By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The foot-and-mouth disease threat has led to the cancellation of Dublin’s four-day St Patrick’s Day festivities and parades throughout Ireland in what is being acknowledged as a major blow to tourism.
The national holiday break is regarded as the early season kick-start for the _3-billion-a-year tourism trade that employs more than 150,000 people.
Ireland’s tourism and sports minister, Jim McDaid, said alternative ways of marking St. Patrick’s Day without jeopardizing the protective mantle against the spread of the disease are being considered. There are plans to hold the Dublin parade in the early summer if the danger has passed.
“We can at least consider ourselves fortunate that this situation did not arise in the middle of our peak tourist season, in July or August,” McDaid said.
With countryside pursuits like hunting, fishing and hill-walking also canceled, Bord Failte has suspended promotion of these holidays in Britain and is reviewing other markets on a case-by-case basis.
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McDaid said promotional efforts would resume with “renewed vigor” when the all-clear is given.
McDaid said the Irish Hotels Federation and the Restaurants Association of Ireland have also agreed to ask their members to place disinfectant mats at their entrances.
Sporting fixtures have also been devastated. Racing is canceled, all GAA intercounty fixtures are postponed — as was the Ireland-Wales rugby international in Cardiff — and the Football Association has also canceled its soccer fixtures.
The Golfing Union of Ireland has canceled most of its events. As sheep graze on many courses, the minister asked it to be particularly vigilant.
The Sports Council has written to all national governing bodies and asked them to urgently examine all upcoming events and competitions and to consider any actions necessary to protect against the spread of the disease.
“The terms ‘silence’ and ‘eloquence’ might appear contradictory, but I have to say that our silent and empty stadia and sports grounds at the weekend are an eloquent testament to good citizenship and responsibility,” McDaid said.
“Almost every family is this country in urban or in rural Ireland has parents, sons or daughters who are active on a daily basis in their local Gaelic, soccer or rugby club or in athletics.
“Clearly with sport involving such huge numbers all over the country, it is a fact of life that FMD, if it spread, would directly affect their own jobs and livelihoods. Ireland is now in a situation of potential national crisis.”
Arts Minister Sile de Valera has closed all visitor facilities at national parks, nature reserves, national monuments and historic properties.
In Dublin, Kilmainham Goal, the Casino at Marino, the Botanic Gardens, Stephen’s Green and Phoenix Park will remain open for the present but notices will be displayed asking the public to refrain from visiting any of these sites.