodies and others for their understanding and common sense in calling off events. National and local organisations in rural areas have also acted in a responsible way and we must encourage everyone to travel as little as possible in rural areas.

The outbreak in south Armagh means that my wish and that of many others to have the island designated foot and mouth disease free can no longer be fulfilled. We must not let this incident in south Armagh stop us from reaching that objective. The Minister, Deputy Walsh, and the Northern Minister, Bríd Rodgers, with the support of our Taoiseach must make sure that relevant Department officials and veterinary personnel work together to keep this island free of all diseases in the long-term.

There has been a great deal of talk about a ring of steel around the Border. I thank all the gardaí, Army personnel and Department officials who are doing their best in very difficult weather conditions. However, the actions of this Government can only be described as slipshod and pathetic. On Wednesday 21 February, when I spoke in this Chamber, I questioned the way the Ministers were carrying out their promises made in statements and in television and radio interviews and the lack of follow through on the ground with written instructions to veterinarians, gardaí and others. The Minister of State, Deputy Davern, advised that all Border roads were manned but on Friday, I was advised that Balla bridge near Emyvale, which is quite a big bridge, was open. When I checked on Friday evening, there was no Garda presence.

On Sunday afternoon I called at a number of major and minor crossings and by then the Department officials, with the help of farmers, had disinfectant and mats in place on major roads. They were supported by gardaí but there was no obvious sign of Army personnel. There was one garda on each of the minor roads. There was obviously a major difference in how those check points were operated. Some had proper Garda signs and active participation by gardaí while at others, that was difficult to discern.

On Friday evening the Minister announced that cattle marts in Border areas should close but by midday on Saturday, no communication had been received by mart managers. Obviously, the five Border DVOs had not been instructed. No e-mails, telephones, faxes or mobile telephones were used. The district veterinary office in County Monaghan and the Ballybay mart manager share the one roof. I know the district veterinary officers and others have organised top level meetings with all relevant bodies at county level to prepare for the worst, but the Government must play its role by making sure that when decisions are made, they are advised and the decisions carried through.

The Minister has assured the nation that gardaí will be backed up by the Army. However, it was only after a week of questions from me that we learned that only 200 Garda personnel are being used. I had asked that all minor roads in the south Armagh area where the suspect case was notified and confirmed would be closed to traffic. However, I was advised only last night that the Crossmaglen-Castleblayney road has no disinfectant and yet vehicles were being let through. Surely, this is a national emergency with the future of our single biggest industry at stake.

Will the Minister, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Defence sort out whatever problems there are and make sure we utilise all personnel available, whether Garda, Army or Civil Defence? I welcome the Taoiseach's admission today that extra personnel are being brought in. There are up to 300 roads to be manned. Up to now only 450 gardaí and 200 Army personnel were doing that job 24 hours per day. That cannot be called a ring of steel; it is more like strainer.

Farm families and other dependants on the food industry are living in fear for their future. Those in the Border area especially are looking on in dismay and amazement at the lack of follow through. More than half those working in County Monaghan depend on the agriculture industry and food for their jobs. Two thirds of all Irish poultry and mushrooms are produced in County Monaghan and much of the added value milk and meat products are also produced in CavanMonaghan. County Cavan is renowned for its pig industry. The transport industry is already in crisis because of the BSE cull scheme. Add to that the Border restrictions and most units are sitting idle. However, a foot and mouth disease outbreak would devastate the area, never mind the country. More than £200 million alone is earned in County Monaghan from the food industry which is mostly for export.

The information from ports and airports over the past week has been most disturbing with a total lack of personnel and proper notice. I understand that has improved in the past 24 hours. However, it may be too late. Are the signs and loudspeaker messages in the major European languages at the very least? We can hardly expect the French, Germans, Spanish and others to understand Gaelic and, in some cases, English. Has every farmer and public office been notified in regard to proper care and disinfectant? I understand a postman visited 67 farms in the Border area yesterday and only one had any precaution. The Minister has failed to get the message across. I appreciate the advertisements in today's newspapers but they were placed only after massive pressure from this side of the House. As other Members have stated in recent days, it is impossible to get any form of disinfectant. This must be a priority.

I was advised last night that the Department's website is nothing compared to its UK counterpart. Is the Minister aware that dog racing at Dungannon, Ballyskeagh near Lisburn and possibly Derry is on tonight and that some of these races are sponsored by Bord na gCon? Is there liaison between the two Ministers on this island? This is the most serious situation that has ever arisen in this country in our generation. We must look again at the transport of pigs, sheep and cattle. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is well aware that some of the factories in the Border county of Monaghan were literally forced to close. We must make sure they are replaced to avoid this long distance transport.

I thank Deputy Crawford for sharing his time. In light of the confirmation of foot and mouth disease in Northern Ireland, Donegal, due to its geographic location, is in a most vulnerable and precarious position. We have a huge land border stretching from Derry to Belleek with dozens of approved and unapproved crossings. At this stage of the impending crisis, we must adopt a containment strategy in regard to Donegal and the rest of the Republic. An outbreak in this country would deal a most devastating and severe body blow to the entire community, not merely to rural Ireland and our disease free record of 60 years' standing would go up in a puff of smoke.

Many farmers in Donegal, particularly along the Border, are sick with fear and anxiety. They can visualise their lifetime investment and work vanishing before their eyes. The measures being adopted and implemented today and yesterday should have been invoked last week when we learned of the first suspected case in Britain. However, the Minister and the Department dallied too long and it will be a miracle at this stage if we escape.

In spite of assurances given in the Dáil that everything possible is being done, the situation on the ground leaves a lot to be desired. While the main Border crossings in Donegal are well manned and disinfected, many of the minor roads are not. Only properly manned and disinfected roads should remain open. The IFA in Donegal has already advocated the closure of all minor roads which are inadequately manned and I strongly support that stance.

Many of our fishing boats are obliged to land in Scotland and other parts of the UK. Can the Minister assure the House that all necessary precautions are being taken at our fishing ports? What is the situation regarding our Coillte parks? I am informed that some forest parks are wide open and that access routes are not blocked off. Having said that, Glenveigh National Park has closed down and all staff have been instructed to stay at home until further notice. All Departments, local authorities and other State agencies must take the lead and provide the highest level of protection.

School children account for one of the biggest movements of people on a daily basis. Many children from farming families travel to school by bus. Are all necessary precautions being taken on farms, at schools and on buses to ensure the highest level of protection?

Is milk from Northern Ireland still on sale in the Republic? My colleague, Deputy Perry, informs me it is on sale in Sligo this morning. Are all commercial vehicles crossing the Border subjected to strict controls? Dozens of trucks transport timber and other products between Donegal and Northern Ireland daily. These trucks have access to all forests in Donegal.

If we are not vigilant about preventing the spread of this disease, the consequences will be unthinkable. Only massive national, Government led co-operation can offer us any hope of escap ing from the dark cloud which hangs over this country and its economy.

I wish to share time with Deputy O'Hanlon.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I want to put on record my concerns about foot and mouth disease which, it is fair to say, has reached epidemic proportions in the UK. It will certainly be a lot more difficult to deal with the current outbreak given the movement of people today compared to 1967. The Government will be judged for years to come on its response to this crisis. The measures taken by various sporting organisations such as the IRFU, GAA, FAI, horse trainers, etc., must be complimented. The cancellation of many St. Patrick's Day parades shows how seriously people are taking their role in the prevention of this crisis.

With the confirmation of the existence of foot and mouth in Armagh, we should proceed on the basis that it also exists in the Republic. I welcome many of the Taoiseach's announcements ranging from the provision of additional Army and Garda personnel at Border crossings to simple measures such as only allowing postal deliveries to farms at which mats are provided. Everybody has a role to play in preventing the spread of this disease. The case highlighted by Deputy Noonan of the young woman travelling from an infected area in the UK into Dún Laoghaire was very disturbing. Officials merely took details of the her name and address. How can we expect people to comply with restrictions if the officials who are supposedly responsible for enforcing them do not know what they are required to do? All households throughout the country should at this stage have received an information leaflet on the disease and the role people can play in its prevention. Many people do not realise they have a role to play at all.

Some days ago, sheep in County Wexford were slaughtered as a precautionary measure. That was very close to the bone for people in Wicklow and, while we are very relieved at the negative results of the tests, the incident pointed to our total lack of preparation had the worst happened. Thousands of cars travel from Wicklow to Wexford and vice versa every day. Disinfectant points should be provided along all main routes in the Republic to prevent cars carrying the virus from region to region. Setting up so-called exclusion zones following the identification of a case of foot and mouth is too little too late. While I realise that some preventative measures may prove inconvenient, the majority of people, realising the importance of such measures, would comply with them. We cannot wait until a case is confirmed in the Republic to take simple preventative measures which should and could be immediately implemented.

While the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, should obviously provide leadership on this issue, other Departments and local authorities have a role to play. In the past, thousands of deer in the Wicklow mountains have been responsible for the spread of TB from farm to farm and there has been little intervention from either the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands or the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. What measures, if any, are currently being put in place to limit and monitor the movement of deer? What information is being provided to urban dwellers in regard to hill walking and to pet owners? People need this kind of information; it is not sufficient to put advertisements in the newspapers as people may miss them.

National parks and zoos have been closed. What policing and warden arrangements have been put in place to ensure preventative measures are enforced? Have signs been erected on the sites? These are simple measures which should have been implemented some time ago. Local authorities should have been advised to erect signs on all public commonage areas which effectively are no man's land. Responsibility should be delegated to local authorities to ensure people do not go hill walking in areas where sheep and goats graze. While they may be cumbersome, many of the proposed preventative measures can be easily implemented. It will be far too late to start implementing them after the event; we should avoid the type of fire brigade system being operated in the UK and should not leave any stone unturned in our efforts to ensure this disease is stamped out before it can take hold.

I thank Deputy Fox for sharing her time. We are in the middle of a national emergency. Members of the media have criticised the amount of time allocated to the subject by this House. The first announcement was made last Wednesday week, a Private Notice Question was tabled the following day and we had two more such questions this week. The matter was also debated under Standing Order 31 yesterday and we are again debating the matter today. The Dáil certainly recognises the urgency of the situation. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Walsh, and the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, for being so forthright about this issue and for their willingness to spend so much time debating it in the House.

While most people are aware of the gravity of the existing situation, some are not. Everyone has a part to play in preventing an outbreak here. People in urban and rural areas alike should familiarise themselves with and abide by the Department's regulations and recommendations. They should also take whatever other common sense measures are required to minimise risk, such as not visiting farms unless it is necessary. Neither should people cross the Border if it is not absolutely necessary. I was utterly amazed at the speed with which Border roads in my own area were sealed off. I visited the nine checkpoints on Saturday last in a five mile journey between the Castleblaney-Armagh road and the Monaghan-Dundalk road which runs through the North. Two were official crossings manned by agricultural officers and gardaí. The other roads had a garda there. They had been there from the previous day. There were not 1,000 gardaí in Carrickmacross waiting to go out to the Border when an emergency arose. They were doing their normal work, mainly in Munster, and were called to the Border at short notice.

The roads can be closed but it was never possible to seal the Border totally. I do not want to see it sealed completely but there are only two ways to do it. One is to build a wall from Donegal to Dundalk. The other is to put all the European armies shoulder to shoulder across the fields. I was satisfied with the level of security I saw.

There should be an all-Ireland approach to animal disease with uniform policy, regulations and procedures, so that in an emergency such as this there will be no imports into the island. The sea boundary around us is more manageable than attempting to man the land boundary.

I commend the Army, Garda and agricultural officials for their work on the Border. Where possible the respective Ministers should ensure that the task is made easier by, for example, the provision of temporary shelters. The weather conditions are particularly severe now.

A very small number of unscrupulous people involved in farming will exploit any situation to satisfy their greed. They must be dealt with. I commend the majority of farmers, and the animal heath committee of the IFA, especially in my own constituency, for their commitment. The Minister should review existing legislation on animal health to ensure that where regulations are breached the penalty is in line with the offence. This should apply to any breach of a legislation which results in the risk of introducing or spreading animal disease.

The public have responded magnificently to the situation. All working together, political parties, State agencies, and ordinary people are taking the necessary precautions. By acting on the advice from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, the task force, the Garda and the farmers' organisations, we can provide the best protection for the farmers and those involved in agribusiness and minimise the risk to the economy.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Durkan. I represent a Dublin constituency and there may be surprise that a Dublin person should speaking in this debate. My constituency has a large rural area from which a vast amount of our horticultural products come, as the Minister knows. The Minister must assure us that the transportation of vegetables and other horticultural products is being examined to ensure that their movement will be controlled to prevent the spreading of disease.

Before I became a Member of the House, on completion of my science degree I did a post-graduate course in microbiology. I know at first hand the horror of the spread of viruses and bacteria, and the speed at which they can grow. As it is normally colourless, odourless and invisible to the naked eye, we find it hard to understand how dangerous such a virus is. Arising from my background, I remind people what a microscopic particle virus measures and why it is impossible to control this particular virus. Ultra-microscopic virus particles may have diameters as small as 5.5 milli-microns. A thousandth part of a millimetre is one twenty-seventh twenty five thousandth of an inch. It has been said that one billion micrococci could be easily contained in a drop of water having the volume of one thousandth part of one c.c. That is technical but consider that a plastic medicine spoon contain 5 c.c. One drop of water having the volume of thousandth part of one c.c. makes us appreciate what we are up against.

Many people watch the television programme, "The X-Files", in which there is the dramatisation of horrors where a test tube of a deadly virus is dropped or stolen. The programme then is about preventing that getting out to cause a plague or pandemic. We must make people realise that the situation is that serious.

No amount of equivocation, like someone claiming he is just moving animals from here to there, can be allowed. Yesterday a communication from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development was in my pigeon hole. It contains an untruth because the Minister told us yesterday that at 9.30 p.m. the previous night he had signed the exclusion order around the farms in Armagh and in this country, but this document says that appropriate measures, including an exclusion zone, were in place since 3 p.m. the day before. That is a difference of six and a half hours between what is claimed in this document and what the Minister stated in the House. If that is a measure of the regulation in place then I am losing confidence in it.

Last Tuesday a three decker truck left Raphoe in County Donegal with 400 sheep and travelled across the country to the Ballymun abattoir in north Dublin. It was a legal transaction. Whether my party agrees or not, given our knowledge of this virus, a ban until the 6 March should be put on the transport of animals even for slaughter. That date will mark the end of the 14 day incubation period since the time we think the disease broke out in Armagh. Then we will have an idea if there is infection from that source. Why do trucks travel from Raphoe to Ballymun when there is an abattoir in County Donegal? If they were slaughtered in the county of origin the animals' movement would be limited. Those animals travelled in distress through Leitrim, Sligo, Westmeath, Meath, Kildare and Dublin to reach Ballymun.

Yesterday the French authorities refused not just live animals but meat also from the animals which were slaughtered last Wednesday. We are losing both livestock and meat exports. The Minister must assure the House that the 140,000 farmers, 47,000 people in the food industry, 60,000 in the grocery trade in this £10 billion industry will be protected by the Government, given the horror of a virus like this. The weather now is the worst kind for its survival. The colder the weather, the longer it lives. We are in the worst position. Are there procedures in the exclusion zone to burn hay and clothes which may be contaminated? I suspect that this is not being done. Until people recognise that we are talking of plague proportions, the public and farmers will not realise the full danger.

Everyone has to set an example. We can be proud of the example set by some and sad at others. Dennis Brosnan set a good example in the early stages by calling for the abandonment of sporting activities here and overseas. He knew what the risks were. He had no difficulty coming to that decision, nor did many other sportspeople.

We have suddenly and sadly become acutely aware that a small number of people engage in dubious activity. They skulk and run away from their responsibilities in the meat production area. I refer to the Athleague incident. As long as such subterfuge goes on, our international credit as a food producing country will be at risk.

This House should set an example. We have mats outside the front and back doors of Leinster House, but there is no reason there should not be mats at the gates for cars to drive over. Next week, cars will be coming back to the city from all parts of the country. There were no mats this morning.

There were mats this morning.

I drove through the Merrion Street gate and there was no mat. I do not know how such a conclusion was reached.

They are only for feet.

They should be provided for cars. It is only a simple thing and should be done without argument.

It occurred to me last evening that consumer confidence can be affected by a variety of things. In the last couple of years we have seen graphic presentations of BSE affected animals. These images have been reproduced all over the world, to the detriment of the Irish industry. We need to be careful not to exaggerate and to take every precaution.

A relative asked me this morning if it would be okay for animals to be moved from one farm to another. It is amazing that I should be asked such a question – I cannot understand it. Obviously, people do not yet fully appreciate the magnitude of the problem. Some years ago, there was a meat plant in my constituency which used to supply United States forces. The standards required to comply with the contract involved the Americans sending in their own representative to supervise activities in the factory during the slaughter and processing. Without such access, the contract was null and void.

I hope the Minister will look at the activities of factories throughout the country to ensure the things that happened will not recur. Despite the fact that a shipload of sheep came in prior to the curtain coming down, they were exported in a very short time. The European Commission often speaks of disease eradication and animal health. It should go back to the drawing board to see to what extent it has enforced a strict animal health regime throughout the Union. I also ask the Minister to look seriously at the origins of pet food.

This is possibly the most important debate in my 20 years in this House. I wish to share my time with Deputy Brendan Smith.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

As Minister of State at the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources with special responsibility for forestry, with my farming background and living in one of the most intensive agricultural constituencies in the country, I would like to address the serious issue of food and mouth disease. I and my officials are playing our full part in dealing with what poses the single most dangerous threat to our economy.

Last week I imposed a suspension of all farm visits by my forestry inspectors. Last Wednesday I announced a further range of initiatives including a complete cessation of all site inspections and insisting that all forestry contractors and consultants implement the highest level of disinfection before they enter or leave lands. All initiatives are under constant review by me with other key agencies and I will continue to ensure that every measure is taken to eliminate the risk of spreading the disease. I am pleased that Coillte Teoranta has responded by closing its forests to the public.

Farmers undertake 85% of forest planting. Nobody involved in forestry wants to run the risk of introducing this disease to Ireland. I have ordered the cessation of all angling activities, the closure of State fisheries and restrictions on the activities of fisheries board and Marine Institute field staff. All fish movements are under review, including fish movements from State hatcheries.

The Fisheries Harbours Commission has been in contact with local veterinary officers regarding disinfection facilities for fishing harbours. We are in contact with UK ports seeking their co-operation on procedures for information on disinfection. There is continuing liaison with the Naval Service regarding boarding of ships and all prospecting activities have been suspended. I am in touch with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development on an hourly basis regarding access via ports.

It is very important to stress that there is no confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease in this country and everyone, particularly those who should know better, should desist from cheap shot sensationalism. This issue is the responsibility of every man, woman and child and every action must be tempered by consideration of the national interest.

Lest I be accused of shooting the messenger, I call on those who have indicated they have knowledge of nefarious activities to come forward to reveal what they know about smuggling animals into this country. These activities should be targeted for elimination.

Will they be given immunity from prosecution?

I ask all farmers, whatever the inconvenience, to check their livestock twice daily. If they suspect anything, they should not delay in seeking help and assistance from veterinary professionals. All farms should have effective disinfection stations in place by tonight. I cannot stress enough the imperative for non-stop vigilance by all sectors under my remit, and for the constant review and updating of all measures by staff on the ground. Our activities and our business are interwoven with farming, rural and coastal communities. Our priority is to play the fullest part in seeing off the threat to the fabric of Irish society and agri-business which foot and mouth disease represents.

During the past few days, many speakers in this House have emphasised that this is a national crisis. It is not an issue for agri-business alone; it is an issue for the entire community. The economy depends on agriculture as the primary source of production and the generation of jobs through the processing of food. Everybody must play a part to ensure this dreaded disease is prevented from entering the jurisdiction.

My own county of Cavan is heavily dependent on agriculture as a source of employment, as it accounts for 25% of employment, compared to the national average of 10%. This industry generates the overwhelming bulk of our earnings from trade. Employment in primary agricultural production in County Cavan is two and a half times the national average. Counties Cavan and Monaghan have a long and progressive tradition in the food and agri-business sector, with processing plants engaged in milk, meat, and poultry processing. Barriers to the exporting of food would have devastating economic consequences, particularly for counties Cavan and Monaghan. I wholeheartedly endorse the call by the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, on every sector of society to implement every possible measure to help keep this dreaded disease from our jurisdiction. Any farmer found guilty of wrongdoing must be dealt with using the full rigours of the law. Animals must be identifiable and traceable, including sheep, and farmers engaged in the production of food at primary producer level must work according to a strict code of production.

In the past many Members from the Border region have called for an all-Ireland veterinary protocol and a single veterinary regime for the island. Such a regime must be established as quickly as possible. The transport of animals must be regulated and the Minister of State's remarks about the activities of many dealers will be echoed by the overwhelming majority of the farming population who are decent, law abiding and hard working.

I compliment members of the Garda and Army and departmental officials who are manning check-points in remote and difficult areas. As the Taoiseach stated, it is practically impossible to man every crossing along the 253 miles of the Border. The Garda, Army and departmental personnel are doing a good job in the most difficult circumstances but many of them have been hurt by the comments of Members.

All available Garda, Army and departmental personnel should be deployed to the Border region. The personnel sections in every Department, State and semi-State body and local authority should contact retired personnel because they could be recruited to work during this crisis. Many of those who have taken early retirement from the public service may have worked in the Garda, Army or in Departments. They are relatively young and they could play a useful role in manning check-points and dealing with the many administrative difficulties which will arise in the coming weeks.

It is important that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development should also seek the assistance of retired veterinary surgeons who were involved in private practices. Many of them are willing to help this national effort. Movements on and off farms should be kept to the absolute minimum. This is not the peak milking season. It is worth considering the suspension of all milk collections for the next seven days to minimise movements on and off farms on the basis that for the first three or four days the milk could be fed to calves and for the following three to four days farmers would have adequate capacity to keep milk.

I wish to share time with Deputies Gerry Reynolds and Flanagan.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Denis Coghlan wrote in The Irish Times today: “The health of the Celtic Tiger is threatened by an Asian strain of the foot-and-mouth disease.” The livelihoods of 200,000 people are at risk and an industry worth £5 billion is in crisis. The effect a poor international image could have on our tourism industry highlights the importance of resolving the problem. Another headline in today's newspapers reads: “Response to crisis slated as too little, too late.” Perhaps, that is a slight exaggeration but there is some truth in it.

I will examine briefly the shortcomings of the foot and mouth disease campaign to date. There was a 48 hour delay in ordering a full ban on the importation of British beef after the first case of foot and mouth was confirmed. Seven days after this confirmation Ireland still had not ensured full disinfection procedures were in place at all ports and airports. There have been several examples of this, including complaints British parliamentarians attending the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body meeting in Killarney last weekend. No account was taken of the great demand for viral disinfectants resulting from foot and mouth detection in the North and the inevitable shortages of key disinfectants in many Border areas. There was a major scarcity of disinfectants yesterday throughout County Kerry where there was a scare. Border controls have been the subject of much discussion. Yesterday the Minister accused the media of acting in an unreasonable fashion but media commentators who visited the North witnessed the lack of Border controls.

I refer to the two farms and houses which were sealed off near Castleisland, County Kerry, yesterday. I am delighted all the necessary precautions were taken and procedures put in place by the local DVO and the Garda and that it has been confirmed there is no cause for alarm. I compliment the local DVO for its vigilance and the manner in which it approached this matter. Officials are working late and will provide a service over the weekend. However, it brought home the seriousness of the crisis to the people of Kerry. The agriculture industry is worth approximately £170 million to the county and companies such as Kerry Ingredients in Listowel which employs 500 people could be affected if there was a ban on exports.

An all-Ireland policy is needed more than ever and that has been borne out by this crisis. The fact that lambs which were tagged in Northern Ireland were transported to the Republic without the tags gives rise to major concern.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate which is the most important in the House in a long number of years. This issue is about patriotism and not politics. We are all in this together but there are a number of issues which are worth mentioning. I have been contacted by a number of members of the security forces who are working along the Border regarding the granting of permits to transport cattle feed and silage from the North to the Republic. They were concerned that the permit holders did not have certificates which stated they had received permission from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to transport these goods into the Republic. However, departmental officials allowed them through and that was still going on as late as yesterday evening. That should not be happening. Those who are transporting these goods should have the necessary permits when they are checked by the security forces. I would be grateful if the Minister of State investigated that matter.

A number of people in my constituency, Sligo-Leitrim, contacted me out of fear and frustration because they do not know what to do and there seems to be a problem communicating information to the agricultural community. They are wondering what they should do and how they should do it. People in the counties I represent do not have the most high-tech forms of information available to them.

There are a number of elderly people in agriculture who need information sent to them outlining in a basic way the steps they need to take to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease to this jurisdiction.

I am taken aback when I hear of farms giving rise to concern and being under investigation for 24 or 48 hours. Any farm giving rise to concern should be subjected to a slaughter policy with immediate effect, as the situation is too serious to allow the time lapses we are seeing. Animal movement is central to the spread of the disease and it seems clear that large numbers of animals were moved in north Leinster following the Armagh scare earlier this week. There appear to be no random checks by the gardaí on animal movements even though animals should only be moved internally within the State by way of permits. There should be random Garda checkpoints to ensure those permits are not flouted.

The Tánaiste is responsible for trade and industry and she should immediately embark upon a diplomatic offensive to assure nervous food markets worldwide that we have not had an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. She should also set up a special task force within her Department to deal with the economic consequences of the scare. In the event of an outbreak, what would happen to the supply of fresh meat? How will that be dealt with? The Tánaiste should also meet oil companies, particularly those with retail petrol stations, and enlist their help in distributing disinfectants. She should call in the banks and financial institutions to negotiate a package not just for farmers and those in the livestock trade, but those in the food, haulage, transport, entertainment, leisure, travel and outdoor pursuit industries. They will suffer immeasurably and many are suffering already. We see the banks making millions of pounds in profit every day on the backs of these people who are now suffering, and those banks must be sympathetic towards the many businesses now under pressure.

The Tánaiste and her special task force must also address the issue of storage and disposal if an export ban is confirmed. That would have major consequences and the strategy should be planned well in advance but I am not sure if she has any plan. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, spoke about those engaged in nefarious trade coming forward and I agree with his remarks. However, the Government should consider offering immunity from criminal prosecution to those who come forward with vital information.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Johnny Brady.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

We are all disgusted by this situation, particularly with the actions of the English authorities when they became aware of the problem, probably before Christmas. We are now the beneficiaries of their lack of action, just as we were in relation to BSE for the past few years. Their failure to act has caused major problems for the entire farming industry.

I support comments made here about movement. All movement of livestock other than that which is permitted from farms for slaughter should be stopped. That is the only way to deal with this and it should be considered immediately. I congratulate the Department on its action on the farm we heard about in Louth – it slaughtered the animals there immediately. That was the appropriate action to take and must be our course of action from now on if there is a question mark about any stock which may have been moved in the past five weeks from Northern Ireland. We should also inquire of the Ministry of Agriculture in the North if it has details of purchases of Northern livestock by people from the South, particularly if the stock was to come south for slaughter or other reasons. That is imperative and must be done immediately.

There are major questions to be asked of the processors slaughtering these illegally imported animals for some time. This is not the only cargo that came in as we are aware this has been going on for a number of years. Vets, agricultural officers and plant managers have turned their backs on this situation and done nothing for a simple reason – it gave them an opportunity to get supplies which helped to depress prices for Irish producers. Another question arises as to how people can kill stock in someone else's name. Herd or flock numbers should be supplied when animals are to be slaughtered. As a farmer, I know I must supply a herd number if I buy or sell stock.

We must also look at Northern dealers who have caused major problems when coming south – everyone in the Border area knows that. They performed agricultural miracles – I use that term because some of their actions were totally beyond belief. What they were doing made no commercial sense, so there had to be another reason, be it racketeering or whatever.

From now on we need the full co-operation of the public. All public meetings and engagements of any description should be cancelled for the next few weeks. We should consider closing schools also as a short-term measure to prevent movement. We often closed schools for one or two weeks due to bad weather and it might be a good idea to do so again, particularly in rural areas, where people move from farm to school. An outbreak of this disease in the South would be a disaster for the economy and we all have a duty as citizens to protect each other's livelihoods. If this breaks out it will affect not only farmers but the entire country. People do not realise the numbers of people depending directly and indirectly on agriculture for a living.

There is a need for citizens to become aware and to do the right thing for once as far as the country is concerned. They must do everything in their power to prevent any movement of stock that could lead to foot and mouth disease spreading from Deputy McGahon's close neighbours.

Or Leitrim. The Border is there also.

I do not disagree with the Deputy. Anyone found misbehaving in Leitrim should be dealt with in the same way as a person misbehaving in Louth. It is the duty of people aware of dangerous activities to bring them to the notice of the Department and the gardaí so they can make the appropriate arrangements.

I compliment the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, the Minister of State, their officials, the Garda and the farming organisations, all of whom have made every effort to protect the national herd and farming enterprise. Foot and mouth disease is an infectious disease which would have disastrous consequences for agricultural production if it reached Ireland. Precautionary steps are vital and a full commitment is necessary from all concerned to ensure our continued disease-free status. Department staff and district veterinary officers are at ports, airports and meat plants as well as at the Border and other assembly points. With the Garda and the Army, they are enforcing a ban on meat products and livestock coming in from Northern Ireland, and that is very important.

Farmers must take their own precautions. They must be careful about who they admit onto their property. Disinfection measures must be adhered to in all places where farming and related pursuits are carried on. These precautions will only be effective if everybody concerned is determined that Ireland remains disease free. All premises where people congregate should have measures in place, particularly disinfection measures. There were references to public venues and so forth, but they should also apply to the rural post office, shop, public house, hotel and restaurant, which are regularly frequented by farmers and those involved in agriculture. It is most important that these measures are put in place.

Anybody who breaks the law should face the full rigours of the law. Emergency legislation might be required to protect the national herd and the national interest against the cowboys who have been wheeling and dealing in livestock in their own interests, not those of the farming community. If such legislation is required, it should be introduced to protect the national herd and put the people concerned where they belong, behind bars.

There are plenty of cowboys in south Armagh.

There is no doubt about that. There are a number of matters which the Minister should check. It was brought to my notice this morning that milk from Northern Ireland is packed in County Donegal and sold in many places across the country, including Kells. I do not know how true this is, but I received a telephone call to that effect. I also received a telephone call this morning about meal being brought into the country. Is that legal? Many farmers and compounders have been dealing with compounders in Northern Ireland. Is this legal and, if so, should it be banned?

Our agri-food business is a £5 billion operation. Everybody has a duty to protect this industry. Whatever precautions are required must be introduced. Foot and mouth disease is not caused by intensive modern farming, but by poor disease control. It is one of the most contagious diseases in animals. We have successfully managed to keep out the disease when outbreaks occurred in Britain in 1967 and 1981. Foot and mouth disease is endemic in many parts of the world.

I am concerned that appropriate action is taken to protect all farming communities.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this debate which was initiated by my colleague, Deputy Penrose, and to support the efforts of the Government in protecting our food industry, the jobs in that industry and the country from the appalling economic prospect that would inevitably ensue if there were an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in this jurisdiction.

There is not yet sufficient public awareness of the implications of this crisis. The fall-out cannot be ring-fenced to rural Ireland which will suffer first and most severely, but we live in a modern economy that is interlinked between rural and urban, producer and processor, industry and leisure and livelihood and recreation. There was evidence last night and this morning that we are beginning to get our act together. Things that can reasonably be done are, at last, being done and attempts to communicate the risks to the public are under way.

I agree with the Deputies who indicated that the public does not yet fully appreciate the scale and implications of the situation that now besieges us. A great many urban people do not understand the profound implications for our economy. At a time like this one appreciates the role of public service broadcasting. A number of initiatives were announced by RTE this morning which are most helpful. At a time when the Government is being canvassed for a licence increase it is probably salutary to note that it is useful to be able to rely on the public service broadcaster to communicate and convey to the public the implications of the current situation. I am not suggesting that other elements of the media have not been doing their job in this regard, but the public service broadcaster is doing a good job, notwithstanding the Minister being irritated about anecdotal evidence of gaps in performance.

Perhaps not all the anecdotes can be supported, but it is a fact that there was a hesitant, uncertain, faltering start by the Government on the issue. It was almost as if the gravity of the crisis was slow to dawn and that Ministers were afraid to be alarmist. In retrospect, that was, and is seen to be, a mistake. This hesitant, faltering, uncertain start is now seen for what it was. It is remarkable that there is no emergency plan in place in the Department to deal with an issue as major as this. There was an article by Liam Reid on the front page of The Sunday Tribune last Sunday about a recent report by an academic which showed how badly prepared we were for a crisis such as this.

I listened to Deputy O'Malley's contribution to the debate last night. It cannot be gainsaid that, to some extent, this has been a failure of the regulatory authority. Notwithstanding the tremendous efforts being made by departmental officials and other public servants, including An Garda Síochána and the Army, it is a fact that for many years there has been a willingness to turn a blind eye to malpractices in the sector.

I read Mairead McGuinness's remarks in her column in the Irish Independent, headlined “The smuggling carousel goes around and around”, in which she discussed the implications of that racket for the health of the industry in the Republic. I was reminded of the extraordinary litany of malpractices revealed at the beef tribunal, even if there were no findings at the end of that particular experiment. I also remember an allegation I made with regard to a particular carousel. Two young Deputies were sent into the Chamber by Fianna Fáil to barrack me during my speech. They were Deputies O'Donoghue and Martin, as will be shown in the Official Report. We are now aware from the Athleague incident of the gravity of the situation that obtains from this racketeering.

I do not claim that the Border can be sealed. I accept the Minister of State, Deputy Davern's remarks in that regard. It is useless, however, to appeal to the better instincts of the people concerned. Anybody who heard the radio interview this morning with John Fee of the SDLP will be aware of the forces we confront. The absence of the RUC from policing and supporting the civil authority in south Armagh and the threat that poses to the situation in the Republic are a graphic description of the risk we face. An analysis by Con Lucey in one of the newspapers this morning indicates that a minor outbreak of the disease here could result in 8,000 job losses and a £1 billion loss of exports.

I wish to draw the Ministers attention to the situation of a company in County Donegal which sourced milk across the Border. This company has terminated the practice, but cannot source milk in the Republic to supply its customers. This involves a serious competition issue as protecting market share is the only reason this company cannot source milk in the Republic.

Acting Chairman

As it is now 12.30 p.m, we will take questions to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

Is the Minister aware that, for some days, there has been an unprecedented level of movement of livestock at night? Is he aware, for example, that, at night, long distance lorry drivers frequently meet lorries and horse boxes full of sheep? Is he further aware that some extraordinary trips are being made to bring animals to slaughter houses? For example, there is a report today of a load of animals brought from Raphoe to a meat factory in Ballymun. Is the Minister aware that this kind of movement is in breach of the controls he wishes to implement? What measures can he take to discourage this kind of movement? Will he consider making any movement of animals from farms, including directly to slaughter houses, conditional on the securing of a licence or veterinary permit of some kind?

Before responding to the Deputy, I take the opportunity to express my appreciation and that of the Government for the constructive attitude of all Members, the public and voluntary bodies regarding the dire potential threat of foot and mouth disease. We have endeavoured to put into effect a number of the suggestions and recommendations made, some of which are based on anecdotal evidence gathered at ports, airports and on the Border. This is particularly the case as regards Deputies Dukes and Penrose.

A few days ago we introduced an order restricting the movement of susceptible animals – cattle, sheep, pigs, deer and goats – within this jurisdiction, other than those for direct slaughter. Deputy Dukes made a valid point that members of the Garda and Army and departmental inspectors are stopping trucks travelling from one point to another. The truck drivers will claim they are travelling to a particular slaughter house.

The Government took a decision at last night's meeting that susceptible animals would be transported by way of certification or permit and that animals should be taken to the nearest processing or slaughtering facility. The Deputy's point con cerning this issue is well made. The permits are being processed today. The full resources of the Department and Teagasc will be brought to bear in the provision of the certificates. From now on any truck carrying susceptible livestock will have to produce certification indicating from where it has come and to where it is travelling.

When will this come into operation?

Officials of the Department are preparing the permits as we speak.

Am I correct in saying that, when this scheme comes into operation, anyone moving animals will have to have such a permit to justify that movement? Will there be a penalty for those found moving animals without a permit? Will the permits specify that animals being moved to a slaughter house must be transported to the nearest slaughter house? Will any measures be taken to increase patrolling in the initial phase to ensure the provision is being respected?

Yes. I announced to the task force meeting this morning that this permit system was coming into effect and that we would announce the system during the day. At this morning's meeting I asked the Garda Commissioner and the Army representative to ensure adequate personnel are provided for patrolling to ensure the permit system is fully respected and adhered to. The Government's decision is that a serious view will be taken of anyone found with animals without the accompanying certification. In other words, such people will be arrested and the animals impounded.

This is an extremely serious matter. There is a prohibition on the movement of susceptible animals within the State, other than those for slaughter in the nearest slaughtering facility. Certification will be necessary from later today.

I thank the Minister for taking on board some of our ideas. I have a few more ideas which may be of assistance. It has been suggested to me that farming organisations and factories should have taken it upon themselves to close down for seven to ten days. The movement of animals is critical and such a measure would inconvenience everyone.

Given that this virus can be carried in the air will permits be specific to individual farmers? Will hauliers be notified that they can only carry animals belonging to a specified farmer on each trip? It is important that this distinction is made as hauliers could collect animals belonging to several farmers. Will the permits be farmer specific? Will hauliers be alerted to the fact that they can only carry animals belonging to a particular farmer?

So that they do not go to several yards.

Under the current system hauliers go to three or four yards. The permits must be farmer specific and hauliers must be called on to play their role to ensure they only carry animals belonging to an individual farmer to the factory. Will the Minister check this with his officials?

Will the Minister consider helping local abattoirs as this issue has brought their importance into focus? The Minister gave a commitment in 1997 that local abattoirs would be helped. They are the source of fresh meat for local people and are now adopting the most stringent EU guidelines on hygiene and practice. Will the Minister assist them in this extraordinary situation where the national interest is at stake?

From the outset I have called for a task force to co-ordinate our response. Such a task force has been established and is chaired by the Taoiseach. Has the Minister consulted the Minister for Education and Science regarding schools? If they are not closed, will disinfectants be made available to all primary and second level schools and third level institutions? Will leaflets be distributed to pupils, many of whom are aware of environmental issues?

Has the Minister consulted RGDATA to ensure all grocers are advised to use disinfection mats? It is difficult to get mats and disinfectants in rural areas. I come from a rural hinterland which may not be as well off as other areas, but it is difficult to obtain these supplies. Is there any way that, through RGDATA and the licensed vintners associations, mats, such as those at Leinster House, can be made available to grocery shops and public houses? It is all important. The Minister of State, Deputy Davern, made a valid point on that matter, with which I agree.

I am pleased about the measure that from next week postmen will not make postal deliveries to farms where there is not a disinfectant mat. That degree of alertness is recognised. That is a good measure.

The Revenue demands must be in the post.

I hope the Revenue and everyone else hold off until we sort out this issue. They will be nothing for them to pick up if they do not adopt a common sense approach to this issue.

Does the Revenue call to farmers?

Indeed they do. Farmers use the RTE Aertel system. Will the Minister ensure that vehicle is used to impart information?

What is the position concerning hill walkers and recreational users? One hears much anecdotal evidence. Are park rangers travelling around making sure that people are not walking over land? There will be difficulties concerning contractual arrangements. What action has been taken to ensure recreational users and hill walk ers will not pass through an area where there are flocks of animals, deer and so on?

Deputy Penrose raised a number of issues. The permit will be farmer specific. It will be quite controlled and truck drivers and hauliers will be notified that will be the case as soon as we have the permit drafted today. Any truck driver found with sheep, cattle or any of the other susceptible species will be arrested and the animals impounded if that is not the case. The plan is that there will be only one farmer per consignment.

With regard to abattoirs, there is a problem—

The Minister made a promise about that.

As I said, it is important abattoirs should be upgraded and we will seek to be helpful to them.

The Minister said a bit more than that.

I am still saying that. Maybe at this point it is important that something should be done about it.

Will the Minister be still saying that when he is a former Minister?

Make sure the Minister for Finance is listening.

That is a part of the problem. It is not easy to get money for everything.

If they were in the Curragh the Minister would have got the money for them.

It has been currently highlighted in the UK—

The building of the national stadium can be put back for a while and the funding available for it could be put into this.

Let us hear the Minister without interruption.

The Taoiseach is nodding his head.

In the past seven days it has become clear there is an extraordinary degree of travel, transport and traffic in food products from initial production to feed lots and on to abattoirs, factories and so on. There is a dramatic decline in the number of abattoirs and butcher shops in Ireland. There were up to 1,000 butcher shops a few years ago but that number has fallen to probably 200. There is a great deal of traffic from one place to another. That is a major difference compared to the last time there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease as people were able to get a supply locally from their local butcher. The most I can say to Deputy Penrose on that is that we are examining it. I know that is not a great deal of good to anyone, but it is more pertinent now.

The Deputy asked about schools and if I had talked to the Minister for Education and Science. Yes, I asked him to communicate with all school managers to ensure mats and disinfectants are available at the entrances and exits to schools, particularly in rural areas, and I am sure that has been done.

What about the local authorities?

There should be no interventions. I ask the Minister to address the question asked by the relevant Deputy rather than respond to interventions made by others.

I will do that.

There has been widespread dissemination of leaflets and literature of all kinds and that is continuing. They are being issued to individual farmers, organisations, voluntary bodies and a range of people updating them on the position.

Deputy Penrose referred to the measure that will be put in place concerning postal deliveries. Unless a farmer has a mat, disinfectant arrangements or hygiene facilities on the way to his farm, the postman will turn around and not deliver his post.

We communicated with RGDATA and all the other retail associations and outlets on susceptible products, that is, meat products, dairy products and partly cooked or uncooked products, and they have all been notified in that respect.

Deputy Penrose also mentioned teletext. I was asked by some Deputies, Deputy Dukes in particular, in recent days to improve the Department's website. I did exactly that. The website has been upgraded about twice daily. Deputy Dukes said the website was turgid and a little dull. There is a link between our website and the MAFF website. One major difference between both websites was that the MAFF website had pictures of susceptible animals, and they have been transferred electronically to our website.

With regard to teletext, I spoke to Kevin Healy of RTE and told him we needed RTE's co-operation in heightening awareness of this problem and he has been very helpful. I am aware a programme was shown last night. The teletext will also be upgraded as everyone does not have access to a website but many use teletext considerably. We have that put into effect. I think that covers most of Deputy Penrose's questions.

The Chair has approximately 20 names of Members who are anxious to ask questions and only a little more than 40 minutes remain. Unless Members confine themselves to one minute per question, to which the Minister would have one minute to reply, I will not be able to call everyone on the list. I ask Members to bear that in mind.

Will the Minister agree that communication is vital in dealing with this problem and that sentiment ran through many of the statements made today? We must ensure the necessary information is given to the local authorities and the health boards. Some staff in nursing homes and community care facilities, who have older people from Border areas coming to their facilities, have contacted me to ask what they should do. Some people crossing the Border who do not come from a farming background may feel a little aggrieved at being held up by the patrols currently in place.

I wonder whether it would be too extreme or whether it is necessary to broadcast strong visual advertising, similar to the anti-smoking advertising, to show exactly what we would be dealing with should this disease enter this country.

Speaking as someone who has tried to get unapproved roads open on many occasions, does the Minister consider we will be able to deal with those who are determined to bring this problem here, particularly when many people are working hard to ensure pressure is eased on us? Will he continue to work closely with the Minister for Agriculture in the North, Bríd Rodgers, on a strategy and also try to address the issues raised by John Fee in the media today? I congratulate the media on much of what they are doing and the positive attitude they have taken, although perhaps they should broadcast more ads on this issue.

Coming from a Border constituency, I congratulate the Minister on the work he is doing and ask him to continue his efforts because it is only through our collective efforts we will ensure this does not become what it has a potential to become.

That was a mighty question.

I thank Deputy Keaveney for asking that inspired question. Communications are vital. Despite the fact that this issue has gathered momentum – some people would say, a frenzy – it has been highlighted. There is a heightened awareness of the problem. Voluntary bodies, health boards, the FAI, the IRFU, hill walkers and others have all been in communication with the Department. We are continuing to communicate and to ensure that the best possible advice is made available. Teagasc, for example, has help lines in every county and it has information centres, not only in counties but in sub-county and regional areas. These centres are staffed with people seeking to help out. In addition, veterinary staff have gone on local radio to answer questions and have sought to be helpful to people. In fairness, people have made contact about suspicious activity or about suspicious or unusual traits in animals, and they have been extremely helpful.

On the visual impression, last night's RTE programme was quite helpful and RTE will do a series of those programmes which will be helpful.

People have been inconvenienced and there has been huge disappointment. Thousands of people will be unable to visit Dublin for the St. Patrick's Day festival and to attend various St. Patrick's Day parades around the country. In the scale of priorities, St. Patrick's Day parades would not be considered high-risk activity but nonetheless they generate traffic. We have sought to put the most draconian measures in place while at the same time creating as little inconvenience as possible. People generally accept that the enormity of the devastation which would be caused by an outbreak of foot and mouth disease merits this kind of attention.

I have been in daily contact with the Northern Agriculture Minister, Ms Bríd Rodgers. The chief veterinary officers in the North, in my Department and in London are in hourly contact regarding this matter, seeking to ensure the disease is prevented from coming into Ireland.

I will repeat the question I posed to the Minister on Wednesday – I am not quite sure he took it on board. Is he aware of the huge numbers of people who come across the Border at the weekend because of the strength of sterling who pose the biggest threat to the South? Is he aware of the number of hunters who travel to discos in every part of the Border area, stay the weekend or have meals in hotels? That is the biggest threat posed.

The problem which affected me most was the gridlock caused yesterday in Dundalk, a town eight miles from the Border. We all know and accept that there is a national emergency. I was held up by traffic for two hours trying to get into Dundalk. When I got into the town I could not get out again. There was a single line of traffic in each direction on the Newry road. Surely people living in north Dundalk could have another lane to go to their homes and not be kept for two hours. The measures taken were not rational. It is a big highway with four lanes. Surely there could have been a separate lane for southern registered vehicles. That needed only a simple decision. Despite all the tributes paid here to the Garda, who are, after all, only doing their job for which they are well paid, a little common sense should be brought to bear. Dundalk, which is the biggest town in Ireland, was in total gridlock. A little common sense could ensure that does not happen again. I ask the Minister to address that problem.

Deputy McGahon raised the question of the people coming across the Border to discos, etc. I am afraid that in my case discos are a dim and distant memory. As far as overnighting is concerned, that was out of the question – we had to report before 1 a.m. at the very latest that we are alive and well and safe.

Dainty-feet Walsh.

To be serious about it, there is gridlock and people are inconvenienced. We take the view the Garda put to us that this is necessary, particularly in County Louth because of the exclusion zone. Each vehicle must be stopped and people must be questioned about where they are going and from where they came. We have a daily meeting with representatives of the Garda and the Army and we seek to ensure there is consistent tight patrolling of those areas to the greatest degree possible, particularly the exclusion zone. We must maintain the exclusion zone.

It is not for people leaving Dundalk to go to their homes.

I am afraid that inconvenience is a part of the national emergency and as far as getting in and out of Dundalk and the exclusion area is concerned, unfortunately we must insist on that.

In the hope of letting people contribute in the time available, I will take questions from the following five Deputies, Deputies Currie, Boylan, Ulick Burke, Stanton and Jim O'Keeffe, and then the Minister will reply.

I am glad to see the Taoiseach sitting beside the Minister. The Minister referred to his twice daily conversations with Ms Bríd Rodgers, the Minister for Agriculture in the North. Is he aware, and would he agree, that one of the differences is that the Northern Executive does not have control over the security forces and relies on the British Government to implement decisions to be taken which would be agreed by the Agriculture Ministers, North and South? It would appear that that is not happening and that the RUC is not playing its full part. Would the Minister ask the Taoiseach to get in touch with the Northern authorities to make sure the necessary support is forthcoming to the Minister for Agriculture in the North in order there would be the necessary co-operation between North and South?

Is the Minister aware of allegations that paramilitaries have been involved in trying to prevent North-South co-operation and the necessary measures being taken? Is he aware, for example, that last night on BBC television there was an allegation that the previous night, lorries were bringing animals out of the exclusion zone around Meigh, County Armagh? Would the Minister lend any credence to that allegation? Would he tell us what seizures have been made on the edge of the exclusion zone in the South? How many lorries have been intercepted and how many animals have been seized?

I compliment local radio stations on their constructive approach to helping farmers to source disinfectant, and particularly this morning's contribution by Northern Sound.

Does the Minister stand over this morning's statement on radio by his assistant chief veterinary officer that the movement of horses did not pose a serious threat to the spread of this disease? That is factually untrue. It is unacceptable that a man in that position would say that. It reveals what I stated here last Tuesday, that there is a lack of awareness. Those thoroughbreds are covered when travelling and if footwear or overcoats can carry the disease, surely the covers on these animals pose a serious threat. That man should be made withdraw that statement on national radio, considering the sacrifice made by Irish trainers in the horse industry.

If there were no homes for these animals, there would not be any smuggling. If there are unscrupulous factories prepared to take these animals, the inspectors of the Department, who are paid by the taxpayers, are not doing their jobs. They are stamping meat from animals sourced outside the country as though it were Irish, which is highly illegal and irregular, and I want the Minister to make a statement on it.

Can the Minister realistically expect the public to have confidence in his controls when the Taoiseach stated this morning, "Similarly, we have no evidence available to us of movements of animals in breach of the controls we introduced on 21 February.", and on 27 February, a livestock mart, which serves the south Galway and Ennis area, took place in Ennis, County Clare, against the advice of the veterinary officer present on the morning? When the mart's management telephoned the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in Dublin it was allowed, through a nod and wink, to take place. This necessitated Department officials yesterday and today trying to track the animals which were sold. Does this inspire confidence in the control measures in place?

As we speak, people embarking on the train to the west and other destinations cannot see any evidence at Heuston Station of a foot and mouth scare. A few moments ago I spoke to an officer on duty along the Border who told me that what is happening is routine, that the wheels of trucks, vans and cars are being sprayed but no passenger is asked to vacate his car so that he can be disinfected. There is only casual inspection of car boots to see if they are carrying meal for delivery to animals across the Border. It is difficult to expect the public to have confidence in the measures and controls put in place by the Minister.

Has the Minister considered closing all educational institutions for a week? What action has he taken in regard to the curtailment of religious activities? Will his Department's website be upgraded by this evening to the same standard as the British one? Has he contacted employers in regard to allowing part-time farmers time off work so they can check their stock? What is the position in relation to the Manchester United match this weekend? I understand many people will travel to this match.

Has the Minister stock-piled material in the event of an outbreak so that animals can be burned? What measures have been put in place to ensure farm-to-farm deliveries, particularly of oil products and other such materials, does not spread the disease? Have the FCA and Civil Defence been put on alert?

In the constituency I share with the Minister there is a small port, a commercial port and three marinas into which yachts from the south of England can sail. According to reports this morning, there is no literature or disinfectant mats available in these locations. What action is being taken in relation to Kinsale and similar ports to prevent the problem emerging there?

There is clear evidence that fraudulent practices have been carried on in Athleague. What is being done to track and corral the cowboys involved and those who have turned a blind eye to their activities over some time? It is clear that word has not got to farmers on what they should and should not do. Many queries have been made by members of the public? Is there a campaign to advise the public, who have shown concern and goodwill to help deal with the problem, on what they should and should not do?

Deputy Currie asked about the Northern Ireland Executive. The Taoiseach – I have checked this with him – raised this issue with Prime Minister Blair during their recent meeting to ensure there was full and comprehensive co-operation between the RUC, the Garda, the Department of Agriculture in the North, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the various agencies.

It is not happening.

We are getting the fullest possible co-operation from the Northern Ireland authorities. Their chief veterinary officer is in at least hourly contact with our person, while Bríd Rodgers and I communicate at least on a daily basis. I have checked with the Taoiseach and he has raised the matter of increased co-operation in insisting that the regulations are implemented by the authorities in the North, particularly the RUC.

On trucks and movement generally, I know from discussions with the Garda, Army and personnel along the Border that several trucks and lorries have been turned back. Some foodstuffs have been removed from cars and other vehicles, while boots are being checked. Thorough measures are in place at the various points along the Border. If additional measures or resources are required they will be made available.

Is it good enough to turn them back? Why not arrest them?

The Deputy has already used two minutes.

Why not arrest them and seize the animals?

There have not been any animals; it is foodstuff such as sandwiches etc. which has been confiscated.

Deputy Boylan referred to the question of horses, which was also raised by Deputy Noonan. In the context of this disease, horses are not a susceptible species. They do not get infection, create infection or pass on infection. However, in the transportation of horses there is a risk because of the trucks, bedding and handlers. This is why we called on the Irish Horseracing Authority and trainers not to go to Cheltenham or to engage in horse racing or point-to-point meetings in the State. This is more than the British or French authorities have done. For example, Cheltenham is still to go ahead and the French took a decision yesterday to send their horses and handlers to the meeting. We have stopped this.

Deputy Boylan raised the issue of smugglers and smuggling. This has been a problem along the Border for a long time. It is extremely difficult to stamp out and it is regrettable that it takes place. In an effort to stamp out smuggling, we are allocating full resources in terms of gardaí, members of the investigation branch and Army, while in the North the RUC, the Special Branch and various personnel from the Department are being deployed.

Deputy Burke referred to the Ennis mart which took place on 27 February. I signed the order on the evening of 26 February and three marts which already had arrangements made could not in the short time available, which was only a matter of hours, comply with it. The Deputy was correct in that Ennis mart took place on 27 February. It had arrangements made and it was not possible with a few hours notice—

It phoned the Minister and got approval from Agriculture House.

That is correct. It had arrangements made and could not within a few hours call if off.

I totally reject the suggestion that checks along the Border are routine and casual. I want to avail of this opportunity – I do not do this by way of platitude; party leaders and spokespersons have already done this – to put on the record that the Garda, Army and personnel along the Border have done an outstanding job in sub-zero temperatures and they deserve our appreciation and gratitude. The formal reports I have received is that they are doing an extremely thorough job. Of course there will be anecdotal evidence that there is an unapproved road or—

That is fine, but this morning a radio station carried a report from a reporter who was able, without let or hindrance, to cross and recross the Border.

The Deputy should not intervene now. If there is time at the end I will allow him back in.

I do not make my remarks in any platitudinal way. I am saying that the Garda and Army are doing an extremely thorough job.

There is not enough of them.

The Minister will help the Chair to keep good order by not replying to interventions. The only people to be replied to are those to whom the Chair gives the floor. The issues raised by the five Deputies are the only ones which should be addressed by the Minister.

I am sorry for straying. Each day the Garda and Army review the measures in place and any suggestions and anecdotal evidence either from Members or the public are followed up and looked into. There is a comprehensive system in place to ensure there is no movement of livestock or products on the 141 roads in question and additional unapproved roads. There is substantiated evidence that a number of vehicles have been turned back.

Deputy Stanton raised the issue of religious activities. I communicated with members of the hierarchy in the exclusion zone area indicating that we would prefer if non-essential religious ceremonies did not take place during this period, but if essential religious ceremonies had to take place, disinfection and hygiene regulations should be observed.

The issue of the website was raised. Every person is entitled to check the website which is comprehensive. I am familiar with it and there are links to other websites, including the MAFF website. It is updated regularly and includes all essential information. As every person does not have access to it, RTE is co-operating to ensure its teletext service provides the necessary information.

With the Army and the Garda, we have asked for the assistance of members of the FCA and Civil Defence to which Deputy Stanton referred. In line with all other agencies and bodies, they are extremely forthcoming with their services.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe raised the issue of mats and disinfectants in areas well known to me such as Kinsale, Baltimore and Castletownbere. In recent days, I checked with a good friend of mine and a good supporter of the Deputy who confirmed that all the co-ops and service organisations to the various bodies in west Cork have communicated with them in relation to mats, disinfectants and so on. They have done a good job in providing them with the proprietary brands of disinfectants known to be effective against the disease.

There have been constructive suggestions in recent days in relation to regional and small airports, yachting and other activities. The main ports and airports are one issue, but small airports and ports are another. We have taken these suggestions on board and it is my information that the various airports and port authorities have been communicated with. If this is not correct, I will ensure before the day is out this task is performed.

Deputies asked what is being done to ensure the activities of smugglers and cowboys are stopped. This is being done with the co-operation of the Garda and the RUC. It is not an easy task because in the past 30 years there have been illegal activities in the Border region and, despite the work of the Army and that of the British Army and the security forces, it has been impossible to curtail them. I am not saying, however, that we should not do our utmost in tackling the disease in which I hope we will have the support of the public. In interviews last night on different programmes farmers said that if asked by the Department of Agriculture, North or South, they would be pleased to carry out instructions.

Mr. Coveney

What exactly is the position on the export of live animals and frozen meats to France, our biggest market for lamb in Europe? I would like to receive a detailed answer to that question because there have been a number of conflicting press reports on the issue. What measures are in place at Heuston Station, Dublin, to disinfect passengers getting on and off trains, particularly those from the North? Two days ago I asked the Minister whether he would consider the introduction of a system under which every person entering the State from the United Kingdom would have to fill in an entry form outlining from where they have come, where they are going and how long they intend staying. The Minister indicated that this was a good idea and a positive suggestion as regards traceability and raising awareness. What is the up-to-date position?

Is the Minister for Education and Science a member of the Government task force? Has there been communication with primary and post-primary schools regarding their obligation to provide for disinfection at each school campus? Does the Minister agree that the collection of up to 1,000 post-primary school pupils in large provincial towns represents a significant risk? Has a decision been taken on the ongoing operation of the school system in the current crisis?

Will the Minister ask schools to close until the threat posed by the disease recedes? Will he at least ask them to provide disinfectant mats, particularly in provincial towns and rural areas? What is the up-to-date position on the officers of his Department on duty in Athleague the night the sheep were killed? Have they been identified? Has he asked for an explanation as to the reason they were on duty at 4 a.m. to process lambs imported from Northern Ireland which originated in Britain? What is the up-to-date position on passengers travelling from Britain through Dublin Airport? I was contacted this morning by a girl from my area who travelled from Britain last night. She said that there was no reference at the airport to the threat posed by the disease and that she did not use a disinfectant mat or fill out any forms. Is that the norm or did she manage to avoid the regulations?

They were in place only for the Taoiseach.

They were there—


Order, please. Interruptions should be ignored.

On the activity on the Border of the 750 gardaí in question, now belatedly active, the Minister should contact his colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with a view to improving conditions for them. Is he aware that conditions during the lonesome watch from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. are more spartan than during the foot and mouth scare in 1941? Will he ensure gardaí at least have Goretex boots and Donay caps in dealing with the difficulties? Does he accept that the movement of animals is central to the spread of the disease? Does he accept that in spite of the ban introduced by the EU on 21 February, there has been considerable movement in terms of the illegal importation of animals from Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Will he consider recommending an immunity from prosecution to ensure that people coming forward with vital information on the smuggling of animals since then will be immune from prosecution on the basis of information provided?

Questions are being asked which the Minister will not have time to answer. I ask his officials to check the record and address the outstanding points raised. Given the remarks of the local SDLP Northern Ireland Assembly Member, Mr. John Fee, is the Minister satisfied that no smuggling activity involving any wing of the republican movement has taken place since the notification of the alert in County Armagh?

The advertisements referred to earlier do not contain information on telephone helplines. These should be included in all advertisements. A Labour Party Deputy attempted to telephone a helpline number but it was ringing out. I will provide the Minister with details later. Will the Minister ensure that he has enough staff, not only from his but all other Departments, to properly staff the help lines?

Deputy Coveney asked about the position with regard to France. A couple of days ago I signed an order banning the transport of susceptible livestock within the country and the export of livestock. From the outset we have treated this as if there had been an outbreak of the disease. For a number of days there has been a ban on the export of livestock to France and other member states. France is not accepting livestock and we are not providing it because of our ban.

With regard to other produce, such as frozen meat, as late as yesterday, because of very negative headlines in some of the media, I and senior people in the Department had a lot of contact with the French authorities. The end result is that there is no ban or restriction whatsoever on any products such as frozen meat or dairy products.

One abattoir here has been led to understand that lamb is not being imported.

I have asked the Minister not to take notice of Deputies who interrupt.

A couple of days ago Deputy Coveney made a helpful suggestion regarding entry forms and I have put that to the task force. It has pointed out that livestock is the primary risk area. We will continue to consider the Deputy's suggestion. From the time we imposed the ban on 21 February, hours after the British confirmation of their ban, we have had no evidence whatsoever of any illegal importation of livestock to this jurisdiction.

Deputy Coveney also asked about Heuston Station. Iarnród Éireann has communicated with all staff and other relevant people on this matter.

Mr. Coveney

Will the Minister check the position at Heuston Station as people have reported problems there?

Deputy Creed referred to schools. The Minister for Education and Science has communicated with the management of schools and has requested that all schools should have mats and disinfectant facilities.

When will that come into effect?

I would expect today. I will double check that. Deputy McGrath asked about the position at Athleague and the situation at Dublin Airport. I cannot understand how people could come through Dublin Airport without availing of the mat facilities which extend from wall to wall. It is not possible to pass through the airport without availing of them and of the disinfectant facilities.

We have contacted the UK authorities and according to my information when people travel from the UK they line up to go through a tunnel to get to their aircraft. We have been assured that mats have been placed in these areas. This means that matting is placed on the way in and on the way out.

Veterinary officers visited the Athleague plant. My information is – this has been logged – that the animals were slaughtered at around 11 a.m. on the day in question. They arrived at around 4 a.m., and were placed in the pens in the layerage area where ante-mortem examinations were carried out. The processing took place at around 11 a.m. after which there were post-mortem examinations to meet public health and food safety requirements.

How did they get into the plant without being stamped?

What about the tagging in their ears?

I ask the Minister to ignore interruptions. They are disorderly.

Deputy Flanagan asked if the clothing and shoes of Garda and other personnel along the Border are adequate. My information is that they are. Later this evening I hope to travel to the Border regions. I will personally check into this. Sub-zero temperatures prevail along the Border, but a huge effort is being made by all involved.

Do not forget the Defence Forces.

I must ask that the Minister be allowed to continue without interruption.

Since the 21 February we have no indication of any kind that there has been any illegal importation of susceptible livestock into Ireland. Deputy Quinn asked if any subversives have been involved. We have been given no indication of that from our contacts with the RUC and the Northern Ireland authorities. I will take up the matter raised by the Deputy.

Deputy Quinn is right to point out that there are no telephone numbers in the advertisement referred to. I looked at the advertisements and while they are better than those of last weekend—

Much better.

—telephone numbers should be included. On the question of staff, hitherto we have had five helplines. We have decided that for the coming weekend there will be a vastly increased number of helplines. All the Teageasc regional advice centres will also have helplines.

It is now a half a minute to 1.30 p.m. and a number of Deputies are offering.

We should sit for longer.

The Chair has no power to extend the sitting. An order of the House will be required.

I propose that the sitting be extended to 2 p.m.

Such a proposal must be made by the Government.

I have tried to be short in my replies and I will continue to be. I hope nobody will accuse me of evasion because I am trying to be as detailed as I can. I have no difficulty with the sitting being extended by ten or 15 minutes.

Could I have a precise time?