Category: Archive

Dublin Report Tourism bears the brunt of foot-and-mouth precautions

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

Ireland, Inc. is now sealed as tightly as a nuclear submarine. Some of the crew are beginning to squawk for fresh air. They are suffering from claustrophobia. Even worse, their pockets are pinched for money. The fear of the foot-and-mouth disease is all over the land.

Ireland is at last fully united against a microscopic deadly enemy that can put the Celtic Tiger at deadly peril. The measures introduced by the Irish government are so draconian that even the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been cancelled.

The Irish Tourism Confederation has warned that the industry, which it claims is even more vital to the national economy than agriculture, will lose up to £500 million this year if the protective measures continue much longer.

More likely than not, they will be maintained because the foot-and-mouth disease has now scourged the whole of the United Kingdom and is just over the border in Northern Ireland.

Luckily for Ireland, the virus has been swept by a westerly breeze. Otherwise, we would hardly have escaped this long. There are recorded cases in north Wales and Anglesey, only a few miles over the Irish Sea.

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Tourism interests also report that there are widespread, though misbegotten, fears on the part of U.S. visitors who planned to vacation in Ireland this year.

One American tour operator inquired as to whether the lakes of Killarney will be "wired up" for the remainder of the year.

Still another wanted to know if it is safe to eat meat.

One rang the same operator to cancel her ticket, explaining she was terrified of catching the disease because she had heard the effects were "really dreadful."

So far the tough measures taken by the Irish government have managed to stave off the virus, but many are now beginning to complain that they do not have to be quite so restrictive. Even more question the effect of the national hysteria that has been whipped up. They reckon that the propaganda has gone over the top.

The misconceptions of some potential U.S. visitors could indicate that they might be right.

The government should certainly have spelled out the facts for the benefit of intending visitors.

The foot-and-mouth virus has never been known to have infected humans. In fact, most animals are also immune from its ravages. All cloven-footed animals, like pigs, goats, and sheep, are susceptible. Even in those species, the virus is not always fatal, except among the youngest. Infected animals suffer in much the same way as humans endure bad bouts of influenza and they normally recover within weeks.

The reason they are slaughtered is to prevent the spread of the infection to other areas. Since it is airborne it can disperse widely and could, without precautions, affect the whole of Europe.

So humans, not even tourists, have nothing to worry about in respect of their own health. What they do have to be concerned about is that they can carry the virus on their shoes and on their clothing, spreading it throughout the land they walk.

As a result, many Irish farms are virtually out of bounds to all visitors. Others are protected by disinfectant impregnated barriers, usually straw, laid outside main entrances.

Even within Ireland, all travel to farms is being discouraged. Hikers have been urged to stay at home. Horse-racing has been called off everywhere.

One of the biggest race meetings in Europe, the Cheltenham Festival in England, has been postponed at the request of the British government. The same government has come in for some criticism in Ireland because it is felt that it did not act quickly enough against the outbreak and is still not taking it as seriously as it should.

Almost all sporting events in Ireland have been called off. International rugby ties have been postponed. Not alone has international tourism suffered as the result but domestic bookings have been badly affected as well.

Even buses bringing punters to Bingo gatherings have been called off.

The losses are mounting. Some bookmakers have already laid off staff. Guest houses and hotels have been devastated just as the Irish tourism season begins in earnest. The Gresham Hotel in Dublin is advertising cut rates because it has been so badly hit by the cancellation of rugby internationals.

National parks have also been closed. Visitors can no longer visit historic sites like castles. The Irish public has also been advised to stay away from the countryside as much as possible.

Hit hardest and most cruelly of all are the many U.S. bands that were scheduled to take part in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin. Tourism people reckon that about 10,000 were expected to visit. As many as 15 bands were listed in the parade lineup.

However, many will still come simply because they are unable to cancel and because they have prepared for so long. The Irish government has promised that they can strut their stuff at alternative events in such a way that they will pose no danger to any livestock.

It is still a huge disappointment for these very welcome visitors who have added so much color and spectacle to the annual parade. Their mere presence over the years did more to transform it than hundreds of national planners.

Displaying the most sincere brand of flattery, Irish schools and community groups imitated them to such an extent that the Dublin parade has become increasingly "Americanized." That is no harm when you recall the dull, uninspiring parades we used to endure.

They will be missed on O’Connell Street this year.

The foot-and-mouth epidemic has robbed the enjoyment of a lot of greenery this March.

The only possible benefit to be garnered from the debacle is that it has engendered a stronger sense of national identity. Irish organizations are banding together, north and south of the border, against the common, silent enemy.

As the Irish and British governments continue to move the various groups in Northern Ireland along the track of the Good Friday peace process, it has proved, yet again, what a nonsense the border really is.

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