Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Committee for
Agriculture and Rural Development

Friday, 23 March 2001


Members present:
Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr Savage (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Armstrong
Mr Dallat
Mr Douglas
Mr Ford
Mr Kane
Mr McHugh
Mr Paisley Jnr

Ms B Rodgers)Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Mr P Toal)Department of Agriculture
Dr B McCracken)and Rural Development

1. The Chairperson: The meeting is declared open, so we can proceed. We assume you are with us for 45 minutes, is that correct? Do you want to make a statement first?

2. Ms Rodgers: Good morning, everyone. As always I am grateful for this opportunity to bring the Committee up-to-date with the foot-and-mouth disease situation.

3. As the Committee will now be aware, the foot- and-mouth situation in Northern Ireland has become much more serious with the confirmation that the disease has been found in sheep just across the border in Ravensdale, County Louth. The location falls within the 10-kilometre surveillance zone, which we imposed following the Meigh outbreak. Unfortunately the time lapse between the two outbreaks, about 21 days, indicates that there may be other intermediate sources of infection as yet unidentified. These sources may be in the South of Ireland, the North of Ireland, or both.

4. My staff are working closely with the authorities in the Republic to track down the intermediate source and prevent further spread of the virus. However, it is too soon to report any progress on that.

5. In the meantime, the authorities in the Republic are establishing a three-kilometre protection zone and a 10-kilometre surveillance zone around this outbreak, and a new surveillance zone extends into our jurisdiction. Almost the entire new zone is within the already existing Meigh surveillance zone. Sadly, that may entail the further slaughter and destruction of dangerous, in-contact animals in Northern Ireland; the retention of movement controls in parts of Northern Ireland where the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland zones overlap; and the imposition of such controls in new areas of Northern Ireland.

6. I have also put border controls in place to monitor crossings from the Republic within the 10-kilometre surveillance zone, and the Department for Regional Development has been asked to arrange disinfecting procedures on the A1 entering Northern Ireland.

7. My officials have been in discussion with the RUC and the Army about what more needs to be done. I have spoken to the Secretary of State also. Our primary aim must continue to be to prevent the reintroduction of foot-and-mouth disease into Northern Ireland.

8. The most alarming aspect of this development is the possibility that somewhere either here or in the Republic at least one further unidentified source of the foot-and-mouth disease is at large.

9. I cannot overemphasise the seriousness of that. It means that we are potentially in the same position as was GB a few weeks ago, and we are all too well aware of how matters have unfolded there.

10. While both we and the Republic of Ireland authorities will do our utmost to deal with this latest development, it is vital that farmers reinforce the "fortress farm" measures which I have advocated since this disease first appeared. Farmers should assume that such measures are all that stand between them and foot-and-mouth disease. I make no apology for stating the obvious by saying that foot-and-mouth disease is highly unlikely to reappear in a Northern Ireland farm if the "fortress farm" measures are fully implemented by every farmer here.

11. Needless to say, any possibility of an easement of the current controls or a regionalised lifting of the export controls on Northern Ireland animals and produce has now receded for the time being.

12. I greatly regret having to convey this message to the Committee.

13. The Chairperson: Yesterday, Minister, you had a meeting with the Prime Minister. Can you tell us what came out of the meeting? What proposals did the Prime Minister recommend to every part of the United Kingdom? Are you going to accept those proposals and proceed with them?

14. Ms Rodgers: The meeting with the Prime Minister was to hear about the situation in the different regions. I gave an update on the Northern Ireland situation. As you will know, the Prime Minister made it clear three weeks ago - and he has reiterated this since - that as soon as possible he will support the seeking of regionalisation for Northern Ireland. The main thrust of the meeting was about how containment could be achieved, particularly in GB where the situation is a lot worse than it is here.

15. The welfare slaughter of animals and how that could be dealt with was also discussed. That is becoming a huge problem in GB, but - and I am thankful for this - it is not yet quite as big a problem here. There was also discussion on what payments could be made. I understand that Nick Brown will make a statement about that today.

16. The Chairperson: Did you go with the welfare slaughter?

17. Ms Rodgers: My position at the moment is that we hope that that stage has not been reached in Northern Ireland. As you will be aware, I was able to make some easements to allow restricted movements under licence and in certain circumstances to deal with welfare problems. Owing to the much more serious problem in GB, that does not seem to be possible there. Consequently, they are moving to welfare slaughter. I hope not to be in that position, but clearly I will have to keep it under review as time moves on.

18. The Chairperson: At the moment, you are opting out?

19. Ms Rodgers: I hope that I will not be in a position to have to implement welfare slaughter. If we can deal with the problem by movement under licence, we will continue to do that to ease the situation.

20. The Chairperson: With regard to regionalisation, my contacts in Europe -

21. (Interference on tape - inaudible)

- told in Europe that that is completely out of step. He has no right to say to any country that part of the thing can be isolated and they will get it right away.

22. You may know that one member from the South of Ireland made a savage attack on the United Kingdom at Strasbourg. We were accused of being lepers and all sorts of things. A junior Minister said the same.

23. I put it to you, Minister, that the farmers of Northern Ireland do not wish to be tied to the tail of the Irish Republic. If the Irish Republic has troubles, that is something that it must deal with. We should not be in the position of not being able to qualify for regionalisation because we are tying ourselves into what is happening in the South of Ireland.

24. You do not seem to tying yourself in with what is happening in the rest of the United Kingdom, so why should we have to be tied in with what is happening in the South of Ireland?

25. If you do not move and say "Look we are on top of this", if you do not move on restrictions, then you cannot expect Europe to move on restrictions and say "Yes, we will agree to regionalisation for Northern Ireland." This is causing a great deal of worry among farmers, and I have had a big lobby on this.

26. Ms Rodgers: I will try to deal with all the points. I am not quite sure what you mean by the last one. Are you asking me if I should move on the restrictions now?

27. The Chairperson: You said today, on radio, that you are not moving because of what is happening in the South of Ireland. You should move on restrictions when it is good for Northern Ireland, not because of anything the South of Ireland is doing.

28. Ms Rodgers: You may have misunderstood me, Mr Chairman. The 10-kilometre zone surrounding the outbreak actually extends into Northern Ireland. Therefore we are now in a different position from what we were in two or three days ago. I have revised my view on removing the restrictions. I had hoped to give easement on guidelines yesterday, but it would be unwise to do so at the moment. At the beginning of next week we can look again at the situation. My attitude, from the very beginning, has been that I will take every single possible precaution to make sure that the disease is kept out of Northern Ireland. That is my responsibility.

29. I cannot overlook the fact that we have a land border and the fact that the zone surrounding the area where the two cases are does not recognise that land border. I am working along with the authorities in the South, and I spoke to Joe Walsh again yesterday evening. My Department, including its veterinary and policy sections, is working in close conjunction and co-ordination with the Department in the South, and that is the only way in which we can tackle it.

30. In relation to regionalisation, it is not my place to comment on Commissioner Byrne's actions, except to say that a precedent was set when France and Holland were given regionalisation recently. In fact, one Member here more or less put it to me at that time that I should object to France's getting regionalisation. I made the point that, far from objecting to France's getting regionalisation, I was banking on its being in our favour to have the principle of regionalisation accepted.

31. The Standing Veterinary Committee, at its meeting on Tuesday, will be reviewing the situation and will make its own decision, but I would not want to comment further on that except to say that now there seems to be a change in the circumstances throughout Europe and also perhaps a change in the way that regionalisation is being considered. I welcome that as a hopeful sign, and I will be making sure that Northern Ireland's case is put next Tuesday at the Standing Veterinary Committee.

32. I am not going to get into the language being used by some politicians. I do not think it is a time for any politician on the island of Ireland to be using language that is offensive to anyone. As far as I am concerned, in Ireland, North and South - and indeed I have a lot of sympathy for the situation in Great Britain; I was there yesterday, and I saw what they are trying to cope with - one can only have sympathy for the farmers and for those who are trying to deal with the problem at a political level. We are all in this together; we sink or swim together; we work together; and we help one and other - any language that is not helpful is not welcome.

33. On the subject of being tied to the Republic of Ireland for regionalisation, our only position on regionalisation is, as Dr Paisley and members know, that we are part of the UK, a member state. Therefore, it will be the UK that will have to agree to put our case to the Standing Veterinary Committee. I ensured, at a meeting with the Prime Minister in Downing Street three weeks ago - before we had our first case - that I was given an absolute commitment from him that he would support seeking regionalisation for Northern Ireland as soon as that was possible. It is a commitment that I welcomed at the time, and which I think it is now time to move on. I think I have covered all your points, Mr Chairman.

34. The Chairperson: What worries farmers is that the South was so quick to jump in on regionalisation and we did not seem to be on the job as quickly as that. The farmers are wondering when they can get in?

35. Commissioner Byrne is from the South of Ireland. He made a statement yesterday almost giving a commitment about what was going to happen. That was not helpful to farmers in Northern Ireland. No politician in Northern Ireland denounced what was said in the South. It was a Southern junior Minister who made the statement and the attack in the European Parliament about our being a leper colony. No attack was made by any politician here.

36. I welcome the fact that you are condemning those attacks. They did not come from any politician on this side of the border, but from the other side. It is not helpful because we have suffered before, with regard to BSE, from attacks made of this nature in Europe about the uncleanness of our animals and so on. We have suffered very badly. I do not think that we need to suffer language like that from politicians from elsewhere.

37. I still hold to the view that has been put to me that if you are not able to move on restrictions, you cannot expect the European authorities to move on them. The move must be made here first. You need to be able to say that you can relax restrictions, and then we could make some progress. The fact is that in Europe people would simply say "Well, the Minister in Northern Ireland is not making easements; she is remaining tied to the restrictions that she has agreed with the South".

38.Ms Rodgers: The Commission will be coming here on Monday to look at how we are coping with the situation and what controls we have in place. Contrary to your view, Mr Chairman, my view is that they will be, and should be, impressed by the manner in which we have dealt with this. We have taken absolutely no chances at any stage, and when we think restrictions are necessary, we keep them in place. So far, thankfully, we have kept this disease to one case.

39. The Chairperson: Look at what happened in the South when we got this disease in Northern Ireland - look at the activity in the South and the numbers of police and Army that were used on the border. As the border is now a liability to the farming community in Northern Ireland, are we going to close it? The disease could come across that border.

40. You sent me a letter about the number of sheep and cattle - some 15,267 sheep and 1,086 cattle - that have come through the ports of Belfast and Larne for slaughter. Can you tell us if all those beasts have now been slaughtered? I noticed that Dr McCracken stated in the report that they are currently under restriction and that the action to be taken with those animals will be sorted out later, because we are now dealing with the emergency situation, which is a higher priority.

41. Are we sure that those animals are not being moved? Who guarantees that? It seems to me that a few officials from your Department going to the border is not sufficient to safeguard us from animals moving across the border or being brought across the border.

42. Ms Rodgers: First, all of those animals have been traced and checked, and they are being monitored. In relation to closing the border, the Gárda Commissioner made the point on television some weeks ago that it is not possible to close the border. That is a fact. Anyone who thinks it is possible to close the border is not living in the real world.

43. Secondly, by the midnight before we had confirmation of this outbreak, I had ensured that there were officials on all the border roads in that area to ensure that the restrictions would be in place and would be dealt with. It is not humanly possible to close the border. We know from our experiences over the last 30 years that that is something that cannot be done.

44. We are faced with a very serious situation in Ireland, North and South, and nobody can fight this on his own. I will be telling people that the Department is doing everything it can. People have been put on various roads. I have spoken to the Secretary of State about the security situation - that is a reserved matter, and he is dealing with it. My officials have been in continuous liaison with senior officials of the RUC with regard to that.

45. I expect people on both sides of the border to help us to keep this disease at bay. We can only do that by working together. Again, I ask people to read the guidelines and look at what they can contribute as a community, or individually, to ensure that together we can beat this. That is the only way in which we will do that. There is always a small group of people who want to break the rules, but they will not break them if the rest of the community stands firm.

46. The Chairperson: I do not accept what the Garda Commissioner has said. He has no right to tell us that the border cannot be closed from Northern Ireland. That is a matter for the authorities here. He effectually sealed the border. There were lines of traffic and great delays when the South was in trouble. We cannot accept that, but that is a matter for debate.

47. Mr Savage: You said last week that strong measures were being taken with regard to the docks and ports. When the Minister or her officials visit those places, people are very active. However, last Tuesday I had a deputation of very angry people who had returned from the Cumbria area. They are not directly involved with farming, but they live in a farming area here. When they arrived at the docks they could not get disinfected. They had to drive round and disinfect themselves because they were frightened that they would carry the disease home. They did not want to be accused of bringing the disease into their areas.

48. Demisters were in operation during the last outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. I know that it costs a lot of money, but we should provide demisters that everyone must go through, and anyone who does not go through them does not get into the country. If you do not abide by the restrictions at the border, you do not get into the South. We must be firm and strong on this issue. I hope that we will take a stronger line on this because the disease could wipe out the whole industry in Northern Ireland.

49. On the television recently people from Holland were talking about the foot-and-mouth disease that has been imported there. However, it has been four or five years since calves have been exported to Holland. I would like the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to put this to bed because it sends out the very bad image that foot-and-mouth spread because we exported calves. Those people are trying to scaremonger, and we cannot afford that.

50. Ms Rodgers: There are a number of issues with regard to the ports. I am quite surprised that people who are extremely concerned about foot-and-mouth disease in Northern Ireland visited a farming area on the other side of the water when the guidelines advise people to stay away from such areas. There are foot baths and foot mats on boats. I would have expected them to see them and use them. It is frustrating when we get complaints, and if that was a real complaint last Tuesday it should have been brought straight to my Department where we could have dealt with it. I sometimes wonder if people are nit-picking, but I am not suggesting that Mr Savage is nit-picking because I know he is very concerned.

51. Mr Kane: Has the Minister made representation to the United Kingdom Government stressing the need to call upon the European Community for financial aid to the industry? If so, can she indicate what the response was?

52. Secondly, a documentary on television tonight demonstrates a distinct lack of control measures, such as strategically placed disinfection mats in Cumbria. Although the circumstances are much less acute here in Northern Ireland, has the Minister considered the possibility of her Department's having to fund and provide these for farmers?

53. Ms Rodgers: As you will be aware, financial aid is available from Europe and the agrimoney has been drawn down urgently. Other subsidies are being expedited. I have a schedule and the UK Government has sought permission to do that very quickly because of the present situation in the farming community.

54. As regards providing mats to the farmers, in an ideal world I would like to be able to do everything for everybody. However, it is going a bit too far to ask the Department to provide mats. Farmers should take responsibility for their own farm. It would simply not be possible for us to go around the 30,000 farms in Northern Ireland providing mats. A lot of people are suffering pain in this situation - the general public, sporting organisations, the tourist industry and so forth. Farmers themselves should be prepared to do as much as they can, within their own responsibility, to ensure that they work along with everyone else.

55. Mr Armstrong: My problem is the crossing of borders. As you say, you cannot close borders. However, if the disease is serious enough, we should be able to do whatever it takes to curtail it. There must be some way to stop traffic travelling through that area in which the disease is - by diverting it further in the south. Traffic can be diverted and there has to be a good enough road structure going around that area instead of through it. If we are in a fortress farming, why cannot we be in a fortress Northern Ireland? That applies to all the border crossing points, whether it is from the UK or from the South.

56. Perhaps there are things you do not get the opportunity to tell us. If there is anything that you think we should know - something we have not asked or made representation on - do not be afraid to tell us before you leave.

57. Ms Rodgers: I would never do that; I would never deliberately keep anything from you. As you will know, my private office has been dealing with queries from MLAs. I have made special arrangements so that the private office deals with MLAs and the public is dealt with through the helpline. I am anxious that MLAs should have access to any information that they seek.

58. With regards to crossing of the border, it is totally unrealistic to close it - you simply cannot close the border. However, the actual 10-km and 3-km zones are sealed off. The Department has people around that zone on this side of the border and the authorities in the South have people around their end of the zone. It is sealed off and nobody is getting in or out without being checked. That zone is the area of greatest concern at the moment. To seal off the whole border is simply not a possibility.

59. Mr Armstrong: If that area was on fire, you could not drive through it. Foot-and-mouth disease is just like a fire and is just as dangerous.

60. Ms Rodgers: The Deputy First Minister told me that, at the height of the Meigh outbreak and with all the precautions, he was told to go around by Jonesborough to avoid the traffic jam. This put him straight through Meigh. I am not sure that was a good idea, and neither was he. With all the sealing of the border, the reality is that animals and the disease have got across the border.

61. Mr Paisley Jnr: Is the Department's present goal to achieve regionalisation? If it is, the reality is that we do not all sink or swim together, and we must be absolutely clear about that. To achieve regionalisation we must prove that Northern Ireland is a disease free region. If Northern Ireland is a disease free region, and meets the statutory 30 days since the outbreak in Meigh, it would be fatal to tie Northern Ireland with another region and occurrences that happen there. I urge you not to link the fate of farmers in Northern Ireland with what is happening to farmers in the Republic of Ireland. The situation there is sad, but we must make a case for our own farming community here, and try and make sure that we achieve regionalisation. That may sound selfish but if we want to save the agriculture industry in Northern Ireland we must think of our own farmers first.

62. Can you give any confirmation or information about the 'mysterious missing flock' that I read about in this morning's 'News Letter'? If you can monitor the movement of over 15,000 sheep in Northern Ireland, I assume that we should know something about this missing flock. Can you update us on any prosecutions that are pending on people who are engaged in smuggling?

63. Ms Rodgers: It would be ridiculous, if not foolish and stupid, for me to say that we will only seek regionalisation in tandem with the Irish Republic. The reality is that the United Kingdom is the member state, of which Northern Ireland is a region. We were not regionalised in the beginning because the Commission put a ban on the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. Regionalisation is now clearly something that is being considered in very changed circumstances from those of three weeks ago. I am already moving to ensure that our case for regionalisation will be put at the Standing Veterinary Committee meeting next Tuesday and I hope to be able to achieve it.

64. At the moment we are in exactly the same position as the Republic - in fact we are in a better position because we are 21 days away from our first outbreak. We will have to continue to work with the Republic. The disease does not recognise the border. Northern Ireland has a land border with the Republic; there has been illegal movement across the border and we must take cognisance of the fact that only by working together will we manage to investigate and trace those missing sheep.

65. You mentioned 'the missing flock'. We do not have a problem with legally traded animals, and most of the 15,000 referred to were legally traded and have been traced. Our problem is with a small minority of illegally traded animals. Clearly it is impossible to properly trace them, especially when we have not got the co-operation that is required. However, we are continuing to investigate the problem and we are making progress. We have been getting information and we hope to get on top of the situation.

66. We are not following prosecutions at the moment because we have not got the required evidence. As far as I know the RUC intercepted some illegal movement of animals. I presume that prosecutions will follow but I am not sure enough of the facts to give you any details.

67. Mr Dallat: Up until now you have got the goodwill and support of the entire community and that is commended. Many of those people are not involved in agriculture; I am thinking of the hotel industry in particular. Those people are prepared to support all the measures you have asked them to put in place in the greater interests of Northern Ireland and its economy.

68. Does it concern you that sometimes Assembly Members do not send out the correct messages. For example, some Members, including at least one member of this Committee, are planning to travel to Scotland on Monday to meet Scottish parliamentarians who represent areas in Scotland that have been ravaged by foot-and-mouth disease.

69. Do you accept that when that message comes back to hoteliers, for example, in Coleraine, Portrush or Portstewart, they become disillusioned? It appears to be a case of "do not do as I do, but do as I tell you" or "not practising what you preach". I ask you to use your influence to persuade those who are meant to set an example to the rest of the community to start putting in place what they are asking the wider community to do.

70. Ms Rodgers: I would be appalled if Assembly Members, particularly any Member of this Committee, were not setting the right example. I presume that everyone has read the guidelines, which talk about any unnecessary travel across the water, especially to Scotland. Stranraer is in Dumfries and Galloway, which is an affected area. To go there would be extremely unwise, and I hope that any Member contemplating that would consider the impact that it would have on the rest of the community.

71. The Chairperson: As the question has been asked, it would be fair to name the person. To leave the question in that anonymous manner is not at all fair.

72. Mr Dallat: Mr Chairman, I have a list of people, and I will get it for you.

73. The Chairperson: No, I have ruled on that - [Interruption]

74. Mr Dallat: One of them is a member of your political party.

75. The Chairperson: Name him.

76. Mr Kane: I accept that my name is on the list. The meeting is in Stranraer, and going there and being disinfected is no worse than going to Westminster. I will take the necessary precautions. I do not have to be trashed about by a Colleague across the table.

77. Ms Rodgers: If I can make a point, this virus can be carried in the nose for seven days. Therefore anyone in contact with animals in Stranraer could be carrying the virus in their nose. I say that because it is a serious situation.

78. The Chairperson: I know that. There are hundreds of people coming from Stranraer everyday - [Interruption]

79. Ms Rodgers: Well, I think that people who are in the farming community - [Interruption]

80. The Chairperson: To pick out one person - [Interruption]

81. Ms Rodgers: I am not. I did not pick out any person - [Interruption]

82. The Chairperson: We will move on.

83.Mr Kane: Mr Chairman, it is just politics.

84. The Chairperson: That is all it is, very cheap politics.

85. Mr Ford: I have two brief questions and a point on regionalisation. First, you talked about expediting subsidies. Do you have any information on the payment of Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances (HLCAs), which I understood should have been paid by now, but I do not think they have? Secondly, you also referred to the fact that there was no need for a welfare slaughter scheme at this stage. Have you received any representations, particularly on the issue of culled sows, and is there not a need to consider that issue?

86. With regard to regionalisation, it seems to me that in the early stages we talked about regionalisation for Northern Ireland. There are now examples in the Netherlands and France, and some debate in the Republic, that regionalisation means a much smaller sub-region. Should we not now pursue the issue of regionalisaion within Northern Ireland, to ensure that there is greater freedom outside the County Armagh area, or the Newry and Mourne District Council area - however it should be defined? If Louth can be treated as a region, why can we not ensure that the situation is eased in the rest of Northern Ireland?

87. Ms Rodgers: Regarding the subsidy payments, my understanding is that the payments began last Monday, although clearly they will not all have been sent out yet. My hope is that 90% will be paid by the end of the month. In relation to culled sows, I am aware that there is a problem with that. If it becomes a serious welfare problem I will examine it. I received an undertaking at the meeting yesterday that any welfare issues that must be dealt with can be done on a UK basis. Therefore if I come to the point where I must deal with that situation, it will be in a UK framework. It is extremely important and I hope it will come from the Treasury's budget and not out of the Northern Ireland block.

88. As for regionalisation for Northern Ireland, I have already dealt with that. Clearly, when I first received the commitment for regionalisation from the Prime Minister I meant regionalisation for all of Northern Ireland. That is no longer the position, because of the zone in south Armagh around Meigh. When I make the case for regionalisation I do not expect that it will be for the whole of Northern Ireland due to the position in that area. It will be for the rest of Northern Ireland excluding the zone - no matter how it is defined - where the problem still exists.

89. Mr McHugh: Obviously the difficulty across the border is now making our application for regional status more difficult. Regarding our own future, how much more difficult will it be for us to make an impact in Europe in the long term? The main problem is how people see us as a region. In the Committee some Members are focusing entirely on the border. I would remind people that our main problem is that we have been tied to Britain, which is the source of our problem - it is probably the source of everyone's problems.

90. Even this week, people from Europe have pointed the finger at Britain as the source and people still want to know where exactly foot-and-mouth came from. That, and its impact, will be with us for a long time. People would like the answer to that, and obviously an investigation will be needed to ascertain that point. It is more important to focus on the ports rather than the border. We should be looking for an island fortress mentality. I am not sure that Tony Blair has allowed us to do that, which is why I often ask questions regarding what he is saying to us and if he is allowing the Minister to get on with doing things differently here.

91. The South has worked with this situation from the start as if they had foot-and-mouth and that has stood them in good stead up until this point. They slaughter all animals in a particular area compared to England, who are confining themselves to single farms. In some instances, they are just slaughtering sheep and not cattle. Do we have a strategy in relation to that? Have we thought about what we will do if we are hit with an outbreak in the near future?

92. Ms Rodgers: The first part of what Mr McHugh said deals with the impact of this in Europe. Clearly there will be an impact, an aftermath and a post-mortem. I have asked division group, which was looking at strategy for agriculture in Northern Ireland, to set up a sub-group to take evidence from various people who are involved in this - such people as the auctioneers and the rest of the industry. They will look at the implications and aftermath of this, what lessons can be learned and how we should move on from here.

93. In relation to the original source, I am not sure that it is clear where the original source was. I would not like to comment on that, except to say that I do have a lot of sympathy for the farmers and the whole community in GB because of what they are going through - I saw it first hand yesterday. I spoke to the farming union leaders over there and they are in a very serious situation and one could only be sympathetic towards them. In relation to the Prime Minister, I do not see Tony Blair as having interfered with my work in any way. As the Minister for Northern Ireland, I have been doing things differently. The first thing I did was close down the ports on 21 February, which was a very important move to ensure that we dealt with the outbreak swiftly - stopping any further movement of animals to Northern Ireland.

94. Regarding the slaughter zone, as I understand it we have been slaughtering all the animals in one slaughter place. We have not been dealing with them here and there - we have slaughtered them all in the one kilometre area. We have been making our own decisions in relation to our own situation, which has been very different, so far, to the situation in GB. We have been working very closely with the Republic because of the clear converging interest and threat to both sides of the border.

16 March 2001 / Menu / 30 March 2001