Order of Business. - Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2001: Second Stage.

Thursday, 8 March 2001

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 532 No. 3

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Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

[734] The Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2001 amends the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966. The information we are receiving about the foot and mouth disease in Britain is quite alarming. This underlines the fact that the battle to keep this disease out of the State must continue and, where necessary, intensify. The success of the measures we have taken to date must not be taken as any excuse for complacency.

In the two weeks since we first learned of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain, thousands of people throughout this country have been engaged full time in a massive effort to ensure this country remains free of this disease. It is appropriate that I begin by paying tribute to all of those people. Long and arduous hours have been worked and much inconvenience has been tolerated, but a tremendous amount has been achieved – so far, so good.

The people most directly involved have included many of my staff in the Department and members of the Garda, the Defence Forces and various State agencies. In addition, many individuals, companies and organisations have stepped forward and willingly played their part in this concerted national effort. I particularly acknowledge the role played by the various sporting and cultural bodies who, of their own volition, called off various activities at tremendous inconvenience and loss of income.

While this national effort has been under way and dedicated people throughout the country have contributed to it, it has become clear that a very small and irresponsible minority has put our agri-food industry at risk for its own selfish reasons. The measures in the Bill are aimed at that minority.

The provisions in this Bill will significantly enhance our ability to identify and prosecute wrong-doers, whether factories, marts, dealers, farmers or anyone else who engages in irresponsible and illegal activities. I repeat that this is a very small group and that the overwhelming majority of honest and responsible people in the industry have nothing to fear from these measures.

Before I introduce the details of the Bill, I acknowledge the constructive role played by the Opposition concerning this matter, particularly by Deputy Penrose and, not for the first time in the national interest, by Deputy Dukes. I hope some day Deputy Dukes will get due reward and acknowledgement for putting the national interest first on all occasions.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  There is a good chance the Minister and I will be swapping roles.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  The Bill was debated in the Seanad yesterday in a very constructive fashion. I compliment the Labour Party for tabling its amendments early in the morning. Useful amendments from all sides of the House were taken on board. As regards amendments accepted in this House, arrangements have been made for the Seanad to [735] convene later this evening as is necessary. I will accept any constructive and worthwhile amendments.

I will now outline the different sections of the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2001 [Seanad]. Section 1 provides for the definition of the words and phrases used in the Bill. Most of the terms used are defined in the Diseases of Animal Act, 1966, and, therefore, do not require re-enactment.

Section 2 provides for the insertion of a new section in the 1966 Act. This section allows the Minister to appoint a wide range of persons to be authorised officers for the purposes of enforcing the section. The section also confers extensive powers on authorised officers. These include powers to stop persons and vehicles. They also include the power to enter any land or premises where there is a reasonable suspicion that an animal may be infected or has been in contact with an infected animal, or that an animal has been moved illegally or through a place where there may be infection. An officer may also detain and mark any animal, animal product, fodder or litter.

Section 2 also gives extensive powers of search, seizure and detention in respect of vehicles, factories animals, animal products, fodder or litter. A person may also be required to produce documents and give information. This section also provides that an authorised officer, where he or she considers it reasonable, may dispose of any animal, including by slaughter, animal product, fodder or litter. This provision is not linked with compensation. There is already provision in the 1966 Act for slaughter with compensation. Slaughter without compensation would only be appropriate in rare cases. Nevertheless it is important to make this provision because taxpayers would rightly be unhappy if compensation was paid in a case where there was clear wrong-doing.

The constitutional position regarding a person's residence is safeguarded by a requirement to obtain a search warrant prior to entry to a dwelling. Obstruction of an officer is made an offence for which a person may be arrested. On summary conviction, a person guilty of obstruction is liable to a fine of up to £1,500 and-or imprisonment for six months. On conviction on indictment, a person is liable to a fine of up to £100,000 and-or five years imprisonment.

The powers in section 2 are very considerable but are absolutely necessary. However, I accept that Deputies may feel it desirable to review these provisions so I have provided that they will be reviewed in 12 months' time. During the intervening period we will be able to see how the provisions work and Deputies and Senators will have an opportunity to study them in more detail. The Government, therefore, introduced an amendment to the Bill in the Seanad providing for a review of this section by the Oireachtas after a period of 12 months. This was agreed by the Seanad and welcomed by all sides.

[736] Section 3 inserts a new section in the Act and addresses the issue of dealers. It gives the Minister the power to approve and register dealers and their premises and to regulate their activities by order. I intend to make an order regarding this matter very quickly. We have defined a dealer as anyone who resells an animal within a period of 45 days. The original period was 100 days but the Seanad agreed that 45 days would be preferable.

The Bill also provides that the Minister may, by order, ensure that a person who purchases an animal may not move that animal for a period of 30 days. However, this section will only have effect when it is necessary to avoid an outbreak or the spread of disease.

In addition, provision is made for the issue of permits to allow movement within 30 days. I intend to ensure, through the permit system, that this restriction, when in force, does not unduly interfere with normal and reasonable commercial activities, including assembly of animals for live export. Many Senators were concerned that in some regions, agents collect cattle or sheep for factories. The concern was that in small farming areas where farmers have four or five cattle, one could not have a truck taking them long distances. The permit system will allow for this situation. The details of the permit arrangements will be worked out in consultation with the relevant interests.

Sections 4 and 5 are inserted on legal advice to confirm by statute the foot and mouth order of 1956 and the various orders and regulations made since the onset of the present crisis. Section 4 also provides for increased penalties for breaches of the foot and mouth disease order. The new penalties are in line with those in section 2.

Section 6 and the Schedule to the Act deal with miscellaneous amendments to the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966. The main thrust of these amendments is to extend the provisions of the Act regarding areas and animals infected or suspected of being infected, to cover areas and animals at risk of infection. This is very relevant to the current situation in which we do not have a confirmed case but where we are at risk because of the situation in Britain and Northern Ireland. Some further results of blood samples, the serological tests, have been returned to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and they are clear, which is good news. Although the preliminary results which were taken from tissue were clear, the blood is left on for a much long period. As Deputies know, in France in particular, some antibodies showed up in blood samples there. Thankfully, to date, the samples referring to the Dunleer problem – the clinical veterinary examination, the serological samples, tissue samples and the virologist's examination – are all clear.

There are a number of technical amendments in the Schedule which have been made on legal advice.

Section 9 provides for an offence by a body corporate. This is an important provision. It [737] means that where, for example, a factory breaches the Act, or aids and abets an offence by others, the officers of that company who connive or consent to the offence, as well as the company itself, will be liable to proceedings.

Section 10 relates to the important issue of interference with ear tags. It allows a court to infer the illegal removal, switching or tampering of an ear-tag or, as appropriate, illegal importation of an animal, in relevant proceedings. Following amendment in the Seanad yesterday, this provision will also apply to forms of animal identification other than ear tags. Ear tags, of course, are a vital part of our control systems for cattle, and a similar system is being introduced for sheep shortly. It is therefore essential that we ensure the tightest possible legal enforcement of the rules relating to tagging. Section 11 provides for the short Title and citation of the Bill.

It should be clear from the foregoing that the new powers and controls introduced in this Bill are significant and that is why we have provided for a review of the most significant provisions in a year's time. However, I want to re-emphasise that these provisions are targeted at a small group of people who act in a selfish and irresponsible way in different sectors of the industry. These provisions will not be used to interfere with the normal business of factories or farmers in any way, but rather to protect them from the risks that are involved in the operations of less responsible elements. The powers in the Bill will be applied reasonably, sensibly and seriously.

The stakes in the battle against foot and mouth disease are very high. The agri-food sector is of enormous importance to this country in economic terms. It accounts for 10% of our GDP and 11% of our employment. It therefore constitutes a far larger share of the economy than almost any of our EU partners. There is, of course, also an ancillary spin-off from our agri-tourist industry and a whole range of other economic activities. Recently some economists, including one from a leading stockbroking firm, said that it is not in keeping with the economic importance of the sector to have a narrow view of farming and that its regional significance should also be taken into account.

Even in purely economic terms the sector is more important than these basic figures suggest because of its deep internal linkages in our economy. The agri-food sector has a low import content and a high expenditure within the economy. It therefore accounts for up to 27% of our net trade earnings, when one allows for imported inputs and repatriated profits. That is an enormous share of our trade and it is this trade that could be put at risk by foot and mouth disease. It is clear that the short to medium-term impacts of a major outbreak of the disease would be considerable. There would also be long-term impacts as markets lost are not easily regained.

For this reason the Government has put in place a comprehensive range of measures to guard against the disease and the damage that it [738] would do to the economy. The action taken was swift, decisive and well focused and the resources provided have been considerable. The measures implemented in this country go beyond those in other countries and have been implemented with a high degree of professionalism and effectiveness. We have a national control centre in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development as well as regional control centres throughout the country. I visited one of those yesterday, at Ballymascanlon. Apart from the professionalism demonstrated there, they are fine people in that part of the country – most courteous and helpful.

Mr. McGahon: Information on Brendan McGahon  Zoom on Brendan McGahon  I hope the Minister was not kept too long on the Newry road, like the rest of us.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  We are not discussing road conditions.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  There were some traffic inconveniences, all right, but those little sacrifices are well worth it in the end.

I am aware that there has been criticism of some perceived weaknesses in our systems. In so far as these criticisms are positive and contribute to the development of our defences, I welcome them, including criticism and advice given in this House. I have endeavoured to put that advice into effect in so far as I can. I do not pretend that our systems are perfect because no system is. In the time available, however, an extraordinary amount has been achieved and we owe a great deal to those who have manned the barricades.

I regret that in addition to the positive criticism, there have been some entirely negative, self-serving contributions that have, in effect, belittled the tremendous work being undertaken by those on the front line. In some instances, those criticisms have been extremely damaging to the national interest.

The measures before the House will add significantly to our defences during the current crisis and will also bolster our ability to deal with any future problems. I assure Deputies that they will be implemented with the same vigour and effectiveness as the other measures we have already taken.

I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to a constructive discussion on its contents.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  The Minister has come before us today with a Bill which he admits contains some extraordinary powers. He also admits that it goes quite a distance in extending the reach of his officials in certain respects. He presents this as a necessary and urgent measure to deal with the serious problem we are facing. We are dealing with this emergency legislation 15 days after the first outbreak of foot and mouth disease was announced in Britain. After over two weeks of this extremely worrying threat the Minister comes before us with an emergency measure to [739] deal with it. That delay is symptomatic of the Government's general tardiness in dealing with the major threat facing us. The Minister's own information summary, circulated on 28 February, neatly illustrates this point. According to the summary, advice was being given for the first couple of days following the outbreak and matters were being brought to people's notice. Apart, however, from stationing a relatively small number of gardaí and army personnel on the Border at that time, nothing concrete was being done. It was quite some time later that we began to see a series of consequential measures, but all of them were taken after some considerable delay.

Even from the Minister's own schedule of events, there is no indication of a co-ordinated and properly prioritised response. I will give just one example. Farmers and the general public understand that in dealing with this disease one of the most important things to control is movement – certainly the movement of animals and, desirably, the movement of people. When were movement controls instituted for animals in this jurisdiction, however? It was last Friday when the Minister first announced the movement control system in this House following the case made by the Opposition. That was a week and four days after the first outbreaks of foot and mouth disease were announced in Britain. The Minister had to ban all movements of animals and the slaughter of animals outside meat factory premises from Friday until Tuesday so that the movement control system could be put in place. That does not indicate a properly co-ordinated and prioritised approach to the problem.

When this outbreak is over and the danger has passed, hopefully without our being affected, we should review the whole situation and set in place a prescription for what needs to be done in future if an outbreak is announced in the UK, or anywhere else, which poses a threat to this country. It should be possible for somebody in the Minister's Department, on hearing of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK, to take out the manual and to know from day one what arrangements have to be put in place, in what order and what resources need to be brought in from elsewhere. We should not have this tardy, cumulative response which, more by luck than judgment, has so far kept us free of the spread of this disease.

All through last week and the early part of this week Deputies on the Opposition benches principally, but some on the Government side also, have recited a litany of differences between what the Minister said was being put in place and what was actually happening. We continue to hear of further instances on a daily basis. I will give a few examples.

It was brought to my notice yesterday that there is no disinfection facility at the Dublin headquarters of the Health and Safety Authority, which has a substantial level of activity in all regions of the country. No instruction is given to officers of the Health and Safety Authority who [740] carry out inspections on farms when farm accidents occur, and who visit factories, including meat factories. No instruction is being given to HSA personnel on disinfection procedures which they should follow if and when they visit farms or meat factories. It was proposed that they should cut down the level of visits to farms and meat factories but that was resisted by the upper tiers of management. I have been further informed that senior managers of the HSA intend visiting the UK next week. What an example.

I had a long conversation yesterday with a person who carries out a considerable amount of work for the Agricultural Contractors' Association. This person was at a point of near distraction as to how to advise farmers with regard to slurry spreading. The official advice of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is, quite correctly, that there should be no slurry spreading until further notice. Unfortunately, farm animals are unaware of that advice and they continue to produce the stuff. As slurry storage facilities on many farms are now full to the brim, further capacity needs to be provided. I know of farmers who phoned the Department's helplines for advice on this problem. In one case, a farmer was given the rather odd advice to dump the slurry in a corner of a field. Another farmer was advised to dump the slurry in the middle of a field. Even if that was physically possible, what would be the effect on the local water resources? That advice is neither helpful nor constructive.

The Minister has, quite rightly, banned the importation of second hand farm machinery from the UK because of the danger of carrying infectious material. Yet agricultural contractors from north of the Border continue to work on farms south of the Border, travelling to and fro daily. That is clearly an even greater source of risk than second hand farm machinery imports.

I have already referred in the House to another case, admittedly before the introduction of the movement controls, where a load of lambs for slaughter was brought from Raphoe, County Donegal, to a meat processing plant in Ballymun in north Dublin. That makes very little sense to me, especially in present circumstances. I do not know what route was followed from Raphoe to Ballymun but the shortest route is through Northern Ireland.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  And through County Monaghan.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  I am aware that, in County Roscommon, Waterways Ireland was continuing with its normal work up to 27 February. They were entering on lands, bringing mechanical diggers, tractors, trailers, lorries and other kinds of machinery to and fro across the lands and, in the process, carrying earth and mud onto the public road. When a local resident remonstrated with the foreman on site he was told that, not only would the work continue, but they intended [741] entering two further premises on the following Monday, 5 March.

According to my information, Customs officers have not been fully involved or employed in policing the border with Northern Ireland, notwithstanding the fact that they, above all others in our public service, are the ones who know the Border and and its various crossing points most intimately. Customs officers also have the greatest experience of the stratagems adopted by people who want to get across the Border without attracting too much attention. Yet, for some reason, they have not been centrally involved in the current operation.

It was brought to my attention that one Dublin citizen who visited three supermarkets in the Crumlin area yesterday found products on the shelves of two of those premises clearly labelled as having been manufactured in Newry, in one case, and in Portadown in the other case. He had understood that all such products containing meat were no longer being imported. When he phoned the Department's helpline, there was a degree of bafflement at first and then he was told that the products had been imported under special licence. Now that is news to me. I have not heard of the existence of any special licence system which can allow the importation from Northern Ireland of otherwise banned products containing meat.

Since we are discussing a food issue, we should bear in mind that, as far as we know, this outbreak of disease arrived in the UK through a form of foodstuff which was subsequently fed to pigs, without having been boiled. Clearly, there is a problem with the provenance and the content of some material which is being fed to animals coming into this country and into the European Union. There is no system in place for ensuring the traceability of animal feedstuffs used generally in the European Union. Consequently, there is a risk, quite how serious I do not know, that some of the more exotic imported feedstuffs could carry infection of which we are unaware at time of import. Crucially, in the event of a subsequent outbreak of disease, we would be unable to trace the infectious feedstuff back to its origin. I urge the Minister to take up that issue at the earliest possible time. It is a matter of concern for the EU generally. As the Minister knows, there are quite substantial imports of feedstuffs into the EU of far flung origins. Indeed, the EU also imports substantial quantities of food for human consumption from various exotic locations where we cannot be confident that food quality checks are up to our standards. For example, the case of Thai chickens immediately springs to mind.

To date, we have managed to escape the animal health manifestations of this disease but other problems exist. Substantial numbers of staff have been laid off by meat factories and we are now beginning to see the ripple effect this crisis is having in many other industries. For example, suppliers to meat factories, leisure activities and the service industry have all been affected. I [742] know the Minister has no control over these developments, which are an inevitable result of the kinds of measures we are obliged to take, but they show how important it is that Ireland remains free of this disease and that we continue to insist that the UK authorities take a more rigorous approach than they have done heretofore.

I thank the Minister for providing Opposition spokespersons with the opportunity yesterday to meet some of the staff who have been involved in the preparation of the Bill. We had a useful discussion which, I believe, proved to be mutually beneficial because both sides gained something out of it and the Bill has been improved as a result.

The Bill provides for rather extraordinary powers for authorised officers. It makes obstruction of an officer an offence, empowers the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to register dealers, provides for the forfeiture of vehicles, vessels, containers and, in some circumstances, even factories and premises and provides that a court may permanently ban a person or a company from involvement in an agriculture related activity. The Government wants to deal with these matters in a day long debate. That is quite a demand. I am delighted the Minister has taken on board one of the suggestions we made yesterday and that he is now proposing that the legislation will have a limited life. I must confess, however, I have not seen the provision he has made in that regard.

I intend to table an amendment on Committee Stage which will provide that the Act shall lapse on a specified date and that its provisions will continue to be enforced only with the further approval of the Oireachtas. The length of the period during which the legislation should remain in force that I intend to put forward is considerably shorter than that advocated by the Minister. However, we can discuss that matter on Committee Stage. Given the extraordinary extent of the powers included in the Bill, it would be essential – if I can use an analogy – that we be able to review in “peacetime” measures we have taken in “wartime” in order to consider how they worked, whether they were necessary and whether further changes are required.

I have stated on previous occasions when emergency legislation was introduced in the House that this is a bad way to legislate. Emergency legislation dealt with in this manner often proves to be bad legislation. I can recall only two instances in the 20 years I have been a Member of the House when emergency legislation proved to be effective and stood the test of time. The first instance to which I refer was the introduction, by the late Deputy Frank Cluskey, as Minister for Industry and Commerce, of an emergency Bill to deal with the PMPA and the second was the introduction by my party Leader, Deputy Noonan – as Minister for Justice – a measure to confiscate funds owned by the IRA. Both measures worked.

[743] Other emergency legislation introduced in the House subsequently proved to be completely useless. For example, a measure on bail was introduced by the zero tolerance Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, the provisions of which, as far as I am aware, have never been used in a court. On introducing this measure, the Minister, who was fired up with missionary zeal, stated that it was absolutely necessary to protect Irish people from the crooks and criminals that Sinn Féin is claiming to be dealing with. The measure in question made no difference.

Emergency legislation must always be a last resort. It applies to the law a principle I urged on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to apply to animals, namely, shoot first and ask questions later. That principle is right for animals but it is not right for the law. The Minister made the case that we need the legislation before us on the implicit basis that we had no proper contingency plan to put into effect when this crisis arose.

I wish to make a brief reference to one of the provisions in the Bill which involves dealers. The Minister, like all other Members, will be aware that this has caused a great deal of consternation among a group of people, the vast majority of whom are essential to our agricultural trading system and without whom farmers would find it much more difficult to do their job. I accept, however, that included in their ranks are a number of bad eggs. These people have been referred to as “rogue traders”. I received a communication earlier today from a person with an interest in traders who made the point that the Bill is meant to put an end to rogue traders. However, he also pointed out that in recent years at least one Taoiseach, various Ministers, Senators, bishops, priests, brothers, captains of industry and many others have been proven to be rogues in far more serious affairs than those involving cattle dealers. The person further stated that no legislation has been introduced to seriously impair the livelihoods of those to whom he refers and highlights the fact that none of them has been brought to justice. That is fair comment.

The greatest confusion in respect of the Bill relates to the provision on the retention of animals for a period of 30 days. I have been able to set people's minds at rest in that regard by explaining that this period will only apply when there is a declaration, under an order made by the Minister, that a disease is present or that there is a risk that there could be an outbreak. I look forward to considering these matters further on Committee Stage.

The Minister and the Government should apologise to Members for, again, bringing forward a measure of this kind which has to be dealt with in such a hurried manner. I hope the Minister will agree, when we reach Committee Stage, that the 12 month period after which it is proposed to review the legislation is excessive in the circumstances and that a shorter period is [744] required, particularly in light of the powers being conferred under the Bill.

Mr. Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. I thank the Minister and his officials for the courteous way they discussed the legislation with us yesterday. Those discussions were of mutual benefit to everyone involved and I am glad that some of the amendments we debated later became incorporated in Government amendments which were furnished later. The Minister will appreciate that the Labour Party has put forward a number of constructive amendments and, hopefully, he will see the merit in them. Being a lawyer I tend to consider matters from a legal point of view and I do not blame the officials for not taking on board everything we say.

Mr. McGahon: Information on Brendan McGahon  Zoom on Brendan McGahon  At least they do not have to pay the Deputy for his services.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Davern): Information on Noel Davern  Zoom on Noel Davern  That sounds like the voice of experience.

Mr. Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  There is no doubt that there is an urgent need for this legislation. However, that is not a justification for not getting it right. The Oireachtas does its job properly when it subjects Bills introduced in circumstances of this nature to particularly rigorous scrutiny. My party has a number of concerns which I intend to express.

During Question Time on Tuesday of last week I asked about the emergency measures it was planned to introduce. Indeed, I was one of the first people to inquire about restrictions on the movement of animals and humans. I did so because it was important that clear signals were sent out and a good example shown. That is very important.

The outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain triggered a tremendous degree of apprehension, fear and anxiety throughout the Republic with many thousands of people engaging in a massive effort to ensure this country remains free of the disease. We have seen the tremendous effort by staff of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the members of the Garda Síochána, many of whom worked in extremely difficult and unpleasant conditions. The Defence Forces and the Civil Defence also played a pivotal role in this concerted effort.

I heard some people pontificating about this problem on various programmes but the importance of the agri-food sector cannot be over-emphasised. Despite a decline in importance, this sector remains the bedrock of activity in rural Ireland but certain type of talk could lead people to drop their guard and become complacent in relation to the problem. There is no room for complacency in this battle against foot and mouth disease. The measures put in place yesterday have [745] to be treated with the same fortress-like mentality tomorrow as they were treated yesterday.

As the Minister said earlier, the importance of the agri-food industry is enormous. It amounts to 10% of GDP, 11% of employment, over a quarter of our net foreign trade earnings, it is worth up to £10 billion, with £5 billion accruing directly from animals, etc. It penetrates all sectors of our economy and has a major unifying effect on urban and rural Ireland. There is often a perceived divide but the reaction of all people throughout urban and rural areas indicates that is not the case.

On behalf of the Labour Party I want to send our best wishes to two members of the Garda Síochána who were injured in the course of their duties on the Border. There was also a magnificent effort by thousands of individuals, companies and organisations who have all played heroic roles in a united and concerted national effort. They realised they were doing that in the national interest. I salute the efforts and the responsibility exhibited by all the community, voluntary, sporting and cultural organisations. The unselfish decisions and sacrifices they made resulted in significant disruption, inconvenience and financial loss to many of those whose activities have an international dimension.

It is a pity some of the commercial organisations, for example those involved in the promotion of large concerts, music or other events where large numbers congregate and who derive significant commercial and financial benefit, did not follow suit and respond positively to the appeals of the Government not to proceed with such events. It is shoulder to the wheel time for everybody. There has to be a united effort by everybody. Example must be all-pervasive. There should be no half measures and the Minister should direct the commercial organisation involved not to permit such concerts wherever they are to be held. He should ask for these to be deferred. They can be re-scheduled so as not to disappoint the many thousands of young people who obviously enjoy musical and cultural events. Let us be clear about that. We are not killjoys or spoilsports. We all realise that people enjoy these events and derive entertainment from them.

I was disappointed with the decision of some of our jockeys, and I see Deputy McGahon in the House, to go to Cheltenham.

Mr. McGahon: Information on Brendan McGahon  Zoom on Brendan McGahon  I am not a jockey.

Mr. Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  No, but he is a supporter of the racing industry. I made my views known on the way the British authorities have reacted to this crisis, and I will say no more about that. When an outbreak of disease threatens the livelihood of so many, we should have in place an emergency response plan. For the first few days of this crisis we have been dusting down the 1967 plan and putting it in place but there has been major fundamental change in this country since that time. That is self-evident. There is no foot and mouth disease in Canada or Mexico and between 6 and [746] 8 November 2000 they carried out a simulated exercise involving vaccines, etc. that could be used. That exercise allowed them to put in place a comprehensive emergency plan, as individual countries, but also on a co-ordinated regional basis. That is what we should be looking at so that if this ever happens again, we will know what to do and we can immediately spring into action. That should be done in conjunction with Britain because that is the nearest place an outbreak is likely to occur. That is important.

Before I deal with a number of issues in the Bill, I want to make an appeal. Sheep farmers are suffering significantly and they have contacted me in the past few days. They need advance payments of subsidies, and I believe the Minister will accept that. Finances are getting extremely tight for them. They have significant outlays, credit titles, etc. Deputy Dukes referred to some of those farmers and cattle farmers for whom slurry is now becoming a major problem. I had a telephone call last night from some people in Deputy McGahon's part of the country where slurry is becoming a major problem. People are trying to comply but they have nowhere to go. Animals are being kept in longer, the cost of feedstuffs is increasing and it is time for ploughing. Many farmers want to plough but they are being prevented from doing it. It is time to get the seed into the ground and get the crops growing. I hope the Minister, particularly in the exclusion zone area which Deputy McGahon represents, will address that problem. I understand the people from there will meet his officials today and I hope they will look favourably on their concerns.

This is also a time for cool heads. We must not become complacent but we have to encourage the fortress mentality because one slip up could be fatal and that would cost us dearly in terms of huge losses. We have to look across the economy. There is a £500 million loss to the tourism industry, as my colleague, Deputy Moynihan-Cronin, explained. Approximately 22,000 or 23,000 jobs are at risk in that area. About 600 conferences have been cancelled so there is a knock-on effect on all sectors of the economy.

Perhaps this crisis will help us realise that the Celtic tiger does not have such a solid foundation. We have been lulled into a false sense of security in that regard. It had almost become a national badge of bravado that we were untouchable, yet over the past fortnight we have teetered on the brink and fought an all-out rearguard effort to ensure this crisis does not knock us off course.

There is a danger that people will confuse foot and mouth disease with BSE and CJD; I heard the Minister refer to that also. People seem to think that foot and mouth disease affects food safety but it does not. It is a serious disease which poses a national threat and obviously threatens our world trade in food on which we rely to such a great extent. The Minister should re-emphasise the point that foot and mouth disease has nothing to do with food safety and that animals actually [747] recover from the disease after a few weeks. The problem is that the disease is so contagious.

As a lawyer I detest emergency legislation because in the past, as Deputy Dukes said, it invariably proved not to be the best legislation. The time limit for review is important. Laws passed in the heat of the moment do not receive the scrutiny which legislation demands and deserves. We have to revisit it with cooler heads and a more reflective attitude. There are measures which are draconian in nature, such as search and seizure, etc. We should be able to revisit this legislation in less frantic circumstances. The problem might look different in hindsight six months or so from now. It is important, therefore, that any proposal to extend this legislation will be subject to the further scrutiny and agreement of the Houses of the Oireachtas and hopefully all of the problems encountered will be solved and we will be in a position to effect appropriate improvements if they are required.

A number of organisations have expressed concerns. The 30 days referred to in section 3(3) is reasonably necessary but it should be applied only in exceptional circumstances and not in the normal occurrences where outbreaks of disease occur. Orders brought in could become an impediment to normal trade.

Most people involved in trade adhere to the rules and regulations. Only a few, as the Minister said, flout them. They threaten the existence of the industry and must be rooted out. If it was to become the norm certainly the calf or weanling trade would be affected.

If under section 3(5) the Minister must bring in an order to restrict movement for 30 days, it is important that permits are made available quickly. Many dealers conduct their business legitimately, strictly adhering to the guidelines and regulations. Is it the intention to issue permits to recognised dealers in advance, at least for calves and weanlings, because permitting each animal would lead to an administrative and bureaucratic nightmare? That should not be the case. One can accept that under the current circumstances, with the foot and mouth threat, nothing should move, but we must keep it in perspective otherwise this could be a major problem.

Regarding section 2, we want to insert a new subsection which reads:

(9) Any information given by a person pursuant to a request or requirement under subsection (8) shall not be admissible in criminal proceedings against that person (other than proceedings under subsection (14)(c)(i)).”.

This protects the right against self incrimination. I note what the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, stated yesterday that the Government took cognisance of the Supreme Court ruling in the NIB case with regard to self-incrimination. However, without this amendment the section is unconstitutional and contrary to the European Conven[748] tion. This is important and we want to help the Minister. I accept that the Minister is advised that it is unnecessary and that it is already governed by fundamental law, for example the NIB case. We cannot be casual about the protection of fundamental rights. We want express protection of the right not to incriminate oneself.

Section 2, inserts a new section 17A and we propose in page 5, line 41 after “liable” to insert “in damages”. I understand what was said yesterday, but we seek to retain the right to sue officers for illegality by way of judicial review. It is an administrative decision that the authorised officer is making and that should be subject to judicial review. We want a review after 6 months, not the 12 months proposed.

We propose under section 3(6) that “An appeal shall lie against a refusal of an application for a permit under subsection (5) to such officer as may be designated in that behalf by the Minister having regard to any provision in the general law regarding agriculture appeals.” If the Minister accepts that, there will be an appeals system. The Minister appeared to accept it, but it is not in the Bill which is where we want to see it.

I refer to Section 2 and to the slaughter of animals without compensation. Section 2 inserts a new section as section 17A of the 1996 Act. The existing section refers to the slaughter of diseased animals and compensation. The new section 17A confers powers on the Minister's authorised officers, including the power to require the disposal of animals without provision for compensation. The Minister of State's Second Stage speech in the Seanad makes it clear that this omission is deliberate. He said:

This section also provides that an authorised officer, where he considers it reasonable, may dispose of any animal, including by slaughter, or any animal product, fodder or litter. This provision is not linked with compensation. There is already provision in the Act for slaughter with compensation. Slaughter without compensation would only be appropriate in rare cases. It is important to make this provision because taxpayers would rightly be very unhappy if compensation was paid in a case where there was clear wrongdoing.

No one wants to see anyone who purposely attempts to distort or falsify results of tests benefiting from compensation. We support that. Compensation was introduced to cover the impact of disease introduced into a herd innocently leaving a farmer denuded of his working capital, the livestock.

The Bill as it stands means there will be two provisions on the statute book dealing with the power to require the slaughter of animals. One will specify that compensation payable and the other will not. This Bill does not specify the circumstances under which it would be considered appropriate to require the slaughter of animals without provision for compensation. The Minister intends to refuse compensation where there is [749] clear wrongdoing. This involves a finding by an administrative officer rather than a court, that an individual acted in breach of the law and committed a criminal offence. Also, it entails the attachment by that officer, rather than a court, of a penalty for the offence, that is, the refusal of compensation for the destruction of his property.

I understand why the Minister did not set out in the Bill the precise circumstances in which the authorised officer would be entitled to require the slaughter of animals without provision for compensation. If he did, the provisions would be liable to be struck down as unconstitutional on the grounds that they involve the administration of justice in a criminal matter other than by a judge. However, the failure to set out in the statutory scheme the circumstances in which one route should be chosen rather than another, in other words, whether to compensate or not, still leaves the scheme open to constitutional challenge on the grounds that the making of such a choice with the resulting consequences for the rights of the persons affected is in itself an administration of justice which should be confined to the courts.

I urge the Minister and his legal advisers, some of whom I know well, to consider whether the refusal of compensation for slaughter of animals on the grounds of wrongdoing by the owner should be a power that should not be confined to a court which has heard and considered the evidence. In any event the Minister failed to point out that the 1966 Act already makes the provision in section 58. It is significant in this context that the power of forfeiture of vehicles, vessels, aircraft or containers in section 7 of the Bill can only be exercised by way of a court order subsequent to conviction on indictment.

I seek to help the Minister. There is a prohibition on retroactive penal legislation. Article 15.5 of the Constitution provides “that the Oireachtas shall not declare acts to be an infringement of the law which were not so at the date of the commission.” The Supreme Court Case, Doyle versus An Taoiseach, 1986, ILRM 693, dealt with section 79 of the Finance Act, 1980, which purported to confirm the validity of certain levies made by statutory instrument the previous year. The Supreme Court held that if the provisions of the section were intended to have retrospective effect they would to that extent be unconstitutional since the result would be ex post facto to make non-payment of the levy an infringement of the law. To save the section from unconstitutionality, it had to be interpreted as having only prospective effect. Applying that judgment to this Bill, it seems that section 4(1) is safe as it confirms the foot and mouth disease order, 1956 and that can be interpreted as having prospective effect only. However, section 5 provides that the following are confirmed as and from the date on which they purported to come into operation, and all the Minister's recent orders to deal with the present crisis are listed. The wording of the section “the date upon which they purported to come into operation” is an implicit admission that the [750] orders at present are invalid since the 1966 Act does not cover animals at risk of infection as opposed to those suspected of being infected.

Yet the Minister's wording states that those orders should be confirmed as and from the date upon which they purported to come into operation, in other words, we are asked to validate them today and give them retrospective effect. As there are criminal sanctions for breach of the orders, we are asked to do precisely what Article 15.5 of the Constitution prohibits us from doing. That is why we proposed in the Seanad and propose today in this House the deletion of the words “as and from the date upon which they purported to come into operation.”

Mr. M. Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  I propose to share my time with Deputy Brady.

I welcome the Bill and the opportunity to speak on it. I would like to congratulate the Minister, Deputy Walsh, the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, the Government, officials at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, the Garda, the Defence Forces, farmers, sporting bodies, religious bodies and the public for their service to the nation in the past week. They have put their lives on hold for the benefit of the State.

The Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2001, is before us because of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom on 20 February. This deadly and highly contagious disease could have serious effects if a case shows up here. The regulations in this Bill upgrade the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966, to ensure that any future disease control measures are in place if necessary. Parts of this Bill have been referred to as draconian and tough but Governments and Ministers are there to ensure the benefit of the vast majority. Future rogue traders will not have the opportunity to jeopardise an entire industry, in this case the agriculture industry, and thereby put the entire economy at risk. Certain regulations have caused concern, and I accept that emergency legislation can sometimes make bad law. It is now the Oireachtas' turn to put this Bill in place having implored people to take the issue seriously for the last ten days.

Various changes have been made to agriculture regulations during the last few years. As public representatives, we often encounter a belief that the agriculture industry has had more regulations than any other industry. The last ten days have shown that these regulations are for the betterment and benefit of agriculture. While a lot of paperwork and red tape are involved, the measures exist for the protection of farmers' livelihoods and of the industry as a whole.

There was great opposition to the tagging of sheep last September or October. If it was said last Wednesday or Thursday night that to tag every sheep in the country before daybreak was the only way to keep foot and mouth disease out, I have no doubt but that it would have been done. [751] People were so scared that any measure would have been accepted to ensure that it was kept out.

Coming from an agricultural background I can say that agriculture and agri-business comprised the original Celtic tiger. Over many decades, agriculture was the main source of income, particularly in rural Ireland. It helped people to rear and to educate families. Many people who live in cities like Dublin or Cork have a first or second generation agricultural background. The measures that are being put in place today are designed to protect that industrial heritage.

Foot and mouth disease is rampant within the United Kingdom. Although we have very strict regulations in place, I wonder if the British authorities are taking this matter as seriously as they should. It is frightening that 15 cases were confirmed yesterday. However, I hope we do not become complacent and that we remain vigilant.

Mr. J. Brady: Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  The last week has been very difficult for farmers and for everyone. The confirmation on Wednesday evening last of an outbreak in south Armagh sent shock waves through the agriculture and food producing industries. The actions of a few individuals placed an industry worth £9 billion in danger and the nation's future at risk for a small short-term gain. I compliment the Government and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, including the Minister, Deputy Walsh, and the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, for their immediate and effective response to the foot and mouth outbreak in Britain. True political leadership at a time of great crisis was shown.

Those who listened to Deputy Dukes would have the impression that foot and mouth disease has occurred here and not in the United Kingdom, where it is rampant. I was saddened by the Deputy's attempts to turn this into a political football.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  The Deputy would not know anything about that.

Mr. J. Brady: Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  The Department immediately responded following the outbreak in England on Tuesday, 20 February, by activating its plan. The Minister, Deputy Walsh, and his officials took action in the space of a few days.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Deal with that.

Mr. Davern: Information on Noel Davern  Zoom on Noel Davern  It is the reality.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Deal with the reality.

Mr. J. Brady: Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  Officials at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, the Garda Síochána, the Army and many others worked in difficult weather conditions at the Border, airports and ports to keep this terrible scourge out. It was wonderful to see the enormous efforts of people across the country, particularly those in the agricultural sector who volun[752] tarily manned disinfectant points. I commend voluntary organisations for their immediate response which stopped the movement of vast numbers of people.

While we are thankfully free from foot and mouth disease, we cannot let our guard down as the disease is rampant in England with over 90 cases confirmed to date. We must continue on high alert and take every possible precaution. I welcome the cancellation of events due to take place during the next couple of weeks. The spread of this disease in Britain is a major cause for concern, and I wonder if the authorities there are taking the out-of-control situation seriously.

The Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2001, will impose controls on the movement of animals and reduce the activities which threatened the survival of the industry last week. All animal sectors must have strict disease control measures and traceability procedures. Irish farmers have built up an excellent system of farming which produces quality food products in a clean, green environment. The great work of many has been damaged on many occasions by the roguish actions of a few, but this Bill will put a stop to that. The imposition of a £100,000 fine and a one year jail sentence will show the seriousness of the offence. The tagging of sheep during the next six months will ensure traceability. The fact that all animals must be maintained for 30 days unless under special permit, will reduce the spread of disease.

This Bill also deals with the highly dangerous offence of illegally switching or tampering with ear tags. It gives the courts the ultimate power of sanction to remove an individual from farming or agricultural activity. I urge the House to support the emergency passage of this legislation to provide a proper and effective disease control system. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Walsh, and his Department on the effective measures they have put in place to ensure Ireland retains its disease free status. Yesterday we saw the success of a new foot and mouth livestock movement control as more than 100 meat plants and abattoirs complied with the issue of over 1,000 movement permits. They, along with farmers, Teagasc, ICOs and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, are to be complimented for keeping our country free from the disease.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Before Deputy Crawford comes in, let me point out that a number of speakers exceeded their time limit this morning. I ask speakers to confine themselves to the time limit because this is a limited debate which must conclude at 2.30 p.m. and a number of speakers want to contribute within that time.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  I propose to share my time with Deputy Connaughton.

That two gardaí were injured while carrying out duties on the Border is an indication of the types of people with which our security forces must deal. As other speakers have done, I wish [753] to convey my best wishes to the injured gardaí and my thanks to everyone who helps to secure the Border.

I want to draw attention to some anomalies. One relates to my area where on Friday afternoon the Minister announced that all marts in the Border areas were to close. It was a request, not an order. How many telephone calls were made to the press corps before a press conference was organised to get that information across to people? Calls to the five district veterinary officers in the Border region would have ensured the marts and all other relevant personnel would know exactly what the Department had in mind.

Most dealers are decent people, and the 30 day provision in this legislation will have major implications for them. The Department has rightly curtailed the number of herd numbers any family may have, especially if a dealership is involved. However, there should be a proper penal system so that innocent family members are not brought along with an individual who has been involved in wrongdoing and put out of business. We must be very careful about this. I have witnessed abuse of powers under current legislation in respect of reasonably innocent persons. I do not condone wrongdoing, but there are degrees of wrongdoing, and some families were subjected to the rigours of the law in ways that others were not. I hope this legislation is implemented as the Minister said it would be, that it will be targeted at a small group of people, and the powers under it applied reasonably and sensibly. There are crooks who deserve to be subjected to the full rigours of the law, and want the law used against them. However, I do not want to see innocent people being victimised just to prove that officialdom is doing its job. There needs to be a guarantee that appeals will be possible.

The issue of compensation for slaughtered animals must be looked at as well, given that one case with which I had to deal was not looked at fairly, and no law had yet been implemented. The question of tagging must also be looked at. There is nothing in this Bill in relation to factories or Department officials who may not have been complying properly with the law in the past. The 8,000 sheep that got around the system in recent years, which we read about in the newspapers yesterday, could not have done so without some degree of knowledge on the part of factory personnel and Department officials. That whole issue needs to be looked at. The Minister of State, Deputy Davern, has clearly stated that the whole issue of sheep tagging was ignored by farm organisations.

Mr. Davern: Information on Noel Davern  Zoom on Noel Davern  And meat factories.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  The Minister, Deputy Walsh, has been less explicit. There are two final issues I want to raise. Could small farmers not be allowed to bring cattle to selected points where they could be picked up by one lorry and brought the longer distances to meat factories? On the [754] question of slurry, the Minister of State, when he was on this side of the House said he would guarantee that all markets would be kept open regardless of BSE or anything else. There is an onus on him now to ensure markets are kept as open as possible and that farmers get reasonable prices for their livestock.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  In the very short time at my disposal I will deal only with a number of points in the Bill about which I am extremely worried. The Bill is necessary and nobody would oppose its main thrust. The image of farmers and their noble profession has been besmirched by the misdemeanours of a few who have managed to almost sabotage the industry. Rogue farmers, rogue agents, rogue dealers, rogue meat processors and some very sloppy administration have ensured the agricultural industry has got its share of negative publicity in the past few years. There have been controversies about angel dust, BSE, TB and brucellosis, and now foot and mouth disease. I hope we will not get that dreaded disease.

Before detailing what is wrong with the Bill, let me make it clear that I want the wrongdoers crowned with thorns and I want to get them out, but caution is needed. The majority of farmers, agents and dealers do a decent job. Many commit a lifetime to their duties and make a vital contribution to the national economy. However, the definition of dealers in the Bill is neither sensible nor reasonable, but I understand that is being changed – I had a chat with the officials yesterday morning, which I found very useful. If the provision for 100 days were left as it is, it would mean there would be 30,000 cattle dealers, because people buy and sell stock, store lambs and so on, inside 30 days. I do not have the time to go into detail now, but it would be a disaster, and it will have to be curtailed.

We need to be careful about the powers being given to authorised officers. I consider that to be extremely dangerous, although necessary in some parts of the country. There should be a time limit. We will talk more about that later.

The section on how agents and dealers are to be handled will have the most profound effect of all. The livestock industry is like a big jigsaw. Every component part of it is very important to the overall industry. Most livestock agents do a good job. I fully subscribe to and have held the view for a long time that they should be licensed, and they accept that. However, that begs some questions. Historically it has been the practice for, say a farmer in County Galway to buy in calves from the south, and we might like to chance that practice. Will such a dealer now be allowed to buy the calves in the south and bring them for sale at a mart in Tuam? That is a very specific question. If a feeder initially wants 2,000 cattle of a certain type at a certain time, will agents be able to work all around the country and assemble the cattle for export?

[755]Acting Chairman (Mrs. Moynihan-Cronin): Information on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  Zoom on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  The Deputy has one minute.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I know. The time limits on this debate are the height of nonsense. In certain circumstances a dealer must have the animals in his possession for 30 days. Will the Minister give an undertaking that the 30 day rule will not apply in normal circumstances and that if it does apply the person concerned will have recourse to an appeals system? What happens here today may not be interpreted as such at local level when those people are asked to do A, B, X or Y. I will go into this point in much greater detail on Committee Stage. Old prejudices could surface and people could be told they cannot get a licence.

Mr. B. Smith: Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  I wish to share my time with Deputy Killeen.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. B. Smith: Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  I am surprised my constituency colleague, Deputy Crawford, did not see the merit in the Department calling a press conference on that Friday evening. It was of the utmost importance to inform the public of the dangers facing the country from this dreaded, contagious disease. The Department should make no apology for calling press conferences to get a message across to people.

I congratulate the local media, particularly the broadcast and printed media, on its campaign to ensure people were made aware of the difficulties facing them and giving general information on where products could be sourced, etc. I hope next week the Department will buy advertising space in local newspapers, particularly in the farming sections, to ensure the farming community understands the new measures which will be implemented under the legislation. As the Minister, Deputy Walsh, and the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, have repeatedly stated, we need to remind people that we cannot be complacent and there is an absolute need for diligence and vigilance in the implementation of measures to ensure this jurisdiction is kept free of this desperate disease.

I congratulate the Minister, the Minister of State, their officials both at headquarters level in Dublin and at local level, the Garda, Army and voluntary organisations on the tremendous efforts they have made to ensure the State is kept free of foot and mouth disease. Officials in my constituency have worked night and day manning remote checkpoints along the Border. As the Taoiseach said last week, it is difficult to police a 253 mile border on an ongoing basis. I compliment all those officials. I also commend the many voluntary organisations and those commercial bodies which put the interests of the country first and cancelled events. I fully endorse Deputy Penrose's call to other selfish commercial [756] interests which have not shown leadership to cancel events.

It is absolutely essential that the country remains on full alert until 30 days after the last outbreak of the disease in Britain. I have raised with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the concerns expressed to me by constituents about the lax attitude adopted to this issue on the northern side of the Border. People who had to travel to the North last week told me that on the southern side of the Border the manning of checkpoints was exemplary, whereas there was a complete laxity on the northern side. This is not acceptable and I hope the Minister, in his ongoing consultations with Minister Bríd Rodgers, and the Taoiseach, in his communications with Mr. Blair, will reinforce this point and our concerns. I also compliment Teagasc, ICOS and the farming organisations which sent literature to the farming community and placed advertisements in local papers to make people aware and to give useful pointers to the farming community.

The additional measures being put through the House will tackle effectively the wrongdoing by a small minority engaged in farming and livestock dealing. These measures will be welcomed by the overwhelming majority of the farming community who are not prepared to put up with the possible destruction of the major national industry by the reckless behaviour of a small number who are out to make quick money in a dishonest manner. People who flout the law of the land and the regulations established by the Department, be it at farm gate level, dealer level or in factories, must be made to pay a severe price. This necessary legislation will make a difference.

The Minister said that the Bill is aimed at a minority of farmers, dealers and unscrupulous factories. I am glad he referred to the powers provided for under section 9 which deals with an offence by a body corporate. This is an important provision. Every factory should know the source of the product it purchases and processes.

Mr. Killeen: Information on Tony Killeen  Zoom on Tony Killeen  I welcome the legislation which is clearly directed at the correct areas and will ensure that everything possible is done to combat the threat of foot and mouth disease in this jurisdiction. It is only fair to commend those sporting bodies, members of the public, departmental officials, Garda, Army and other people not directly involved in agriculture on the tremendous lengths they have gone to in ensuring the national interest is protected. A majority of people have shown exemplary behaviour across many sectors. This tough legislation is warranted in the circumstances and is directed at the correct areas.

There is considerable consumer confusion, which is a cause of concern. It does not come within the remit of the legislation but there seems to be a high degree of confusion between the effects of BSE and CJD in terms of the human food chain, on the one hand, and the effects of [757] foot and mouth, on the other. I do not know how this can be addressed but there is a need for a marketing programme to ensure the confusion which has arisen is addressed in so far as that is possible. There is concern among those in trade union circles about employees in the meat processing industry who are in danger of losing their jobs, more directly because of consumer perceptions rather than because of any inherent threats. There is also concern in the tourism sector. Hoteliers have told me they are losing between 30-80% of their business.

One of the enormous advantages of the legislation is that it is directed exactly at those areas where there is cause for concern. Some people may have gone too far in terms of their reaction and common sense needs to prevail. This aspect must be looked at in the coming weeks. However, it is difficult to do this in the face of the cavalier attitude of the UK authorities generally and their failure to face up to the foot and mouth crisis in their jurisdiction. It is fair to expect them, as neighbours, to have consideration for everyone else. Yet they have not even managed to move themselves to the stage of being concerned about their industry. More than anything else, this has to be a cause for concern.

Some of the concerns expressed about the long-term effects of the legislation and the consequences of not setting a time limit are well founded. The majority of farmers and traders have complied with the law and have behaved in a proper manner. The legislation must be directed at those who have flouted the law – some of them have flouted it over many years. These people should not be given any protection and should suffer the full rigours of the law. Even though the legislation is being introduced during a crisis it is correct that it should be introduced in these circumstances. I do not share the concern that the legislation goes too far. In many respects, it is the minimum which could and should be done to address those people in the community who have behaved in a disgraceful manner and who apparently intend to continue in this manner. The test of the legislation will be the manner in which it addresses these people and their activities.

I wish to raise a matter which is of concern in my own area, namely, the herds of feral goats in the Burren. I have raised this matter with the Minister and with Dúchas. I understand there are about 1,000 of these wild goats mainly in the Burren National Park. They roam widely through the countryside, do enormous damage to fences and cause trouble for farmers in relation to REPS. I am concerned that little is known about the health status of these animals and little effort has been made to establish it. It is grossly unfair that they should roam over half a county uncontrolled and that Dúchas, which takes enormous interest in the activities of farmers who may have the misfortune to move a bush or do something minor of that nature, have taken much less interest in this area.

[758]Mr. Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  I agree with the last point made by Deputy Killeen about the feral goats. However, they are not confined to the Burren. I draw to the attention of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development or an appropriate body that a herd of feral goats is roaming the Sliabh Bloom mountain area in Laoighis-Offaly without restriction.

This particular strain of foot and mouth disease which has caused the present crisis is virulent.

Acting Chairman:  Is the Deputy sharing time?

Mr. Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  I wish to share time with Deputy Finucane. There is evidence that the disease is spread almost exclusively by animal to animal contact. This is the evidence from the British and Armagh outbreaks. If susceptible animals are not moved from farm to farm and if only moved, under licence, directly to an abattoir, the disease will be prevented from entering the State. If an outbreak occurs it will only be contained and eliminated by controlling the movement of animals. To ensure compliance with the new movement of animals order there should be random, day and night, checkpoints by the Garda, departmental officials, and, if necessary, the Army. This is an issue on which there has been little discussion. The random checkpoint in the exclusion area is important. I compliment the Garda, the Army and the departmental officials. Annual leave for the Garda and the Army should be cancelled if that has not been done.

That lambs have travelled from Armagh to Athleague indicates that illegal activity is often carried out at night. If an outbreak occurs and an exclusion zone is necessary around a particular farm, it is critical that that zone be rigidly controlled. That is where the random checkpoint comes in. It is clear there has been a flouting of regulations. The cosy nod and wink relationship between some officials of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the meat factories must be addressed. It is clear there has been significant smuggling of sheep and lambs for some time from Britain through Northern Ireland into the Republic. These animals then acquire a new identity and are passed off as Irish. This illegal importation has been going on for years and is designed to undermine and depress the price paid to local farmers. It appears the Department has no effective policy in place to prevent this smuggling. The lack of effective action by the Department can only lead to the conclusion that the Minister is not concerned about this issue. Clear instructions must be given to Department vets at meat plants, the fraud squad and the Criminal Assets Bureau to stamp out the illegal trafficking of livestock. It appears that the Department and the Minister have learned nothing from the beef tribunal.

A matter of concern is the one island veterinary regime. The report of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body did not reach a conclusion [759] on the issue. However, it forms the basis of a programme of action that would be of great benefit.

I fully support the tagging of sheep to facilitate tracing and help prevent smuggling. In the animal welfare and animal health area it is clear animals are being moved long distances in crowded conditions with a view to taking advantage of regional price variations. This is contrary to good animal welfare. Such movement causes severe distress to animals and contributes to the spread of disease and it should be controlled.

The inherent risk to animal health in the operation of livestock marts should be examined. The continuing failure to eradicate TB which is largely spread by animal to animal contact is important in this regard. The time has come for co-operatives, marts, farmers and the Department to consider new ways of creating a fair market in livestock which does not include the bringing together of large numbers of animals.

From a consumer point of view it is important that the local butcher is supported. Meat bought from the local butcher is more likely to be home produced and more likely to be traceable. The big supermarkets are likely to source their food from the cheapest source in the world. There are opportunities for local butchers and farmers to co-operate in alliances to guarantee the origins of their product and so gain market share. The local abattoir has a role to play in this and consideration should be given to the introduction of some form of aid to ensure the existence of the local abattoirs.

The Government's response to the crisis is too little, too late. The Government is tired and sluggish and has been in office far too long. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, has been in office for l2 of the past 15 years. This crisis has shown it is time for change.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  It is interesting that it took a foot and mouth disease crisis to introduce many of these changes which are positive. In regard to the Bill, much concern has been expressed by many people involved in dealing. Many of the regulations are factored in for emergencies and there is a perception that they will apply ad infinitum. Questions have been asked which the Department must answer. It is significant that there has been criticism of the large scale smuggling which has continued for some time. It appears there was collusion with some of the factories in this large scale smuggling. That is a cause of concern. It is interesting to note there was a resistance to the introduction of sheep tagging. It has taken a crisis of this magnitude to pressurise people into making decisions in this area. I welcome the positive direction it has taken.

I wish to focus on poultry because I come from an area where it is a significant player in employment. I am impressed with the level of quality assurance which exists in that industry. The multiples have a role to play because they undertake [760] quality assurance checks not only in factory units but in the broiler units to ensure quality from farm to fork. There is some concern regarding poultry imports particularly from non-EU countries and from Thailand. Recently a group of MPs visited the Thai operation to see the production methods used and some questions were asked. How can the Department be satisfied at the level of imports given that Asian swill precipitated the foot and mouth disease? What veterinary controls exist here to ensure that the quality of poultry imports not only from EU countries but non-EU countries is up to standard? I think there are serious questions to be answered. I am well aware of the controls that operate in the poultry industry in Castlemahon, Kerry Foods and Cappoquin Chickens and the competition they have to face in the open market. In the recent past a significant achievement was compensation for those involved in the industry in the broiler units and the hatcheries. Is there scope in this area for the Department, especially when the concerns on the foot and mouth side are factored in, to strengthen its controls on poultry imports particularly from non-EU countries?

Is it possible to introduce electronic tagging? Given the technology available nowadays it should be possible to move in that direction. I have been approached by people in my area who specialise in buying calves and selling them in the west. Will the 30 day stipulation apply to them? Is this a permanent stipulation or will it only apply during this emergency period? These issues will be teased out on Committee and Report Stages.

There is genuine concern because a few rogue cattle dealers have brought ignominy on cattle dealing. Many people from Limerick who are involved in cattle dealing have conducted their business respectably for generations. Some people in my constituency have travelled to the Galway area for generations selling calves and are familiar with the farmers there. There is concern that many of them could be driven out of business and some are fearful of the legislation. Perhaps it is not as draconian as they originally thought but I am interested in teasing out some of the nuances of the legislation.

The Department in conjunction with local authorities has introduced stringent controls on abattoirs and butchers' shops. We must seek traceability vis-à-vis the butcher, abattoirs and the consumer. Butchers have provided a respectable service over the years.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Wexford): I wish to share my time with Deputy Daly.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Wexford): I compliment the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, for their efforts over the past number of weeks in dealing with this critical issue. However, more importantly, I pay tribute to the public because [761] there has been a great coming together of people in rural and urban areas to deal with this major problem. There has been grave concern about the cavalier attitude of the British who did not seem to have any sense of responsibility in regard to Irish people.

The agricultural industry is an important part of our economy and it is important that every effort is made to protect such an important industry. We are all aware of Ireland's dependency on exporting agricultural produce and there is concern that exports will be affected. I pay tribute to people who have made sacrifices over the past three weeks, in particular civil servants in the Department and Teagasc, the Army, the Garda and staff in the DVOs, who have been working around the clock dealing with this crisis. Credit must also be given to the many organisations which cancelled important engagements and put the national interest first. I agree with Deputy Penrose when he called on commercial organisations to consider the postponement of various events in the coming weeks and to reschedule them.

It is most important that we continue to ensure the foot and mouth disease does not reach Ireland. As chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I also pay tribute to Deputies Dukes and Penrose for their contributions at the committee. Deputy Dukes throws a wobbler every so often but we do not mind that because that is expected of Opposition spokespersons. Generally the suggestions put forward by the Deputies have been taken on board by the Minister.

I have received a number of calls over the past few days from farmers in the south-east expressing concern that grain is being imported from the UK through Cork and Waterford ports by IAWS and other companies. They are worried that foot and mouth will spread here and believe there should be a temporary ban on such imports because some of the grain is coming from large farm operations in the UK. I ask the Minister to refer to this issue when he replies.

I do not favour emergency legislation but in this case the Minister has no choice because of the actions of a few rogue operators in the industry and the legislation must be enacted quickly. Chancers have been discovered in the industry in the past few weeks trying to sneak across the Border, refusing to stop or to answer questions when apprehended by officials and the Garda and in some cases they have tried to run down gardaí and officials.

The Minister made it clear anyone found guilty of serious wrongdoing will not receive compensation. The taxpayer does not want to pay compensation through the Department to people who are in the wrong. There is a provision for a fine of £1,500 or imprisonment for up to six months but the fine is too low and it should be seriously examined with a view to increasing it because there is no place in the agricultural industry for rogue operators. Individuals have been operating [762] in such a fashion for years and it is important to address the issue.

I ask the Minister to examine the operation of some meat plants because there is no doubt there is collusion between rogue dealers and meat plants which needs to be stamped out.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  I thank Deputy Browne for affording me the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I compliment the Minister and the Minister of Sate, Deputy Davern, on the firm and competent way in which they have dealt with this crisis since it began. I also pay tribute to the public at large for the spontaneous response in every sector. The crisis has brought home to the public the value and importance to the economy of the agricultural industry and the necessity to take measures to support the industry, develop it further and to deal with the aftermath of this problem when opportunities will be provided as a result of our disease free status.

I visited the DVO in Ennis and I pay tribute to the professional manner in which the staff are handling this matter. They have experienced a large volume of work and the issue is ongoing. They have been in touch with various organisations, the Garda and the local authorities to co-ordinate the response locally, which is important as Clare is quite removed from the area affected. I compliment the Aer Rianta staff at Shannon Airport for the way in which they speedily put in place a system which ensured people passing through were made fully aware of the risk involved and the necessity to take precautions to avoid any mistakes which might inadvertently lead to the spread of the disease.

I welcome the provision of extra staff and resources to deal with the issues which have arisen as a result of this crisis. There have been complaints for a long time about the lack of financial and human resources to address matters such as the control of meat plants. The provision of such resources is vital in the long term because while we may get over the current alert there will be an ongoing need to be vigilant, to be to the fore in the effort to protect our disease free status and to ensure there is close co-operation between officials who are responsible for these matters and those involved in the industry.

The legislation is only part of the defence mechanism that needs to be put in place. Legislation and regulation will not resolve the problems in the industry. Any complacency that may arise because we have avoided a calamity must be put aside quickly. Vigilance must be maintained because it is vital to ensure the special status of the industry is protected. In such a situation there will be financial pressures, especially on some of the smaller farmers who are so dependent on the movement of cattle and the disposal of their flock. In this regard I appeal to the Minister to use his influence with the Community to bring forward some of the payments for farmers due in 2001 and to ensure payments such as the balance of the extensification aid from last year are paid [763] as soon as possible. These are due to be paid in June and there is no reason outstanding payments for 2000 cannot be made now so some of the financial pressure on smaller farmers who are dependent on the movement of stock at this time of year is avoided.

I am quite satisfied with the efforts which have been made up to now and put on record my appreciation of the work done by all those in the various organisations, including health boards who put protective measures in place at hospitals and institutions.

A somewhat more relaxed attitude is necessary in some areas. For example, some farmers have been paying huge penalties of up to £6,000 for minor breaches of the REP scheme and have been disqualified from payment for one or two years. Matters such as this should be dealt with very sensitively at this time and the Minister might direct officials of his Department who are involved in inspections for REPS in this regard. Minor technical breaches of regulations are depriving people of thousands of pounds at this time of crisis in the business.

Dr. Upton:  The past few weeks have brought considerable focus on the nature and status of animal health controls, food safety and food quality in Ireland. It has taken a significant outbreak of major national economic impact to force us to wake up to the fact that we are far from secure in our acceptance that Ireland is a producer of clean, green food. For as long as I can remember we have heard the mantra of Ireland producing clean, green food, and I want to address some of the problems relating to this assertion.

The foot and mouth crisis is surely the most compelling argument we have ever had for having an all island approach to the control of animal health and food safety. It is now clear that it is not possible to police the importation of animals to Ireland from other countries. Emergency legislation is necessary to try to stop flagrant disregard for the law and to protect the economy and well being of the country.

I have listened to the mantra that Ireland has a clean, green image in terms of our food products abroad. To some extent this is true, but I would like to see it quantified and the deficiencies in that assertion addressed. It is only because of the unfortunate foot and mouth disease that we are finally facing up to the fact that at least some of our food cannot be guaranteed as either clean or green. We must produce evidence which supports the assertion that our products are both clean and green. It is no longer acceptable for us to conveniently keep our heads buried in the sand and pretend we have superior products unless we can produce the evidence and traceability to show the world and our own consumers that this is the case. We must identify and put in place systems and ensure they are enforced.

On a number of occasions I have raised the need for a substantial traceability system for all [764] our food products. The country of origin as well as the producer of origin must be identified. One area in bad need of addressing is labelling. A product labelled as produced in Ireland must really originate in Ireland. Are we still expected to believe that products labelled as “Irish smoked bacon” are the same as “smoked Irish bacon”? The subtle difference in the order of the words is no more than a sleight of hand designed to confuse. The consumer needs to know if the bacon rather than the smoke is Irish. Furthermore, the consumer would like to know if bacon marketed as Irish is derived from an animal born and reared in Ireland or if the animal gained Irish status because it lived in Ireland for a few months or even a few weeks prior to slaughter. Should the label not read that the product is from an animal slaughtered in Ireland? We should go back a step further and ask if the animal was born, reared and slaughtered in another country and the carcass was imported, with the product being described as Irish. I am asking for clear, unambiguous labelling of all food so consumers can make an informed choice in relation to the products they eat.

If the incident in Athleague has a message, it is that we do not know and cannot guarantee the origin of what purports to be Irish product. The consumer has lost confidence in the safety and quality of our foods, and that confidence will only be restored through systematic action over a sustained period when we can show the origins of the product can be followed and proved.

It is not just because of foot and mouth that the Irish farming community, food industry and consumer has reason to worry. Many years on, and after millions of pounds of Irish and European money having been spent, we are still struggling with the plague of TB, brucellosis and, most recently, BSE in cattle. Movement of animals is wide open to the introduction of any number of animal diseases. Free trade is part of the European package and is welcome in a European context. However, the systems which underpin the safety and integrity of our food chain in the EU need to be reviewed. Traceability is one very important aspect in tracking the origins of food and allowing us have confidence that the products we are selling are truly Irish.

Central to the traceability of animal products is an appropriate tagging system. There has been much discussion on the suitability of tagging and its related problems. However, there are methods for tagging sheep. For example, there are methods of tagging pet dogs. A poodle or Alsatian being transferred to a European country can have a microchip inserted in their ear and we can be assured that the dog taken out of the country is the same as that which is brought back. Therefore, a technology and methodology exists, and it is a matter of addressing the issue effectively and having the will to ensure tagging is in place and that it works.

The Labour Party will be supporting the Bill as it is very important the corrupt operators, wher[765] ever they are located and in whatever part of the industry, are brought to account. They must be stopped from damaging the economy, from destroying the credibility of Irish products on the international market and, most importantly, from putting at risk the health of consumers.

I and my colleagues have already said that foot and mouth disease affects humans only in a very minor and peripheral way, if at all. However, there are many other diseases of animal origin which are enormously significant in the context of human health. We have had to address the problem posed by foot and mouth, but what about the other animal diseases we may import? In particular I am thinking about bacterial diseases such as e.coli 0157. The economic consequences, the personal cost and the loss of lives associated with bacteria such as e.coli 0157 are quite astounding and very worrying. If we have untraceable animals coming into the country I wonder what diseases are being brought with them.

I again emphasise the importance of separating food, and in particular food safety, from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. I have raised this a number of times and know I am beginning to sound repetitive. The Minister has also answered questions on this a number of times. However, I am not satisfied that food safety should be entirely the responsibility of the Department of Health and Children. Within that Department it should come within the ambit of the Food Safety Authority. The website of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development acknowledges a role for that Department in food safety. I would like this to be clarified and to be again assured that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development does not have a role in the management of food safety. There is a conflict of interest. On the one hand food safety is being policed while on the other hand the Department has a primary responsibility in relation to policy, production and marketing.

The entire nature of our quality assurance schemes must be examined. We have a series of independent quality assurance schemes which are not very useful and which border on being a waste of time. In many cases they are effectively self-audited and, therefore, have very little status. We need a State supported, quality assurance scheme underpinned in law by a Department of food which would approve and enforce it. We would then know from where any label associated with the quality of a food product originated. It is only right to acknowledge the commitment of many people on both a statutory and voluntary basis to ensuring that foot and mouth has, as we hope, been kept out of the State. There has been considerable inconvenience to many organisations and individuals as well as significant costs. Unfortunately, that cost and inconvenience will have to continue for some considerable time as, judging from the UK situation, we are far from being out of the woods. However, co-operation [766] from almost everyone, on organisation and individual levels, has been admirable.

The penalties in the Bill have been mentioned. I would like the Bill to be reviewed after six months because by its nature it is emergency legislation and it is important to have the review option. It should be strengthened and reinforced in such a review as we cannot pull back now from the procedures we are putting in place to ensure the integrity of our food chain. Also, those who have broken the law and who are responsible for much of the cost and inconvenience in this part of the country should be dealt with appropriately.

Foot and mouth has been described as an economic disease and we should be grateful for that. There are no health implications for the consumer and I would not like to think what the consequences would be if there were.

Mr. Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  It is unfortunate we only have ten minutes to speak on this important legislation as there is a wide range of issues to be dealt with. We should welcome this legislation which seeks to deal with an emergency not just for the agricultural industry but for the entire economy. What has happened in the last three weeks underlines the need for effective control, particularly of food products and livestock movement.

I do not intend this as criticism of the legislation but as a Border Deputy I do not need to underline the need for reciprocal arrangements in the North. We will do the best we can and the efforts of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, the Garda and Army personnel as well as volunteers manning check-points in the control zones underline the commitment to keeping foot and mouth out of the country. However, there are severe difficulties north of the Border. Efforts in Britain and the North to stop foot and mouth have been somewhat short of the efforts made here. I do not know if the Minister or his Department is in a position to talk directly to Dundonald House but it would be a considerable help if there was legislation in the North corresponding to this Bill.

Our experience with sheep coming into the Republic illustrates the importance of sheep tagging. We have considerable traceability for cattle but the sheep sector is a gap in the system. The Minister has signalled that that is on the way, which is welcome.

Regarding herd owners and farm land immediately north of the Border, in many cases people have farms on both sides of the Border and they are not all in the cattle or sheep dealing business. There is a weakness there because unless we have watertight regulations there will be severe difficulties with the inevitable movement of livestock to and fro, which enhances the risk considerably. I am sure that movement has stopped with the controls now in place but we must look to the future when hopefully this crisis is past. We must learn lessons from this emergency not just regarding foot and mouth but in relation to TB and brucellosis.

[767] The outbreaks of BSE and foot and mouth in Ireland and the UK has brought recycling into focus, an issue which has been the subject of simplistic mantras from many people. There is one common thread in the problems with BSE and foot and mouth here and in the UK and that is recycling. While it is not conclusive, all the pointers are that the incorporation of meat and bone meal into feed ingredients has contributed to the spread and development of BSE. Regarding the development of foot and mouth in the UK, all indications point to the recycling of food from Asia or South Africa. There are clear lessons to be learnt from this. There is no point in speakers here or in local authority chambers telling us that recycling per se is the answer to many waste management problems. We would have a catastrophe if foot and mouth gets in, though we hope it will not, but we must examine some of the theories being put forward about recycling in specific areas. That is not to criticise the broad concept of recycling but we must think it through and consider the hazards involved, some of which are shown by this crisis.

The livestock industry in Ireland is unique in the great mobility of livestock from one farm to another via marts and other channels. The broad consensus among those concerned about animal disease is that that huge mobility has contributed to brucellosis, TB and obviously to foot and mouth. The unique aspect is that most of that mobility is through those dealing in sheep and cattle. In my short sojourn in the Department of Agriculture I was responsible for the fruit and vegetable sector and one concept I was anxious to encourage was that of producer groups. It must be possible to tailor the producer group model to the needs of the livestock sector. We must ask ourselves if we can eliminate the constant movement of livestock. When newly born calves are coming from the south of Ireland to the north-east or midlands, can we operate this through a properly structured producer group system? That must be considered in tandem with this emergency legislation.

A control zone affects an area of my constituency immediately north of Dundalk. This is an opportunity to congratulate those who have shown forbearance, understanding and consideration for those whose incomes come directly from agriculture. Without their co-operation, the success of the control zone would not have been what it is.

Many people are being discommoded. The veterinary personnel in the Department are not yet in a position to give a clear time frame for moving back the boundaries of the control zone to the Border but serious consideration must be given to it. The goodwill factor does not have an indefinite time limit. I gauge from the telephone calls to my constituency office a degree of frustration setting in and we need to be careful of that. If the Minister or the veterinary officers are in a position to indicate a time frame, assuming the dis[768] ease does not reach this country, it would be useful and would help considerably to prolong the degree and level of co-operation that exists.

Deputy Upton referred to the animal health veterinary regime. The obvious benefit of it operating on an all-island basis has been graphically illustrated by the problems departmental officials and various statutory bodies have had to face over the past fortnight. If the Good Friday Agreement is to have a tangible benefit or commonality of interest, it is in the animal health area. There are clear benefits for farmers, North and South, in establishing a uniform regime for the island. If there are little fiefdoms here and there, let us tackle them. They might not all be in the political arena. Now is the time to set out that objective. We should contact the political parties north of the Border and outline the benefits of a uniform regime, which I am sure they will appreciate. In view of their experience in recent weeks, their appreciation will be sharpened. Now is the time to push ahead with that, in tandem with what we are doing through this legislation.

I urge that payments due to farmers be made as quickly as possible having regard to the fact that there is no cash flow in the control zone. These payments must be sent out.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  I generally do not like or support emergency legislation. However, it is extremely necessary on this occasion.

Three years ago I highlighted in the Dáil, on three separate occasions, the problem of sheep being smuggled into this country. At the time, I received a written apology from the Minister for Finance in relation to that issue. He had given me wrong information but within two days I received a letter from him and an apology. Factories here were being investigated in relation to fraud in the sheep sector. On that occasion I spoke about sheep being brought into this country in the middle of the night and about the rogue dealers. Nothing was done.

Now there is a serious crisis. The first people to suffer are people in the west of Ireland who are involved in tourism. Jobs are being lost because of events being cancelled and the closure of hotels. This should not have happened. Three important points should be made. The Taoiseach should immediately call on the EU to hold a summit to try to bring on board our partners in Europe, the British Government. The British Government is not taking its responsibilities seriously. That is a disgrace and an outrage.

The Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister meet regularly. It is time the Taoiseach spelt out to the Prime Minister how important this issue is. We are outraged that the British Government is doing nothing about it. Life is continuing as normal. The rugby international was held last week as were the premier championship soccer matches. Everything is continuing as if nothing has happened and we are afraid to speak out in case we upset the British Government. There should be an EU summit immediately to put [769] manners on the British. If this disease spreads to the rest of Europe, those countries will not sit back and tolerate what is happening. It is typical of Britain's attitude – Ireland does not matter. They do not care about the Irish. The Taoiseach and his great friend and comrade, the British Prime Minister, must get their act together and do something about this.

The first job the new chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts and his committee should undertake is a full investigation of the meat factories. The Government has turned a blind eye to the factories. I do not know the reason but I am sure others do. It does not appear to want to take them on. The factories have behaved badly and it is a disgrace that they have been let away with it. The Committee of Public Accounts should investigate them immediately. I also call on the Minister with responsibility for the Revenue Commissioners, Deputy McCreevy, immediately to organise an audit of every factory in the State. They are all breaking the law, as we have seen in recent weeks, and are getting away with it. What action is being taken by the Minister?

I further call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take action against the factories that allowed these sheep in. The sheep were tagged but the tags were removed. They were brought into the State in the middle of the night. What prosecutions will be taken against the people responsible?

The tagging issue was mentioned earlier. Officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development are here for this debate. If the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, does one thing, despite only being in that office for a short time, he should ensure the Department does not use tagging as an excuse for not paying genuine farmers REPS and other payments. The new excuse from the Department is that its officials cannot go on the farmers' lands to carry out inspections because of the foot and mouth disease crisis. I propose that all payments due to farmers be made immediately and if there are problems later, they can be dealt with in the next payments. I do not want to be back in the House in a fortnight talking about thousands of farmers not being paid the money due to them. I will not accept the excuse that the officials cannot go on to the farmers' lands.

This disease is a terrible scourge and I call on the Taoiseach and the Government to act immediately.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil as am a fháil ó Fhine Gael chun labhairt ar an mBille. Tá an Comhaontas Glas ag tacú leis an mBille mar reachtaíocht phráinneach agus is ceart athbhreithniú a dhéanamh air taobh istigh de sé mhí ar a mhéid. Táimid ag tacú leis ar an gcoinníoll sin agus ar an gcoinníoll sin amháin. Is ceart chomh maith féachaint ar an bhfadhb sa bhfad-théarma agus sa ghearr-théarma. In the short time available I will do that.

[770] There is a palpable fear among farmers. They are frightened of the implications of foot and mouth disease arriving in Ireland. That also applies to many others both inside and outside the farming sector.

A question still hangs over how effective any measures such as these can be in terms of stopping the illegal transportation of animals over the Border or other illegal practices in animal dealing. That worry becomes more real when one reads the Bill and discovers that it is not expected to have any implications for the Exchequer. Funds will come from existing resources. Will the number of authorised officers be adequate to give effect to the Bill and how effective will the legislation be as a result?

Many jobs are endangered, particularly in the tourism sector with St. Patrick's weekend and Easter so near. Conferences have been cancelled and many enterprises face the prospect of laying off workers. That reality should focus our minds towards dealing effectively with this matter.

The longer term issue which needs to be addressed is the increasing trend of closing small abattoirs. This is particularly the case in the UK which is at the centre of the worst effects of this problem. Some suggest that abattoirs have to close because they are unable to meet EU standards. However, the increasing stress caused to animals by transporting them over longer distances impinges on their health and makes them more susceptible to disease. We need to address this vicious circle in the longer term.

The national development plan should provide capital investment to bring smaller abattoirs up to standard. Some farming organisations have proposed funding mobile facilities to ensure greater local access to slaughter facilities in certain regions.

Since the outbreak of foot and mouth in 1967, international trade in food has tripled so there is significantly more transportation taking place now than in 1967. The transportation of milk in the UK has increased thirty-fold since 1980. The natural follow-on from this trend is that livestock hauliers are forced to literally go the extra mile by the economic challenges they face. This creates significant temptations to break rules regarding resting and proper feeding and watering of animals, all of which adds to distress and the likelihood of animals being infected.

These practices do not suit the needs of customers. They are primarily designed to ensure a cheap food regime on which all of us must reflect. This food is not cheap given the measures we are forced to take by events such as the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Deputy Kirk made a valid point regarding the feeding of meat and bonemeal to herbivores. This is an atrocious infringement of the laws of nature and man. Proper recycling is about adhering to the laws of nature and not trying to go against them. It is a travesty to describe the feeding of meat and bonemeal to herbivores as recycling. [771] This practice is against the spirit of everything which should be happening.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  I am happy to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill which I support in so far as it goes. However, the Bill is not as extensive as it should be. Most of the Bill is aimed at farmers and cattle or sheep dealers. Factories are not referred to in the Bill. There is no new regulation or rule regarding factories, although some of the powers conferred on authorised officers can be used with regard to factories. However, the Bill's weakness is that it does not include factories. There is considerable truth in Deputy Ring's comments regarding factories and their continuous breach of regulations and non-co-operation. As I well know, there is a background to this situation which goes back a long time.

Both Houses would agree that the Minister adopted a reasonable approach in the Seanad yesterday where he accepted quite a number of amendments. I would like him to do likewise in this House as the Seanad can complete consideration of any amendments tonight. One amendment which the Minister should accept would be to include factories in the Bill.

I would be supportive, for example, of the amendment which Senator O'Toole tabled to the effect that if a factory accepted an animal which was in breach of regulations, the factory would commit an offence if it slaughtered the animal and added it to the food chain. The Minister should have accepted this amendment but unfortunately he did not do so. This amendment would have covered a situation where, for example, sheep are taken to a factory in the Republic having been brought here from a foot and mouth area in England, through Northern Ireland. It is obvious that such sheep are brought here illegally as can be seen by the removal of the British tags from their ears. This had to be known to the factories. However, the factories, as is their wont, kept their mouths shut, slaughtered away and exported these carcasses as Irish lamb. This practice does a serious disservice to Irish lamb and is typical of what has been going on for many years.

Before Committee Stage I hope the Minister will reconsider the issue of factories and at least accept the spirit of Senator O'Toole's amendment. I have not had a chance to study the amendment as this is all happening so quickly. However, the Minister should accept the amendment, even in an amended form.

I am also concerned by the provisions in sections 4 and 5 whereby a long list of orders made under the Diseases of Animals Acts are to be confirmed. The Minister stated that he is taking this step under legal advice. Many Members know it is sometimes better to ignore legal advice.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  Particularly advice from the current Attorney General.

[772]Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  If the Minister has received legal advice—

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  From the Attorney General.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  —that it is necessary to confirm these orders, including those made two or three days ago, does this not suggest that the orders are or may be defective, and that they are open to challenge?

The order of 1956 is one of the orders which this Bill will confirm and put beyond legal doubt. That order predated the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966, but it is the main order under which the Department has been operating. It is disturbing that the order's validity is now called into question and that the Oireachtas is being asked to verify it or put its validity beyond doubt. The Minister should explain why he is inserting a highly unusual provision in the Bill to confirm a raft of orders dating from 1956 to as recently as this week. I am disturbed by this measure.

Deputy Ring spoke about the advisability of asking the Committee of Public Accounts to examine factories. I presume the Deputy was referring to meat factories in this context and I would not object if the committee did so. I am not sure if this is within the committee's terms of reference. Deputy Ring called on the new chairman of the committee, Deputy Finucane, to carry out such an examination. I remind Deputy Ring that, two years ago, Deputy Finucane's predecessor, Deputy Jim Mitchell, famously called for a forensic audit of the activities of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development as regards animals and factories.

Deputy Jim Mitchell was infuriated by the evidence given over a number of years by accounting officers of that Department, and their non-disclosure to the committee of many relevant matters. Unfortunately, Deputy Mitchell's anger was diluted and the forensic audit he called for ended up as some sort of inquiry into whether or not the Department's computer systems were adequate. The Department had no objection to inanimate objects like computers being investigated, but not its officials.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   (Dublin West): Machines can get viruses, too.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  The powers in section 2 are extensive and I fully support them. It is one thing to legislate for extensive powers but quite another to use them and put them into operation. No matter how extensive the powers are, if they are not used by the Department officials and authorised officers in the way they are intended to be used, they will not succeed. When investigating potential malpractice among dealers, farmers or particularly in factories, one must make spot checks. These places should be raided in order to examine the animals, yet that has not been the practice of the Department. For many years, spot checks and unannounced raids [773] were unusual. We even had the spectacle of some person or persons within the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development ringing factories in advance to say that they were going to be raided. That happened time and time again, and the Minister knows that well. Will that sort of practice continue? We are wasting our time giving authorised officers the powers contained in section 2 unless they use them as this House and the Upper House intend them to be used, that is, to ensure the enforcement of and compliance with the laws on this important topic.

People may think that because for two weeks now we have escaped foot and mouth disease infection on this side of the Border, we are safe or can become more complacent and less restrictive. That is not so. Half an hour ago I heard on the lunch time news of 104 confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease in Britain. That is alarming. The outbreaks cover the whole of Britain, unlike in 1967 when it was all confined to one area. We are in severe danger and I am glad the Minister is reacting in this way. I urge him and people generally not to relax their vigilance.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  In order that no one will be disappointed, I would appeal to the remaining speakers to try to limit themselves to the allotted time, as it is a limited debate until 2.30 p.m.

Mr. Coveney:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Joe Higgins and Healy.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Coveney:  Over the past worrying few weeks, farmers and many others involved in the food industry have looked to this House to ensure that emergency measures, including restrictions, are put in place to keep foot and mouth disease out of the State. We are responding with legislation to ensure that in future we will be in a better position to respond to the continued threat of the disease, or an outbreak. I compliment the Government on introducing the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill quickly although I have some concerns about the sense of rushing important legislation through the House without sufficient time for fuller consideration of it.

We support the measures being introduced in the Bill because of the immediate need to respond to problems within the agricultural sector, including smuggling and illegal livestock dealing, that have led to the increased and significant risk of disease, primarily foot and mouth disease, spreading from the UK to livestock here. I agree with my party's spokesman on agriculture, Deputy Dukes, who said the legislation should only be allowed to last for a relatively short time. We have suggested 1 June 2001 as a suitable date for the legislation to lapse. This would allow the Oireachtas to consider more fully the infection of animals and foodstuffs, and to construct more [774] comprehensive legislation without the time pressure we are under today.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, can you tell me when two and half minutes have elapsed?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  You have about half a minute remaining in your slot.

Mr. Coveney:  That emphasises my point that we are rushing through the legislation. I come from the largest agricultural county, so I am more aware than most people of the need to introduce tough measures, including increased fines, prison sentences and more powers for the authorities in dealing with smuggling and disease control. I agree with many other speakers who have contributed to the debate, including Deputy Upton, who pointed out how narrowly focused the Bill is. I support the point she made concerning the traceability of food and feedstuffs, particularly food that is coming from outside the EU. It is now generally recognised that the reason foot and mouth disease entered the UK in the first place was because of food that went into pig swill and that had originated outside the EU. It is time we had legislation to ensure that all foodstuffs on supermarket shelves and in animal feeds, whether originating in the EU or outside it, has accurate traceability. Such measures are required, although they are not contained in this legislation.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   (Dublin West): I am not at all convinced by the introduction of this Bill. Emergency legislation pretending to deal with something is a typical and classic ploy of Governments when a crisis hits. In reality it is a cover-up for failures up to the present. In a much more tragic scenario we had emergency legislation after the catastrophic Omagh bombing, but it has not achieved what the Government said it would. It is window dressing and should be seen as such. The Minister should tell the House what would be different if this legislation was on the Statute Book compared to what precautions have been taken in the past two weeks. Everybody knows that existing legislation was not implemented. In particular, meat processors and those supplying them illegally by smuggling goods under false pretences were not subject to proper checks.

Several years ago the satirical radio programme Scrap Saturday famously featured Daisy the cow which was part of the carousel of beef passing across the Border several times. It finished up as a very confused animal in order to avail of certain subsidies, but what has changed? The country's animal health programme has been put at great risk by similar practices in a different context. Why was that matter not dealt with when successive Governments and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, knew quite well that was going on? This legislation is an excuse. We should examine far more radically why animal diseases now spread like wildfire.

[775] The main political parties have not addressed that question. Let us consider the current means used to rear animals and the horrific conditions in which they are kept. On certain farms hundreds of sows are chained together with no room to move and tens of thousands of chickens are kept in confined spaces. It is obvious that, in those conditions, disease will spread like wildfire. Add to this the mobility of trade, which has reached ridiculous proportions, and a disaster such as the one which has befallen Britain will result.

When the last outbreak occurred in Britain in the 1960s, only Shropshire, parts of north Wales and north-west England were affected. On this occasion, however, the disease has spread far and wide because of the ludicrous closure of local abattoirs which has led to dealers hairing to travel all over the world and bring disease with them. The modern capitalist methods used in agriculture should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny. There should be a return not to what Deputy Dukes would refer to as feudalism—

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  And certainly not to collective farming methods which are far more dangerous.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West):—but to safer, organic methods.

Mr. Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  I wish to make a number of brief points. It is obvious that the situation in the United Kingdom has reached epidemic proportions and it is essential that we protect the agriculture and food industries in this country. I am not sure that this emergency Bill will do so. I am disappointed that a small number of rogue farmers, rogue dealers and rogue meat plants have brought us to the brink of disaster. I am particularly disappointed that the Bill contains no specific provisions to deal with meat plants. Everyone is aware that there is a need to take action in respect of the dubious, if not illegal, conduct at Athleague. Indeed, there is a need to address the situation which obtains at nearly all meat plants throughout the country. The Minister should take on board the amendments tabled in respect of this matter.

There is a serious level of concern among part-time and small dealers throughout the country in relation to the 30 day rule and the impact it will have on their livelihoods. These people are essential to the agriculture industry and they want to continue to make an honest living to support themselves and their families. In my opinion the 30 day rule will have a significantly adverse impact on them and I ask the Minister to reconsider the position. The dealers indicated that a one mart movement would be helpful and the Minister should look at their proposals.

At a later date we should investigate the type of factory farm practices that have, in effect, brought us to this juncture. These practices have allowed foot and mouth disease to enter Britain [776] and have given rise to the threat of an outbreak in this country. Like other Members, I believe this emergency legislation should lapse within a short period. I agree that 1 June would be an appropriate cut-off point in that regard.

Mr. Ellis: Information on John Ellis  Zoom on John Ellis  I wish to share time with Deputy Keaveney.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Ellis: Information on John Ellis  Zoom on John Ellis  I believe that we should express our sincere gratitude to the staff of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and Teagasc and the gardaí who have done a good job on the Border in the past two weeks. In comparison, the efforts of the officials of DANI across the Border leave a great deal to be desired. To put it mildly, the efforts of the authorities in Northern Ireland have been exceptionally poor and they have made no attempt to ensure that people and vehicles crossing the Border are properly disinfected. If the officials stationed at Larne had been doing their job during the past six months, we might not be experiencing our current difficulties. We are reaping the legacy of people who failed to act to stop the movement of animals.

There is a need to remain vigilant. Local radio stations and newspapers should continue to be used to transmit the message that while we have escaped an outbreak to date, we are anything but close to being out of the woods. This problem is going to be with us for a considerable period. The outbreaks occurring across England, Scotland and Wales prove that the disease is totally out of control in the UK and that the authorities there appear to lack the commitment to deal with it. I appeal to the British Government to make a concerted effort to try to control the problem and bring it to an end.

No Member of either House welcomes the introduction of emergency legislation. However, there is no doubt that the Bill is necessary because there is a need to show that the law will deal with people who act in an unscrupulous manner. Questions have been raised with regard to the smuggling of animals in recent years. Everyone is aware that this has been happening. Some of the activities in which people engaged could not be justified, on any economic grounds, because they do not stand up to scrutiny. This proves that someone somewhere along the line was fiddling the system; otherwise what was being done could not have been done.

While the provisions in the Bill grant a great deal of latitude to certain sections of the Department and the Garda Síochána, I believe they are necessary in the short term. I welcome the fact that the legislation will be reviewed after one year. I also welcome the amendments made to the Bill during yesterday's debate in the Seanad.

There are a number of issues which must be given consideration. People who are legitimately [777] involved in the livestock trade feel they are being targeted and there is a need for the Department to explain to them that they have nothing to fear from the Bill. The only people with anything to fear are those who have acted in an unscrupulous manner, such as those who have been involved in smuggling and other questionable activities which have no place in a country that is a major food producer. As Deputy O'Malley stated, there is a need for careful consideration of the activities of the processing industry. It is well known that some processors were importing product which was relabelled for export. No one wants to see such practices continue.

We must also investigate the source of imported feed products, many of which may originate in countries which do not have white list status. There is a need to ensure that all imported products can be traced and that the people who import them can attest to their origins. That is imperative. With regard to the slaughter of animals, it is vital that verification of ownership can be produced. The penalties for slaughtering stock in someone else's name should be extremely severe.

While there is no doubt that we are in the midst of a crisis, if we manage to avoid an outbreak of foot and mouth disease we could see the beginnings of a return of confidence in the agriculture industry. We must retain our disease free status and there is a need to do everything possible to ensure that this happens. It must be made clear to members of the public that the problems which have arisen in the past week will remain with us for the coming months and that those intent on travelling must exercise a degree of vigilance. I appeal again to people not to visit the countryside. There is a problem in my constituency with hill walkers who are trespassing on people's land. This type of activity should be suspended until the present crisis is over.

Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney  Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney  It is with sadness that we welcome this emergency legislation but as previous speakers have said, people have nothing to fear from it if they are acting for the good of farming and the country and if they do not intend to break the law.

I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. He reacted with haste and implemented strict measures at a time when other countries dragged their feet. Dragging one's feet on this issue is very dangerous as we can see from other countries not far from ours.

I commend the gardaí who, along with the Army, are doing a tremendous job on the Border. My constituency has a coastline of 140 miles, a couple of miles of border with the Republic but 70 miles of border with the rest of the North. In that respect, it is vitally important that we develop the all-Ireland dimension to agriculture and I commend the Minister on working so closely with Minister Bríd Rodgers in the Executive but every stop must be pulled out in the Six [778] Counties to implement the strict measures we are implementing here.

I acknowledge the enormous level of public participation on this issue, whether through the media or in relation to individuals or groups. The Three Musketeers philosophy, all for one and one for all, has come into vogue at an unprecedented level here in the past few weeks. Everyone has rallied to the call bar a few. This is not just an agricultural event. It is an event that cuts across every sector of our community and those sectors are making every effort to deal with the problem. That is vitally important.

With more than 104 cases in Britain it is fair to say that foot and mouth disease is rampant in that country yet it does not appear to have addressed the problem at all. I add my voice to those who are calling on the European Union to protect us. We are putting in place the strictest of measures yet events like the Cheltenham races are not cancelled because the organisers thought it was a bad idea but because the sheep had not been long enough removed from the racecourse. That is not a good enough reason. There is no respect for the seriousness of this disease nor is there any respect for the neighbouring countries in terms of the way the disease is being treated currently by the British agriculture Minister. The EU needs to examine that issue.

A small number of people in Ireland could ruin it all for us and as a Border Deputy, I appeal to everyone in the farming sector or any office holder who has not been fully compliant with the law to observe the strict measures in this legislation. I hope this legislation is not in place for a long period and that its measures will not be used against anyone because they should be aware that their short-term benefits have long-term implications.

I thank the Minister again for his efforts and I congratulate the people who are being discommoded because they are dealing with this problem with the seriousness it requires. I hope that continues until we get over this problem.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I call Deputy McGahon. I understand you are sharing with Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Mr. McGahon: Information on Brendan McGahon  Zoom on Brendan McGahon  Yes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  There are six minutes remaining in the slot.

Mr. McGahon: Information on Brendan McGahon  Zoom on Brendan McGahon  Perhaps the Chair will indicate when I have reached midway. As a Border Deputy I welcome this opportunity to speak on the scourge we have found ourselves facing. I live within three miles of south Armagh and my parish is actually in south Armagh so I have a deep interest in it. I take a slightly different view from that of my colleagues – that might not surprise some of them – in that I have to congratulate the Minister because if we judge him by results, he has so far kept the scourge out of this country. [779] He has to take a bow in that regard. I know there are issues with which we could disagree and perhaps the measures put in place were not all that they could have been but we must remember it is 40 years since the previous outbreak occurred. We must learn from that. In the event of this disease resurfacing in years to come, which we all hope will not happen, I hope definite and immediate measures such as those called for by Deputy Dukes will be put in place and that there will not be any delay in implementing them.

On two occasions here I have criticised the gardaí, the only person to do so. They were being eulogised by everybody in the House. It was only a minor criticism but I would like to repeat it today. Their handling of the traffic in and out of the biggest town in Ireland could have been better. I do not know why people leaving Dundalk, eight miles from the Border, had to be held up interminably in queues. People going to their homes on the northern side of Dundalk should not have been held up like that. There should have been a specific line of lorry traffic into Dundalk and a specific line of southern registered cars because these cars were waved through having had to wait for several hours.

The gardaí have discovered public relations. They are like politicians now. They know all about PR and they were aided and abetted by RTE with dramatic coverage of the fight on the Border and flashbacks to Cork, Kerry and Mayo. It was not as dramatic as that although they have done a very good job, as have the veterinarians currently billeted in the grounds of Ballymascanlon Hotel.

I am conscious of the fact that an eminent native of Armagh is in the chair so I have to mute my reference to that lovely part of the country but south Armagh has been the cradle of smuggling since the foundation of the State. The time has come for a reappraisal of the effectiveness and the duties of customs officials. They have done a great job over the years but in recent times, because of the introduction of the Single European Act, they have been sidelined and they are not as evident on the ground as they had been in the past. They should be brought back into the fight against rogue dealers. There are rogue dealers in every walk of life and these officials should be invited to work with veterinarians in inspecting meat in meat plants on a regular basis.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  This is emergency legislation and in so far as it is deemed necessary to deal with the current foot and mouth crisis I support it but it clearly needs to be reviewed within a short period. That sentiment has been expressed by other speakers and I hope the Minister will take that on board.

The Bill gives the Minister and those appointed as authorised officers sweeping powers. Such powers should not be granted lightly nor should they remain on the Statute Book without regular review of the fairness and effectiveness of their [780] operation. We must ask if this legislation would be necessary if an emergency plan had been in place to cope with such a crisis. The truth is that this country, this island, was not prepared. The Government here and the Executive in Belfast had to put together a response very quickly. That response was initially ill co-ordinated and in some respects ill thought out. People had difficulty obtaining the appropriate disinfectant and high prices were charged by unscrupulous suppliers. There is much talk of a ring of steel around the Border but it was more illusion than reality, certainly in the earlier stages. For example, many busy roads had not the required disinfectant mats and many of these were of inadequate size.

If we had a coherent and co-ordinated all Ireland approach to agriculture, including monitoring and enforcement of stricter regulations on animal health, movement of animals and standards in the production and distribution of food, then the Border, which is impossible to seal, would be irrelevant as far as this disease is concerned. That lesson must be learned and I look forward to strengthened and deepened cross-Border co-operation in this area and others.

Much more is required than this Bill in order to implement the lessons learned from this crisis. I hope the Minister and the Department will take them on board.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I appreciate the various contributions on this Bill. It is emergency legislation to deal with a specific, serious problem.

Some general points were made and Members took the opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by my Department's officials, the Garda Síochána, the Army and a range of State agencies and bodies, which I appreciate. Particular mention should be made of the two gardaí injured on the Border to which Deputy Penrose referred.

Regrettably, some Deputies made political points quite unfairly. Deputy Dukes was, to my dismay, extremely mealy mouthed in his contribution. He could not find it in his heart to pay tribute to anyone, never mind the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, the Garda or all the people who worked under arduous conditions and in inclement weather at short notice. I again pay tribute to them.

Some political points were made about the tardiness of the response. The opposite was the case. Our response was exemplary and if some of our neighbours had made a similar one they might not be in the trouble they are. The facts are that we do not have foot and mouth or clinical signs of it yet. All of the preliminary tests, both tissue and blood, are clear.

Also, we have a contingency plan and I have a copy here. It is revised every three or four years. It is submitted to the EU and dry runs are carried out as if we had a case of the disease. We do not have one, of course, but we are operating as if we [781] do. It is in the UK and the North of Ireland yet we have to respond to it.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  Will the Minister yield a moment?

Mr. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  The Deputy had ten minutes and he spent it all apart from one minute criticising individuals and criticising Departments. I expect something more constructive from the Deputy.

On 22 February, two days after confirmation of the outbreak in Britain, an editorial in The Irish Times stated:

The Government has responded with commendable urgency to the news of the outbreak. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Mr. Walsh, immediately imposed a ban on the importation of all live animals, animal products, including fresh meat and meat products, milk and milk products, hides and skins from Britain and Northern Ireland. Departmental staff and members of the gardaí will enforce that ban at ports and airports in relation to food imports. The Minister has ordered members of the public to exercise particular caution, to avoid visiting farms, particularly in affected areas.

That was done but people either inadvertently or deliberately missed the point that the single most important point was to restrict animals, because animal contact is the priority risk, as Deputy Upton pointed out.

We extended it to other areas and appealed to people, institutions and organisations like the health and safety body. There is an onus on individuals, and, fair play to them, 99.9% responded magnificently. However, in some cases, people expected someone else to provide the mat and disinfectant for them. Today's editorial in the Irish Farmer's Journal says:

The Government, and specifically the Department of Agriculture, has all along rightly identified the main priority as shutting off imports and then identifying and slaughtering the animals potentially in contact with infected animals. The fact that most of these were smuggled makes the job incomparably more difficult. The Department has been spectacularly successful. As this phase thankfully ends, the determination to keep the virus out until 30 days has lapsed after the last UK outbreak has to be reinforced. So far so good, but the greatest danger is complacency.

I made this case repeatedly. We are still on high alert. We cannot be complacent. We have been successful so far. I do not doubt that were it not for the immediacy and focus of the response and the outstanding work done by many people since the confirmation of the outbreak two weeks ago, we would not be in this position.

Deputy Dukes got the point wrong also about animal movement. It was introduced on the 28th and only refined last Saturday by way of permit.

A number of points were made by Deputy Pen[782] rose, particularly regarding the constitutional matter. I and the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, checked this and the legal advice from the Attorney General's office is that it is not unconstitutional.

Deputy O'Malley and others expressed concern over sections 4 and 5 which confirmed the orders previously made. The Attorney General's advice does not suggest that these are defective. He believes that it would be prudent to confirm them in this way because when an order deals with important matters there is the risk of a challenge on the grounds that too much power was delegated to the Minister. This can be averted by the Oireachtas confirming the relevant orders as is being done now.

Slaughter without compensation was raised by Deputy Penrose. He asked if there will be constitutional problems with section 9. I am advised that is not the case as there is no general right to compensation and the Rooney case makes it clear that the Minster decides on compensation. Where section 17 of the Act is used, compensation is provided for.

The Deputy also raised the issue of whether the permit system involves the identification of individual animals. This is not the case. The system will be applied with the necessary flexibility and common sense to ensure that it will not handicap legitimate business. We want legitimate business to continue because, as has been said in the Seanad and the Dáil, the cattle trade has developed with agents and dealers, the vast majority of whom do a sound job. This legislation is targeted at the rogues. We want to ensure that the live trade in particular continues. The permit system, and Deputy Dukes referred to this, applies only when and where the Minister has made an order that the 30 day restriction is needed for disease control.

Some Deputies referred to the length of time of this Bill, 12 months; this is a reasonable length of time. To take it up to the summer is unrealistic. It would give it no chance to do anything. Twelve months is a reasonable length of time, as it brings us up to the start of next year. It will then be a matter for the Dáil to decide whether it should be renewed or be allowed to lapse. A number of these issues, such as the national beef assurance scheme, can be discussed when the agriculture appeals Bill returns to the Dáil in the next few weeks.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I understand that Committee Stage will be taken after the Financial Resolution on Excise Duties, at 3.30 p.m. today.


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