Category: Archive

New North FMD alert

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — A new border alert against foot-and-mouth disease, caused by a suspected case in County Tyrone, is expected to lead to Irish government caution in responding to calls for an easing of draconian restrictions that have made a fortress of the country and caused widespread disruption.

The case just north of the border resulted in an exclusion zone that stretched south into County Monaghan.

A sheep delivered to a Dungannon slaughterhouse from a farm near Augher had all the classic symptoms of the disease, but on Tuesday the Northern Ireland authorities said initial test results had proved negative.

However, there is continuing concern in the North that another 60 at-risk sheep imported from England could still not have been traced. There has only been one confirmed FMD case in the North, at Meigh in South Armagh, and none south of the border.

Tourism in particular is suffering heavy losses and the government has ruled out any compensation as industry chiefs warn businesses may collapse.

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Bord Failte Chief Executive John Dully said that if the crisis is prolonged in Britain, it would lead to a revenue loss of £500 million for the industry and a drop of one million visitors.

He warned that tourists often make summer vacation decisions in March and April. "If we don’t somehow get it right over those two months, it could be catastrophic," he said.

As the number of confirmed cases in Britain approaches 200, another 150 are under investigation and 100,000 animals have been slaughtered. Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh has described the situation there as "frightening".

There are fears that Britain may have to slaughter up to half a million sheep in an effort to control the outbreak.

France has also confirmed the first case of FMD on mainland Europe connected with the British outbreak and there are suspicions about imported sheep in Italy.

The Department of Agriculture says there will be no full relaxation of restrictions in Ireland until 30 days after the last case confirmed in the UK.

There are now about 700 farms under restriction throughout the country and the Criminal Assets Bureau is investigating illegal livestock imports across the Northern Ireland border. Emergency legislation to tackle smuggling was rushed through the Oireachtas last week.

While Walsh has refused to criticize British efforts to control the epidemic, three junior ministers have attacked the handling of the crisis by UK Agriculture Minister Nick Brown.

The most trenchant attack has come from Wexford Minister Hugh Byrne, who described the UK as the "leper of Europe."

He said Brown had "not so much mishandled the crisis as not handled it all," and he described the situation there as a "scandal."

"To say it is under control beggars belief," Byrne said. "Of course it is out of control. It has gone right through the country.

"With a problem, unless you admit to having a problem, you’re never going to resolve it. At think at this stage Britain doesn’t believe they have a problem. They believe that this will go away. This will not go away without hard work and sacrifice."

The minister said all racing and sporting events should be canceled in the UK and the same stern restrictions as in Ireland should be introduced.

"The sooner they do that, the sooner they will get rid of the disease, the sooner we’re all back to normality," Byrne said. "If what they’re doing continues, we are in for a long haul. Goodness knows how many months ahead of us we won’t see sport."

Byrne said the draconian measures in Ireland were harsh but they were working. "Short-term pain will mean long-term gain," he said.

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