Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Committee for
Agriculture and Rural Development

Friday, 30 March 2001


Membership and Powers

The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Assembly Standing Order No 46. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and has a role in the initiation of legislation. The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of 5.

The Committee has power:

The membership of the Committee since its establishment on 29 November 1999 has been as follows:

Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr George Savage (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong
Mr PJ Bradley
Mr John Dallat*
Mr Boyd Douglas
Mr David Ford
Mr Gardiner Kane
Mr Gerry McHugh
Mr Francie Molloy
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr.
* Mr Dallat replaced Mr Denis Haughey on the latter's appointment as a Junior Minister.

Friday 30 March 2001

Members present:
Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr Armstrong
Mr Bradley
Mr Douglas
Mr Dallat
Mr Ford
Mr Kane
Mr McHugh
Mr Molloy

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

1. The Chairperson: Welcome Minister. I am sure that you want to make a statement.

2. Ms Rodgers: Thank you, Dr Paisley. As has become the custom at these weekly sessions with the Committee, I would like to bring you up to date with developments over the past week.

3. First, as far as the disease itself goes, the situation in Northern Ireland remains that we have only had the single outbreak at Meigh. We continue to receive reports of suspicious cases but thankfully they have all proved negative. My major concern relates to the Republic where there has been a very recent outbreak and where the risk of further cases must be correspondingly high. Members will be aware of the suspect case reported in County Louth yesterday. I understand this morning that the preliminary results of the tests in that case are negative. I hope that that is so. If it is not, there would be obvious and serious implications for us, although as the suspect case is in the same general area as the earlier case in the South, it should not affect the disease controls that both sides have in place. Clearly we will have to keep up our guard in relation to the Republic and Great Britain.

4. I turn to other aspects of the present situation. The major development over the past week was the EU decision to regionalise the foot-and-mouth disease controls on Northern Ireland. That decision represents a very considerable achievement for us, and allows most of Northern Ireland to resume something like normal trade in the relevant products with effect from next week. Nobody should underestimate this achievement. We did not get regionalisation when there were six or seven cases in Great Britain, yet at a time when Great Britain is heading towards 700 cases, the work that has been done by myself and by Department officials has resulted in regionalisation for Northern Ireland for the first time ever.

5. While that is an excellent result, it brings with it its own problems. The Committee will be aware that the Newry and Mourne District Council area will become subject to a number of controls aimed at ensuring that products from there do not get into the rest of Northern Ireland. That will cause problems for farmers and processors in the area. However, my officials are working to minimise the impact of those controls as far as possible.

6. Our next move, disease permitting, will be to have the controls on Newry and Mourne District Council area lifted so that the whole of Northern Ireland is removed from the relevant export controls. We will be making that bid once 30 days have elapsed from the cleansing and disinfection following the Meigh outbreak, which means as soon as possible after Thursday 5 April. I have to record that this will not be an easy case to win. Meanwhile, it is essential that we can demonstrate to the Commission that we have sealed off the district insofar as the movement of susceptible animals and their products is concerned. My officials are currently assessing precisely what needs to be done to achieve that.

7. I will be taking forward the question of what help is needed from other Departments through the mechanism of the interdepartmental group, which I chair and which is working very effectively. We will also be considering with the RUC what its contribution needs to be.

8. The second major development during the week was my joint announcement with Joe Walsh that we intended to carry out a precautionary cull of sheep in the area around and between the outbreaks at Meigh and Proleek, north and south of the border. The purpose is to create a firebreak around the outbreaks so that if there is any further infection in the area, it will not spread.

9. Unfortunately, that quickly ran into difficulty due to local community concerns on a number of aspects of what we were proposing. Initially those concerns revolved around the disposal of the sheep carcasses. However, recognising the urgency, I was able to meet the concerns by agreeing to have the carcasses rendered instead of buried.

10. Subsequently, it became clear that some people were concerned over the financial impact of the cull. That was not helped by the circulation of misleading rumours that the authorities in the Republic was offering higher rates of compensation than normal for sheep to be culled in its jurisdiction. I had those reports investigated with the authorities in the Republic and discovered that they were incorrect. At a meeting yesterday, I was able to reassure the people concerned that they would receive compensation for the slaughtered animals in the normal way and at the normal rates. The value of the animals will, as always, be assessed by valuers from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and, in the event of any dispute, independent valuers will be brought in to arbitrate.

11. That was potentially a very difficult situation and I would like to pay tribute to the contribution made by John Gilliland of the Ulster Farmers' Union and Nigel McLaughlin of the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers' Association (NIAPA). The fact that the farming unions were seen to be so supportive of the Department's attitude was crucial in resolving the problem.

12. I have heard the concerns expressed by at least one MLA about the fact that we are taking the carcasses out of the area for disposal. I am satisfied that with the appropriate disease precautions that disposal route represents the lowest risk of the options available to me. Members will note that that view has since been confirmed by an independent veterinary surgeon.

13. There were several other significant events this week. The Executive were able to agree and announce a relaxation of the restrictions on general movements by the public. That has gone very well and I hope that it will now provide the springboard for a recovery in the tourist sector. Coupled to that, I hope, in the next day or two, to be able to announce some easement in the controls on the movement of animals under licence to take account of general welfare issues that have been raised with the Department. Finally, I also propose to announce very soon the establishment of a group to examine what changes might be needed to better protect us from animal disease in the future.

14. I would stress that such a group will have to work within the parameters set by the European Union to protect the free market. Nevertheless, various practices have fairly obviously contributed to the outbreak of the disease and to its spread, and they need to be reconsidered.

15. The Chairperson: What really happened at Brussels? Who proposed that there would be an extra cull of sheep in the area? Did your officials firstly negotiate the regionalisation of Northern Ireland as a whole or did they negotiate from a position of leaving out, that was not to be included? Did your officials, along with Mr Walsh, propose that there should be an extra cull, or did the proposal originate from Europe? There seems to be a bit of confusion about that in the public mind.

16. Ms Rodgers: My understanding is that the chairman of the EU Standing Veterinary Committee, Mr van Goethen, made it clear that regionalisation for Northern Ireland was contingent on a satisfactory cull being completed in the south Armagh area. The rationale behind that was that the further outbreak in Proleek - in the same restricted area - created a nervousness in Europe that the virus was still, to quote them exactly, "on the border".

17. The Chairperson: Was that the cull that you agreed with Mr Walsh?

18. Ms Rodgers: The cull was agreed with Mr Walsh on the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officers in the Republic and here. It was thought necessary, on a precautionary basis, to cull in both restricted areas along a corridor where clearly there appeared to be a danger of the disease spreading in the Meigh and Proleek 10-kilometre zones. It was based on the need to stay one step ahead of the disease and create a firewall so that we would not find ourselves in the same unfortunate position as Great Britain.

19. The Chairperson: Was that the cull that was taken up by Europe, which said it had to be done?

20. Ms Rodgers: Yes.

21. The Chairperson: So, Mr Walsh and yourself agreed to have a cull, and then it was announced from Europe that you were prepared to do that. Who initiated the cull? 

22. Ms Rodgers: We have been in continuous dialogue with the South because the disease does not recognise borders. Through discussion, the veterinary surgeons in both jurisdictions concluded that the cull would be necessary. It was also clear that the Commission held the same view. I do not know when the Commission began to think about it because I am not aware of its thinking processes, but it was certainly the view of the authorities and experts here.

23. The Commission was aware that there was a virus somewhere in the area and it would have been its position that a cull would be necessary. There was no hope of regionalisation for the whole of Northern Ireland at that stage. We were all aware of that even before negotiations began. There was no chance of getting regionalisation for an area that was at that stage already within a restricted zone.

24. The Chairperson: I quite agree with that part of it, but I am not too happy about the answers I have received. That is by the way. I want to ask you about the matter of negotiations that took place.

25. The whole of Northern Ireland is in jeopardy if we do not get regionalisation. I think everybody is agreed on that. If we do not get regionalisation it is going to be a very dark day for our industry. It is essential that we get it. We have been held up now for four days. Certain negotiations have taken place. Why is there not an absolute openness about the negotiations with the farmers in south Armagh? We at this table are not fools. We know what was discussed at those meetings with the farmers. We know that certain things, including an amnesty, were asked for. Why should we in this Province be held up in a very serious situation, where the whole farming community is in jeopardy, because the officials of your Department have to spend time discussing something that is not even in their bailiwick - let alone to be discussed.

26. As I said on radio this morning, if we had an outbreak in County Antrim and people there objected to burial, would you give them the undertaking that you would do what you have done in south Armagh? Can you tell us today the amount of extra money you now have to pay to shift those animals, to have them slaughtered, and to put them into containers? Can you tell us when you think the animals will be rendered? My information is that there are animals from the BSE crisis which are not yet rendered.

27. Ms Rodgers: I will deal with those six questions as briefly as I can, because time will probably run out. First, I would be glad of an opportunity to clarify the "four days", which is quite a misrepresentation. Let us look at the facts. I announced the cull between 5.30 pm and 6.00 pm on Monday evening. With the best will in the world, the cull could not have started until - at the very earliest and by working very fast - the following evening. It was necessary to go through the logistics of talking to the farmers, explaining what is going on, getting valuers, and putting all of that in place. The cull actually started on Thursday evening. Therefore, we are talking about a two-day delay. That is the first thing I want to make clear.

28. Secondly, in relation to the openness of negotiations, I was addressing the legitimate concerns that people had expressed. I am reluctant to call that negotiation. If, as a Minister, I were to tell the Committee that the farming community in the area had expressed concerns about what was going to happen, and that I had told the farmers to get lost, the Committee would be very critical of me. I was going through the normal process as urgently as the situation demanded. I was trying to ensure that the required clarity was there because the decision had to be implemented urgently, and any problems or concerns had to be dealt with.

29. Dr Paisley talked about an amnesty. The most important thing was that I addressed the legitimate concerns expressed to me. Many things were possibly discussed and asked for, and I gave answers to those, but the only important thing from the point of view of the whole discussion and the area is the outcome. In my view, the outcome was very successful and made the exercise worthwhile. We have now proceeded with the cull, which was important for the whole of Northern Ireland, for the industry, for the community in general and for regionalisation.

30. Thirdly, we have agreement that the cull goes ahead on exactly the same basis as that in Great Britain and the Republic. That was the desired outcome, and we have achieved that as a result of discussion, clarification and addressing what, in my view, were legitimate concerns.

31. The fourth point is in relation to this morning's radio interview by Dr Paisley. I want to clarify things, because perhaps Dr Paisley did not quite understand what the situation is. In relation to what he said, and in order to put the public's mind at ease, it is important that I do that.

32. The first fact is that rendering the south Armagh sheep carcasses will not create a backlog in the rendering of BSE carcasses. The second fact is that BSE carcasses are not rendered. They are incinerated at the Veterinary Sciences Division (VSD), and the current average is thankfully running at only about one per month. Thirdly, I think that you referred inaccurately to the Over Thirty Months Scheme (OTMS). There is no backlog in the rendering of OTMS carcasses, nor is there likely to be one. In any event, OTMS carcasses are rendered at a different plant in Lisburn.

33. I also think that Dr Paisley is under a misapprehension about the time that is required to render the sheep. My understanding is that 2,500 carcasses can be rendered in 48 hours. That is a normal process, which happens every day of every week at Duncrue. I am told that the carcasses go through a machine, are rendered into bonemeal and then put in a landfill site. That happens every day.

34. The Chairperson: You are saying that everything is cleared up and that there are no BSE carcasses left anywhere. You are telling me that it will be completed in 48 hours, and therefore all those carcasses will have been dealt with by next Monday.

35. Ms Rodgers: That appears to be the case. There are no - [Interruption]

36. The Chairperson: Minister, you are not here to reply to what I said on the radio. You are here to answer members' questions.

37. Ms Rodgers: Dr Paisley, I have not dealt with all your questions. So unless you are happy to - [Interruption]

38. The Chairperson: No, I want you to come to the questions.

39. Ms Rodgers: That is what I am trying to do, as best as I can. There are no BSE carcasses, but there is meat and bonemeal waiting to be incinerated. There are no carcasses lying about. In relation to the amount of - [Interruption]

40. The Chairperson: What will the bonemeal be made from if there are no carcasses?

41. Ms Rodgers: It has already been turned into bonemeal and is being stored until it is incinerated in England.

42. In relation to the amount of money involved in that operation, I understand that the current operation is cheaper than digging holes in the ground. Incidentally, I also want to make it clear that the officials who were digging - thereby giving the impression that we had made a decision about Slieve Gullion - were trying to assess if it was a possibility. I had made no decision. The only decision that I had made at that point was that the carcasses would not be burnt.

43. The Chairperson: I am glad that you have now admitted that more than compensation was discussed at the meeting. We will now have questions.

44. Mr Ford: Thank you, Mr Chairperson. The way this morning's discussion has progressed has been rather unfortunate. While you are entitled to your views, what you have said so far as Chairperson does not represent my views.

45. Mr Bradley: Nor mine.

46. The Chairperson: You men may want an amnesty. I do not.

47. Mr Ford: Will the Minister confirm what I think I heard her say earlier, that after discussions with farmers with legitimate concerns she is satisfied that everything is now being done to protect the health of the rest of Northern Ireland's animal population by the decisions she is implementing? Moreover, what is Dr McCracken's professional observation on any possible threat of taking sheep carcasses in sealed containers to Belfast from Newry?

48. Ms Rodgers: First, I am satisfied that on the basis of the expert advice I received from Dr McCracken that everything is being done to protect animal health. It is being achieved by carrying out the cull, which I was advised, at the beginning of the week, was necessary.

49. Dr McCracken: The member referred to carcasses in sealed containers. We would like to think that none of those carcasses are infected, but let us assume that they are. If the virus is present it is inside the carcass. It is not being excreted from a dead animal. I am perfectly content that those dead animals will be transported in a sealed container to Duncrue for rendering. I believe that it represents no risk at all to the rest of Northern Ireland's animal population - otherwise I would not have recommended it to the Minister.

50. Mr Douglas: I am not happy about the time delay in disposing of the stock. At the same time, regional status is the main aim and I am glad we were able to get sight of that during the past week. The sooner we get rid of the carcasses the better. However, we need some management regarding stock movement, and I hope we can have that in the next few days. There are serious welfare issues on the farms and I hope you will have an announcement about that soon.

51. Ms Rodgers: As I have already said that is one of the things that I hope to make an announcement on in a few days. Mr Douglas has raised the issue with me on a number of occasions. I am glad to tell him that I hope to be able to respond to that very soon. It is an important issue.

52. Mr Armstrong: Is it not true that they could not dig deep enough into the ground to bury the sheep in the first instance? Should the first choice not have been to incinerate them? It is nearly April and many farmers will be putting their stock out to pasture. Has the Minister planned for that?

53. Ms Rodgers: Are you saying that our first choice should have been to incinerate them?

54. Mr Armstrong: Yes, or to take them to Duncrue or wherever. There was no point of thinking of burying them if the ground was not deep enough to facilitate that.

55. Ms Rodgers: You are probably right but we were looking at the options, which is the best thing to do. Had there been the facilities to deal with it in the area we might have gone ahead, but there was not. There were also legitimate concerns - not just in the farming community but overall - about the burial. We have done what I think you are agreeing with me is the best option.

56. Mr Armstrong: We should have done that in the first instance, then there would have been fewer problems.

57. Ms Rodgers: Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Is turning animals out to pasture the other question? All of those matters are being kept under review. As soon as it is humanly possible to make a move, with minimum risk, I will do so.

58. Mr Armstrong: Animals will be moving anyway, because farmers will be putting them out to pasture.

59. Ms Rodgers: I am presuming that farmers will co-operate, as they have up to now, in the joint effort to keep foot-and-mouth at bay and that they will also obey the law, whatever it happens to be at the time.

60. Mr Kane: Will the Minister and her Department take action in cases where discrepancies are found between sheep presented for culling and the numbers that have been claimed for?

61. Ms Rodgers: The Department will operate in exactly the same way that is has operated in previous years, and will continue to do. We will apply the European regulations in exactly the same way.

62. Mr Kane: Can the Minister and the Chief Veterinary Officer give us a realistic date for the reopening of the livestock markets subject to no further outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease?

63. Ms Rodgers: Mr Kane will be aware that the ban on livestock markets - although we imposed it originally - has since been imposed by Europe. The date of reopening will depend entirely on when Europe decides they can be reopened. I have to abide by the European decision and while there is continuing nervousness because of the additional cases - we have seen two in France and I think six in Holland - I can not really forecast when that will happen.

64. Mr Kane: I am sure you understand that farmers urgently need the return of the live markets to uphold their price structure on stock.

65. Ms Rodgers: I understand all the difficulties and problems faced by farmers, as well as the rest of the community - including the tourist industry. I have a choice of either dropping all the controls and taking risks, or keeping the controls in place and not taking risks. That is a very clear and easy choice to make.

66. Mr Bradley: I join you in paying tribute to the officials from the Ulster Farmers' Union and NIAPA for the role that they played in resolving the situation. This morning's comments are appropriate.

67. On my way here from South Down I heard that the news from Louth appears to be fairly good this morning, so I am grateful for that. I hope my question proves to be irrelevant in time, but coming from Newry and Mourne I must ask it. Will additional outbreaks in County Louth have any bearing on the Newry and Mourne situation, and on the Northern Ireland situation, as far as regionalisation is concerned?

68. Ms Rodgers: I heartily agree with your comments about the unions because they played an important role. Further outbreaks would not help our case for regionalisation, but they would not necessarily impact on the case that we will make. We are talking about an area of uncertainty. Further outbreaks would make our case to the Commission more difficult rather than easier; it will not be an easy case anyway. You can rest assured that we will present as strong as possible a case for regionalisation for Northern Ireland, including Newry and Mourne, on 5 April - when the thirty days expires. Much will depend on what happens in the meantime.

69. Mr Dallat: Looking to the brighter side, I hope that when the crisis is over there will be an opportunity to formally thank all of the people who have assisted in ensuring that the plague was contained in the way that it was.

70. The vast majority of people in the wider community have been completely loyal to the advice that you have given them. They have made enormous sacrifices and they have not put self-interest first. Many of those people are from the north coast; they own hotels and guest houses. They are concerned about important events for Northern Ireland such as the North West 200 and the Milk Cup. They want to know if it is safe to proceed with forward planning in the positive belief that the efforts you have made will have, by then, eliminated the plague.

71. Ms Rodgers: It is difficult for me to be absolutely certain. Everything depends on there not being another case in Northern Ireland. The revised guidelines that I issued a few days ago would be of some help to people in that situation. I would advise people to plan in accordance with those guidelines. They should be helpful, and I gather that they were welcomed by the tourist industry. I share the concern of the tourist industry and I appreciate its co-operation. I know that it has been difficult, not just for the big hotels, but for the bed and breakfasts in rural and urban areas.

72. Mr Dallat: At this stage there is an air of confidence that the situation is coming to an end. There is an appreciation of what has been done to contain it. People are simply asking for a reassurance that the events can go ahead.

73. Ms Rodgers: Can I just reiterate that in spite of the relaxation of the guidelines it is important that people recognise that the situation is not over? The front line against the disease is in three areas: at the farm gate, the ports of entry and the points of entry from the Republic. People must keep their guard up and take personal responsibility. Farmers, in particular, must practise fortress farming; if they are outside their farms they must ensure that when they return everything is disinfected. I do not need to preach about that. It must be kept up both by farmers and by people coming back into the country.

74. Mr Molloy: I congratulate the Minister on getting the conditions for regionalisation from Europe; that is an important step forward. The co-operation between Joe Walsh and the Minister has been beneficial. I would have been critical if the Minister had said that animals were being buried in south Armagh. In a week when another Minister refused landfill sites, it would be bad to bury that amount of animals in any area. The South gave the example of rendering and using that facility. There was talk of farmers on this side using the facility. That would have been beneficial because it was in the area, but it may not have worked out.

75. In the wider scheme of things there is another issue concerning the farming unions involved. The Minister certainly appreciates the co-operation of the Ulster Farmers' Union and NIAPA. I have communication from Sean Clarke, the NIAPA chairman. He cannot seem to get co-operation from the Department in recognition of his position. I do not want to get into the internal wrangling of NIAPA but it is important that large bodies of people that have a chairperson are given recognition. It may be another farming union, but there are people who feel alienated from the situation at the moment and who are not part and parcel of the discussions.

76. I urge the Minister to take that on board, and to discuss the issue with Mr Clarke, either meeting him as a representative of NIAPA or as Mr Clarke and a group of farming unions.

77. Ms Rodgers: The rendering could not have been done in the South because we cannot take animals across the border, legally, even if they are dead.

78. The Chairperson: Plenty of animals are taken across the border illegally.

79. Ms Rodgers: The unions were fully involved in all of the discussions that I had in south Armagh and I understand that the spokesperson for the farmers in south Armagh is the chairperson of NIAPA in that area. I am always anxious to consult with the representatives of the farmers, and that is an essential part of my job. I am statutorily bound to do that in certain areas, such as legislation, but I want to consult at all times, even when it is not a statutory obligation.

80. There is a dispute within NIAPA. I do not want to become involved in that dispute and Mr Molloy has made it clear that he does not want to either. It would not be right for anyone from outside to become involved. However, it is NIAPA's responsibility to resolve the dispute, and it would be inappropriate for me to be placed in a position where I would be seen as judge or mediator. The information that Mr Clarke gave me earlier did not contain the firm, preferably legal, evidence that I sought to support the view that the chairmanship of NIAPA had changed.

81. I would like to see the dispute resolved but I cannot decide who is who, and I will not take sides. If my legal advisors tell me that there is no legal justification or basis for me to make the judgement that the chairmanship has changed, then I cannot make that decision.

82. Mr Molloy: Will the Minister, as Mr Clarke requested, meet with the group of people who represent farmers in the area, particularly in the Sperrins, which is a big farming area? It does not matter in what context you meet them.

83. Ms Rodgers: Mr Molloy will appreciate that, if I were to meet them, I would be making a statement that I had decided that they were the representatives of the farmers. I cannot make that judgement. I wish that the matter were resolved. It is in the interest of the farming community that the issue be resolved. However, I neither wish to become involved nor can I become involved - that would be inappropriate.

84. The Chairperson: There are more important matters than the internal workings of a union to be addressed at the moment.

85. Mr McHugh: I would like to dissociate myself, and my Colleague, from the comments made on the radio this morning by the Chairperson of the Committee. There are times when people on this Committee will speak for farmers who come from their political base. I have great difficulty. We are elected locally and we should be working with people to come to decisions. The Minister achieved the right outcome in south Armagh. There was not a problem with extending the time - there was a risk for everyone that regional status might not be achieved because the issue affects people who are not from that area.

86. It was also right to move the animals out and not to bury them in the exclusion zone because of the environmental risks posed. I have a difficulty with the burial of animals on farms anywhere in the Six Counties, let alone in that zone. If there were an outbreak of foot-and-mouth in a different area, would it be any different from what you have already dealt with?

87. Farmers have a problem with the 14-day permit that would allow them to move animals once, after which time they cannot be moved for 14 days. That will surely create difficulties for lambing.

88. Farmers have sheep that are in prolapsed situations. In the coming month, farmers will want to move animals out. Is there a possibility of allowing farm-to-farm sales as an alternative to moving stock, thereby reducing the numbers building up on farms? Farmers need to have an outlet. Dairy farmers have a large number of dairy calves being born every week. They need to be able to move their stock in that situation. Can we help them?

89. Ms Rodgers: I am not entirely sure what the first question was. Are you asking whether different action would be taken if there were to be an outbreak in another area?

90. Mr McHugh: I am saying that, in that instance, you are moving animals that have not come into contact with the virus.

Ms Rodgers: But if an outbreak happens in a different area -

Mr McHugh: If another outbreak occurred, would you have to bury the infected animals in the exclusion zone?

Ms Rodgers: My answer to that question is simply that I will do what I have always done. My experts, who are seated with me, will assess the situation at the time. I will take their advice and act accordingly.

94. Farm-to-farm sales would be difficult at the moment. We have to bear in mind that the primary objective of everything that I have done is to ensure that foot-and-mouth is contained to the one case in Northern Ireland, as well as being contained on the island of Ireland.

95. As Mr McHugh will be aware, there is an outlet for slaughter. For welfare reasons, we are constantly reviewing and looking at what other easements we can make. I hope to be in a position in a few days to announce further easements. I am advised that farm-to-farm sales present a greater difficulty, but there is an outlet for slaughter.

96. Mr McHugh: What about the difficulties with the 14-day permit and the "one movement only" restriction?

97. Ms Rodgers: Again, that is on the advice of my Chief Veterinary Officer. The single movement of sheep, and the initial five-kilometre restriction on movement, is to ensure that if we do have an outbreak in one of those areas, we will know both where it is contained and that there has not been any movement out of the area. I am sorry I cannot be more certain, but as soon as my Chief Veterinary Officer tells me that it is possible to make easements without risk, I will make them. However, I will certainly not make them as long as there is a risk.

98. The Chairperson: I had to leave the last meeting immediately after you, but the Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr Savage, wrote to you and did not receive a reply. Why was that?

99. Ms Rodgers: Remind me of what it was about.

100. The Chairperson: The letter was about the ports.

Ms Rodgers: As far as I can remember I signed that letter this morning.

102. The Chairperson: You do not know the contents of it?

103. Ms Rodgers: I have it with me. In relation to the controls

"The main centres of work are the points of entry from GB where the disease is rampant and on the frontier with Co. Louth, which is the only County in ROI to have experienced the disease. We have controls in place on all cross-border roads in the 10-km surveillance zone interface and at all ports and airports. These arrangements are kept under constant review and they have been enhanced over the duration of the outbreak as we have seen appropriate."

104. The question of "misting" people with disinfectant was raised, to which I replied I can confirm that these facilities are available at all ports and airports, and people are advised of their existence and availability for use on a voluntary basis. The need for, as well as the nature of, further measures to avoid transmission of FMD are kept under close review and we will respond as appropriate to any new threat of transmission whenever or wherever it arises."

105. Finally, I strongly believe that the front line of defence is the farmers themselves. They must take personal responsibility for their own farms and act to protect them, thereby contributing to the overall objective. I have been informed that some farmers are still failing to respond positively to the fortress farming arrangements. That is a matter of regret because the majority of farmers are responding positively to them.

106. People coming in to the ports or airports should report to the facility provided for "misting", if they have been in touch with farm animals or have been near farms. However, it is stupid to ask a businessman who has gone into the centre of London for the day and returned to the centre of Belfast to be misted.

107. The Chairperson: Have you any further information from the police about prosecutions in south Armagh?

108. Ms Rodgers: No.

109. Mr Chairperson: You did say that there would be an investigation.

110. Ms Rodgers: The police are still pursuing those matters. I have been pursuing other matters and I cannot bring you up to date on that at the moment.

111. The Chairperson: Thank you, Minister, for attending.

23 March 2001 / Menu / 18 April 2001