asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to indicate the total number of cattle, sheep or pigs imported since the first report of suspected foot and mouth disease in the UK; if all such imports have been traced to final destination; the number of such imports from the UK in the weeks prior to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK; if any precautions were taken to protect the health status of the industry here arising from that; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Private Notice Questions. - Foot and Mouth Disease.
asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if, notwithstanding his assurances to Dáil Éireann during the week ending 2 March 2001, all non-essential visits of inspection to farms have been suspended; consequential tuberculosis testing is still continuing; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the way in which the movement of animals within the farm will be authorised given the foot and mouth disease scare; if departmental personnel will have to inspect the farm prior to authorisation being issued; and if he will accept the matter should be dealt with in a sensitive and expeditious manner.
asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if, given that 1,200 sheep were slaughtered in County Monaghan on 5 March 2001, he will ensure there is no trace of foot and mouth disease south of the Border; and if he has satisfied himself that sufficient measures are being taken to keep the disease out of the country.
asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to outline the current position in relation to efforts to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease to this jurisdiction; if any additional measures are planned; if all animals imported from the UK since the scare began have been accounted for; if any representations have been made to the authorities in the UK regarding the need for stronger measures to combat the spread of the disease there in view of the threat to this country; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
(Dublin West) asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if he will make a statement on the current precautions against foot and mouth disease and the lessons to be learned from the outbreak in Britain with regard to future practices, methods and trade in agriculture.
asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to address the evidence that imported livestock from other jurisdictions has been slaughtered here and has been sold as Irish produce; if this fraudulent practice has been fully investigated and if those responsible will be liable for the damage done to consumer confidence and for the unnecessary risk posed to both human and animal health.
I welcome the opportunity to update the House on the current position with regard to foot and mouth disease. I propose to take all the questions together.
I have kept the House and the public fully informed on the efforts to ensure food and mouth disease is kept out of the State. In this regard there have been press briefings, my Department's website has been updated on a regular basis each day and both Houses have been informed on a daily basis of relevant developments.
In relation to the tracing of animals, I do not think it is necessary to go into detail. I have kept the House fully informed of important developments and the work on animal tracing is continuing. To date there has been no confirmed case of foot and mouth disease in the State nor is there any case where clinical signs are present.
I wish now to turn to non-essential farm visits. These have been suspended. I do not, however, consider visits arising from a requirement to test animals for other important animal diseases, such as tuberculosis and brucellosis, to be non-essential. Furthermore, these visits are an additional form of surveillance for foot and mouth and other diseases and enable veterinary officials from my Department to examine animals for symptoms. These officials have been instructed to adhere strictly to the Department's guidelines on disinfectant procedures.
In relation to authorisation of movements off-farm, Deputies will be aware that with effect from 6 p.m. on Saturday, 3 March, I have banned the movement of susceptible animals, namely, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, within the State, save those proceeding directly to slaughter, and then under permit. The details of the permitting system introduced with effect from today have been widely broadcast, are available on the Department's website and will be advertised in theIrish Farmers' Journal on Thursday. They are widely disseminated through the Teagasc website and its offices, and application forms are available in post offices, district veterinary offices and Teagasc offices throughout the country. RTE radio and television has been doing a superb job in communicating these developments to the general public.
I assure the House that every effort is being made to ensure the disease does not cross our borders. Army and Garda resources have been mobilised and a great deal of assistance is being provided by a variety of other State and private organisations, and by the general public. Staff in the Department are vigorously investigating any situation giving rise to the remotest suspicion of clinical symptoms being present or contact with diseased animals or infected areas in any part of the UK. This work will continue for some time until we are absolutely satisfied the risk has passed.
Regarding illegal imports, the House is aware that the Department and the Garda Síochána is currently investigating a number of alleged incidents. I assure the House that we are taking these incidents very seriously. In this regard I have already announced my intention to bring new legislation before the Houses of the Oireachtas tomorrow, to be initiated in the Seanad, providing swingeing new powers to authorised officers in relation to these matters. I assure the House that these powers will be availed of to pursue those who, through their reckless self-interest, put the economic and social fabric of the country at risk through illegal activities.
I am quite certain there are lessons to be learned from the crisis. However, it is important to acknowledge that to date the contingency plan which my Department has in place, and which was approved by the European Commission, is working efficiently. This is not to suggest the risk has in any way subsided. However, it is clear that all the State agencies involved in this collective effort have, to date, done a tremendous job in terms of putting in place a comprehensive range of controls in an incredibly short timescale. I am certain we can continue to rely on the support of the public and the House for our continuing efforts to protect our borders from this terrible disease.
I congratulate the Minister on the success to date in containing the potential for an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, but I am alarmed by his statement regarding traceability that "I do not think it is necessary to go into that at this stage". Surely traceability is of vital importance at this stage, both to trace the origins of the animals concerned and, for future reference, to find out where they go subsequently and whether all animals imported in the period concerned have been destroyed in a way which will ensure against a potential outbreak.
I have no difficulty in providing any information. I have given information to the House for the past number of sitting days, and any additional information will be given to the House as fully as I am aware of it. The Department sought to trace imports from 1 February, before the outbreak in Essex. In monitoring, tracing and investigating the Department found that a number of consignments of sheep came to the country, which are fairly well document. I can go through these again in detail if the House so wishes – there were cases in Athleague, Dunleer, Carlow, Wexford and Mayo. Since the ban came into effect on 21 February, the morning after notification from the UK, we have no evidence whatsoever, right up to this morning when I spoke with the Garda, that any consignment of susceptible animals has come into the State. We are continuing to monitor the situation, including animals which may have had contact with other animals, that is animals which were at a mart in Northern Ireland, Scotland or the UK in general. We are of the view that we have traced all such animals in the period from 1 February, but certain investigations are being carried out by the Garda and the RUC and people are being interviewed. In a number of these cases the investigations are incomplete. Statements made by people give additional information and certain farms, flocks and herds are restricted as a precaution in different parts of the country, a process which is ongoing.
The Minister said some kinds of tests, such as those for TB and brucellosis, are still being carried out and that visits are taking place to farms for those purposes. Will the Minister say exactly what range of visiting activity is currently taking place? Is he satisfied that it constitutes a better use of resources than any other possible uses, such as tracing animals, enforcing restrictions, etc.? Were officials or servants of his Department present in Athleague when the relevant consignment of sheep arrived there and, if so, what investigation has been carried out into their activities? Will he tell the House whether officials, officers or servants of his Department were present at the meat plant in Kildare when a consignment of sheep was brought there and subsequently sent out again to farms in the Carlow-south Kilkenny area? Will the new movement permits which are about to be issued be retained at the destination specified in the permit? When will the proposed legislation be introduced?
The Minister seemed to overlook one of Deputy Penrose's queries, which related to whether there are any discussions with the UK authorities about what seems to us to be their lax approach to preventing the further spread of the disease in the UK and its consequent dangers for us.
On consequential visits by veterinary officers and Department officers for testing, testing has been discontinued. The only tests being carried out are where disease already exists, where a farm is locked up and where the farmer wants a consequential test done. This is minimal and does not take up any time. The veterinary advice to me is that it is constructive and a very good thing if there is disease on the farm and the test is carried out in controlled conditions by the veterinary surgeon.
There are ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections carried out by Department officers and that was the case in both Athleague and Kildare Chilling. An investigation is continuing into the Athleague incident and there has been consequential locking up of farms; the situation is the same in Kildare. I am not certain of the situation regarding a consignment being turned away from the plant but I will get the details and communicate them directly to the Deputy.
With regard to permits, the farmer concerned holds on to one part of the new permit, the transporter holds on to one part and the authorities at the final destination retain the third part. Regarding Deputy Penrose's question, I was going to wait to reply to him directly as he will have the chance to ask supplementary questions.
I appreciate the work done on the permit from farm to factory, which is working out well, but what happens if a farmer outside Ballinasloe has in-lamb ewes ready to have their lambs on a fragmented farm near a wood? If he wants to bring those ewes to the safety of his farmyard so they can lamb under his care, is it possible for him to do so without authorisation? If he needs authorisation, who will give it and how long will it take? This will affect almost 100,000 farmers for one reason or another. Who will oversee this issue and how will it be done?
Also, is it proper for fallen animals to be collected by people in the knackery trade? There are many problems with this around the country. Is it in order for a farmer with a fallen animal to engage the services of someone in the knackery trade to take the animal from his farm?
How is it possible for almost 250 sheep to be killed in a factory without notice? Their ear tags were taken off and there were holes in their ears as a result. Have we reached the stage where there was a skin graft so that people would not see those holes? Can anyone explain how that could not be seen? It might have happened to one or two sheep but this was a huge lorry-load of sheep. How did that happen in a factory?
Regarding susceptible animals, we banned movement within the State early last week and then introduced a permit or licensing system which, as the Deputy said, is working quite well. The kill in the country last week was one of the highest on record, approximately 50,000.
There is no problem with that.
The Deputy raised the issue of fragmented farms. We are arranging for a protocol to deal with this, which is a wise thing to do, but it will have to be done under controlled conditions and with the supervision of the Department. I am informed that protocol for the inter-farm transfer of animals will be available this evening.
The Deputy raised the issue of the knackery trade and fallen animals. We introduced an order some months ago to tidy that issue up, as it was a health risk in itself to leave fallen animals on farms. A proper procedure for collection was put in place and the position now is that there is no movement without a permit. That situation continues because obviously if an animal is lying around on a farm it will have to be taken to a licensed knackery and processed there.
Regarding ear tags, in the ante-mortem tests there is no problem with cattle, as they are tagged and every single animal is checked individually through a cattle crush. It has been different up to now with sheep because there has not been official tagging, though there has been individual tagging and what are called "tokens" among individual flock owners. In many cases tags fall out, are mislaid or get lost, which is a big problem. We hope the introduction of an official tagging system will tidy this up and put matters on a proper basis. The ante-mortem tests for sheep were done on public health grounds. Up to this crisis, for the past decade since the introduction of the single market there has been free trade in sheep in Ireland. There is a great deal of interaction between industries; for example, many pigs go to processing plants north and south of the Border and a great deal of milk is processed in the same way. Only when something like this occurs the Border becomes a hazard and some tightening up has to be done.
Is the Minister saying that no public health officers will see—
I call Deputy Crawford. There cannot be any interruptions.
I welcome the Minister's remarks about TB and brucellosis reactor tests, which are very important. What further information can the Minister give me about the overnight slaughter of sheep in Monaghan? Are there more sheep to be slaughtered? Is the Minister satisfied sufficient measures are being taken along the Border? I am pleased with the increased number of disinfection points along the Border.
Is the Minister aware that dog races are still taking place in Northern Ireland which I understand are supported by Bord na gCon? What liaison is taking place with the Northern Minister for Agriculture, Ms Bríd Rodgers, on this matter? I echo the question asked by others: is there sufficient contact between Ministers and between the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister about the situation in the UK? The information we are getting about the UK's lackadaisical approach is very worrying.
I am glad to see the Minister for Defence in the House. Is there sufficient liaison between the Departments of Defence, Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and Justice, Equality and Law Reform to enable action to be taken quickly? How many soldiers are on the Border? The Minister of State said the other day that there were only 200 soldiers there, though I understand the Taoiseach said something different. How many new disinfectant points have been put in place along the Border? Is the Minister aware that there are still serious problems regarding disinfectant? There are alternatives but some of them are not safe.
Is there a limit to the distance animals can be taken to factories? In some situations it is difficult for farmers, especially smallholders, to cope with the new regulations whereby only one group of cattle can be transported in the lorry. That might need to be looked at again. Is the Government taking account of the serious situation for workers, hauliers and hotel owners in the Border region? Many people are under severe financial pressure as a result of the downturn in the economic situation.
The first part of the Deputy's question related to greyhound racing. Responsibility for animal movement and activities generally in the North of Ireland is a matter for the Northern Ireland authorities. The Deputy also asked about contact with the authorities there. There is probably hourly, if not half hourly, contact between the Northern Ireland authorities and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, particularly between the veterinary sections. Mr. Bob McCracken in the North and Dr. Gaynor in the South regularly share information on this matter. Similarly, although not on an hourly basis, the Minister for Agriculture in Northern Ireland, Ms Bríd Rodgers, and I are in regular contact. We were in contact today and I am arranging to meet Ms Rodgers tomorrow, along with her senior officials and mine, to get an update on the situation.
There is 100% co-operation and a sound degree of liaison among different Departments, State agencies and voluntary bodies. A task force meeting is held each morning. The meeting this morning was held at 11.30 a.m. and was attended by the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith. With regard to Army support at checkpoints along the Border, An Garda Síochána has responsibility for those. The Garda authorities tell me they are satisfied the checkpoints are adequately staffed and there are sufficient Army personnel to support the Garda. However, in the event of additional Army personnel being required, they will be available.
I am not aware of any shortage of disinfectants anywhere. There might be logistical problems in particular places. The Deputy said some disinfectants might not be adequate. We have widely publicised, through the Department, Teagasc and the co-ops, about 44 brands of disinfectant which destroy and inactivate this virus. They are relatively simple disinfectants ranging from caustic soda to citric acid. One matter which came up in the course of our discussions with various people was that some people do not dilute the disinfectant but put the concentrate on the mats, thereby getting rid of the mat, the soles of shoes and everything else. Dilution is required.
There is no prescribed distance requirement for transporting cattle to the factory. Deputy Owen said in the House in the early days of this crisis that animals were travelling such distances as the distance from Donegal to Dublin. There is no need for that. We appeal to people to go to their nearest processing plant to ensure there is the least amount of traffic and criss-crossing throughout the country.
To comply with the Chair's ruling, I have a series of questions, all of them precise. What representations have been made to the British authorities regarding what many in this country see as an apparent failure to treat the outbreak of foot and mouth disease with the seriousness it deserves, as is illustrated by the decision to resume racing from tomorrow?
Has the Minister received any indication from the British authorities as to the likely extent of the epidemic? Do they believe it has peaked? Do they believe the number of incidences, which has been growing at epidemic proportions, will continue to rise? How long will it be before the epidemic is likely to be brought under control, given that the last epidemic lasted nine months? Are the British authorities still insisting they have localised the source of the outbreaks and that there are links between the various outbreaks despite the dispersed geographical nature of the spread of the disease? Have they given any indication that the outbreaks are unconnected?
How many farms in the State are currently under restriction? What new powers were agreed by the Cabinet today? When will the relevant legislation be introduced and when will it take effect? What steps are being taken to deal with the shortages of disinfectant, reports of which are prevalent in the media today? There is anecdotal evidence of shortages in rural areas. What steps does the Government intend to take with regard to those who have ignored calls to cancel events which would attract large numbers of people? Many sporting, cultural and voluntary organisations have cancelled events. Surely some of the large commercial ventures should also help by putting their shoulder to the wheel.
What type of tagging system is being considered? Is it manual or electronic and when will it be introduced? Can the Minister give the House a categorical assurance that food products banned in the State are not still being supplied to supermarkets who operate on a central distribution basis? There are reports today that a truck carrying meat and dairy products for a supermarket chain to the south east was impounded for a period in relation to documentation. Is that true? Is there sufficient monitoring in this regard and, if not, what proposals does the Minister have to deal urgently with this situation?
The Deputy asked about contact with the UK authorities. The Taoiseach spoke with the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, on a number of occasions, most recently today, to express anxiety about a number of matters, particularly sporting events and including Cheltenham. The Prime Minister agreed to have the matter looked into. I expect to have a discussion with the Agriculture Minister, Mr. Nick Brown, this afternoon arising from the discussions between the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, said, in the course of the conversation with the Taoiseach, that the British authorities are of the view that all cases in the UK are connected to the original case. It is hard to figure that out because they are so widely dispersed but that is the position as far as the British authorities are concerned. They believe with regard to the initial outbreak that a number of animals went through markets or marts and had contact with other animals. Animals are transported long distances and their assurance to us is that all the cases are connected.
It is impossible to say whether the number of cases has peaked. There were further outbreaks today. The authorities feel the numbers are peaking but it will be another seven days before the situation is clear. The most recent information regarding France and Belgium is that, while antibodies were found, the tests have been negative.
A total of 567 Irish farms are restricted. We are implementing an ultra precautionary regime. I have been assured as recently as one hour ago that there is no suspicion regarding any of these farms but we want to monitor the situation closely and ensure they are restricted. These farms are investigated by veterinary personnel and a virologist.
I am not sure what tagging system will be used. I understand it is a manual system but some suggestions have been made—
From 1 March?
—about a bolus system. Tags are notorious for being lost or torn off so this matter is being examined.
We have received a number of complaints regarding products which come into the country. Products which are properly heat treated under the regulations are allowed in. However, we receive complaints on the helplines about situations in which, for example, a mother is stopped at an airport or port and the baby's bottle is taken whereas a truck load of products for a supermarket chain is allowed through. All these cases are being followed up and we are ensuring that only products which are authorised and have proper certification come into the country.
We have spoken to various voluntary bodies and sporting organisations from day one regarding this issue. In almost all cases they have co-operated. Last Sunday night was the first time in many years that Séan Óg Ó Cealleacháin did not have the GAA results. A meeting took place between the Department and the IRFU half an hour ago. We shared our concerns and the IRFU will deliberate and make a decision regarding the games against England and Scotland. I am sure that, in the national interest, it will do the right thing which is what it did regarding the game in Cardiff.
The same applies to all gatherings which pose a risk. We are asking people not to hold such events but, if they must hold them, to have a restricted session and to observe the disinfectant and hygiene precautions, as has been done.
At its meeting on 1 March the Cabinet indicated that it would introduce powers to tighten up any weaknesses. Today's meeting approved a Bill to be introduced in the Seanad tomorrow. Members need to study the Bill which is being processed at the moment. I have a number of unofficial draft copies which I will circulate to spokespersons but the Bill will be published as quickly as possible.
(Dublin West): Does the Minister agree that the Athleague incident reinforces a discovery made by farming organisations in recent years regarding the wholesale and reckless movement of thousands of animals, particularly sheep, across the Irish Sea and the Border to factories in the Republic? Does he further agree that this exposes the fact that thousands of animals brought into the country in this way were accepted by meat processors and probably exported as Irish lamb? Why was this fraud allowed to continue? Why did the Minister seem to dismiss the gravity of this situation in a recent interview?
Is it the case that, seven years after the beef tribunal report, certain meat processors are still the unreconstructed cowboys responsible for the malpractice in the meat industry which gave rise to that tribunal? What is the Minister going to do about this? What does he say to, for example, French consumers who buy what they think is Irish lamb but who find it is an impostor from England and Wales dressed up as Irish lamb and fraudulently put on their tables? The Govern ment does not seem to appreciate the seriousness of this situation.
The last outbreak of foot and mouth in Britain in 1967 was largely confined to Shropshire, parts of north Wales and north-west England. However, in a matter of weeks in 2001, well over 75 cases have been confirmed all over Britain. Will the Minister reflect on the observation I made in the past two weeks, an observation shared by the capitalist press to which he might listen more closely, regarding the intensification of agriculture to extremes in terms of methods, numbers and cruelty, and the insane practice of transporting animals 300 or 400 miles to factories instead of dealing with them locally? Will he reflect on the fact that these practices are creating conditions in which disease can spread like wildfire?
Is he aware that Chancellor Schröder of Germany recently stated that he is in favour of rearing animals in a natural way using ecologically sound farming methods? We hope the present emergency will pass but will the Minister then encourage a debate on these issues and favour an agricultural practice and trade which is more in keeping with nature, ecosystems, natural methods and humane practices? Such an approach would have a significant impact in lessening the type of crisis which now exists.
As I have stated on many occasions, for some time there has been free trade in sheep and a number of other species throughout the island.
(Dublin West): These animals were brought in from England.
In some cases sheep are brought in from, for example, Scotland or part of Great Britain, spend time in the North of Ireland and are then taken across the Border for processing. The tagging system will improve traceability regarding this matter.
I have never dismissed any illegal activities. When people peruse the proposed legislation they will see that our regulatory system will be tightened up considerably to address any weaknesses. I doubt if any EU member state has instigated so many prosecutions in the agricultural sector under existing legislation as Ireland.
The majority of people in that sector, like every other sector, are honest, law abiding and hard working. One person whom I know is serving a long jail term for infecting his herd. Those small number of isolated cases must be rooted out.
The Deputy raised the 1967 case in the UK, which was relatively localised, while the present case is geographically widespread. The reason is the amount of transportation of animals over long distances. There are strict animal welfare guidelines in relation to transport in place under EU directives, but long journeys still take place. My information from the UK authorities is that all the cases are connected with the original case.
The Deputy also mentioned having a debate on intensive versus extensive agriculture. There is no doubt that would be of great therapeutic and economic value. Some people go back as far as Adam Smith – the Deputy would probably not agree with his theories – in the middle of the last century and the repeal of the corn laws which caused us many of the problems associated with free trade. I do not accept the intensification of agriculture has anything to do with foot and mouth disease. We must remember we had foot and mouth disease in Ireland 150 years ago and more recently in 1941 when we still had fairly primitive extensive agriculture. We had fairly widespread foot and mouth disease in 1941. In those days cattle were walked a lot of the time and they travelled by train. People used to have cattle in the Burren in County Clare and bring them up for finishing. I applaud extensive agriculture. Intensive agriculture, once it is properly done, has nothing to do with this disease. In most cases where the disease is prevalent in other countries it is extensive and fairly primitive agriculture that is carried out. The Deputy is correct that when intensive agriculture involves species which cannibalise one another we face difficulty.
Does the Minister accept that with hindsight he should acknowledge that his Department shirked its responsibility when it discovered that illegal imports of approximately 8,000 sheep were discovered in 1998? The matter was considered more appropriate for the Revenue Commissioners than for his Department. Does he accept that was a mistaken judgment by the Department and that it would not happen if it was discovered now?
Has the Curragh crisis been resolved between the Minister and the Minister for Defence? Has he resolved the quandary for farmers who have sheep on the Curragh and who have been told by the Department of Defence that if they do not move their sheep, they will be shot, yet the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has told them not to move them?
The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has said it does not have a problem with the census forms being delivered to farms on 29 April as long as there are mats in place. How is it possible to organise a census against the background of movement restrictions? An example is being set by officers of the State which suggests those restrictions are qualified.
Can the Minister tell us when mats were in place in the airports at Dublin, Cork and Shannon and in the regional airports? There has been much debate on this issue. The Minister lauded Cork Airport on the television last night but he did not answer the question. Has he categorical information about when mats were put in place?
For both humane and animal health reasons and to avoid unnecessarily long distance travel, is the Minister in favour of reversing the trend of closing small abattoirs and putting in place the necessary regulations to ensure they are able to operate to the highest standards which will in turn reduce the unnecessary transportation of animals?
There has been free trade in sheep on the island of Ireland. In 1997 and 1998 a study was carried out on the amount of traffic and it showed it was fairly widespread, along the lines suggested by the Deputy. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development was asked to look into one aspect of it, namely, if VAT was being paid on it. The Department made representations and communicated with the Revenue Commissioners. If the Deputy wants any more information on the veracity of that, he can get it from me or he can use the freedom of information system because it is all on file and above board. Anyone who tried to make publicity out of it was incorrect.
As regards the effectiveness of the Border, I have been assured as late as this morning that it is effective. There is no evidence that any illegal imports have come across the Border since the ban was put in place. I was asked earlier about the number of Army personnel involved. There are more than 1,000 Army personnel available to the gardaí and they work on a rotation basis of 200.
The Deputy asked about the Curragh crisis. The sheep have become acause célèbre in this matter. Their visits to public houses and other such places have raised the awareness of sheep traversing the Curragh and communicating with people. It is probably a Kildare type experience. I understand there are approximately 6,000 sheep there. Within a short time of this issue being brought to the attention of the Department of Defence and myself, 4,500 were put in a restricted access area. The rest of the problem has now been resolved. We also had to take into account the fact that it discommoded the Curragh golf club.
The Deputy asked about the census. I will have to check that for the Deputy because I am not sure about it. The Deputy took on the mantle of John Bowman following "Questions & Answers" last night. I took the opportunity to say what an outstanding job the people in Cork Airport did. I would like that to go on the record of the House. The same can also be said about other entry points. As regards disinfectant mats and the precautions people are taking to prevent this virus from coming into the country, we would have to go back to St. Patrick to get a better way of keeping a virus out of the country.
The Minister should not blame him.
Viruses are minuscule and it is not easy to keep them out.
Of what Department was he in charge?
Invertebrates was his speciality.
Snakes are vertebrates.
I would give up if I were the Deputy.
I am not impressed by people who go to the media for some self-serving publicity about access points to this country, yet neglect to contact any of the Departments or Aer Rianta about it. It is suggested that nobody searched their luggage for shoes or some other item. It is the bounden duty of every citizen to co-operate in keeping this virus out of the country and I have asked them to do that from day one. If those who went to the media had any real regard for the problem they would co-operate fully, as the majority of people are doing.
On a point of order, I did not get an answer, although I inquired.
I am sorry, Deputy Sargent, you asked six supplementary questions.
Did the Minister appreciate my questions?
The Chair has no control over the answers that Members receive.
Many people are concerned about agri-products coming from Britain. Are all the necessary regulations in place regarding these imported products? Some people are not complying with the regulations.
A question please.
I am led to believe that even today some farmers and business people have not put down the necessary disinfectant facilities at their gates. Should an order be made compelling them to do so? It is the time of year for letting out stock and many farmers from Border counties have rented land in County Meath. What is the position concerning cattle or sheep being let out on land at present?
We have issued specific instructions about agri-products that can come into the country. Those instructions can be downloaded from the Department's website and they are also available to all staff at ports and airports. They are quite specific concerning heat treatment and the general pasteurisation of dairy products. They are the only products that can come in. We have had a fair amount of communication from the general public about this, which illustrates that there is a high degree of awareness of the problem.
There are strict guidelines on the use of disinfected mats and straw bedding at farm entrances. Teagasc has helped considerably on this matter through its local offices. We expect that farmers, being in the front line, will be the first to co-operate, and the majority of them have done so. I have received complaints that some of the mats are too small to cope with big-wheeled tractors and do not cover the full circumference of the wheels. Because of this we have advised farmers to provide larger mats. The local media, including radio, have been exceptionally helpful in this regard. Teagasc personnel and other experts have taken part in helpline programmes and question and answer sessions to help people.
The Department's control centre in Agriculture House has received a number of queries about fragmented farms. Guidelines and regulations on such farms will be available this afternoon.
I understood the Minister to say he will be speaking to his British counterpart, Mr. Nick Brown, later today. Does the Minister intend to speak to Mr. Brown about more than just sporting events? Will the Minister raise with Mr. Brown the concerns that we on this side of the Irish Sea have about the laxity of controls on the movement of animals in the UK? This still seems to be causing a problem and constitutes a serious danger to us. Can the Minister be more specific than his usual genial helpful self, in saying that he might have copies of the draft of the bill for Opposition spokespersons. Will he tell us when the bill will be published? Is it realistic to have a bill debated in the Seanad tomorrow that the Minister cannot give us this afternoon?
Is the Minister aware of reports that in some district veterinary offices large numbers of movement permits were already being prepared at the weekend? What degree of confidence can we have in the control of movements if large numbers of permits have already been prepared without any reference to the destinations of the animals?
I will have further discussions with the British Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Nick Brown, this afternoon when I will speak to him about a range of matters. In earlier discussions I raised issues such as the arrangements at airports. As we know, when people travel on planes they go through tunnels and all congregate in one area. It is much easier to have mats there rather than when they come off the planes and are dispersed to various locations. The British authorities have been helpful in a whole range of matters like that. I will take up with Mr. Brown matters other than racing, including the Deputy's suggestions.
And the movement of animals?
And the movement of animals, as well. The latest outbreak was in Dartmoor which is relatively near Ireland. As we know, this virus can become airborne. We are concerned about that and the laxity of controls.
While I have responsibility for a number of things regarding the Bill, I do not have responsibility for printing it. Before coming to the House I inquired as to when the Bill would be available from the printers because it is important that people should have an opportunity to study it.
I thank the Minister. That is what we think. We agree.
Please allow the Minister to continue, without interruption.
I will seek to ensure that the printers produce the bill as quickly as possible. I appreciate the constructive attitude of spokespersons here and elsewhere to this crisis. I deeply appreciate that it is not being used for any political purposes.
Is the Minister aware that his counterpart in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Ms Bríd Rodgers, indicated yesterday that additional sheep, other than those destroyed at Meigh and brought to Roscommon, were part of the Carlisle contingent imported into Northern Ireland? Ms Rodgers also indicated that it was the belief of her authorities that these sheep were kept in another part of Armagh and then moved into the Republic. Last Friday, the Minister informed me that he was satisfied that no illegal importation of susceptible livestock – the Minister's words – had taken place since 21 February. Is he still satisfied that is the position? Is he satisfied that these sheep which have been in contact with the diseased animals discovered at Meigh, were brought to the Republic? Did that movement take place on or after 21 February as Ms Rodgers seems to suggest?
As far as we are aware, any of the susceptible animals – sheep in this case – that we have found came into the Republic before the ban came into effect. I have been assured by the Garda Síochána who have been staffing checkpoints on the Border since the ban came into place on 21 February, that they have no record or evidence of any illegal importations since then. Our difficulty with sheep is seeking to ensure that no sheep that had contact with other sheep – in other words at a mart or market – are in the country and on farms at the moment. That is why we have in excess of 500 farms under surveillance and restricted. We are following every possible lead. To answer the Deputy's question specifically, there is no evidence that any illegal susceptible animals have come into the country since the ban was put in place.
We have spent over an hour on this question already. There are still ten Members on the Ceann Comhairle's list. I propose to call them in two groups of five, calling the Minister after five Members have spoken, and then calling him for a final reply. The Members who are on the list are Deputies Boylan, Upton, Farrelly, Coveney, Ulick Burke, Owen, Crawford, Gerry Reynolds, Seán Ryan and Penrose.
I did not get an answer to my question.
He did not like it.
The Chair has no control over the answers that Ministers give. You had six supplementary questions, Deputy Sargent.
I have two questions to put to the Minister.
On a point of order, I put my hand up earlier—
I have a list of ten names of Members who indicated their intention to ask a question and I will be adhering to that list. A number of other Members are offering but the Deputy will appreciate that we cannot take questions from everyone because we might come to Private Members' time before the Order of Business is taken.
Is that the reason you did not take my question ten minutes ago?
There are ten names on the list. I will be taking questions only from those Members whose names are among those ten.
I signalled my intention to ask a question ten minutes ago—
I appreciate that.
—and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle nodded and indicated that he placed my name on the list.
No, I did not indicate that I would do so. We have already spent one hour and ten minutes on this question and we cannot continue with it until 7 p.m.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle's system of sign language needs to be updated.
I wish to reiterate my compliments to the gardaí, members of the Defence Forces and the Department's officials who are stationed on the Border and doing work of a very high standard.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to categorically refute the allegation made by Willie McCrea, MP and MLA, on the national airwaves today that foot and mouth disease had entered the Twenty-six Counties and that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development had instigated a policy of covering up this fact? That is a serious allegation for anyone, particularly a public representative, to make.
Will the Minister clarify the positionvis-à-vis cases where it has been decided to slaughter sheep, cattle or pigs on farms where it is discovered that the owner lacks the proper permits for a number of the animals and where there is a suspicion that illegal activity has taken place? Will compensation be paid to such farmers? If the Minister clarifies the position he might discourage people from engaging in illegal activity.
Will the Minister inform the House about the precautions taken in relation to the import of horses to Ireland in the week preceding the ban on such imports, but after the outbreak in the UK? Is the Department aware of the location of all the horses imported? What was their location in the UK prior to their importation, what route did the lorries transporting them here take, who took responsibility for any associated administration for monitoring the management of these horses before and after their arrival here, who regulates their movement now and how is it policed? From where did the bedding for these horses come and how was it disposed of and disinfected? Were the transport vehicles disinfected and, if so, who monitored the disinfection process?
Will the Minister indicate the precautions currently in place for monitoring any cattle, sheep or pigs on farms located near the properties on which these horses are being kept, given that the infective dose is very low and that the incubation period is approximately 14 days? Has any restriction zone been introduced in respect of these horses – as is the case in relation to sheep imported the same period – and, if not, why? Does the Minister agree that the export of suspect lamb from Athleague to Europe reinforces the need for the removal for food safety from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development?
Are the officials who stamped the lamb at Athleague employed by the Department or are they employees of the firm which operates the plant? If they are officials of the Department, how have they been dealt with since this matter was discovered?
The Minister stated that the Garda confirmed that there were no other imports of animals. There are reports, however, that members of the Garda Síochána—
A question please, Deputy.
—followed a number of trucks into my constituency late one night last week and that, supposedly, these trucks were carrying live stock. Will the Minister indicate that the livestock in those trucks originated in the Republic and that it did not originate in Northern Ireland or pass through that jurisdiction?
The Minister has spoken on numerous occasions about positive co-operation with authorities in Northern Ireland. Will he take this opportunity to condemn as irresponsible, and to reject as completely untrue, comments made by the Rev. Willie McCrea, MP and MLA, on the radio this afternoon to the effect that foot and mouth disease is in the Republic of Ireland? Will he seek a clear statement from his Northern Ireland counterpart, Bríd Rodgers, refuting this claim?
Will the Minister assure the House that adequate disinfection and sterilisation will take place at the Kepak plant in Athleague prior to the resumption of processing there? Will he subject the plant to an independent audit to ensure that such disinfection and sterilisation has taken place? I make this request in the aftermath of recent television pictures which showed birds picking at the entrails of dead animals.
Will the Minister restore the numbers of veterinary inspection personnel in County Galway given that a number of such personnel have been placed on duty at the Border? County Galway is a prospective flashpoint because the owners of up to 100 farms there were in contact with people from or actually visited Athleague and Kildare. The owners of these farms are concerned and their properties must be inspected. Is there a director of veterinary inspection in this country and, if so, is he, rather than a deputy spokesperson for the veterinary services, responsible for making pronouncements regarding the current positionvis-à-vis this crisis?
Deputy Boylan raised the question of Willie McCrea. There is no substance or foundation to the allegations made by Rev. McCrea. They are downright untrue. When suspect animals are found in this jurisdiction, if they have had, or it is suspected they had, contact with animals from Northern Ireland or Carlisle – from where the original consignments came – they are slaughtered as a precaution. In addition, blood and tissue samples are taken from each animal and these are sent to the international reference laboratory in Surrey. I am sure Rev. McCrea is confident about and satisfied with the activities of that institution. To date, tests on samples from such slaughtered animals have been negative.
There has been illegal activity of all kinds and of a peculiar nature on both sides of the Border for a considerable period. I am assured that there are adequate numbers of staff stationed at check-points. I note Deputy Boylan's congratulatory remarks to these people who, as stated on many occasions, have endured a considerable amount of abuse. I am surprised about the origin of some of that abuse because since 21 February these people have been working in temperatures of minus eight degrees centigrade. They are doing an outstanding job and I welcome the Deputy's remarks about these people, quite a number of whom are volunteers.
Deputy Upton inquired about the importation of horses before the introduction of the ban. The information available to me indicates that horses do not contract this infection, nor do they spread it. That information comes from the highest authority, namely, the chief veterinary officer.
Can they carry the disease?
I am informed that this is a matter of considerable debate. I made specific inquiries about this matter because the information I received indicates that, on rare occasions, it can lodge in the tonsils. However, the tonsils of horses are not appropriate to the discussion on a special notice question which commenced 90 minutes ago. At any rate, a ban was put on horses because of the good points the Deputy made, namely, the risk surrounding the bedding and the vehicles, particularly if they come in contact with susceptible animals. I have been told there is complete isolation of the horses concerned and any susceptible animals.
The Deputy asked if responsibility for food safety would be transferred from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. Responsibility for food safety rests with the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, under the aegis of the Department of Health and Children. Anybody who was here during the debate on the food safety legislation will know there was not full agreement in the House. In fact, it was the Fianna Fáil Party, in our programme for Government, which insisted on this area going to the Department of Health and Children, and that is where it will stay.
The Minister's website states differently.
Deputy Coveney asked about Willie McCrea's inaccurate and unhelpful comments and if I had taken up the matter with the authorities in the North. I said earlier that I will meet the Minister, Ms Bríd Rodgers, tomorrow and some of her senior staff and I will discuss a range of matters with her.
Deputy Burke raised the question of disinfecting and fumigating the plant in Athleague. I have been assured that that was done adequately and to the satisfaction of the veterinary supervisors. The Deputy also asked about the level of veterinary personnel. I think he made representations about that matter yesterday because I happened to be in the control room at the time. Those representations were followed up immediately and I hope we will be able to sort out the concerns the Deputy had in that regard.
The Deputy asked if we had a director of veterinary services. We have a chief veterinary officer who is the director of veterinary services, Dr. Colm Gaynor, an extremely competent and professional person. In the course of the extraordinary effort put in by the veterinary officers in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, their staff and many other Departments also, he lost his voice to some extent. That is one of the reasons he has not been doing some of the radio interviews but I have the fullest of confidence in his deputy directors and the deputy chief veterinary officers in the Department. They have been manfully carrying out their duties and communicating with people over a wide range of networks.
The Minister did not answer any of my questions.
I have called Deputy Owen. The Chair has no control over the questions the Minister answers.
Will the Minister tell the House whether he has any further information about the two lambs from the Carlisle consignment that supposedly died? Were their bodies ever found, were any tests carried out on them and from what did they die? Have any files been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to prosecuting anyone who has done any wrong in this area? Will the Minister confirm to the House that when introducing the permits for bringing animals to slaughter, the advice to him was that he should also ensure that people can only bring animals to the nearest abattoir and not have the freedom to move them through many counties?
I have a copy of the form that has been distributed in post offices and the offices throughout the country. The Minister referred in one of his answers to—
Deputy Owen, a question please.
It states at the bottom of the form that the permit must be surrendered at the abattoir. That seems to be the only record that will be available.
Deputy Owen, you have asked your questions.
Will the Minister clarify whether there is an onus on the farmer or the haulier to keep a copy of the form they have filled out because these are single forms, not duplicate forms, and according to them the permit has to be surrendered at the abattoir?
I understand Deputy Crawford has generously given way to Deputy Belton.
It is not my birthday. I want to ask three questions. First, did the Minister say that there is now no smuggling? Second, if Carlisle lamb is stamped as Irish lamb, does that amount to fraud? Third, on the airwaves the Minister has been extremely critical of Opposition politicians. I remind the Minister that the two politicians he has not referred to so far are Deputy Ned O'Keeffe and Deputy Des O'Malley.
There is no answer to that.
That is a difficult one to follow. I raised the issue last week of a permit for people who are residing in Northern Ireland and who have some land leased across the Border. These people take animal feed back and forth across the Border perhaps once a day. The security forces have requested a permit. The individuals have stated that they have a permit but they do not have the permit on them and the Department of Agriculture personnel allowed them through. Even up to today they were still getting through without showing a permit. That is not good enough and I would like the Minister's view on it.
Has the Minister contacted the Director of Consumer Affairs about the exploitation of consumers who are being overcharged for disinfectants?
Many people are buying disinfectants.
A question please, Deputy Reynolds.
I know of examples where disinfectant has risen in price from £10 to £50 for a gallon and from £80 to £200 for a gallon. That should not be allowed to continue.
Is the Minister satisfied that a sufficient number of disinfectant mats are available at Dublin Airport? I am not talking about the entrance to the airport but the aprons where the planes taxi in. It is at that location that the food is removed from the aircraft and brought to the catering department, and it is also where luggage is removed. It is my understanding that there are no mats in those locations.
Ask the Minister to take it up with Ryanair.
With regard to railway stations, particularly those in rural areas, and people using public transport, I understand that an adequate number of mats are not in place. If the Minister is not satisfied with these aspects, I ask him to get in contact with Aer Rianta and Irish Rail.
The Labour Party will fully co-operate with the speedy enactment of the Bill provided cognisance is taken of our concerns. In that context, will the Minister arrange for a briefing by his officials of the various spokespersons in the House so that we know exactly what is intended in the Bill?
The Minister acknowledged the role of local radio, and local media, in disseminating the information and alerting the general public on the importance of taking precautionary measures, etc. Will the Department ensure in future that the agency charged with placing public notice advertisements about foot and mouth disease does not disregard the provincial press in the way it has done heretofore? If I had not brought this matter to the attention of everybody yesterday evening, it would have been left as it is.
A question please, Deputy Penrose.
Will the Minister's Department ensure that this would not take place in future and that if advertisements are to be placed next week, that they will not be sent to the provincial press at 12 o'clock in the day, because they have deadlines to meet too. Has the Minister or any Member of the Government been in contact with the EU Commissioner for food, Mr. Byrne, to request him to encourage the British Government to treat the outbreak with the seriousness it deserves by implementing a series of precautionary measures and to get away from its lackadaisical approach?
Assuming we do not have an outbreak, asking the Minister to look into a crystal ball, how long does he expect the current restrictions and precautionary measures to remain? As many schools have organised trips abroad, particularly to England, will the Minister for Education and Science issue a directive to cancel them because without that the schools will not get a refund?
I apologise for inadvertently missing Deputy Farrelly's substantial questions.
The Athleague staff conduct ante and post-mortem checks on animals, as is done in every factory, North and South. There is free trade for some animals, particularly sheep and pigs. Last year there was a problem because of the fire in an abattoir in the North. The free trade ended with the recent ban.
Trucks containing things like compost for the mushroom industry, swill and other risk products have been turned back by security forces on this side of the Border. The information I have is that there was no illegal transport of susceptible animals into the State.
Deputy Owen asked about the location of two lambs. That is difficult to answer because the responsibility for that is outside the jurisdiction of the State. A consignment of lambs was acquired by a North of Ireland dealer in Carlisle market. We contacted the authorities there about numbers to be told that they weighed them. The same situation prevails in the North. It is unsatisfactory that a triple layered truck carrying up to 300 lambs is enumerated by weight. We are satisfied the movement of sheep or lambs from the North, the sheep themselves and those in contact with other sheep at markets have been tracked, as far as possible. Investigations continue into smuggling, which is mentioned for the first time in relation to this issue. We cannot be 100% sure that an animal may turn up at some point but we are satisfied that will not be so.
The permit is quite specific and contains a definable code for full traceability. I am not an expert on codes but this was drawn up in co-operation with the Garda who are.
Smuggling, an issue raised by Deputy Belton, continues, but the measures we are introducing will attempt to root it out. It is endemic in all border regions. Every effort is being made to eradicate it and when the Legislation is introduced to the Seanad tomorrow, Members will see that there are long gaol sentences, substantial fines and confiscation of property for those found guilty.
I have always paid the highest tribute, by name to the Opposition, to Deputies Penrose and Dukes in particular, both inside and outside the House for their constructive contributions and we accepted their suggestions.
Deputy Gerry Reynolds asked about crossing the Border. I am assured by the Garda and the Army that there is no evidence of illegal transport of animals into the State. I have not contacted the Director of Consumer Affairs but will do so about a disinfectant racket and the raising of prices as it has been brought to my attention.
Hygiene at airports was raised by Deputy Ryan. The British now believe that their outbreak started because food from foreign planes was put into improperly monitored or unpasteurised pig swill. I believe that at our airports there is disinfectant at lay-by points, but will inquire further.
There is no disinfectant on the tarmac.
I have been through Dublin Airport since the ban was imposed and there are announcements on the planes and signs throughout the airport. No one has an excuse for not knowing about the risk of foot and mouth disease and taking the necessary precautions. Individuals are responsible for doing this.
Leaflets are given out on trains, especially the Belfast-Dublin train. I will ask Iarnród Éireann and Aer Rianta at the task force meeting to ensure that all precautionary measures, including disinfectant, are in place.
Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.