Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 12 March 2001


Foot-and-Mouth Disease

(The Environment: North/South Ministerial
Council Sectoral Meeting)

(Trustee Bill: First Stage)

Oral Answers to Questions

Department of Education

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

Department of Finance and Personnel

Draft Life Sentences Order


The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Madam Deputy Speaker [Ms Morrice] in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Foot-and-Mouth Disease


Madam Deputy Speaker:

I have received notice from the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development that she wishes to make a statement on the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

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

As a result of new information that became available over the weekend, I have adjusted my statement. The revised statement will be available in the Business Office.

I am grateful for this opportunity to update Members on the foot-and-mouth disease situation as it has developed over the past week. Since making my last statement on this subject there have been no futher outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in Northern Ireland. My efforts have been devoted to ensuring that that remains the case and to discussing with the industry how we can deal with the practical issues which flow from the present situation. As time goes on, we can be increasingly hopeful that we have been able to nip what could have been a major disaster for the agri-food industry — north and south of the border — in the bud.

The process has required enormous effort on the part of Department of Agriculture and Rural Development staff. We have slaughtered and incinerated some 2,500 cattle, sheep, pigs and goats that were in contact with infection. We have been manning the checks at the points of entry to and exit from the 1km zone around the outbreak area — 24 hours a day — for almost two weeks. The helpline which I established on 21 February to deal with queries had, by last Tuesday, handled over 12,500 enquiries, including over 3,000 on one day alone. This has been a huge operation by any standards, and I want to take this opportunity to place on record my appreciation of the efforts of all the staff concerned over the past few days.

I am acutely aware, of course, of the enormous impact that the outbreak has had on farmers, the public and the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland. My officials and I have been meeting with all sectors at regular intervals, collectively or individually as appropriate, to hear at first hand about the practical impact of the disease and the effects that our controls have had on it, and to see how we can help.

My officials have also been having regular meetings with the RUC and the Army to keep them up to date with the situation, to explore how our controls are working on the ground and to sort out any difficulties. Contrary to what has been portrayed by some sections of the media, I have no difficulty at all in seeking and obtaining RUC and Army assistance where I thought it was needed, and they have duly provided it.

The foot-and-mouth disease situation in GB is much less happy, and there are as yet no signs that the outbreaks there have been contained. The contrasting situations there and here vindicate my decision on 21 February to ban imports from GB of the relevant livestock and products. I know that that decision has caused problems for various parts of the industry and, indeed, the public. However, this is a price which simply has to be paid to protect us from foot-and-mouth disease.

So far as the Republic of Ireland is concerned, I met with Joe Walsh TD last Wednesday to compare our respective situations. The Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and his officials were able to assure me that, while they have a number of herds restricted on a precautionary basis, foot-and-mouth disease has not been found in the Republic. The situation remains that there is no justification for controls on imports of animals or produce from the Republic over and above those that have already been imposed at EU level.

As time has moved on, the emphasis of our work has shifted away from containment and eradication to other issues. After the outbreak in County Armagh, it was necessary for the Department to follow up all instances where animals had moved to Northern Ireland and had been traded illegally. That we have now done, and the papers have been passed to the RUC so that the necessary actions can be taken against those responsible.

At this point I need to depart slightly from the wording of the printed version of my statement, which went to Members on Friday, to take account of the latest information I have received over the weekend. There are now anecdotal reports that the consignment of sheep which came from GB and which led to our single outbreak in Armagh may — and I stress the word "may" — have been larger than we had been led to believe.

My staff are presently working with the various police forces to get to the bottom of this, but we are receiving little co-operation from those who are under suspicion, which makes the task much more difficult. Until our enquiries into this new information are complete, I am unable to state categorically that all the potentially infected animals have been traced and accounted for. This matter is being pursued with the utmost urgency, and I will update Members as soon as I can. I want to emphasise that we need as much information as possible, and I appeal to anyone who has any information to let me or the Department have it immediately.

Understandably, people’s minds are now turning to the financial aspects of this outbreak. In broad terms, current Government policy is that compensation is paid only for anything the Government require to be destroyed — whether animals or, for example, feed. My Department is processing the compensation claims we have received, and payment will issue shortly. We are, as Members would expect, looking at all those claims to ensure that those responsible for the illegal trading which was at the root of this outbreak do not benefit further from it. We are also arranging to pay out as soon as possible as many subsidy payments as we can in order to help farmers’ immediate cash-flow situations.

Members will have noted from what I have said that there is no provision for compensation for consequential losses.

While I realise that many businesses are losing substantial amounts of money as a result of the foot-andmouth disease crisis, the financial implications for Government of compensating for those losses is potentially enormous. Nevertheless, I know that Ministers in Great Britain will be under pressure to pay compensation for such losses, and obviously I will be stressing that any change in policy in that area will have to apply in Northern Ireland too.

As the present controls begin to bite, we are all becoming aware of the practical problems that they cause and I am increasingly being asked to make exceptions in relation to particular situations and activities. The fundamental principle under which I have been working, and will continue to work, is that my prime objective is to prevent any further foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in Northern Ireland and to ensure that should the virus still be present somewhere in Northern Ireland, its spread will be limited. So, while I will, of course, look at particular problems thrown up by our controls, I am simply not prepared to agree to any relaxation which may undermine that prime objective.

Looking to the future, it is imperative that all of us continue to exercise the utmost vigilance against the threat of foot-and-mouth disease. As the days go by with no fresh outbreaks here, there will be an understandable temptation to drop our guard. However, with such a major disease outbreak on our doorstep, that must not happen, and I urge everyone, whether involved in the agri-food industry or not, to adhere to the guidelines issued last week by the Executive Committee.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute again to our hard-pressed farmers and to the wider agri-food industry for their continued fortitude in the face of this crisis, and to assure them that I will continue to do everything that I can to help.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

I remind Members that we have one hour for questions to the Minister and that they should be questions rather than statements.

The Deputy Chairperson of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee (Mr Savage):

I congratulate the Minister on all the steps that she has taken, and pay tribute to all her staff. I know that we are going through a very difficult time. One of the main issues, which we cannot get away from, is that yesterday in Great Britain was one of the biggest days for outbreaks since this foot-and-mouth crisis began. This emphasises a point raised in the Minister’s statement this morning — that we cannot afford to drop our guard. I hope that people will bear that in mind. Again — to quote the Minister — it can be short-term pain for long-term gain. I read a press statement in the paper at the weekend —

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Can we get to the question.

Mr Savage:

I will come to my question; I am building up to it.

In the statement there were comments made that those responsible for this outbreak in the very first place would be immune from prosecution if they were to come forward with information. I was surprised to read that in the press. I urge the Minister not to go in that direction.

Ms Rodgers:

I too have read those reports in the paper. I assure Mr Savage that my departmental fraud investigation unit, the veterinary service enforcement unit and the serious crime squad of the RUC are meeting again this morning to take forward the issue of investigations into the individuals concerned.

Mr Dallat:

The Minister has our full support in the restrictions she has imposed. However, looking to the medium or long term, the Minister will be aware that many social, sporting and cultural organisations have cancelled or postponed events because of the crisis. Can she give any indication when she believes the controls can be relaxed?

10.45 am

Ms Rodgers:

I understand the concern that is out there. Before I answer the question, I want to pay tribute to the many sporting organisations such as the Gaelic Athletic Association and those involving soccer and rugby and, indeed, other event organisers who have so willingly co-operated in a situation that makes life very difficult, not only for those participating in the sports but also from the commercial interest point of view. I do appreciate that.

It is extremely difficult — even more so when one has people who are still not co-operating — to be sure of when this crisis will end. As soon as my veterinary advice tells me that there is a possibility of relaxing the controls in any way, I will review the situation. However, given the additional information that I received over the weekend, there is absolutely no question of relaxing the controls at the moment and I want to make that clear. Whenever it is possible, be it in a week or so, we will review the situation with a view, possibly, to making some adjustments to the present restrictions.

In relation to the east-west trade, however, and given the situation in Great Britain, it will be a fairly long time before we can afford to make any adjustment to the present restrictions on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I thank the Minister for her statement and for bringing this additional information to our attention. I note that the papers are with the RUC. I hope that prosecution will be swift, certain and severe and that an example will be made of the reprobates who did this to the industry in Northern Ireland. I trust that the Minister agrees.

With regard to the additional information that the Minister gave us this morning, I have two questions. If the beasts have not all been traced, can she give the House an idea of how many of them are unaccounted for? Have the Republic of Ireland Government confirmed to the Minister how many have been slaughtered in its jurisdiction and sold on to France as Irish lamb?

Turning to the issue of compensation, has the Minister been able to calculate the loss to the Northern Ireland tourist industry and the agri-food sector? Does she agree, and can she give a commitment to the House, that now is the time to put together a special case for widespread compensation in order to assist the entire sector in Northern Ireland that has been affected by this terrible disease?

Ms Rodgers:

I thank Mr Paisley for his questions. There seemed to be not two but rather three or four. However, I will try to deal with them.

First, there are possibly 60 animals that are unaccounted for, but, given the manner in which these illegally traded animals have been moved about, it is impossible to be absolutely certain of the number. It is not clear whether they are here or in the Republic. To the best of my knowledge, there have been 4,500 animals slaughtered in the Republic to date as a precaution.

In relation to animals’ being slaughtered in the Republic and sold on, the Member is aware that under the current EU regulation, processing plants are not required to designate the country of origin or the country of slaughter on their produce; they merely have to give details on where it was processed. That will be a matter for the Republic. I do not want to comment on that, but it is perfectly legitimate to have animals processed in another state and then have them exported elsewhere as produce of a particular processing plant.

The loss to the tourist industry is not a matter that comes within my remit; it falls to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, as the Member will know. I cannot, at this stage, give the Member any such figures, but I do understand the real difficulties being faced by the tourist industry and empathise with it. The sooner these people are brought before the courts and prosecuted and the Department gets all the information it needs, the sooner normal trading and business will be resumed in the industry. However, there will still be problems for the tourist industry, given the situation in Great Britain.

As the Member knows, farmers will receive 100% compensation for each animal. The slaughter premium that they will lose will be added to the market value.

Mr Paisley’s question is also concerned with cash flow difficulties. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is doing everything possible to ensure that farmers are receiving cash as quickly as possible via subsidies in other areas.

Consequential compensation is a matter for decision at national level. My monthly ministerial meeting with Nick Brown and the other regional Ministers will take place next Wednesday, and I have already asked Mr Brown to put consequential compensation on the agenda.

Ms Gildernew:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister’s statement. Last year I wrote to her Department about the practice of spreading blood from slaughtering plants on to farmland. At that time I had grave concerns about the implications of that for the spread of diseases, particularly BSE. However, given the rapid spread of foot-and-mouth disease, can the Minister say whether that practice is still going on in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and whether it will continue?

Ms Rodgers:

I cannot give a specific answer now, but I will give the Member a written answer.

Mr Ford:

I welcome the Minister’s statement, but I am sure that I am not the only Member who is concerned about the additional information that the Minister brought to the House this morning. I am sure that there is a unanimous feeling that there should be no immunity from prosecution for those people responsible for bringing foot-and-mouth disease to Northern Ireland. Does the Minister think that there should be a reward scheme for those people who may be in a position to provide tip-offs? Some people who work for dealers may be in a position to supply information that would benefit the police and the Minister’s officials in following up the issue.

At the Agriculture Committee meeting last Friday, I asked Dr McCracken about the issue of permits for special movement of animals where welfare conditions required it. Dr McCracken highlighted the issue of dairy heifers coming close to calving. Will the Minister confirm that that is still an option, despite these further concerns? Obviously we will expect the Department to maintain the highest standards of scrutiny for any possible effect on the disease.

Ms Rodgers:

The investigations should be allowed to run their course. That is my priority. My officials are having one of their regular meetings with the RUC this morning in order to bring forward the investigations.

Animals can only be moved for welfare reasons under licence authorised by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. That is due to the risk involved.

Mr Boyd:

Does the Minister agree that it would be inconsistent and hypocritical to allow the St Patrick’s night function to take place in this Building, with up to 500 people from all over Northern Ireland due to attend?

Madam Deputy Speaker:

That is not in order.

Mr Boyd:

Will the Minister call for that function to be cancelled?

Madam Deputy Speaker:

That is not a matter for the Minister. I would like the Assembly to take note that the Speaker is considering the matter. It is under review, and a decision is expected shortly.

Mr C Wilson:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate your ruling, but an advertisement has been placed in the newspaper, with advice from the Assembly’s Executive for the public and other bodies to cancel events. Therefore it is right that the Minister should involve herself and give some direction to the Speaker on this matter.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

The Speaker will take account of that advice in making his decision.

Mr B Hutchinson:

I hope I do not incur the Deputy Speaker’s wrath with my question.

I welcome the statement, and I congratulate the Minister on what she has done so far. I am sure that she has had very little time to spend with her family. It must be the same for her officials also, due to the amount of work that they have put in.

I have a serious question, which needs to be answered. I am totally confused about the way in which we are dealing with this matter. There are hundreds of people in this building today. Some have come from rural communities and others come from farming communities. My difficulty is in that we are telling people that they cannot go to events.

At the weekend, Rangers and Celtic fans travelled to Scotland to watch football, and they mingled with people from the community there. Some of them will be back today. Manchester United’s match was called off. If it had not been called off people from both sides of the border would have travelled to the match. There would have been large numbers of people involved — not just a couple of hundred.

Why have the Minister and others called for the cancellation of junior soccer and Irish League soccer, considering that one of the matches cancelled was between Cliftonville and Crusaders in north Belfast, which does not have a rural community? There are probably more people in the Chamber today than would attend that match.

Ms Rodgers:

I thank Mr Hutchinson for his kind remarks and his consideration for the problems my family are going through. I will pass his comments on to my husband — it might go some way towards compensation. I assure the Member that he has not incurred my wrath, for his question is perfectly legitimate. I understand that there is confusion.

The Executive Committee have issued guidelines which people need to look at and apply to their own situation as individuals or as organisers of events. The guidelines were worked out on the basis of clear advice from the experts, who are the Chief Veterinary Officer and other veterinary officers.

With regard to events and public amenities, the guidelines state that events in urban areas, which do not involve large numbers of people travelling from England, Scotland or Wales, can go ahead. I am not aware that I have asked for any junior soccer to be postponed. It would be crazy not to go ahead with junior soccer in urban areas that involves only people from urban areas. However, it is understandable that large numbers of people should not travel from England, Scotland or Wales given the present situation across the water.

I cannot ask Celtic, Rangers or my own team — Manchester United — to cancel their games, for many people across the water go to them, and that is their business. I am trying to protect the Northern Ireland industry. People who travel to those matches should look at the guidelines. For instance, if they are farmers abiding by the guidelines of fortress farms, in their own interests they should not travel to those matches. That is the first rule.

11.00 am

The first line of defence is the farmer himself. Secondly, anyone in a rural community, or in touch with farming people, land or animals, should certainly not be travelling across the water at this time. I ask individuals to take responsibility for themselves. It is impossible to police every person. The guidelines are there and the implications of foot-and-mouth disease coming in to Northern Ireland have been spelt out. I am simply asking for continued public support.

If someone from north Belfast, the lower Shankill, west Belfast or another urban area is a supporter of either of those teams and is going across there and coming back here again, the risk is possibly not as great. It depends on whom they are in contact with when they are over there. It is impossible to legislate for everyone. In relation to large crowds coming to events over here, the guidelines clearly state that in urban areas, events which do not involve large numbers of people from England, Scotland or Wales should go ahead, but if they do involve such visitors, then cancellation should be considered.

Mr Armstrong:

I thank the Minister for all that she has done over the past weeks on foot-and-mouth disease. I have some concerns. Can the Minister assure me and the House that she will encourage the United Kingdom Minister for Agriculture, Mr Nick Brown, and the Prime Minister to put measures in place that will ensure persons or traffic at ports are monitored, especially if they have been in contact with farmers on the UK mainland?

My biggest worry is that foot-and-mouth disease could be brought across to this Province on clothes or vehicles because of lack of precautions at the ports on the UK mainland. I do not think that precautions at the UK mainland ports are as stringent as those in our own country. When a person or vehicle from the UK mainland comes into Northern Ireland carrying foot-and-mouth disease, it is there, and you cannot send it back.

Ms Rodgers:

I agree with the Member and share his concern. I will be reviewing, and possibly tightening further, the GB controls. I visited Larne last week to see for myself and was entirely satisfied by the enormous effort being put in by my staff and by the vet in charge there. Not only were the lorries there going through a very wet and squelchy disinfectant mat when they arrived; they were then being brought into the yard and sprayed with disinfectant. I saw that for myself.

We have now ensured that mats have been placed on ships and boats, so that lorry drivers, in particular, who would otherwise simply drive off, have to go through the mats on the boat before they get into their lorries. That measure was not there before. Our measures are very strict and well adhered to, but I will be keeping them under review. It is an issue that I will be discussing next Wednesday at the ministerial meeting. As the situation in GB worsens, we have to keep our controls very tightly under review.

Mr McGrady:

Like other Members, I commend the Minister and her officials on their tremendous work and their dedication to this particular problem. I am sure that every Member is concerned that there may be some animals that have not been traced. We hope that that problem is resolved as quickly as possible. In view of her statement, will the Minister look at particular problems thrown up by the existing controls? Is she aware of that substantive economic sector in the agriculture community — horse-breeding? The studding of the mares must be carried out at this time of the year, within a particular time frame.

Can she examine the controls and negotiate with the Republic of Ireland’s Minister of Agriculture so that carefully controlled licensing of movement between mares and stud farms can be facilitated thus allowing the industry to survive the season? If this cannot be achieved within the next couple of weeks then the breeding season will be cancelled until next year.

Ms Rodgers:

That is a very relevant question because specific problems are being faced by the equine industry at the moment. Horses are not susceptible to the disease, but they can be carriers. I assure Mr McGrady that my chief agricultural officer had a productive meeting with equine industry representatives at the end of last week. Some adjustments to the controls have been made and, as a result, the industry has expressed satisfaction with the current position. Mares can be brought in to foal, and, in welfare situations — where they cannot be treated on the premises — horses can be brought to the vet under licence. At the moment, all animal movement is permitted only under strict licence.

Mr Kane:

How does the Minister expect the co- operation of farmers to restrict the spread of foot-and- mouth disease when Greenmount Agricultural College was spreading cattle slurry on land at a rented farm last Thursday? I am sure the Minister is aware that the spread of foot-and-mouth disease is a risk, but so is the spread of brucellosis — and I believe that Greenmount has had an outbreak of this disease. Has the Minister and her chief veterinary officer considered the risk in spreading animal slurry? What steps can be taken to prevent it in the future?

Will the Minister consider that there may be an opportunity to reduce the number of cattle being transported across the Province by suspending the over-30-month cull until the end of the incubation period? These animals are being slaughtered at Langford Processors, Largy Road, Crumlin. This transportation and slaughter is not necessary, and it is putting neighbouring farms at risk. Can the Minister give this House constructive advice on the issue?

Ms Rodgers:

My Chief Veterinary Officer advises me that slurry spread is not a problem, and I have been guided throughout this crisis by his expert advice. I cannot comment on Greenmount, except to say that it is not a problem.

I am not aware of the situation regarding transport of cattle for the over-30-months scheme cull. I know that cattle are being transported for slaughter because that is essential in order to keep the food chain going. It is carried out on the basis of cattle going straight from farm to slaughterhouse in order to minimise risk. All over-30-month scheme cattle are going direct to slaughter and not through the marts. The old practice of collecting cattle from different farms before taking them to be slaughtered is not happening.

Mr McHugh:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister’s statement and her prime objective of preventing further outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. Does she think that the continued running of events in Belfast will give the wrong message to the public?

Hugh Byrne, who is a Minister in the Southern Government, said today that Britain was now the leper in Europe. We seem to have a "business as usual" attitude in the face of the foot-and-mouth crisis across the water. Should people not have a more responsible attitude in terms of cohesion and how we approach the whole subject, in relation to events in Belfast that bring large numbers of people from rural areas, and, in particular, the meeting of the General Assembly of the Free Presbyterian Church at the Odyssey complex next weekend? [Interruption]

Ms Rodgers:

I thank Mr McHugh for his question.

Dr O’Hagan:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Ian Paisley Jnr called Mr McHugh a papish bigot. Will you rule on that? [Interruption] Madam Deputy Speaker, I am only after being called a papish bigot as well. [Interruption]

Madam Deputy Speaker:

I remind Members that they must temper their language. The dignity of the House must never be compromised.

Ms Rodgers:

Such remarks are unfortunate at a time of crisis for such an important industry.

One of the issues that we must face when holding events is that of public confidence. We need to protect our industry, and we need to ensure that there is a proportionate response and not an overreaction. As the guidelines spell out, there will be events in urban areas that can go ahead with minimal risk. I can only appeal to the public and to those holding events to look at the guidelines, apply them to their own situation and take whatever action they feel is responsible and necessary.

The first line of defence against this disease lies with the farmer. Therefore people in rural communities, and particularly on farms, must not go to any such event in case they bring back infection. They must take responsibility for the availability of disinfectant and so forth as they go in and out of their farms. The "fortress farmer" attitude is important.

I will not comment on other remarks made by other people, except to say that in relation to this crisis I have had full co-operation from Minister Walsh in the Republic and I am entirely satisfied that that co-operation has been working well. Minister Walsh is on record as saying that we have been in constant contact and that he is entirely satisfied with the co-operation. Both Departments have been in contact on an hourly basis, and sometimes on a half-hourly basis — particularly my Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Bob McCracken, and the chief vet in the South. There is entire satisfaction that everything is being done to keep foot-and-mouth disease off the island of Ireland.

Mr Leslie:

I note with concern the Minister’s additional remarks regarding some untraced sheep. I thank her for bringing that matter promptly to the attention of the House. It is clear why she cannot be completely specific about this. I note the Minister’s assertion that she will not be relaxing controls for as long as she deems that there is a risk to justify them. I assure her of my full support in taking that stand. I trust that she will err consistently on the side of caution until we reach the end of this episode.

Further to the points raised by Billy Hutchinson and Billy Armstrong, I refer again to the vexed question of travel to and from Scotland. Surely the Minister has noted, as we all have, the severe clustering of cases of foot-and- mouth in the Scottish border counties. Unfortunately, these are absolutely adjacent to the main arterial routes that both cars and lorries travel up and down to get to Northern Ireland. There is an inconsistency and vagueness as to how real we think the threat is of infection being picked up by people travelling in that way.

11.15 am

I understand the restrictions in relation to those who have been on farms, but can the Minister assure the House that everything is being done to ensure that infection is not being brought in completely innocently by other people travelling through those areas?

Ms Rodgers:

It is impossible for me to say that I am completely confident of anything, given the situation I face and the amount of illegal trading that has gone on. This is a real concern, and we will look at how we can tighten our controls where necessary.

I take this opportunity to appeal to people who are travelling and who have been on or near farmland or in infected areas. If they have any doubt at all as to whether there is a risk, I appeal to them to own up on their return and to be disinfected at the port or airport to make sure that they are not carrying the disease.

It is virtually impossible to police everyone. We will continue to keep everything under review, and everything possible is being done at the moment, but we do need the co-operation of the public. People must recognise how important it is. There would be no problem if everyone were to take responsibility for his or her own behaviour, but I cannot categorically assure the House that every person will do that. All I can do is appeal to people to be responsible and to look at the guidelines. The clusters in Scotland are clearly a constant source of worry. A television programme a few nights ago showed the routes taken by trucks and the areas of infection. We can just do our best.

Mr Byrne:

I welcome the Minister’s statement. Given this morning’s information, it is timely.

Would she care to comment on the suggested need to formally register legitimate cattle dealers in order to keep track of the movement of all farm animals now or in future?

Can she clear up confusion among the public about whether Northern Ireland’s resident sheep should be tagged?

Ms Rodgers;

I thank the Member for his question, but I am not sure what the last part meant. We will look at all those issues once we get over this emergency. Clearly, issues will arise from what has happened, and there are lessons to be learnt. Where there is a need to tighten up controls, we will do so.

As the Member will be aware, all Northern Ireland sheep are tagged and can be traced. Any lessons to be learnt from the disastrous events of the last few weeks will be learnt. At the moment, all my efforts are concentrated on trying to ensure that we do not exceed the one case of foot-and-mouth disease that we have.

Mr Poots:

The news that over 60 animals, which came from the infected area in England, are circulating somewhere in the Irish Republic or in Northern Ireland is alarming. Will the Minister assure us that she is encouraging the RUC to arrest and charge the people responsible for not co-operating with the Ministry of Agriculture on this issue? Furthermore, will she use this experience to clamp down on the illegal smuggling ring that has existed for many years — particularly in south Armagh — and take herd books from those farmers who take many thousands of animals into their herds each year? Those animals seem to go nowhere else. They seem to die on those farms, when in reality they go south of the border.

Will the Minister also act against those cattle dealers who buy calves in marts but have no permits to take them elsewhere? It is quite clear that those animals are being smuggled. Further to that, will she consider taking a case to the Agriculture Minister in England to get compensation for the livestock markets? Their business has been completely stopped, and they have had no income for the last three weeks. Will she support a reduction in their rates?


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