Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 20 March 2001 (continued)

Culture, Arts and Leisure

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Questions 2 and 9 have been withdrawn.

Football: Sectarianism


Ms Lewsley

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail what measures he intends to introduce to deal with sectarianism in football; and to make a statement.

(AQO 1112/00)


Mr McCarthy

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to update the Assembly on discussions he has had regarding the extension of the Football Offences Act 1991 to Northern Ireland.

(AQO 1098/00)

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will take questions 1 and 5 together.

I have already expressed, through the media, my deep disgust at the sectarian behaviour of a minority of spectators at the recent international football match between Northern Ireland and Norway. I have since met with the Irish Football Association (IFA) to review events that evening and to explore what practical action can be taken to counter the problem. The IFA agreed to consider a range of measures that could rapidly be put in place, and it has since announced a series of steps that it intends to take.

Prior to the most recent incident, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure had ongoing discussions with the Sports Council for Northern Ireland and the IFA regarding sectarianism in soccer. These discussions included consideration of issues around the introduction of legislation relating to disorderly conduct and sectarianism at football events. In all these deliberations there has been unanimous agreement that the task of developing effective proposals for removing sectarianism from soccer is far from easy.

Sectarianism is not simply a matter for sport. Sadly, it is an obscenity throughout all society, and we all want to contribute to its eradication. However, the ultimate responsibility for its elimination rests not with sport or soccer but with the community as a whole. In this respect it is important to point out that legislation for dealing with sectarian behaviour is already in place in Northern Ireland.

My discussions with the IFA and others have consistently reaffirmed my view that sectarianism in football is part of a wider malaise facing not just soccer but society as a whole. Legislative needs must, therefore, be considered in terms of the social context and an overall strategy for the development of soccer. This was one of the considerations that led me to announce last autumn a process for developing a soccer strategy for Northern Ireland. Work on the strategy is well advanced, and issues such as disorderly conduct and sectarianism have already been highlighted as particular concerns. I expect that the proposals for dealing with such problems will be brought forward as part of the strategy, which will include the introduction of appropriate legislation.

Ms Lewsley:

There is legislation in Northern Ireland, but it is not strong enough. The Minister should consider introducing the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999, which is currently in place in England and Wales. As I said, the present legislation is not strong enough and does not refer to football specifically as an offence; therefore it is harder to get convictions. In any new legislation the Minister should also ensure that it is not only the fans who are reprimanded but also the players on the field.

Mr McGimpsey:

The Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 can be used to deal with incidents such as those which occurred at Windsor Park last month. Public order is a reserved matter, but I have no doubt that we will be looking at new legislation once the soccer strategy report is published, as this will allow me to ask the Secretary of State for measures to be introduced.

I do not believe that legislation alone is going to fix this problem; it will be only a part of a wider raft of measures. That is one of the principal reasons why the soccer strategy is being developed; simply passing a law does not mean that there will be no more incidents. There must be a raft of measures that will include actions not just at international level but at club level as well. To replicate Great Britain's legislation in Northern Ireland is insufficient. It needs to be adapted and extended to meet our own special needs, which will be illustrated by the soccer strategy when it delivers its report later this year.

Mr McCarthy:

I did not hear all that was said by the Minister in his initial response because of the hubbub that was going on around us. However, I am disappointed in what I did hear. I asked for the Act to be brought in more than a year ago, but the Assembly is still dragging its feet. Is the Minister aware that police in Britain were able to take effective action against people engaged in racial chanting at the Bradford versus Manchester City match at the weekend because the appropriate sanctions were available? We all welcome the Irish Football Association's new code, but does the Minister recognise the growing clamour - from players, the many decent spectators and sporting officials - for legislation to make offensive chanting a criminal offence and to give clubs the power to ban the racist, sectarian-chanting mobs from Windsor Park and elsewhere in Northern Ireland?

Mr McGimpsey:

As I have already said - and I will say it again for Mr McCarthy, because he missed details with the hubbub that was going on - the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 is available and can be used to deal with the incidents that occurred in Windsor Park last month. That is the situation as it stands.

I know that the Member asked a question on the Football (Offences) Act 1991 - which was further amended in 1999 - and I responded. While I said that I did not equate racism with sectarianism, at the same time I believe that there are measures in the Act that will help. However, to simply bring that Act in as it stands - which includes throwing objects on to the pitch, taking part in indecent or racist chanting and going on to the pitch without lawful authority - is not enough. Our Act outlaws incitement to religious hatred and makes it an offence to arouse fear on the basis of religious belief and nationality, including citizenship. There is enough scope within current legislation, but Mr McCarthy is talking about football-specific and sport-specific legislation. I agree that it is likely that we will come forward with those exact proposals, but I believe that it has got to be part of a wider raft of measures. That is what the soccer strategy is all about.

This is an issue that could have been tackled under direct rule, but it was ignored, so we have inherited this problem. I am dealing with this as quickly as I can, and I am trying to ensure that when the legislation is finally passed it will actually work. The ground safety scheme which I brought forward deals in part with sectarianism and training stewards to deal with this. Every club that gets a grant under that scheme has to take part in training provision. Measures are also being brought forward by the Irish Football Association (IFA) specifically for the international match this weekend. However, the IFA has also been involved in campaigns such as "Football for All", which included measures to combat sectarianism, including a community relations officer, who joined the Football Against Racism in Europe group, and the establishment of anti-sectarianism demonstration projects.

Their next announcement will concern a code of conduct for spectators. Spectators in violation of the code will be liable to eviction. That will include the deployment of professional stewards to help enforce the code, special ticketing arrangements and better closed- circuit television coverage - which will include proper sound, so that the footage can be used as evidence. All of those measures are in place. However, it is not simply a matter of passing a law, whether it is a reserved matter or not. I wish it were, but it is not that simple.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I remind Members and the Minister that a large number of people wish to ask questions. If they try to keep both the questions and the answers a bit shorter, we will get through more questions.

Mr Shannon:

What measures does the Minister intend to take to deal with other acts of sectarianism in sport, such as the Gaelic sports, and in particular the Gaelic Athletic Association's rule 21?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I am not sure whether that is directly related to the question that is down, but the Minister is already on his feet.

Mr McGimpsey:

I am the first to agree. I have put it on record that sectarianism in sport is not exclusive to soccer. Sadly, it occurs in other sports and also in society in general. Certainly, the Sports Council for Northern Ireland has a consultation package available for other sports to develop, not least in terms of these measures. I find the GAA's rule 21 offensive, as I have said before. As part of the process that we are all in, and as society develops through that process, I expect that rule 21 will be dealt with to the satisfaction of everybody in this House.

Mr B Hutchinson:

Can the Minister tell us how many acts of sectarianism have been carried out at football matches in the last three seasons? Also, when I am returning from a Linfield match in Newry, there are people who continually stone the cars travelling through the town. How does the Minister intend to deal with that?

This subject is grossly exaggerated. The people who have put down the questions about sectarianism have never been inside an Irish League ground. [Interruption].

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. Mr Hutchinson, this an opportunity not to make a speech but to ask a question. [Interruption]. Order.

Mr B Hutchinson:

If the Minister were to attend Windsor Park on a Saturday afternoon he would hear Jamie Marks, who plays for Linfield, getting more stick than Neil Lennon ever does.

Mr McGimpsey:

This is not simply an international football match problem; it is a problem throughout the sport and across all other sports, including the clubs. I am not aware of the stoning in Newry, but I am not surprised by it. That is something that happens. That is the problem that we are looking to address. It is not simply chanting and so on.

At an international match where Northern Ireland is effectively on show, this type of behaviour damages the image of Northern Ireland on an international basis. It damages not only football, the club or the ground where the international takes place, but also the social and economic well-being of this society as a whole. A potential investor is not likely to be encouraged when he sees that type of behaviour. Sport can, and continually does, make a significant and long-standing contribution to building bridges between communities. The football league and so on in Northern Ireland has played a key role in that over the past 25 or 30 years. That is one of the reasons why I have brought forward this soccer strategy.

United Kingdom Sports Teams


Mr Wells

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail the steps he has taken to ensure that teams which include sports men and women from Northern Ireland bear the name "The United Kingdom" rather than "Great Britain".

(AQO 1103/00)

Mr McGimpsey:

Any person who is associated with a Northern Ireland branch or region of a United Kingdom- based sport is representing the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, it is the convention in international sports federations - including the international Olympic movement - to refer to the team as "Great Britain".

In that respect, it is a team name and is not intended as a geographical expression.

3.15 pm

Mr Wells:

Does the Minister accept that many of us were very proud when Northern Irish athletes such as Mary Peters won gold at the Olympics but were saddened that the team was referred to as "Great Britain"? She is a resident of Northern Ireland, and the team should have been called "United Kingdom". What pressure will the Minister bring to bear on the sports authorities to ensure that teams are correctly named?

Mr McGimpsey:

I think that my first answer covered that. I said that the team is recognised as "Great Britain" and that that is neither a geographical nor a political expression. It is the name of the team, and that name is subscribed to by England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I understand that Mr Wells wants to make a point. I am trying to make the point back to him that when Northern Ireland athletes compete as part of the Great Britain team, they lose their Northern Ireland identity and become part of that team. Mr Wells is quite right that it is the national team of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but it chooses to refer to itself as "Great Britain". Does Mr Wells want me to apply pressure to change the team's name from "Great Britain" to the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland"? That type of political pressure from me would, at best, be of no value and might well be counter-productive.

Mr McMenamin:

Does the Minister agree that any steps by his Department to interfere with the name of any sporting body in these islands would be an unnecessary intrusion into the internal affairs of that body?

Mr McGimpsey:

So far as interference is concerned, there are certain principles to which governing bodies have to adhere. I have told Members how I see those issues in relation to sectarianism. We have discussed soccer. Other sports are equally required to adhere to those principles and criteria - not least in order to obtain funding. To say blankly that I cannot interfere or have an interest would be to abrogate my responsibility in many respects.

Mr Hussey:

I have noticed lately that in indoor athletics the team is quite often referred to as "Great Britain and Northern Ireland".

Does the Minister agree that one of the most successful groups from Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in the international sporting arena is in bowls, both indoor and outdoor? Is he aware of the great concern at the lack of funding for those who move forward in this sport? Will he undertake to meet representatives of the bowling fraternity with regard to that?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Mr Hussey, you are quite aware that that question bears absolutely no relationship to the question on the Paper.

Department: Irish Language


Mr McElduff

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to give a commitment to reply in the Irish language to all correspondence which he and his Department receive in the Irish language.

(AQO 1093/00)

Mr McGimpsey:

I will consider my Department's policy in the light of the work being undertaken on implementation of the Council of Europe Charter on Regional and Minority Languages. It would be premature to take a position before that work is completed. The branch in my Department with responsibility for linguistic diversity makes every effort to respond to letters in the language in which they are received.

Mr McElduff:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire as a fhreagra. Ba mhaith liom fosta a rá go raibh eagraíochtaí éagsúla míshásta le freagraí as Béarla.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but at the same time express disappointment. My initial question was prompted by the fact that a number of organisations contacted me. They had written to the Minister and the Department in Irish and had received responses in English. We are repeatedly told that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has the lead role in promoting Irish.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Mr McElduff, please come to the question.

Mr McElduff:

I am coming to my question, which is growing out of the points I make. What is happening at a cross-departmental level to promote the Irish language? We are often told to ask the Minister and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure - and nobody else - about that.

Mr McGimpsey:

With regard to complaints from groups, my Department's Linguistic Diversity Branch makes every effort to respond to letters in the language in which they are written, and not just in the Irish language. The Member will be aware that we are bound by, for example, the Belfast Agreement, which states

"the British Government will in particular in relation to the Irish language, where appropriate and where people so desire it:

take resolute action to promote the language;

facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing . ;

seek to remove, where possible, restrictions which would discourage or work against the maintenance or development of the language".

In addition, the overriding purpose of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is cultural. The charter is aimed at protecting and promoting regional or minority languages rather than linguistic minorities, and the cultural dimension is emphasised. The charter does not establish any individual or collective rights for speakers of regional and minority languages.

As Members are aware, as a devolved Assembly we have signed up to some 30 provisions, and reserved matters have accounted for another six provisions. Out of the 65 provisions we were required to sign up to 35 - we have signed up to 36. I have established an interdepartmental charter group to examine the Government's work and to determine what is appropriate to ensure that there is equity of treatment across the full range of regional minority languages. That interdepartmental group will eventually report to me, and I will consider its recommendations and the next steps to take.

The Chairperson of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee (Mr ONeill):

What resources and support are available in the Minister's Department and others to help with questions and letters, as described in the original question? What use has been made of those resources and support? I understand that the Minister may not have the relevant details with him.

Mr McGimpsey:

I regret that I do not have those details to hand, but I will respond to Mr ONeill's question in writing.

Dr Adamson:

After all this time I am still not sure what is meant by the term "Irish language". My reading of the situation is that there are several varieties of the Irish language or Gaelic, and I am not sure which one is referred to.

Can the Minister assure me that any measures his Department takes with regard to the Irish language will be replicated in relation to Ulster Scots and Cantonese? "Dor tse" - as he will know - means "Thank you" in Cantonese.

Mr McGimpsey:

I assure Dr Adamson, as I have done on other occasions, that my Department's cornerstone principle is equity of treatment, and we will ensure that all minority languages are treated equally.

Closure of Angling Waters
(Foot-and-Mouth Disease)


Mr J Wilson

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to make a statement on the closure of the departmental angling waters following the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

(AQO 1124/00)

Mr McGimpsey:

I decided to close the public angling estate waters to support the farming community in the drive to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. There is a risk that anglers taking part in fishing might unintentionally help to spread the disease, particularly since access to many waters is gained by crossing farmland or passing near it. I hope that the closure will not continue for any longer than is absolutely necessary, and I understand the hardship and concerns of anglers and others affected by the closure. The decision is continuously under review, and I will reopen the waters as soon as possible.

Mr J Wilson:

Does the Minister agree that while a small number of angling water owners did not co-operate in recognition of the hardships suffered by some in the rural community, anglers in general were the first to respond positively to calls by the Minister and his ministerial Colleagues for the cessation of a range of activities across the Province?

Mr McGimpsey:

I am happy to concur with Mr Wilson's remarks. When I closed the public angling estate I appealed to owners of private fisheries, for example, also to close. We got co-operation from the angling community and from a variety of sports. With one or two exceptions, the responsible attitude of the arts, sports and culture communities to the crisis that agriculture and our economy face because of foot-and- mouth disease is an object lesson to us all.

Children's Sports Code


Mr McGrady

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail what further progress has been made, in terms of Government assistance, towards the implementation of the code of ethics and good practice for children's sport in Northern Ireland; and to make a statement.

(AQO 1090/00)

Mr McGimpsey:

The code of ethics and good practice for children's sport, which was launched on 7 November 2000 as a joint North/South sports council initiative, addresses issues relating to the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in children's sport and underpins the importance of policies and procedures in providing quality leadership for children in sport. It outlines principles of good practice and child protection policy and procedures. The implementation of the code is a matter for the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, which has made good progress in applying the code through extensive training and awareness. The council and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children have co-operated on the matter and have developed proposals for an implementation project, which includes the appointment of a children's development officer, the preparation of resource material, the development and delivery of training, working with clubs and governing bodies to improve policies and practices and providing helpline support with specific regard to child protection issues. These proposals are dependent on additional implementation funding.

Mr McGrady:

I thank the Minister for his very detailed reply. I appreciate that voluntary sport is now entering into a complex and difficult area in terms of the child care provisions and the future standards which will be required of voluntary bodies which have children and young people in their custody. Does the Minister agree that a considerable amount of training will be required for people in the voluntary sector who are currently engaged in these enterprises? Does he also agree that this will require a considerable amount of financial support? Where will this come from, and when? At the current rate, it is surely not possible for these codes to be fully implemented by the target date of 31 December 2002. This is a cause of grave concern in the voluntary sector because many of its people will have to withdraw from their voluntary work.

Mr McGimpsey:

A central goal for everyone involved in children's sport is to provide a safe, positive and nurturing environment in which children can safely develop and enhance their physical and social skills. That is the child-centred ethos. As I mentioned in my answer, one way in which the NSPCC and the Sports Council propose to implement the code is through a child development officer who will provide specific child protection advice and training to voluntary clubs and associations. This will have an impact on young people at risk. As we try to introduce the codes, we are aware of the volume of work, the difficulties and the risks, but we hope to develop a strategy to reduce risks to young people in sport and, specifically, to provide awareness training. If that type of awareness training is not available to clubs, coaches, volunteers and so forth, it will have an adverse impact on children's sport.

Mr McFarland:

Does the code cover the behaviour of spectators at children's sports? I am thinking in particular of the actions of overzealous parents. Those of us who have watched such sports will understand that parent's behaviour sometimes eggs children on and causes all sorts of problems.

3.30 pm

Mr McGimpsey:

I am not specifically aware of measures to deal with overzealous parents egging children on from the sides. Our specific aim is to reduce the risk of abuse to young people in sport. We will do this by providing awareness training to clubs and governing bodies with a sports-specific resource pack to assist them and by implementing the code, building child protection into the quality accreditation package for clubs or schemes and appointing tutors to deliver local advice and guidance. Mr McFarland can perhaps receive some comfort from this about overzealous parents encouraging children from the sidelines.

Soccer Strategy


Mr Kennedy

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to give his assessment of the report 'Soccer Strategy for Northern Ireland', commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers, on the future of football.

(AQO 1123/00)

Mr McGimpsey:

This excellent document summarises the views of those involved at all levels of soccer in Northern Ireland. It provides a comprehensive picture of the key issues facing the game and is helping to frame the agenda for action which will form the backbone of the soccer strategy.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The time is up.


Agriculture and Rural Development

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Question 12 has been withdrawn.

Foot-and-Mouth Disease


Mr McGrady

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development whether she has any plans to introduce compensation to those affected by the foot-and- mouth crisis.

(AQO 1091/00)

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers):

We have started paying compensation to those who have had livestock slaughtered as a result of the disease outbreak and we have examined the subsidy aspects of these cases to ensure that the producers in question do not lose out. Farmers receive full market value for slaughtered animals, whether they are infected animals or dangerous contact animals. Compensation is also paid for any feeding stocks or any other material destroyed or seized as contaminated. As I said in my statement to the Assembly last week, we are also arranging to pay out as many subsidy payments as we can as soon as possible to help farmers' immediate cash flow problems.

Mr McGrady:

I thank the Minister for her reply. I note that compensation is beginning to flow in relation to this terrible crisis in the farming industry. The French Government have initiated their own response under EU approval. This is a matter for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Treasury, but I ask the Minister to take that fact on board and to make her best endeavours in that respect. In view of the fact that many small rural businesses have been hugely affected by the foot-and-mouth disease, is there any likelihood of a relaxation in the restrictions which would enable the economic life of our rural communities to breath more freely?

Ms Rodgers:

I am not exactly certain what the French are doing, but clearly I will be looking at all avenues that can be explored within the European regulations in order to deal with the problem.

I agree with Mr McGrady's point about restrictions, and I recognise the problems faced by many small businesses and sectors such as the tourist industry. I want to pay tribute to those people for the manner in which they have responded and the solidarity which they have shown despite the difficulties this situation has presented them.

In the context of the veterinary advice I am getting and of the situation on the ground, I intend to respond in a proportionate, reasonable and effective manner as I have attempted to do so far. I stress the importance of not dropping our guard, particularly at the farm gate and point of entry from GB which make up the main front line of defence against this disease.

Taking account of that, I expect to bring forward revised guidelines to Executive committee next Thursday. Those guidelines are being discussed within the interdepartmental group which I chair. I want to see what relaxation we can bring in to ease the restrictions presently being suffered by the public in general, and by sporting bodies and industry.

However, we always need to do this within the context of not moving too fast - with the possible result of undoing all of the good and effective work that has been done with the support of the whole community and with industry.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development (Rev Dr Ian Paisley):

I welcome the Minister's statement that she is proceeding to give money to those farmers who need it urgently, and those who have had their cattle slaughtered. Does she have any reason to believe that the Agriculture Ministers in other parts of the UK and Europe are in favour of the enlargement of the compensation scheme so that those farmers who have directly met serious financial embarrassment, without actually having lost their cattle, will be compensated? Can she confirm the rumour that was abroad today in Ballymena about a lamb or sheep which was supposed to have had foot-and-mouth disease but has been declared safe? The abattoir has just confirmed that to me now - and the location of the farm from which the animal came.

Ms Rodgers:

I thank Dr Paisley for his question. Compensation which is not direct compensation for the loss of destroyed animals or foodstuffs is really about consequential loss. I am not aware of the thinking in Europe. However, in the case of the UK Government, if there were to be a consequential compensation payment, it would have to be as a result of a UK-wide decision; the resource implications would be so huge that the Northern Ireland block could not withstand them.

If it were to be done - and clearly that would be desirable, if possible - there would have to be a UK-wide decision, and it would have to come from the Treasury. I have to be honest and say that I do not see any stomach for consequential compensation in the UK at the moment. That is the position as I see it. If it were to be done, it would have to be done on that basis.

On the second part of the question about the sheep in Ballymena - the animal is clear of the disease.

Mr J Wilson:

I would like to tease out the question of compensation. The Minister will accept that the economic impact of this crisis is felt well beyond the farmyard. The knock-on effect has been devastating on the owners and those employed in livestock markets. Are there any means by which these people can be assisted?

Ms Rodgers:

I thank Mr Wilson for his question. We have looked at the various areas where assistance could be given. For example, I have had a meeting with the auctioneers, and they have mentioned the issue of rates relief. Rates relief was raised within the interdepartmental group, and it is clearly not an issue for my Department. It is an issue for DFP in particular, but, as I understand it, there is no legislation at present which would allow for rates relief on that basis. I am not aware of any other avenue of relief that we can currently go down. I understand the question and the anxiety of those who have suffered, but I am afraid that, at the moment, I cannot see how anything can be done in the Northern Ireland block in relation to consequential payments.


Mr Armstrong

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to give her assessment on the progress of the interdepartmental committee of officials on foot-and-mouth disease.

(AQO 1118/00)

Ms Rodgers:

I have chaired six meetings of the interdepartmental committee since its inception on 2 March. The committee has provided an extremely useful means of allowing me to brief representatives of all Departments on developments in the foot and mouth outbreak, regularly and concisely. It has also allowed me to learn form those representatives about issues emerging in their areas of responsibility and to ensure that the actions of all Departments were properly co-ordinated in addressing a range of aspects of the outbreak.

The committee was responsible for producing the guidance which has appeared widely throughout Northern Ireland in newspapers and on television and has made a valuable contribution to the handling of this difficult and complex issue.

The committee's work has also allowed me to provide comprehensive briefing to my Executive colleagues. I am grateful for their support for our efforts to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease and take this opportunity to pay tribute to the efforts of all those involved in helping to tackle what is a serious problem.

Mr Armstrong:

I commend the Minister and her Executive colleagues on the seriousness with which they have been dealing with the problem. Will the Minister confirm that the committee of officials has been working closely with its counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom to ensure, as far as possible, that we have no further cases of foot-and-mouth disease here?

When an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease occurs in the European Union, all exports of livestock and meat are immediately banned from entering the area concerned. Can the Minister tell the House whether Northern Ireland has imported meat from any country that has, or is at risk of developing, foot-and-mouth disease?

Ms Rodgers:

On the last part of the Member's question, I am not aware that we have imported food or product from any area that has the infection. As the Member knows, the EU has banned all product from the area of France that has had an outbreak. I am not aware that we are importing product from any other area that has had a similar outbreak.

The question on the interdepartmental committee is, in a sense, irrelevant because foot-and-mouth disease control in the EU is a separate issue. The committee is dealing solely with such controls in Northern Ireland.


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