By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The compulsory cull of all healthy sheep and most of the cattle is being extended this week to the whole of the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth following new evidence of the foot and mouth virus in the area.
Before the extension of the preemptive cull, almost 24,000 sheep and 600 cattle had been slaughtered on the area. An estimated 15,000 extra livestock will now be slaughtered.
This follows an evaluation of test results from sheep in the area that showed the presence of foot-and-mouth antibodies. The sheep involved were on an "out-farm" to the main farm where the outbreak was confirmed on March 22.
Army rangers have also been working in the Cooley Mountains, shooting wild goats and deer, which can carry the disease.
How the infection spread to the Cooley area, following Northern Ireland’s only outbreak just a few miles away across the border at Meigh in South Armagh, remains a mystery.
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On a visit to Louth, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he was horrified a small number of smugglers were putting the country’s important livestock industry in jeopardy.
"What horrifies me is that in some cases there is a culture in a few [people] that, for what looks on the face of it relatively small money, can risk an industry that has 20 million susceptible animals in this country."
Ahern said there had been smuggling across the border with Northern Ireland since the state was founded.
There had to be a change in society so that smuggling was regarded as a crime in the same way as the illegal importation of drugs.
He would not comment on reports that gardai had established a link between the Meigh and Cooley outbreaks.
The problem of trying to trace consignments of smuggled livestock from Britain and Northern Ireland has been a major problem.
Ahern said investigations of smuggled livestock loads and their destinations around the country had created "a huge amount of concern" and meant a "massive" extension of the operation.
"But so far so good. We have had one confirmed case. We have had a lot of scares. On goes the work, on goes the efforts throughout the country," he said.
Concern about two other suspected cases of the virus — involving sheep in Louth and at Bunclody, Co. Wexford — was eased on Friday when preliminary results of tests on tissue samples proved negative.
However, the final clearance will not be given until the results of blood culture tests are available from a British laboratory this week.
In Northern Ireland, a further 2,500 sheep are being culled to create a sterile corridor from Meigh down to the border.
In other parts of the Republic, about 700 farms are under restriction and culls were ordered on some of them.
This followed concern the livestock was smuggled or might have had contact with smuggled animals.
These precautionary slaughterings have resulted in the culling of another 4,500 sheep and 360 cattle.