All-Ireland Plan on Foot and Mouth Crisis
From Irish News
February 25-7, 2001
It now appears too late to avert a crisis in the spread to Ireland of a highly contagious virus which requires the immediate slaughter of infected livestock.
Throughout Wednesday, there were reports of concerns about outbreaks of Foot and Mouth disease in Armagh and Wexford after it first emerged last week in Britain.
In South Armagh this evening [Wednesday], those worst fears were confirmed when there was confirmation of the disease in sheep. But there is more. The 21 sheep in South Armagh were only part of a batch of 291 animals imported from Carlisle in England. It is believed the rest of the sheep were moved south of the Border and the hunt is now on to track them down.
The discovery of the disease in South Armagh has led to calls for the British Army to be withdrawn to barracks as their activities patrolling on farmland along the Border pose a real danger in the spread of farm diseases.
But there are serious questions about the sluggish response of the Dublin Government, which banned marts in border areas without imposing a state-wide ban. Disinfectant procedures at air and ferry ports were also lax for vital days last week. Over 200 Border checkpoints are now manned by Gardai and in some cases 26-County army personnel. Even though the Six Counties has the same restrictions on imports of animals and animal products from Britain, the Dublin Government is busy drawing meaningless lines across the country. As someone said this week, viruses do not respect political borders.
However, up until Tuesday of this week, passengers coming into Cork Airport were not being disinfected even though many of the flights that land at the airport are from Britain.
It is necessary with the most serious outbreak of Foot and Mouth since 1967 to curtail movement of people, livestock and farming equipment around Ireland, but the measures in place on the border are already being questioned.
There were significant movements of livestock from Britain into the Six Counties and some into Cavan in the last week. However, Assembly Agriculture minister Brid Rodgers has placed exclusion orders on each of the 100 locations where animals have recently arrived or where there was any suspicion of contact.
But there has been criticism this week of 2—County agriculture minister Joe Walsh, who took his time in taking simple steps like banning marts but still let a significant amount of horses into Irish stud farms from Britain in the last week.
The Dublin Government has been accused of inconsistency in its policies on the matter, and demands that the crisis be co-ordinated though the North-South ministerial councils set up under the good Friday Agreement have not yet answered.
Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghih 0 Caolain has called on people on both sides of the Border to be vigilant and to cooperate with measures to prevent the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease to Ireland. He also called for a more hands-on approach by the Dublin government and for the British Army to be withdrawn to barracks as their activities patrolling on farmland along the Border pose a real danger. O Caolain said:
"The spread of Foot and Mouth to any of the 32 Counties would be a national disaster. I urge people on both sides of the Border to be vigilant at all times and to co-operate with measures to ensure that this disease does not enter this island. The livelihoods of almost the entire agricultural community are at risk with this potential epidemic.
"There needs to be a more co-ordinated and hands-on approach from central government. There is evidence that the initial response has been sluggish in some respects. The effort to protect the country from this disease should be led by the Taoiseach and a Cabinet Task Force should be established.
"I have been contacted by people in Border areas who have complained about the continuing activities of the British Army. British troops regularly and recklessly cross and recross farms and have been responsible for the spread of bovine TB. Their activities now clearly pose a danger with this Foot and Mouth crisis. They should be immediately withdrawn to barracks."
ARD FHEIS UNDER REVIEW
Sinn Fein Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that the party's Ard Fheis, due to take place in Dublin on 10/11 March, will be kept under constant review over the next few days because of the threat posed by the current Foot and Mouth Disease crisis.
"There is widespread concern across the Island regarding the possibility of the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease to any county in Ireland," said McLaughlin. "Sinn Fein has been urging people to act responsibly and to cooperate fully with measures to ensure that this disease does not enter the island.
We are all conscious that this potential epidemic places at risk the livelihoods of communities throughout rural Ireland.
"In terms of the party's Ard Fheis, we have been in touch with the Department of Agriculture to seek their advice and of course we will be acting responsibly and will take any precautions that they advise. At this point they are not recommending that we cancel.
"We will be keeping the matter under constant review over the next few days."
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