Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 26 March 2001
The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
I wish to inform Members that Royal Assent has been signified to the Planning (Compensation, etc.) Act, the Health and Personal Social Services Act, the Fisheries (Amendment) Act and the Ground Rents Act, which became law on 20 March 2001.
Royal Assent has also been received for the Government Resources and Accounts Act and the Budget Act. These became law on 22 March 2001.
I have received notice from the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development that she wishes to make a statement on the current position in relation to foot-and-mouth disease and the implications for Northern Ireland.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers):
I have had to make some adjustment to the statement that was put into Members’ pigeonholes early this morning. We are dealing with a moving target, and I have to take account of new developments.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)
As always, I am grateful for the opportunity to bring the Assembly up to date with the foot-and-mouth disease situation in Northern Ireland, which I last did on 12 March. Since then I have had a number of sessions with the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, and have been in regular and frequent contact with the industry and with other Departments. As Members will doubtless be aware, the foot-and-mouth disease situation in Northern Ireland has remained static, with only one confirmed outbreak. Despite that, the situation has become potentially more serious, with the confirmation on 22 March 2001 that the disease had been found in sheep just across the border in Ravensdale, County Louth. That location falls within the 10 km surveillance zone that we imposed following the outbreak in Meigh. Unfortunately, the time that has elapsed between the two outbreaks — about 21 days — indicates that there may be an intermediate source, or sources, of infection as yet unidentified.
On foot of continued liaison between the two Departments, the Department of Agriculture in Dublin has now advised us that it has located a number of sheep which, in its view, are the missing animals to which I referred in my last statement to the Assembly.
My staff are working closely with the authorities in the Republic to try to establish the position and to prevent the further spread of the virus. I have had discussions with the Republic’s Agriculture Minister, Joe Walsh, over the weekend and will be meeting him to discuss the situation later in the week. In the meantime the authorities in the Republic have established 3 km protection and 10 km surveillance zones around their outbreak in County Louth. While the new surveillance zone extends into our jurisdiction, almost the entire Northern Ireland portion falls into the already existing Meigh surveillance zone.
Because of these developments, the retention of movement controls in parts of Northern Ireland where the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland zones overlap will be necessary. The further slaughter and destruction of dangerous in-contact animals in Northern Ireland cannot be ruled out. I have also put border controls in place to monitor crossings from the Republic within the 10 km surveillance zone.
The Department for Regional Development has assisted us in arranging disinfection procedures on the A1 road entering Northern Ireland, for which I am indebted to Mr Campbell. My officials have been in touch with the police to enlist their further support in controlling movements of livestock and products across the border. I have spoken to the Secretary of State and to the Security Minister, Adam Ingram, and I will speak again with the Secretary of State later today to discuss the latest developments.
Although we, and the authorities in the Republic of Ireland, will be doing our utmost to deal with this latest development, it is vital that farmers reinforce the "fortress farming" measures which many farmers, but not all, have in place. I have been advocating "fortress farming" since the disease first appeared. Farmers must assume that such measures are all that stands between them and foot-and-mouth disease. It may be stating the obvious to say that foot-and-mouth disease is highly unlikely to reappear in a Northern Ireland farm if "fortress farming" is fully implemented by every farmer.
Looking ahead, the EU’s response to the outbreaks in other member states, culminating in its decision to regionalise the County Louth outbreak, stands in stark contrast to what has happened in relation to the outbreak here. It is indefensible that we are still caught up in EU-imposed export restrictions when every outbreak in other member states has been treated as a regional phenomenon. Members will recall that on 28 February I secured a commitment from the Prime Minister that the UK Government would support a case for regionalisation for Northern Ireland as soon as practical and possible. On the following day we confirmed our first and only outbreak. Following my meeting with the Prime Minister and the UK Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, on Thursday last, I wrote to Mr Brown to raise this matter. He arranged for the UK delegate at Friday’s standing veterinary committee (SVC) to register the fact that Northern Ireland would be pressing forcefully for a regional approach to be adopted at the next SVC meeting tomorrow.
I also spoke personally yesterday to Commissioner Byrne to press our case, and I am confident of his support. Senior Department of Agriculture and Rural Development officials, including our Chief Veterinary Officer, are currently in Brussels discussing our case for regionalisation. The Chief Veterinary Officer is a member of the SVC and will present our case to that committee tomorrow. I cannot predict the outcome of that meeting, but my view is that the Northern Ireland case for regionalisation, leading to an immediate lifting of the generalised controls on exports and an early lifting of most of the rest, is irresistible. In the meantime the Executive Committee will meet later today to discuss the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. We will, as always, keep our efforts to eradicate this disease under constant review.
The Chairperson of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee (Rev Dr Ian Paisley):
I thank the Minister for her statement. Does she not think that it is now a bit late in the day for the Southern Government to say that they have located the missing sheep? Surely this should have been a matter for immediate attention, and it is very disconcerting to have this statement come out weeks afterwards.
I welcome the statement which the Minister has made about regionalisation, but I wonder why we did not press for it immediately. The Southern Government were able to press for it immediately and get it. Can she tell me whether veterinary inspectors from Europe are over here at the moment? Has she any information on whether they have already been to the South of Ireland and looked at its position? I am sure that she has heard the comments of the president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, whose members are saying to him that they are treated as second-class citizens by Europe. It seems to me that the South of Ireland has got all the advantages of Europe by getting regionalisation promised immediately, while we still have to queue up to get it. It is a strange thing that the Commissioner can tell the South and the world that it will get it and then just say that he will give his support to our case. Why does he not say that we can get it? He was able to say "Yes, you can get it" to the Government that appointed him, but he evidently cannot say that to us.
Northern Ireland is in the most favourable position in the whole of Europe with regard to regionalisation. If ever there were a watertight case to get it, then surely we have that case, as the Minister herself said. We ought to be pressing in every way for the lifting of the ban so that Northern Ireland can benefit from regionalisation. If France, the Netherlands and the South of Ireland can get it, so can we. We should have been first on the list.
I thank Dr Paisley for his comments and questions. As I have already explained on a number of occasions in the House, the missing sheep were illegally traded and, because of that, it was extremely difficult to trace them. We worked very closely with the authorities in the South in order to have them traced. I do not want to apportion any blame whatsoever to anyone. The fact that they have now been traced is a result of very good investigative work by both authorities working together. We gave any information that we were able to get here to the authorities in the South and they reciprocated. As a result, the gardaí have now been able to trace the sheep. My information from the authorities in the South is that some of them were slaughtered immediately, which is good news. The rest of them have now been slaughtered, which is also good news. It is extremely good news that we have managed to have them traced — that was a very clear worry.
The second issue that Dr Paisley raised was why we did not get regionalisation immediately. Dr Paisley, more than anyone else in this House, will recognise that we are part of the UK. I agree that until there is the consent of the Northern Ireland people under the Good Friday Agreement for a change, that should remain the case. Since we are, therefore, not in the same position as the Republic, which is a full member state and is in a position to make its case immediately, we have to make our case via the UK. When the ban was placed on exports from the UK we, as part of the UK, were included in that ban. I immediately — I stress "immediately" — made the case to the UK Government that I felt that Northern Ireland, separated by the sea, should be regionalised. I got a commitment from the Prime Minister that, within a week of the ban being placed, he would back the seeking of regionalisation. Unfortunately, the very next day we had the first case in Northern Ireland.
The European Commission is now taking a slightly different view in the light of changing circumstances in Europe. When it was announced that there would be regionalisation for France, at least one Member here complained that I had not criticised the Commission’s decision. Rather than complain about the decision, I welcomed it because it opens the door for us to seek regionalisation in Northern Ireland, which is precisely what I have been doing. [Interruption].
Mr Deputy Speaker, if people want to make points of order —
The Deputy Speaker:
Order. We want to hear the Minister’s response.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I have been working with might and main since that first week to get regionalisation for Northern Ireland. I repeat that I am not in the same position as the Minister of a full member state to do that, and unless Dr Paisley is suggesting that I seek a more radical solution to our problems, I cannot see that there is anything else that I could have done, or should have done.
I assure the House that, as I speak, my officials in Europe are following up the conversation I had yesterday with Commissioner Byrne. I am confident of his support, and I look forward to getting the regionalisation that I have been working for since the beginning.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee (Mr Savage):
I welcome the Minister’s statement, but I am concerned by her reference to what are seen as the missing sheep. At the outset, nobody, north or south of the border, knew how many sheep were missing. In order to achieve regionalisation, I would seek to confirm that the matter has been cleared up. I hope that this is the case.
Comments were made in a newspaper yesterday about the origins of the foot-and-mouth outbreak. The public and the two Governments want cheap food. It was revealed by the press that leftover food was being dumped at an identified location, which I do not want to name at the moment. There is certainty that food from this dump was being fed to animals as swill and that this was the source of the foot-and-mouth outbreak. This cheap swill food was being imported from outside Great Britain — perhaps from outside Europe.
The British and Irish Governments have a big responsibility on their shoulders — all they want is cheap food, and they do not care where it comes from. Stringent regulations are placed on factories in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, so importing cheap food from elsewhere constitutes unfair competition. The Minister may think that I am deviating from the current crisis, but a firm line needs to be taken on this.
From the dump I referred to, which is in the north of England, there is free access into this country —
Mr Deputy Speaker:
Mr Savage, please come to the question.
I will come to the question now, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Insufficient action is being taken to eradicate the disease in Northern Ireland. I am fed up telling officials that not enough disinfectant precautions are being taken at the ports. In addition, when travelling to the South, there are disinfectant mats across the roads at the border, but no such precautions are being taken with cars travelling into Northern Ireland. We are so close to being granted regionalisation, so surely we should make an extra effort and use disinfectant to try to alleviate this serious problem.
A good deal of Mr Savage’s speech was actually a discussion about sheep food, which I am not going to deal with today. I hope that we will be dealing with the aftermath of this issue when we get the disease under control, and my focus must be on that.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I will take the liberty of responding to Dr Paisley’s other question: the veterinary inspection here has been postponed, and I cannot answer for the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Savage talked about pigswill. We are keeping that under review and will be looking at it very carefully. At the moment only 10 people have a licence for swill in Northern Ireland, and that is being kept under very strict surveillance. We are not 100% sure what the source of the epidemic was. It may well have been illegally imported meat, but the source is not clear. In relation to the missing sheep, I have to thank my staff for the very effective tracing which they did in very difficult circumstances and without full co-operation. They managed to locate the lost sheep, so that a reported figure of 271 animals became 60 and then fell to 30-odd. The authorities in the South have now informed me that those 30-odd sheep have been accounted for in the South. Again, that is good news.
Like my Colleagues, I welcome the Minister’s statement very much. I would like to place on record my knowledge of the enormous gratitude and support that the Minister has throughout the community. This is not always reflected in the House, however.
The Minister is earnestly seeking regionalisation. As EU regulations place this Government in a subsidiary to that at Westminster, we are forced to make a second-hand input. Is the Minister, therefore, confident that the undertakings given by the Prime Minister and the Ministers there are sufficiently strong for Northern Ireland? She will recall our experience of the same Ministers — or Ministers of that ilk — who made noises of support in the fishing round and then welshed on that deal last December. I hope that the support promised will be translated into very, very strong action. I would like to think that if that does not happen, the reneging on the commitment given will be properly exposed for what it is.
I know we are constrained by UK budgetary rules and regulations, et cetera. However, to address the downfall in income in sectors outside farming, is there any chance of relief being given to businesses such as tourism, as announced for the Cooley peninsula by the Minister there? I hope sincerely that no one will attempt to make this a party political issue, as the DUP has a tendency to do. This matter needs the concern and support of the entire community.
The full commitment of the Prime Minister that the UK will back our lobby for regionalisation was reiterated to me recently at Downing Street. I have written to Nick Brown. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) will be in Brussels today, as will the United Kingdom Permanent Representation to the EU (UKRep); they are already working with my officials to ensure that we get regionalisation, and I have no reason to think that they will change their view and go back on that. I am confident of the full support of the UK Government in seeking regionalisation for Northern Ireland at tomorrow’s standing veterinary committee (SVC) meeting.
I will now turn to the rates relief which has been announced in Dublin and also across the water. Owing to the restrictions and guidelines, many industries other than agriculture are suffering severe difficulties — tourism in particular.
The position on rates in Northern Ireland is different from the situations in Great Britain and the South because we do not have the powers to grant discretionary relief from rates in response to the present circumstances. This issue has been raised previously in the House, and I have addressed it. I have also brought it to the attention of interdepartmental meetings and of the Executive. The issue is not specifically a matter for my Department. It is one for the Department of Finance and Personnel which would eventually call for a collective decision by the Executive because it would require legislation in the House. If we come to a position where we have legislation and the Department of Finance and Personnel is prepared to make rates relief available, other parts of the Budget will have to be adjusted. The Executive will discuss this issue this afternoon.
A Cheann Comhairle. I also welcome the Minister’s statement and in particular her comment that it is unlikely that foot-and-mouth disease will reappear in the North if we adhere to "fortress farming". Given that the Chief Veterinary Officer in Britain has said in the past week that foot-and-mouth disease is out of control in Britain and that, at the weekend, Bertie Ahern criticised the controls in place at the ports, will the Minister adopt an all-Ireland task force and a "fortress island" approach? Given that the South has received regional status, will the Minister accept that we must adopt a radically different approach from that of the British to foot-and-mouth disease so that we can get regionalisation for ourselves?
Mr McHugh has raised several issues. In relation to the Taoiseach’s comments on the ports, we have strict controls at all points of entry. We have kept them under constant review and we will continue to do so. The Agriculture Departments in the North and South have liaised closely throughout this crisis, and there have been discussions at official and ministerial levels about port controls. At no time have any concerns about those controls been raised with me.
I reiterate that we have rigorous controls at ports and airports. All passengers are required to walk over disinfection mats, and all vehicles have to cross similar mats. On ferries, foot passengers and vehicular passengers must also cross mats soaked in disinfectant. All commercial vehicles must have a disinfection certificate, and those that do not have such a certificate are not admitted. The wheels of all vehicular traffic passing through the ports are disinfected, and all this is conducted under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Announcements are made on ferries and aircraft. All passengers are handed leaflets on footand-mouth disease and asked if they have been on farms or in contact with animals in Great Britain. If they have been, they are offered disinfectant spray. However, having put all those measures in place, we also require the co-operation of the public. If people insist on going across the water unnecessarily to areas where the infection is rampant, I cannot stop them. It is a free country, and I cannot stop individual movement. I can only appeal to people’s good sense, common sense and sense of responsibility towards our industry. The vast majority of people are co-operating.
As for our taking a radically different approach to that in Great Britain, we are taking our own approach and have been doing so from the outset because we have a devolved Administration. I must pay tribute to my Executive Colleagues, who at all times have worked closely with me and have given me whatever support has been necessary. The Executive have worked together as a team in fighting this disease.
The Member raised the issue of an all-Ireland task force. Under the present arrangements — the Good Friday Agreement and our new institutions — we have an all-Ireland task force. Before this outbreak happened I was working with Joe Walsh on joint animal disease strategies for the island of Ireland, and we are proceeding to bring forward a strategy for that. Since the outbreak of the disease we have met at regular intervals and have spoken almost on a daily basis. Both Departments are working closely together. Therefore, it could be said that there is a task force in all but name, in the sense that the North/South institutions are working effectively in this crucial time.
I would like to put three points to the Minister. First, she talked about regionalisation and the support being given by UkRep to the regionalisation of Northern Ireland. Will the Minister assure us, if there is a difficulty at the SVC meeting tomorrow because of the Ravensdale outbreak, that she will seek regionalisation for as much of Northern Ireland as possible, even if Newry and Mourne district has to be excluded so that the rest of Northern Ireland can benefit — as has happened in the Republic?
Secondly, on the issue of border control, she talked about the disinfection point on the A1 and the checks currently going on in south Armagh. Is that adequate? I am not talking about border controls in the same way as the DUP. Farmers’ representatives have raised a serious issue that while the South currently has an outbreak — and we are almost four weeks on from the start of ours — there may be further difficulties if we are not seen to be doing more than we are at present by way of border controls outside the south Armagh area.
Thirdly, the Minister talked about the issue of aid — specifically rates relief — being granted in England and Wales. Will she assure the House that she is taking that matter to the Executive urgently this afternoon to seek emergency legislation if necessary? Will she assure the House that she will urge the Minister of Finance and Personnel to seek appropriate aid from the Treasury, as is being given to the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions in England and Wales?
I thank Mr Ford for his questions. First, as regards regionalisation, I do not want to get into specific details at the moment because negotiations are ongoing with the Commission as I speak. The results of those negotiations will be discussed tomorrow. It is my aim to get regionalisation for Northern Ireland as soon as possible. I take the Member’s point that, given that there is an outbreak in one area, we could find ourselves in a difficult position regarding that area. However, I do not want to comment any further on that at this stage.
Secondly, the Member referred to border controls. As I said in my statement, my officials have been having ongoing discussions with the RUC. I have spoken to the Secretary of State and Adam Ingram. I will be meeting the Secretary of State again at lunchtime today.
I have been informed that border patrols are taking place, but it is not a static situation. Over the weekend, quite a large number of vehicles — I cannot state the exact number — have been stopped, inspected, and then allowed to go on. I am not aware of any illegal movements of animals. Nevertheless, those inspections are happening across the border area, not just in the specific area of the outbreak. However, in that specific area the measures are more stringent — and perhaps more numerous — as one would expect. I think it is acceptable that there will be patrols operating throughout the border area.
I have made my position clear on the issue of rates relief. I will be discussing this with the Executive Committee and it will be a matter for decision by the Executive Committee — specifically for the Department of Finance and Personnel. I will be discussing the issue and putting my views forward, but it will be a matter for collective decision.
The Minister has been encouraging "fortress farming", which I support very much. At the same time I am a little concerned about the reports I have been hearing from people who have been coming in and out of Northern Ireland through the ports.
I am encouraged by the Minister’s statement that those things are in place. However, they have not been in place in the way that people would have liked them, until now. That is one of the most serious aspects of this whole episode. We need to make sure that we have good precautions in place. That will be the case for the next two months, even if we do not have any more footand-mouth cases.
Like other Members, I hope that the Minister will keep the pressure on and that she will be able to tell this House that those precautions are in place. They have not been in the past, but I am glad that she has said that they are. People that have been coming to and fro have been very concerned, and I hope that the Minster will assure us that those precautions will be kept in place in the months ahead to protect Northern Ireland, and make it "fortress Northern Ireland" as well as individual "fortress farms".
I share Mr Douglas’s concerns about the ports. Obviously, it was not possible to have everything in place immediately within ten minutes, half an hour or even ten hours of the outbreak. However, as soon as it was humanly possible, everything was put in place, and it is being constantly reviewed.
When I have received specific complaints that something is not right, my staff and I have dealt with them immediately. We all depend on one another in these circumstances to make sure that we have a watertight situation. However, if a specific problem is brought to my attention then I will have it dealt with.
Many of the issues that have been raised have been based on, as I said previously in the House, "Dúirt bean liom gur dhúirt bean léi gur chuala sí bean a rá", which means "A woman told me that another woman told her that she heard another woman saying". I cannot deal with that sort of thing, but I will deal with specifics. If people bring specific issues to my attention, they will be dealt with, because it is important that we keep up the "fortress Northern Ireland".
As I have already said, and as the question seems to recognise, the ports of entry are important, but the front line of defence remains the farm gate. We cannot keep the virus entirely out. People can carry it on their clothing and in their nostrils. People who have been in infected areas should not go near live animals at all until they are sure that they are free from the disease. You can disinfect your clothes, but you cannot disinfect your nostrils. Therefore, if farmers have been across the water — why they should go across the water is beyond me, but if they feel that they must — then those farmers should keep away from their animals when they come back, because they are in danger of carrying the disease back.
As we are dealing with specifics, and the Minister likes to deal with specifics rather than what some wee woman said, I will ask a specific question. Can she tell us whether the Department of Agriculture in the Republic of Ireland has told her how many sheep have been located, where those sheep have been located, and how long ago those sheep were located?
Depending on the Minister’s answers, does she think that a ten-kilometre surveillance zone around the border is enough? Are we correct in assuming that those missing sheep that Little Bo Peep has not been able to find have been in contact with a contaminated animal?
There are those of us who have believed, for a long time, that in European affairs the United Kingdom Government plays cricket when many other Governments do not. It has been suggested that there is a thought process in Northern Irish people’s minds that perhaps the Irish Republic is not being as absolutely open about this as it might. Of course, we can dispel that notion depending on the Minister’s answers.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
I remind Members, particularly on the Front Bench, that it is discourteous to read newspapers or magazines at this point in time.
I was referring to being specific so that I could deal with specific complaints.
Mr Ervine referred to specific numbers of sheep. I have made it clear in the House over recent weeks that my problem was that I was unable to be specific because of the very nature of illegal trading and the fact that some of the people involved were not co-operating with the authorities. In such a situation it is very difficult to give an exact figure.
Last week we narrowed it down to 30-odd missing sheep. We have worked with the Republic of Ireland authorities on this matter and it is their view that the 30 missing sheep have been accounted for. Some of the sheep had been immediately slaughtered in an abattoir in the Republic and the rest have now been slaughtered. That is as specific as I can be. The Republic of Ireland moved immediately to deal with the situation once the position had been established.
In relation to the 10 km exclusion zone, I am not sure what Mr Ervine meant by the question. I hope he will forgive me if I am not dealing exactly with what he said. There is a statutory 30-day restriction on the 10 km zone around Meigh as a result of European regulations. That restriction is put in place from the disinfection period, which was a few days after the slaughtering. The 30-day restriction around Meigh comes to an end on 6 April. If there have been no further cases by that time, we will be able to say that Northern Ireland is completely clear of foot-and-mouth.
I would like to raise a matter of extreme concern with the Minister. Some of my constituents who returned to Northern Ireland at the port of Larne from the mainland of the UK last week had to insist that their vehicles were sprayed. Will the Minister confirm that adequate measures are in place and ensure that they remain in place at all points of entry to Northern Ireland?
Is everything being done at local, national and European levels to make sure that Northern Ireland’s agriculture industry will receive regional status? Will the Minister update the Assembly on any proposals she has to extend any of the current compensation schemes?
Mr Deputy Speaker:
I would like to ask Mr Peter Robinson whether his magazine is directly related to foot-and-mouth disease. Does he not think that it is inappropriate to be reading unrelated material, considering the serious nature of the debate?
Mr P Robinson:
Mr Deputy Speaker, if you had had the courtesy to find out what I was reading, you would know that it is not a magazine. There are several people in the Chamber with papers that do not directly relate to the debate, but I have not heard you tell them that they should not be reading such material.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
It is not the duty of the Speaker to ask which magazines Members are reading. I said earlier that it was inappropriate for Members to be reading newspapers or magazines. It is even more inappropriate that that should be happening on the Front Bench, and still more inappropriate that Members do not give their full attention to the debate when we are discussing one of the most important issues that Northern Ireland faces.
Mr Kennedy says that people have had to insist that their vehicles were sprayed. I regret that the people concerned did not bring the matter to the attention of my Department. If they had done so, I would have looked into the situation. I cannot comment on the matter any further because I do not have the details. I do not know how many vehicles were involved, what kind of vehicles they were or where they had been. We do have a helpline in the Department. If such an incident happens again, I will expect people to immediately make me aware of that through the helpline.
I can assure Mr Kennedy that I will do everything, and have been doing everything, in my power to achieve regional status. The case is being proceeded with today. My officials are in Brussels, and the Chief Veterinary Officer will put the case to the standing veterinary committee tomorrow.
As I have already said, I spoke to Commissioner Byrne at some length over the weekend, and he is sympathetic. At the moment the only compensation that is agreed is full compensation for slaughtered animals at market value, with the addition of the slaughter subsidy that would be missed because of the fact that the animals are not going for normal slaughter. Consequential compensation is a matter to be dealt with on a UK-wide basis, and I have no indication as yet that the United Kingdom Government is in any way disposed to grant consequential compensation. There would be absolutely enormous resource implications, but I have mentioned it to the United Kingdom Government. It has been raised at a ministerial meeting, but I have not met with any enthusiasm for it as yet.
It is unfortunate — but welcome — that the Minister is again here to deal with this matter personally on the Floor. I do not want to go over old ground. I welcome the commitment to full compensation, to the slaughter subsidy and to the review of the rating liability, and I look forward to seeing the result of the consideration of consequential losses. However, these are global responses to the problem, and we have very specific problems in the south of County Armagh and in County Louth.
Will the Minister and her Colleagues consider, in the longer term, not just the problems for the agricultural community, but the impact on local shops, restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, hotels and businesses that have been badly affected? Will they also consider the houses in that vicinity that were badly affected by the stench and smoke from the livestock pyres? Will the Minister consider putting together the equivalent of a mini Marshall plan for south Armagh?
The impact of the present situation in all areas will, as Mr Fee will understand, and as I think he has accepted, be a matter for wider discussion in the Executive and on a collective basis. It will be dealt with on another day, and it is not a matter for me alone.
Regarding the issue of the stench and smoke from the pyres, we are currently taking legal advice to see what our obligations may or may not be. I cannot, therefore, give a direct answer.
Rev Dr William McCrea:
May I bring the Minister back to a question that was asked and not answered? Where precisely were these sheep found — those that have now been found in the Irish Republic? Were they outside the County Louth area? That may have implications as regards regionalisation for the Irish Republic.
Is the Agriculture Minister, as the Minister with overall responsibility for dealing with this crisis, not permitted to speak personally to the RUC? She has ultimate control. Is she not permitted to speak personally to the Army? She said that she has spoken to the Security Minister, Adam Ingram, and to the Secretary of State. Surely she should be able to deal hands-on with our Chief Constable to take the measures that are essential for the control of this disease?
When it comes to rushing through the legislation, I assure the Minister that my Colleagues will help to ensure that the alleviation of the rates for businesses in general is given a welcome response.
When it comes to setting an example — and political points were mentioned here this morning — I want to say this: when I arrived here on Thursday morning the Minister of Finance and Personnel and some of his colleagues were holding a photocall at the Members’ entrance. Why this was being held at the Members’ entrance when these were European Commissioners, I believe, I do not know, but I asked where the disinfectant mat was.
I looked for the mat; there was none. I asked for it; I received no answer. I found out that it had been removed for the photograph. The Minister and his SDLP colleagues were standing for a photocall at the Members’ entrance. There are other entrances to this Building, and it is disgraceful that when I looked for the mat it could not be found. When I had entered the Building, I found out from an official that the mat had been thrown aside for the photocall. Surely, that is not acting responsibly. What action will the Minister, or the Executive, take in relation to the Minister of Finance and Personnel?