Tuesday, 7 November 1978
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Bruton: asked the Minister for Agriculture if a full herd test will be required to be carried out within a certain period after a pre-movement test in which a tuberculosis or brucellosis reactor has been identified; and, if so, within what period.
Mr. Gibbons: The answer is yes. In the case of brucellosis a full herd test would be carried out without delay. At least one further 60-day herd test would be required before restriction of the herd could be lifted.
Mr. Gibbons: Yes, in all cases of disease eradication there is not only the possibility but the likelihood of hardship and I see no point in concealing that or other disagreeable facts involved in a disease eradication programme. It is the avoidance of the difficult bits in the past that has led us into the situation of no progress in which we now find ourselves. We shall have to head straight into the difficulty.
Mr. Bruton: asked the Minister for Agriculture if he agreed at the Council of Ministers in December 1977 to the 30-day pre-movement test as a condition for acceptance of a national plan under the EEC accelerated eradication programme for tuberculosis; and, if so, why the need to introduce this requirement before the end of 1978 was not announced at a time which would have given farmers more time to prepare for and minimise the costs and inconveniences which flow from it.
Mr. Bruton: Would the Minister not agree that this is part of the directive which was agreed for the Council of Ministers by Mr. Humblett as President on 13 December 1977? Presumably the Minister is a member of the Council of Ministers and therefore would have assented to this agreement.
Mr. Bruton: Would the Minister not agree that the Council made a directive, No. 78/52/EEC on 13 December 1977 which established Community criteria for national plans for accelerated eradication of brucellosis, tuberculosis and leucosis, and that these regulations contain a 30-day pre-movement test, that they were agreed by the Council in December 1977 and that the Minister was then a member of the Council? If he was a member, he must have been aware of the requirement and if so, why did he not then tell the farmers about it so that they could have planned their purchasing of cattle and provision of fodder? Why did he wait until the end of the fodder-making season to announce this change?
Mr. Gibbons: There was no effort on my part to conceal the many decisions made by the Council of Ministers. It is not the practice to return from every Council meeting in Brussels and publish a full account for public consumption of all the decisions made. It would be impracticable and impossible. These Council decisions are published. They are widely disseminated throughout the Community and that is how the Deputy got to know.
Mr. Gibbons: Obviously if it was a decision of the Council, then I, as the Irish Minister, agreed to it. I am in favour of a 30-day pre-movement test for Irish herds. I think disease eradication cannot succeed unless we have that pre-movement test.
Dr. FitzGerald: Would the Minister not agree that where at a meeting of the Council of Ministers a decision is taken which has important implications which may necessitate pre-planning for Irish farmers, his first duty is to notify the farmers publicly and widely of these decisions and of the pre-planning required to meet them?
Mr. Gibbons: I would say that I performed that duty more carefully than any of my predecessors in that I have been warning since our accession to office that we were going to take on the business of disease eradication since it  had been seriously neglected by our predecessors.
Mr. Gibbons: That question is verging on the idiotic and has no relation at all to the question on the Order Paper. I believe it arises from Deputy Bruton's desire to display his skill as a barrister. I suggest that he might do it in the appropriate place.
Mr. Gibbons: It has no relation to the question on the Order Paper. If the Deputy wants an answer to that question—I cannot imagine why he should—I will be glad to give it to him if he puts down a question.
Mr. Gibbons: I am unable to give the date on which I first announced our intention to introduce the 30-day test. The question is idiotic but if an answer is required to it I will provide it. That is not the question that was asked and it is quite unreasonable to expect me to answer that question without notice. I have not received notice.
Mr. Gibbons: Those are all clever undergraduate debating points and they display the utter cynicism of the Fine Gael Party, as they displayed in Government, to the serious business of disease eradication. If I cannot remember a particular date on which I said a particular thing without notice, off the top of the head, I should think that the Leader of the Fine Gael Party at any rate would have a more responsible approach to disease eradication than that. All that he can rise to is to be facetious. It might impress undergraduates——
Mr. Bruton: asked the Minister for Agriculture if it was open to him within the terms of the EEC accelerated disease eradication programme to postpone the 30-day pre-movement test for tuberculosis until 31 December 1978, to allow part of the difficult winter period for stockowners to be over.
Mr. Gibbons: The answer is no. Under the EEC Commission Decision addressed to the State on 19 July 1978 the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to implement our plans for the accelerated eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis had to be put into effect before 18 September 1978.
Mr. Bruton: Could I draw the Minister's attention to article 29 of the document I referred to earlier which says that the plans approved during 1978 must be completed not later than 31 December 1978? Would the Minister agree, in view of the fact that he waited until after the fodder-making season, August, to announce the introduction of the 30-day test, even though he agreed to it in December 1977, that he should have postponed the introduction of this requirement until December so that farmers who had not made enough fodder, as they would have done if they had known the 30-day test was to be introduced, would have had some degree of freedom in relation to the disposal of cattle and not find themselves, as many may do in a bad winter, having to hold on to cattle but not having anything to feed them?
Mr. Gibbons: If Deputy Bruton is  arguing for a postponement of the disease eradication programme I am telling him that there will be no postponement. His suggestion that there was some connection with the announcement of the introduction of the 30-day test and the ending of the fodder-making season is, in my opinion, absolute nonsense. No farmer makes his plans on the basis of the disease eradication programme but he bears in mind the ever present necessity for his herd being locked up, that is if he is a good stockman and a good farmer. The possibility of having his herd locked up would in no way be affected by the introduction of the 30-day test. The decision to introduce the 30-day test was made in order that the possibility of this man having his herd locked up would be greatly reduced. I am confident that it will.
Mr. Bruton: asked the Minister for Agriculture the basis for his statement in article 3 of Bovine Tuberculosis Order, 1978, that the disease is virtually non-existent in the State; and why the statement was made.
Mr. Gibbons: The statement referred to and the similar one included in the previous Bovine Tuberculosis Order are in accordance with section 19 of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966. It is based on the statistical information available on the level of disease incidence in the country.
Mr. Bruton: Is the statement the Minister made in a statutory order consistent with the statement he made earlier, which provoked a question from Deputy Clinton, wherein he referred to a rapid increase in tuberculosis infestation? The Minister seems to have agreed, when he signed this order, that it was virtually non-existent. Can the Minister reconcile his two statements?
Mr. Bruton: Would the Minister not agree that he said in this statutory instrument that tuberculosis was virtually non-existent in the State and only a few minutes ago he found himself talking in terms of a substantial increase in tuberculosis infestation during a two-year period in which a party, with which he is in little sympathy, was in office?
Mr. Gibbons: I believe the country was declared attested in 1966. Since then there have been changes in the method of applying bovine tuberculosis testing. The statement at that time may have been true enough in the existing animal disease testing scheme. Since then the method of testing animals has been changed and improved. There has also been a rapid decline in the health status of our cattle. I am surprised that Deputy Bruton or anybody else should not find this a very disturbing situation. It is certainly undeniable that it is.
Mr. Bruton: asked the Minister for Agriculture the circumstances in which a veterinary surgeon may decide to require a farmer to sign the statutory declaration that all cattle have been presented for testing in accordance with article 5 of the Bovine Tuberculosis Order, 1978; and if failure to comply with such a request automatically constitutes an offence.
Mr. Gibbons: The declaration is at present required to be completed in all cases where a TB herd test is carried out by a veterinary inspector of my Department. It is my intention to have the declaration completed in the case of all herd tests and arrangements for this are at present being considered.
Mr. Bruton: I take it that the Minister is saying that all veterinary surgeons, including private veterinary surgeons, will be asked to obtain this declaration from any area where they are doing the test.
Mr. Gibbons: The herd owner has a serious legal responsibility to present all his cattle for testing and he will be in breach of the law if he does not do that. The test will not have been properly carried out unless all the animals are presented.
An Ceann Comhairle: The remaining questions will appear on tomorrow's Order Paper. I have permitted private notice questions in the names of Deputies Fitzpatrick, Kavanagh and Mitchell, and another in the name of Deputy Michael O'Leary.
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