Thursday, 9 April 1987
Dáil Eireann Debate
Bonamia was tentatively diagnosed in an oyster sample at the Fisheries Research Centre, Abbotstown, Castleknock, County Dublin, on the afternoon of Friday, 20 March 1987. During that weekend further samples were taken to a laboratory outside the country where the diagnosis was confirmed.
I made an order on Wednesday, 25 March 1987, banning the importation of oysters and the movement of oysters other than for direct human consumption and an intensive sampling programme was immediately put into operation by my Department. Up to yesterday samples had been received from 21 areas and 12 of these samples had been tested and found to be negative.
There is a fish pathologist working at the Fisheries Research Centre with support staff of three technicians who specialise in fish pathology. In general, the staffing level at the Fisheries Research Centre is sufficient to cope with foreseeable problems.
I have no plans for the introduction of a compensation system for losses to oyster producers affected by the ban on the movement of oysters. Fish farming, in common with all other businesses, carries certain risks. I do not see it as a function of my Department to provide schemes of compensation for losses that may be incurred by fish farmers as a result of the introduction of measures designed to minimise such losses.
Mrs. Doyle: The Minister made the point that one fish pathologist is employed at the Fisheries Research Centre but is he aware that the pathologist is leaving tomorrow? What has he done to replace him? Does he feel that the staffing level at Abbotstown is adequate to cope with what can only be termed a disaster? What are the Minister's plans to ensure that the sampling which is now necessary because of the unfortunate disease, bonamia, which has affected flat oysters, will be done at a rate which will ensure that any further  outbreaks will be detected before there is a further spread of the disease?
Mrs. Daly: From the samples we have taken to date, we are satisfied that the disease has not spread. In relation to the first part of Deputy Doyle's question, I am aware that the pathologist proposes to leave the Department shortly but arrangements have been made with the Department of Agriculture and Food to have services available to deal with any problem which may arise.
Mrs. Doyle: Is the Minister saying that another histopathologist is replacing the man leaving the FRC tomorrow? Is he also saying that one is sufficient for this detailed and specific kind of work? At the moment it is necessary to process between 70 and 100 samples per month from all the sites around the country and one man is able to deal with only 150 oyster samples a day. Staff also have to be employed to open the oysters and to process them for sampling, apart from the histopathologist who is necessary to read the results. The fishing industry, particularly the aquaculture industry, insist that they have been telling the Department for nearly a decade that they were understaffed and would be unable to cope if a disaster should stike——
Mr. Daly: We have had the most comprehensive discussions with the people involved in the oyster industry. In fact, we had meetings with them this afternoon and they are totally satisfied with the action which was taken in this instance and with the action which was taken by me in imposing a ban on the movement of oysters. As a result of the discussions  which are currently taking place in my Department it may be possible to make some amendments which will ease the pressure on the producers. The priority in my Department is to ensure that we get the disease under control and we avoid its spread to other areas outside of the area where it was detected. We are satisfied that we can do this and we are getting back-up from the Department of Agriculture and Food and, if it is necessary to get some further assistance, we will do so.
Mr. Cullen: The Minister said that somebody is about to take up the position in Abbotstown. I would like to know when that person is due to take up his new duties and whether he will be capable of dealing with the bonamia disease. One needs to be highly specialised in order to deal with this disease. My understanding is that the person who is there at present is the only person in this country capable of dealing with that disease. The Minister has mentioned moving somebody from another Department. I would like to know whether that person is qualified to deal specifically with this disease as it is the area of greatest concern at present? He may well be capable of dealing with other areas. On my priority question, will the Minister introduce legislation dealing not alone with the importation of oysters but the movement of oysters within the country? This has been the principal cause of the spread of the disease.
Mr. Daly: As of now, I am satisfied  that the legislation in place is adequate. The record shows that we have been able to contain the disease within the area where it was first identified. We are also satisfied that we are in a position to deal with the problem but if that is not the case we will have to seek alternative assistance. As the Deputy will be aware, and I said this in my reply, that for confirmation of the disease we had to send the samples outside the country and that meant a delay of a day or two. Now, that the problem is under control and the association are satisfied that we have got it under control, there is a possibility of relaxing the controls I introduced. If that is possible, we will do so.
Mr. Cullen: The Minister gave figures of samples they have in their possession but it is my understanding and belief that that is a very small number of samples. The reason for this is that the people concerned have not got enough resources to gather in enough samples. While the figure might be relative in terms of the numbers which have been collected and tested, in the overall picture there are two major problems. There are not enough resources to collect enough samples and there are not enough resources at the Abbotstown laboratory to conduct efficient and speedy research in a short space of time. Will the Minister take action in future to cope with these disasters if they arise?
Mrs. Daly: My information is that there are sufficient staff and they are in a position to cope with any situation that may arise. I will bring the representations which have been made both by Deputy Doyle and the Deputy to the notice of the officials there and will have the matter investigated to see if the resources are adequate. I am satisfied from the information I have that the resources are adequate, but if there are shortcomings we will endeavour to rectify them.
Mrs. Doyle: I hope you will allow me  to ask three or four questions. Can the Minister confirm whether a histo-pathologist is being appointed to replace the man who is leaving the Fisheries Research Centre tomorrow? I know staff are being appointed but I want to know the qualifications of the man who is being appointed to replace the only pathologist working there at present. Does the Minister consider that one such qualified person is sufficient, given the particular difficulties we have at present? Can the Minister tell the House under what Act was the Order banning the movement of oysters around the country made? Is he satisfied that it will hold up? What plans exactly has he, as requested by the Deputy who put down the question, to review the legislation? Will he introduce new enabling legislation or will he amend the 1980 Act particularly with a view to allowing licensing which is essential for the industry at present and which the industry have been demanding for many years?
Mrs. Doyle: I asked the Minister several questions all rolled into one. Licensing is not divorced from legislation. Do we need enabling legislation urgently to allow us to licence this industry as they have demanded, and rightly so, to protect this valuable industry.
Mrs. Doyle: The Minister's banning order has nothing to do with licensing. I had several questions rolled into the supplementary. What legislation does the Minister plan to introduce in order to control the licensing of this industry which they wish him to do? I have been  asking his predecessors the same question for years.
Mr. Daly: I did not say a new pathologist was taking up duty. I said we were making arrangements with the Department of Agriculture and Food to provide a service for us in the event of this pathologist leaving.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: If the  Deputy elects to give too much time to questions which are not before us she will have to bear with the difficulties of trying to fit in. We will take a final short question from her.
Mrs. Doyle: I should like to ask the Minister to review the issue of compensation in view of his response to our questions. Is the Minister aware that in the UK the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries have a compensation programme? Is the Minister aware that if stock is destroyed by order of that Ministry the fishermen, or the farmers as they prefer to call themselves, are compensated particularly if there is more than 10 per cent infection as we have in Cork Harbour? We have a provision in our legislation to deal with such a matter in that compensation is paid for reactor cattle. Will the Minister consider introducing a similar type of compensation programme for our farmers and fishermen?
Mr. Daly: I will look into that suggestion to see if it will be possible to introduce such a programme but I do not think we should get involved in the question of compensation. We should be taking a decision in the interests of the protection of the industry and the livelihood of the people involved. I will look at the UK legislation to see if we can introduce a programme like that suggested by the Deputy.
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