My Department's function in regard to the transport of livestock by sea is to approve vessels based on statutory requirements regarding the protection of animal welfare. The actual provision of such services is a commercial matter.
Approval for the carriage of livestock on roll-on roll-off vessels is considered on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the characteristics of the individual vessel, whereas there are specific statutory requirements which apply across the board where dedicated livestock vessels are concerned. Over the years, my Department has approved a number of dedicated roll-on roll-off vessels and works closely with applicant companies for approval to ensure that the conditions aboard such vessels are consistent with national and EU animal welfare requirements. A vessel currently approved by my Department for the carriage of livestock was recently approved for the carriage of two additional livestock units and underwent a successful trial voyage. The vessel is also provisionally approved for a further additional livestock unit subject to some minor modifications to the ventilation system. The vessel will then be capable of transporting a total of 21 livestock units. My Department has also authorised the transport of cattle from Shannon Airport on aircraft and to-date three consignments of animals have been exported by this means.
Up to 19 March 2006, 43,844 live cattle have been exported from the State, compared to 32,585 for the same period during 2005. This represents an increase of 35%. The live export trade provides a valuable outlet for categories of younger animals and a degree of competition, thereby sustaining prices. My Department will continue to discharge its responsibilities in regard to the live trade by ensuring that any such applications are dealt with in a thorough, professional and efficient manner and that our animal health status continues to allow producers to have access to markets in the EU and elsewhere.
The Government's consistent position in regard to live exports has been that they provide a vital and legitimate market outlet for the livestock sector. The role of the Government in the promotion and preservation of any commercial trade is to create an environment in which it can be carried on in an economic and sustainable manner and which allows it to make the maximum possible contribution to the national economy. In the case of live exports, the preservation of the animal health status of the country, the international reputation of its veterinary certification services and the existence and application of a framework, which ensures that good standards and welfare considerations are taken into account, are all key elements. In each of these areas, our record is exemplary. Ultimately, the transport of live animals is a commercial matter and there are sufficient numbers of approved vessels to provide a service if the commercial demand exists.