Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Seanad Eireann Debate
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Davern): I wish to present the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2001, which amends the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966. It is now two weeks since we first learned of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain. Within hours of confirmation of the disease in Britain, an unprecedented mobilisation of effort on a national scale was triggered here. Since then thousands of people throughout this country have been engaged full time in a massive effort to ensure that this country remains free of this disease. The people most directly involved have included many of my own staff and members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and appropriate State agencies – I offer my sincere good wishes to the two members of the Garda  Síochána who were injured in the course of their duty on the Border. In addition, an enormous number of individuals, companies and organisations have stepped forward and willingly played their part in this concerted national effort.
Mr. Davern: It has not been easy and in many cases the hours have been long and the weather inclement. The work has been arduous and there has been significant inconvenience, but clearly it has been worth it.
While this gigantic national effort has been under way, and dedicated people in voluntary and sporting organisations throughout this country have contributed to it, it has also become clear that others, very few in number, have, through their commercial operations or in some cases through illegal activities, put our agri-food industry at risk. This is why I am before this House today presenting this Bill. I am seeking support to put in place some important enhancements of the controls which are provided for in the Diseases of Animals Act so that we can exercise better control of and, where appropriate, eliminate such activities.
I now propose to introduce the different sections of the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2001, to the House. Section 1 provides for the definition of the words and phrases used in the Bill. Most of the terms used in this Bill are defined in the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966, and therefore do not require re-enactment.
Section 2 provides for the insertion of a new section in the Act of 1966. 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 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 either illegally or through a place where infection may exist. An officer may also detain and mark any animal, animal product, fodder or litter.
Section 2 gives extensive powers of search, seizure and detention in respect of vehicles, animals, animal products, fodder or litter. A person may  be required to produce documents and give information. 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.
The constitutional position on 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 euros 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.
Section 3 of the Bill inserts a new section in the Act to address 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 on this matter very soon.
The Bill also provides that, in certain specified circumstances, the Minister may by order ensure that a person who purchases an animal may not move that animal, save under permit, for a period of 30 days. This is necessary to prevent the outbreak or spread of disease. This section is intended to eliminate some practices that have put the health of the national herd at risk. It is my intention to ensure through the permit system that this restriction does not interfere unduly with normal and reasonable commercial activities, including assembly of animals for live export. The details of the permit arrangements will be worked out in consultation with relevant interests.
Section 4 and section 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. It also provides for increased penalties for breaches of the foot and mouth order. The new penalties are in line with those in section 2 and those in the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966, as amended by the National Beef Assurance Act, 2000.
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 to areas and animals infected or suspected of being infected, and to cover areas and animals at risk of infection. This is highly relevant to the current situation in which we do not have a confirmed case but are obviously at risk because of the situation in Britain and Northern Ireland.
Section 8 of the Bill provides that a court may, in addition to any other penalty, ban a person or company from agriculture related activities. This is similar to the provision in the Animal Remedies Act, 1993. It is important to make provision for this penalty which a court might find appropriate in some cases where, for example, deliberate action by a person, farmer, factory manager or mart manager led to an outbreak or spread of infection.
There are a number of technical amendments to the Bill made on legal advice. Section 9 provides for an offence by a body corporate. This is a standard provision of more recent legislation. This means that, for example, where a factory is found to have breached the Act, the officers of that company, as well as the company itself, shall be liable to proceedings, including disqualification.
Section 10 relates to the important issue of interference with ear tags. It creates a presumption of illegal removal, switching or tampering of an ear tag or, as appropriate, illegal importation of an animal, in relevant proceedings. Ear tags are a vital part of our control systems for cattle and a similar system is being introduced for sheep. As they play such a vital role, it is important that we ensure that there is the tightest possible legal enforcement of the rules relating to tagging. This section of the Bill will facilitate this. Section 11 provides for the short title and citation of the Bill.
It is clear that the new powers and controls introduced in this Bill are significant. I stress that these provisions are targeted at a relatively small group of people. It is not my intention to interfere with the normal business of farming and the food industry in any way, but rather to protect them from the risks caused by the operations of less responsible elements. The stakes in the battle against foot and mouth disease are very high. The agri-food sector is of enormous importance in economic terms. It accounts for 10% of our GDP and 11 % of our employment and constitutes a much larger share of the Irish economy than almost any of our EU partners.
These figures alone do not capture the full importance of the sector to us. Even in purely economic terms, the sector is more important than the basic figures suggest because of its deep internal linkages in our economy. The agri-food sector has a very low import content and a very high expenditure within the Irish 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 is put at risk by foot and mouth disease. It is clear that the short to medium-term impacts of a major outbreak of disease would be considerable, and there would also be long-term impacts, as markets lost are not easily regained.
 For this reason the Government put in place from day one a comprehensive range of measures to guard against the disease and the damage that it would do to the Irish 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 very high degree of professionalism and effectiveness.
I am aware that there has been criticism of some perceived weaknesses in our systems. In so far as that criticism is positive and contributes to the development of our defences, I welcome it. I do not pretend that our systems are perfect – no systems are. I believe, however, that in the time available 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 entirely negative contributions that have belittled the tremendous work undertaken by those on the front line and were damaging to the national interest.
The measures proposed will add significantly to our defences against foot and mouth disease during the current crisis and will also bolster our ability to deal with any future problems. They will be implemented with the same vigour and effectiveness as the other measures that we have taken.
A number of issues have been raised by Members with my officials. These matters are being examined by the Attorney General's office and I hope that Government amendments and other amendments will be brought before the House as soon as drafts are available. The Government amendments relate to the following matters: that provision will be made for the review of section 2 of the Bill by the Oireachtas after a period of 12 months; that the definition of a “dealer” in section 3 will be amended to refer to 45 days rather than 100 days; that in section 3 a right of appeal against any decision not to provide a permit under section 29A(5) will also be provided, and this will be done by amendments to the Agriculture Appeals Bill, 2001, which will be considered in Dáil Éireann, it is hoped, tomorrow.
A number of amendments have been put down by Senators O'Meara, Costello and Ryan. I accept the general spirit and thrust of their proposals, but am advised by the Attorney General that some are not necessary from a legal viewpoint as the matters are covered by existing legislation or in jurisprudence. The Attorney General has also advised against two other amendments dealing with penalties.
The proposal to insert a new section 2(9) is unnecessary and is governed by fundamental practices and decisions of the Supreme Court involving the National Irish Bank. In respect of the proposed amendment to section 2(13) the legal advice available is that the provision should remain as originally drafted. It is important that  officers who acted in good faith, and so far successfully, to avoid the spread of foot and mouth disease should know that the Government stands behind them. The Attorney General has been advised that six months is the appropriate limit.
I do not accept the amendments to section 2(15) and section 4(2)(a). I can accept, however, the reference to “affirmation” in section 2(17). As it is important to provide for the possibility of applying conditions to dealers generally and individually, I cannot accept the proposed amendment to section 3. I am strongly advised by the Attorney General that section 4(1) is necessary to remove doubt as to the legal effect of the powers conferred by the Foot and Mouth Disease Order, 1956. He also advises that section 5 is necessary to give legal effect to the orders and regulations referred to in this section which are made at very short notice to avoid a national catastrophe. I cannot, therefore, accept the proposed deletion. I accept the substance of the proposed amendment to section 8. I am advised that the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in this matter is provided for in general legislation. I can also accept the proposed amendment to section 10.
Mr. T. Hayes: I welcome the Minister of State. This legislation, which is being introduced at very short notice, is quite draconian and contains many strong measures. We had to search for copies of the legislation this morning and I commend the departmental officials for their assistance. I welcome the Minister of State's undertaking that he will consider the amendments proposed this morning by Opposition spokespersons.
It is difficult to absorb the myriad measures contained in the Bill. While Fine Gael supports the legislation and the Department's efforts, we expect that the Bill's provisions will only apply for a short duration and are of the view that they should be revisited in six months to determine how they are being implemented. The Bill contains some drastic measures which will alter the structure of agriculture and a way of life with which we are all familiar.
There is a tradition of buying and selling animals in Ireland, although criticism has been levelled at the number of times animals change hands. Animals move from farms to dealers and back to farms again. The time an animal spends at calf, yearling or fattening stage can be broken down into three separate areas. Dealers and agents are very much a part of agriculture as we know it. Many farmers are part-time farmers because, through no fault of their own, they were forced to seek employment in industry etc. Some are even involved in politics. Such farmers do not have time to attend marts and source animals. We must address this issue.
Mr. Davern: Senator Hayes appears to be under the impression that the legislation will apply to the overall agricultural scene. That is not the position. The orders will apply where there is a high incidence of foot and mouth disease, brucellosis or TB in a particular area or a danger of such diseases breaking out.
Mr. T. Hayes: I accept the Minister of State's comments. We are doing everything possible to keep foot and mouth disease out of the country and the signs are good that we will succeed. However, normal agricultural practices must go on. We may have to wait six months before we can be assured we are disease free. Cattle change hands at this time of the year and are even moved around within farms. These legislative provisions will be implemented in the next few days and I hope they will not interfere with the normal running of agriculture.
Certain agents and dealers are very genuine and make a good clean living. These people, who have played an important role in the development of agriculture, have not committed any offence. The legislation should only apply to those who have broken or flouted the law. They should be rooted out.
Many questions remain to be answered about authorised officers. A great deal of mistrust has built up during the years between farmers, the Department and the district veterinary officer. Trust has broken down and must be rebuilt. Farmers must be assured that any provisions in this area will be good for them in the long run.
Agriculture is a huge industry which has undergone a major sea change. A small number of farmers have been prosecuted for breaking regulations and flouting laws. Has any departmental official ever been reprimanded for failing to handle a situation properly? The Agriculture Appeals Bill was introduced in recent weeks in response to pressure from farming organisations which were not satisfied with the behaviour of departmental officers. We must question the role of these officers and scrutinise them to the same extent as we scrutinise members of the farming community who may be involved in rogue practices. There are two sides to every argument; the Department is not above reproach and we must be extremely vigilant.
The Minister of State and I are proud that the tags used are manufactured in our constituency. The business employs many people and is a worthwhile industry. While I am not critical of the tags or the system, nonetheless they fall out, are broken or damaged when cattle are housed in sheds or out in fields. This creates problems. I want to receive an assurance that genuine mistakes made in these circumstances will not be treated harshly.
 I welcome the fact that the Minister of State has not only accepted our amendment but has gone further. That said, I urge him to give a commitment that we will revisit the legislation in a few months when, I hope, the crisis is over. People are concerned about what is happening and for the future of the country. They have been vigilant. We, in the Seanad, should commend ourselves for holding one of the first and most constructive debates on the subject. Members wanted to be helpful and did not want to score political points. We initiated a healthy debate and drew to people's attention the importance of agriculture. Previously, they did not understand the crisis foot and mouth disease would cause were it to reach Ireland.
The Bill contains harsh measures, but I understand the reason it is being introduced. My party colleagues in the other House are of a similar mind. The main point is that we should review the position after a few months.
Mr. O'Brien: I welcome the Bill and the Minister of State, Deputy Davern. The past week has been difficult for everyone. The news last Wednesday of a confirmed outbreak of foot and mouth disease in south Armagh sent shock waves throughout the agriculture and food producing industry. The £9 billion industry faced possible disaster as a result of the actions of a few individuals who placed a nation's future at risk for a small short-term gain.
I compliment the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the remainder of the Cabinet, especially the Minister, Deputy Walsh, the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, and Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development for their immediate and effective response to the foot and mouth outbreak in Great Britain and Northern Ireland on Wednesday last. They showed true political leadership at a time of great crisis. Great credit is also due to officials of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and the many others who worked very hard in difficult weather conditions on the Border and at ports, airports, etc., to keep the terrible scourge of foot and mouth disease out of Ireland. The enormous efforts of so many people throughout the country in the past week have been wonderful, especially in the agriculture sector as farmers volunteered to man disinfectant points.
The immediate response of sporting and voluntary organisations in cancelling and postponing events is to be commended. I especially commend the GAA, the FAI and the IRFU for their immediate response which stopped the movement of vast numbers of people. While we are free from foot and mouth disease, we cannot let down our guard. The disease is still rampant in Britain where more than 80 cases have been confirmed to date. We must continue to be on high alert and take every possible precaution. I welcome the cancellation of all major events this weekend and for the St. Patrick's weekend. We  appreciate the enormous inconvenience and disruption to well laid plans which, in many cases, have been months in the making. This is to safeguard an industry worth £9 billion.
I am disappointed and concerned, however, that events which could have disastrous consequences for Ireland are still going ahead. I refer to the Cheltenham racing festival and the planned Westlife concert in Dublin in late March. The organisers of the Cheltenham festival should postpone the event. Should they continue, Irish people should not travel. Great work has been done so far, and travelling to Cheltenham, only a short distance from an exclusion zone, could result in Ireland's agricultural economy being wrecked. We can be very proud of the international success of Westlife, but I urge the group and its managers to cancel the planned concert to safeguard our disease free status.
The spread of the disease in Britain is a major cause of concern. Are the British authorities taking seriously the situation in their country which is now out of control? I welcome the announcement last night by the EU veterinary committee of a ban on all livestock markets in Europe. The Bill will put in place controls on the movement of animals which will greatly reduce the activities which threatened the survival of the agriculture and food industry last week.
The animal sector must have strict disease control and traceability measures. Farmers have built up an excellent farming system over the years which has produced quality food in a clean, green environment. However, the great work of many has been damaged on many occasions by the actions of a few rogues. The Bill will stop their activities. The penalties of a £100,000 fine and-or five years in jail show the seriousness of the offences.
The tagging of sheep over six months will ensure traceability, and the fact that all animals must be retained for 30 days, unless a special permit has been granted, will greatly reduce the spread of all diseases, including TB and brucellosis. The Bill also deals in detail with the highly dangerous offences of illegal removal, switching or tampering with ear tags. The legislation gives the courts the ultimate sanction of removing an individual from farming or agricultural activities. I urge the House to support the speedy passage of the Bill to give effect to a proper and effective disease control system in Ireland.
I compliment the Minister and his Department on the effective measures they put in place to ensure Ireland maintains its disease free status. The success of the new foot and mouth livestock movement controls was clear yesterday when more than 100 meat plants and abattoirs complied with the issuing of over 1,000 movement permits. Farmers, meat plants, abattoirs, Teagasc, the ICOS and the Department should be complimented on keeping Ireland free of foot and mouth disease. The measures may be inconvenient for everybody and they will disrupt fix tures and plans. However, it will be worthwhile for the economy and all our people.
I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, on the effective and constructive way he and the Minister, Deputy Walsh, dealt with the problem over the past two weeks. They were upfront and they got to grips with the problem that was caused when a case of foot and mouth disease was identified in south Armagh in Northern Ireland over a week ago. The problem has been controlled and everybody concerned should be commended. If measures had not been taken by the Ministers and the Government over the past two weeks, Ireland would be in the same situation as Britain now and that would be most unfortunate. I commend the Bill.
Mr. Ross: I was watching RTÉ before lunch and I heard some commentary which suggested that complacency is already emerging on this issue, particularly in the midlands. Those concerned inferred that because Ireland has survived for the past five or six days, people are beginning to think that the problem is over. I warn against that view because I detect a certain infection of that nature in the House. People are suggesting that the Government should be congratulated on the great measures it has taken because they have kept the disease out of Ireland. However, that is not the case. The only reason the disease in not here at present is the mercy of God. It is not related to the measures.
I have serious reservations about emergency legislation of any type, although I will support the Bill. However, the legislation is possibly 33 years too late. I do not understand why emergency legislation of this nature is required now. Why has such legislation not been in operation since 1967 when the last outbreak of foot and mouth disease occurred? It appears the legislation was spurred on by events in south Armagh. The world and his wife have known about what has gone on in south Armagh for the past two years. We have all known the potential consequences and we have been waiting for an accident of this nature to happen.
I readily admit that I do not know much about agriculture, but there has been open smuggling of livestock of all sorts on the Border from time immemorial. It is an industry up there which successive Governments and politicians, including the Independents, have either ignored or connived in for 33 years or more. However, when something happens in south Armagh that affects us in the Republic, emergency legislation is introduced. Up to now, sheep were not tagged and nothing has been regulated in that area. Smuggling has been rife and people have been living on its proceeds. Everybody, including the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Develop ment, the IFA and Ministers, has known about it. However, people will now be prosecuted for doing what they have done for a living with our tacit agreement for many years.
It is a reflection on us all that something was not done about it before now and it would be dishonest not to admit it. South Armagh does not appear to be properly policed in a military or agricultural sense. This makes it extremely difficult for us on this side of the Border to do much about it. I am open to correction by the Minister because I do not know enough about agriculture and how it works to understand whether the measures in the Bill will be effective. However, they are not sufficiently fundamental to tackle the problem properly. The first step should be to stop the smuggling. It is not the cause of foot and mouth disease, but it has got people moving. There ought to be a declaration of intent and a commitment – perhaps a hostage to fortune – that smuggling on the Border will be stamped out to prevent a scare of this nature in the future.
I presume smuggling on the Border is still going on because smugglers do not care if all the herds in the country catch foot and mouth disease. They are only interested in their profits. This is not just an immediate problem but an endemic problem which should be tackled. I commend the fact that this problem has been recognised. It is time to declare war on an industry which has made so much money from illegal activity. In six months' time the Minister should be able to say that smuggling of this sort on the Border does not exist. God willing, this outbreak will be controlled, but there should not be a similar scare in future.
Obviously this country is not immune. It would be wrong, partitionist and unhelpful to say the problem is confined to Northern Ireland. I do not know what happened in Kepak, nor does anyone else, but people from south of the Border were involved in these illegal activities. It may be that the problem is institutionalised. Why has the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development not been able to do anything about this matter? Why has Kepak been able to accept animals in that state? That question, which is much deeper and more important than the immediate one, must be asked.
It appears we did not learn the lessons of the beef tribunal. Everyone knows that activities in the meat and food industry and in political life were utterly exposed at that time. Certain aspects of the agricultural and the agri-food industry were not policed properly and that is still the case. Nothing has been done in this regard despite the fact that a tribunal sat for two years in relation to an allied problem. Suddenly when something goes wrong, emergency legislation is introduced.
We need to look at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. Given my dealings with it – I say this with a heavy heart – I have no confidence in the Department. It is  part of the problem and part of the culture which has affected agriculture. The vast majority of farmers are very honest and good living. However, there is a kind of underworld culture in farming of which we are all aware. I do not believe there is a commitment on the part of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development – I do not mean the Minister – to stamp out this activity. It is part of the problem and I have plenty evidence to support that view. To some extent, matters are still in the hands of certain barons of that particular industry. The fundamental problem is that it still plays that game rather than the game of the politicians, taxpayers and of regulation.
There were problems to begin with but it would not be correct to say very much about the slowness in taking action concerning people coming from the UK. I agree with Senator O'Brien in relation to Cheltenham. We should take a lead in this regard by not allowing Irish horses to go to that festival. I listened to Ruby Walsh on RTÉ this morning saying that people do not follow jockeys, they follow horses. That is the sad fact. He is going to the UK to ride a couple of English horses. If Irish horses go to the UK, Irish people will travel there. If the Cheltenham festival is not cancelled, Irish people who travel there are in real danger of bringing back foot and mouth disease. With great regret, I join in the appeal to trainers not to send horses to the festival, even if they stay there for months afterwards, because they will be followed by people who will bring back the disease.
Mr. Norris: I welcome the legislation and congratulate the Labour Party on the speed with which it was able to get through the legislation and table amendments. While the Minister has ruled out most of these amendments in terms of direct application to the Bill, he has accepted them in principle. This shows the House functioning as well as it can under the adverse situation of the late delivery of the Bill and information on it to Members of this House. This was remarked on extensively on all sides, including the Government side, on the Order of Business this morning.
This is a serious matter. Senator Ross indicated his feelings on Cheltenham, about which I also feel strongly. The British are once again proving to be bad neighbours, as was the case in relation to AIDS, BSE and so on. It is extraordinary they should take such a relaxed attitude, given the possible outbreak of the disease within a very short distance of the racecourse. Because of the problem with Britain, we must be on our own watch.
There is also a problem regarding the attitude of certain people here. I regret what is happening in south Armagh, a matter to which Senator Ross referred. There is a curious situation in relation to Sinn Féin. The Sinn Féin Cumann in Trinity College organised an enormous meeting which was held on Friday evening despite advice to the  contrary. I have just phoned the college and I was told that all the speakers attended, including Gerry Adams and Damien Kiberd, editor of the Sunday Business Post. Is it responsible to organise these mass meetings in commemoration of the H Blocks, hunger strikers and so on? The attitude of a strong lawless element in that community is something responsible people in south Armagh must address.
The impact on farming could be enormous, but it does not just relate to farming. The Minister has indicated that the agricultural sector accounts for 10% of GDP, 11% of employment and 27% of our net trade earnings. I heard John Dowling of the Hotels Federation saying on radio yesterday that 20,000 jobs in the tourism industry will be immediately in the balance if there is an outbreak of the disease here. For that reason the measures introduced are welcome.
There is also the question of the regulation of the activities of dealers. God knows, it is high time action was taken in this regard. Eddie Punch of the Irish Cattle Traders and Stockowners Association told Ireland on Sunday:I would compare the attitude of the meat plants in this affair to a dodgy car salesman who pays cash and asks no questions.
Under this legislation, dealers and the meat plants are placed under considerable restrictions, which is welcome. For the first time, there are strong penalties on indictment. There is £100,000 fine and/or five years imprisonment, which is precisely the kind of measures which will get members of the business and farming community and dealers to take these issues seriously. There is provision for the forfeiture of vehicles, plant and equipment. This type of seizure which will hit people directly, that is, in the pocket, is the only thing that will have a real effect. There is the introduction of offences for bodies corporate, including the meat plants. There are really serious questions to be asked in this regard and the situation must be kept under review.
On the completion of the Single Market we had to suffer the removal of our national controls at points of entry. We are relying on other countries and inspection at the point of origin of beasts. When we have bad neighbours we are very vulnerable. If the neighbouring island takes a relaxed attitude, we are in trouble.
Research papers show a recurring pattern of disease outbreaks, including foot and mouth disease, Newcastle disease and swine fever, in several European countries, especially since the completion of the Single Market. One report concluded that it was only a matter of time before there was an outbreak of a major disease in Ireland. In terms of animal disease it used classical swine fever as a model for risk assessment and the report was hardly published when there was  an outbreak in the United Kingdom. It was subsequently traced back to the consumption of imported pork kitchen waste by pigs.
Ireland should be seen as being proactive in establishing its own effective food inspection/regulation protocols within a revised framework of EU directives. These controls and safeguards will become even more important in the future as GATT trade agreements are ratified and further imported products are introduced on the national markets. More certification at origin, enhanced traceability protocols and a well funded proactive regulatory monitoring service in the field all cost money. We are now being forced to ask the tough question, which is more important? ‘Safe trade' or ‘free trade'.
The reasons for smuggling are clear. They are economic. It has been ongoing for a long time. The British authorities have recorded that cross-Border smuggling amounts to a loss of £100 million annually to the British Exchequer. It is a widespread phenomenon, supported by the activities of subversives. A report in the Sunday Independent of 4 March states:
Last December, alleged members of the Real IRA held gardaí and customs officers at gunpoint and snatched back fake video and computer games which earlier had been seized from a van near the Border. Seven armed men in combat dress and balaclavas surrounded the officers as they examined the haul, which had been uncovered during a raid on a shed straddling the Louth-south Armagh border at Carrickaneena. Armed with a handgun and possibly a rifle, as well as iron bars and broom handles, the gang forced the unarmed gardaí to give up their haul. They sped off from the van and trailor across the Border in the direction of Jonesboro, south Armagh.
Livestock is being smuggled because of a VAT scam. That is what happened in the cases which may have led to the possibility of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the Republic. The profits in this illegal livestock trade come from a complicated VAT refund scheme operated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. This allows farmers to make a 4.3% tax refund claim on transactions with meat plants. Livestock imported legally from Northern Ireland and Great Britain with veterinary clearance does not qualify for this VAT refund. This adds to the incentive to smuggle it in and claim that it came from another source, as they did in the case in the North of Ireland. A newspaper article indicates that the one person who has been  named is a cattle trader who hoped to make an additional profit of £1,000.
This legislation is important. Initially, it was not welcomed by farmers. They and their officials resisted it. According to the article I have before me the IFA and Kepak, the processing plant involved in this case, campaigned against tagging. The article details the instances when they objected. Although we support the farmers, they must learn from their mistakes. According to the article, on 25 September 2000, as the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development tried to obtain approval for a sheep tagging and traceability system, the IFA's sheep committee chairman, Mr. Frank Corcoran, accused the Minister of breaching the terms of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness by moving to impose compulsory sheep tagging on 45,000 flock owners. This is an example of the difficulties facing the Minister. It is tragic that it required this complex, dangerous situation for the country to bring the farmers' organisations into line at last with what is necessary to keep foot and mouth disease out of the country.
Mr. Gibbons: While I will be seeking clarification on some aspects, I welcome the thrust of the legislation. Up to a fortnight ago we were concerned with the scourge of BSE and its likely negative impact on the economy. That has now been forgotten because of the danger of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, which places the present crisis in context. In the past week innumerable people have outlined their views on the consequences and effects of any outbreak of the disease, taking account of the size and scale of the agriculture and food industry, the numbers employed, directly and indirectly, and the knock-on effect on the economy.
I have been especially irritated by some commentators on radio, especially the pseudo-intellectual ones, who when asked for their views on the impact of an outbreak on the economy said that it might mean a reduction of between 1% or 2% in GDP or that exports in a given year might be reduced by 3% or 4%. They are not dealing with reality. Senator Ross indicated the possible effect on tourism. If there is an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, not only will the agricultural economy be catastrophically affected, so also will the tourism industry. These pseudo-intellectuals need to think again. They should not portray the issue as if it was not serious. It is time people realised that it is extremely serious.
Since the confirmation of the outbreak across the Border in Meigh, south County Armagh, exemplary action has been taken here. Nothing has been as positive as the reaction of the public. Virtually everybody has supported the action taken by the Government because they are concerned and want to ensure a situation does not arise where the economy would be seriously affected. They must be complimented for this. I have met people who have nothing to do with  farming and who may not have walked in a field for several years who are placing disinfectant mats outside their doors. If we continue in this way, we will keep the disease at bay.
The Minister and several other speakers complimented a number of organisations that took proactive action in the early stages. The one that immediately comes to mind is the IRFU, which cancelled the international rugby match last weekend and did so at such an early stage. That showed it considered sport is sport.
Given the positive action of so many, what is happening in relation to Cheltenham is appalling. Nobody more than the Irish would like to go to England with their horses to compete with the British and the French in the major event of the season and beat the British on their own soil. There is nothing the Irish would like better, but I am saddened by the actions of Ruby Walsh and the other jockeys who are going over, although admittedly I heard him say on radio this morning that they will not come back and, therefore, will not expose us to the possibility of the spread of the disease in that way. The leadership they are giving is not the right way to go. That is what concerns me more than anything else.
The current situation in south Armagh and the major threat to our economy is as a result of rogue traders, farmers, factory owners or whoever they are. There are many reasons those people do what they do, which is probably better known to themselves than anyone else. As Senator Ross said, smuggling pays and it has always paid. We have enough legislation in place to prevent this happening, but we are not policing this field. We have necessary legislation in place in other areas, but we are not implementing it.
One of the problems resulting from the changes in the Common Agricultural Policy in recent years is that farmers are far more interested in the number rather than the quality of animals they have on their farms. The Common Agricultural Policy extenuated this and continues to do so. We will have to examine seriously the direction these policies are going, as unless we reward people for effort, we will not put the smuggler out of business.
I heard a number of people say that if we get over this weekend without an outbreak, we will be in the clear. I strenuously emphasise that if we get over this weekend or this day next week, we will have got over the problem that arose in relation to Carlisle, as the incubation period for the animals brought into Northern Ireland and then to Roscommon will be over, but that does not mean there are not other major threats of which we do not yet know. If we even consider relaxing the current arrangements, we will run  into the same situation that happened in 1941, the last time we had an outbreak of food and mouth disease here. When the initial outbreak occurred in that year, everything seemed to be under control and then the regulations in place were relaxed and there was another outbreak thereafter. Had it not been for that, Kilkenny would be in lead in all-Ireland finals today because Cork got a soft one that year.
Mr. Gibbons: I wish to raise a number of issues concerning the details of the legislation. The questions that must be asked relate to the farmers, dealers, smugglers, factories, those who transport the animals and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. Take the lorry load of animals slaughtered in Athleague two weeks ago. The tags had been removed from their ears, but that was not spotted. Why not?
Mr. Gibbons: If we know holes are left following the removal of ear tags, we should check for them. It is not good enough to say those holes were filled. It would simply involve running one's hand along the ear to establish if holes have been filled. We have inspectors in place to check such matters, but unfortunately these animals got through. It is not the first time such things have happened. These matters need to be sorted out.
Section 2(8)(f)(ix) states that such an officer may dispose of, or require the owner or person in charge of or in possession of, the animal, poultry product, fodder or litter to dispose of it in such a manner, including slaughter, as the authorised officer sees fit. It is not good enough just to leave it to the owner to dispose of them; they should be properly supersvised. The Minister of State might consider that matter.
Section 3 provides that if a person buys an animal, he must retain it for 30 days before he can sell it on. How will that affect someone who buys animals for slaughter on behalf of a factory? I note the Minister of State is nodding, but he might expand on that when replying to the debate. There are agents for factories whose job it is to buy animals at marts for slaughter.
With regard to sections 4 and 5 in relation to the 1956 order, why is it in place? If it is intended to put it on a statutory basis, why has it not been established on a statutory basis for the past 40 odd years? Is it the case that charges made against anyone found to have breached any of the regulations and orders listed, some of which were implemented recently, may not have been legal? The Minister of State might address that matter.
 Section 8 refers to corporate bodies. The legislation in this regard does not state exactly to what that refers. Perhaps I do not understand it. The fact that the word “factory” does not appear in the legislation worries me greatly.
Mr. Gibbons: The legislation in general deals harshly with dealers and farmers, and rightly so, but it is equally important to deal with factories in the same way. When one thinks of the history of the factories, as Deputy Ross said, one thinks of their actions as outlined in the report of the beef tribunal. One of the reasons smugglers are successful is that factories are prepared to take the animals. They know who is involved in smuggling and they know if the animals brought to them have been smuggled, yet they take them. The approach has been to seek to make a quick buck. One of the general points I would make about the legislation is that the factories are not referred to specifically. This weakens the Bill greatly because they are as culpable as anybody.
Returning to section 3, I referred to the 30 day residency period. I wonder whether it would be advisable to have that retained permanently. The Bill states that this may be rescinded by the Minister as he or she sees fit. If that was to be retained permanently, it would act in the future to reduce the risk of the spread of any disease which may enter the jurisdiction. For the same argument, if, in a given location, a farmer imported animals legitimately and it turned out that they had a disease, the fact that they were retained on that farm would give a period in which the disease could be identified before the animals mixed with others. Perhaps this is worth considering.
Section 10 relates to ear tagging. Will the Minister clarify whether the penalty of a £100,000 fine or five years imprisonment would also apply to somebody convicted of tampering with or removing ear tags? This is not clear to me. The way the Bill is worded, it seems to be ambiguous in terms of the proposals coming forward regarding the tagging of sheep, where tags must be moved from one ear to the other depending on the age of the sheep. Perhaps this is something the Minister could tease out because I am keen to know about that.
If animals at a meat factory are discovered to have tags which have been interfered with, who is responsible? Is it the meat factory, the person who transported them to the meat factory, the dealer or the farmer? It is important to clarify that issue also.
Generally this is good legislation, but there are some weaknesses in it. The one thing that con cerns me more than anything else is that factories are not identified as clearly as they should be. They should be treated in the same way as everybody else because of their history.
When the legislation is passed with whatever amendments may be agreed to, it is imperative that it is implemented and properly policed. I appeal to the Minister not to let this fall by the wayside in the way much other legislation has in the past because it was not implemented properly. There is no point in us going through this exercise if it will not be implemented and policed rigorously.
Mr. O'Dowd: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, to the House. This is significant legislation. According to what I read on the Internet this afternoon, the Irish Hotels Federation said that in the order of 500 conferences have been cancelled since the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and that there will be 22,000 jobs at risk if the situation gets worse. Significantly, this affects not only the farming sector, but everybody. It affects all aspects of life. It has affected our sporting life and our social life. Every aspect of the economy has been touched by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in County Armagh and, indeed, in the United Kingdom.
It is important that this legislation is draconian. It is also necessary to combat the people whose activities put at risk the livelihood of farmers and the whole economy. I support in principle the contents of this legislation. People would need to think carefully before flouting this Bill which empowers the authorities not only to apply the severest penalties on conviction in the Circuit Court but to put those responsible out of business forever. Those convicted will never again be able to get involved in animal husbandry or farming. It is not a crime which would affect them for only a short period, it would affect them for as long as they live. Therefore, it is important legislation.
It is obviously important that the legislation has come before us quickly. I would make the following criticism which is intended to be constructive. I would like to have had a copy of the Bill earlier – others also expressed this view. It may be that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development sent us an e-mail copy of it. I do not know whether they did, but they should communicate more effectively with Members of the Oireachtas when emergency legislation is proposed. When I rang the Department to get the Bill and to ask to speak to somebody about it, I was told that the gentlemen concerned were somewhere in the Houses, but I did not know where. There ought to have been somebody in the Department to answer queries or if they were  giving briefing notes in the House, they should have circulated all the Members with those facts in order that we would be in a better position to comment on this important and urgent legislation.
There are a few points regarding the legislation which come to mind. Regarding the difference between the fine on summary conviction and the fine on conviction on indictment, certainly the fine on indictment is significant. Perhaps the fine on summary conviction should be heavier because £1,500 is not a large sum if a person has willingly broken the regulations relating to foot and mouth disease. Perhaps that issue should be revisited. Senator Hayes made the point that this legislation ought to be reviewed in six months to see how it is working. Perhaps issues such as the size of the penalty on summary conviction could be looked at again.
Section 29A(2)(b) of section 3 states that the Minister may by order “provide for the approval and registration of dealers and dealers premises”. Is there not already a registration process in place? What, if anything, is wrong with that process? What is meant by providing approval of dealers? Does that deal with the premises rather than the dealers?
The priority they give to agriculture, monitoring of disease and the control of what is happening is not acceptable. With the drop in the income of farmers, diseases like foot and mouth have been allowed to spread. People have not been as vigilant as they should and did not have the money necessary to invest in support services from vets.
Consumer confidence in food, particularly in Irish products, could be affected by something like foot and mouth disease. It would have a serious effect in terms of our exports. Consumers need the guarantee that when they buy Irish beef it is Irish beef and has not come over the Border in the last two or three hours. By definition we are talking about a minimum of 30 days. I do not know if that is proposed.
 I come from a Border county. Fear and apprehension were real and palpable all over County Louth upon the outbreak in south Armagh. We are very lucky that foot and mouth disease has not spread to the rest of the country. I acknowledge the efforts of the Garda, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, and all the arms of the State in fighting this outbreak. I welcome the legislation, provided that we review it in six months or a year. We must have a finite period to see how it works. This legislation is necessary. It is draconian and properly so. The consumer needs to have greater confidence in the product they get. One of the ways of doing this is to have more significant and rigid control of animal movement, as this Bill proposes.
Mr. Caffrey: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, and this very necessary legislation. I commend him on his efforts since this outbreak began. There were some criticisms of failure to act quickly enough but many of the measures put in place have been vindicated.
There is no evidence that we have a case in the 26 counties. Every day that goes by is a bonus. The incubation period is relatively short and if there were a case it would be coming to the surface at this juncture. We will keep our fingers crossed for the next week or so and hope that nothing happens.
Since the outbreak occurred in England many people have endured hardship and inconvenience. They have lost a lot of money. Every sector of society has been affected, even though we have not had an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The effort the nation has put in contrasts sharply with what is happening in Britain, where the agriculture industry is not regarded in the same way as it is here. There is a general acceptance in Britain that this is one of these things that happen. They will live with it for a while and it will go away. That was their record over the course of the last century. They have had many outbreaks of this disease, which they have endured until eventually it has gone away.
That contrasts totally with our attitude, which entirely justifies the measures the Government has put in place to prevent an outbreak. Some people may think they are extreme, but they are not. One outbreak could put us back six months, with enormous consequences for the massive agricultural exports upon which we depend.
This new measure to curb rogue dealers is also justified. There is a lot of criticism that we know this has been happening for 30 or 40 years, especially the smuggling of cattle, sheep and other commodities across the Border. Smuggling has been endemic in the Border counties for many years. It is only by implementing these measures and making it an unprofitable enterprise that we will eliminate it. If it is not profitable people will not engage in it. This Bill will ensure that anyone caught in an act that jeop ardises our livestock industry will certainly not be in a profitable position.
All the sporting organisations are to be commended for their actions in postponing events. Tourism has been badly affected. Cancellations of many social functions have taken place over the past few weeks. Many small hotels and guest houses have had to forfeit off-season business on which they were depending. In the light of all this, it is very disconcerting to see that the millionaire groups can flout the law. They are ignoring the pleas of Government and society and going ahead with major social functions. I refer to the Westlife concerts. It is all right for the small boy. He can make the sacrifices but the millionaires cannot make any sacrifices. That is the signal that this is sending out, not just here but all over Europe. These concerts attract people internationally. This is an international group and I am told that they will have people from the British Isles, from Europe and even from as far away as America. These are gatherings that should not be allowed in the present climate. The Government should look closely at what is happening and invoke more powers in the unfortunate event of an outbreak. We should enact more emergency legislation to ban those types of concerts. There have been calls in Seanad Éireann today, and I am sure in Dáil Éireann as well, for these people to respond in the same generous manner in which the entire nation has responded to calls to prevent the large-scale gathering of people during this type of epidemic.
This invisible virus is lurking around every corner, but luckily it has not surfaced. I hope this Bill will prevent the type of action we have seen in the past that has led directly to the scare. That action was taken by unscrupulous people trying to make a few quick bucks from a very shady operation. I appeal to the Government and the Minister, who is very familiar with the situation, to keep their eye on the ball over the next few weeks. I hope we will get over this scare unscathed.
Mr. Callanan: When I spoke last week I started by saying that with God's help and the help of others, we would be successful in keeping foot and mouth disease out of this country and I finished by saying “God willing”. That has happened to date, thank God.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and compliment him on the role he and the Government have played. I specifically mention the role of the Minister, Deputy Walsh. It would be remiss if we did not recognise the role Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development staff and the voluntary agencies have played in helping and in assisting in inclement weather. Despite the fact there were some criticisms of what was being done, I suggest that a great deal must have been done right to achieve the success we have achieved to date and we look forward to that success continuing, with God's help.
 I welcome this Bill to control the spread of foot and mouth disease and to give assistance to State authorities in overcoming any difficulties, anomalies or bad practices in which people may engage, not for the benefit of farming in general or agriculture but for their own selfish ends. I think somebody said the Bill was draconian but it will protect the honest-to-God decent farmer doing his job day in, day out with fear or favour and without breaking the law. This Bill will give protection to the 95% of farmers who do their job well and deal with people who break the law. That is why I welcome it.
Is the Bill tough enough? On summary conviction, a person guilty of obstruction is liable to a fine of £1,500 and/or imprisonment for six months. On conviction on indictment, a person is liable to a fine of up to £100,000 or five years imprisonment. Is that severe enough? I pose that question because of a recent case in my part of the country where a person convicted of changing tags got a three year suspended sentence. The application of the Bill when it becomes an Act will be at the discretion of the judge who presides over the case. I ask that consideration be given to making those fines mandatory. If we set the jump high and hard enough, it will help us to overcome this.
I do not know why a fellow gets a three year suspended sentence for changing tags when a poor unfortunate woman gets six months for stealing half a dozen sausages to feed, as she claims, hungry kids or where some other unfortunate woman gets six months for stealing a handbag with £20 in it. Because I have difficulty understanding that, I believe the penalties should be mandatory. The decision as to whether someone is guilty or innocent rests with the court, but there should be no discretion in the implementation of the fines.
On a conviction on indictment under the Principal Act or section 4 of this Act the court may order the forfeiture to the Minister of any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or container involved in the commission of the offence.
The CAB was set up to deal with serious crime – for example, drug dealing. What has been happening and what has been shown up deserves the same care and attention and application of law – hence the point I made relative to the CAB, which should be brought in.
Section 8 provides that a court may, in addition to any other penalty, ban a person or company from agriculture related activities. Should that section be stronger? I do not like the word “may” when it comes to the serious matters with which we are dealing.
The legislation is designed to deal with rogue dealers and, indeed, rogue farmers. However, there would be no rogue dealers if there was  nobody to receive the goods. I accept that the protection and manning of a land border has complications and difficulties. Senator Gibbons raised the question of Athleague. How did that load of sheep get into that plant to be processed? Somebody said it arrived there at approximately 4 a.m. Was that done by special arrangement with the management? We talk about rogue dealers and rogue farmers but what about rogue factories? Is it not time they were included? Other speakers have said the position in regard to factories which support those engaged in illegal activities by being available to slaughter animals is not clear in the Bill. They are not all up here; some of them are down the country. Cattle and beef go down the country. There are many well-known and highlighted cases of that.
We need to license the primary producer to produce. The set up in the dairy industry, for example, is absolutely brilliant. The beef industry is coming right but the sheep industry is wide open. If we could manage to introduce a framework where the beef, pig and sheep industries could operate within the same type of framework as the dairy industry, we could hold our heads high in the world and say to anybody who wants to listen that we are doing the job right.
We have talked about the illegal movement of cattle across the Border. They do not all come from one small area of south Armagh. They are being brought in through the ports for financial gain. The Good Friday Agreement was, is and will continue to be a wonderful document. Despite the political and other difficulties, embodied in that Agreement are the cross-Border institutions. I consider the framework of those bodies highly suitable for an inclusion of the entire island to deal with the problems that affect both North and South. There is no great difference in the difficulties we have on both sides of the Border. My contact with farmers would suggest that many engaged in agriculture in the North would welcome an all-Ireland approach to solving our many common problems.
There have been criticisms of this Government over its actions on the foot and mouth scare. However, it must have done much that was right. We have not had the disease here since 1941. Britain has not had it since, I think, 1983 and has not had a serious outbreak since 1967 when we succeeded in keeping it out. There was considerable agreement between the agricultural authorities, North and South, at that time. Bríd Rogers and her department are doing as good a job as they can and there has been only one outbreak on the island as a whole. Some bloody lunatic from up there has claimed on the radio that it must be down here and we must be hiding it. However there has been only one outbreak in south Armagh.
I call on the Minister to adopt an all-Ireland approach to exclude, as far as humanly possible, diseases from the island. I urge immediate discussions between the veterinary officials in our Department led by Colm Gaynor and Paddy  Rogan and their counterparts in the North. When Paddy Rogan was a raw recruit in veterinary practice, he was trained and got his experience working in west Cork.
This goes beyond the scope of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and into the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Waste food is now believed to have been the source of the disease in England. Senator Quinn has made many comments about this topic. If we are to be protected then the Department of the Environment and Local Government has to be engaged in the disposal of waste. We must be careful of that.
Section 3 concerns dealers and inserts a new section 29A into the principal Act. What does the Minister envisage for subsection (4)? Does this mean subsection (3) will not apply until the Minister makes an order under subsection (4)? Subsection (5) appears to allow the Minister or an officer to issue a permit allowing movement within the 30 day period. This seemed clear earlier, but perhaps the Minister might confirm this.
How will subsection (3) impact on the export of live animals? Will the new fines proposed under the Bill, also apply to other offences under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966? Can the Department implement the proposed measures, other than through the livestock marts, which are already well covered by Department regulations? Will the Minister give a commitment that the operation of the proposed new Bill will not interfere with the normal operation of livestock marts?
Ms O'Meara: I welcome the Minister for State. I commend the Department on its speedy legislative response to this matter. Less than a week ago, when we were discussing the Agriculture Appeals Bill, the Minister and the Department showed flexibility and openness to the views of the Opposition. While it worried some of us that we were expected to pass all Stages of the legislation having barely looked at it this morning, the approach of the Minister and the Department to the views expressed by the Opposition in terms of briefing and in this House has been speedy and exemplary. The Bill as published this morning will be considerably changed by the time it leaves this House, presumably this evening, because of the extent of the amendments tabled here today. Some of these are being tabled as we speak and many are very significant. The amendments outlined by the Minister already will improve the legislation.
I support the principle of the legislation. As Senator Callanan has said, no honest and decent farmer or dealer at a factory operating within the law need have any fear of this legislation. They should welcome it because it is designed to protect the industry at a time of national emergency. It is exactly a week since the Northern Minister, Bríd Rogers, confirmed her worst fears that there had been an outbreak in Northern Ireland. Very  few people thought that the virus would not spread over the Border. A week later, we have a great sense of relief that there has been no outbreak in the Republic.
Other people have referred to the wonderful mobilisation of voluntary and State effort and particularly the response by ordinary individuals to protect us from this terrible virus. That vigilance must continue. It is disappointing that the Cheltenham race festival is not only going ahead but, judging by reports in today's media, many people from here intend to travel in spite of the outbreak within a short distance of the course. That is very worrying and suggests that complacency has crept in to replace vigilance.
Ms O'Meara: The Armagh outbreak has confirmed the suspicions of some that we have a major problem with animal smuggling and fraud with which the legislation is designed to deal and on which it should be commended. This has been known officially for some time. The draconian nature of the legislation confirms the size of the problem and the powers needed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to deal with it. The legislation confirms the urgent need for the Department to deal with the problem. It is a pity that it took the foot and mouth crisis to produce this response. Smuggling and fraud pose a huge danger to our industry and undermine public confidence in it a period already made difficult by BSE. The legislation is to be welcomed, therefore, even if is considered draconian and extraordinary.
We are living in extraordinary times and extraordinary measures are needed to control this terrible disease and protect our national industry. The legislation will be tested in six months when we can review the situation and establish its level of success. How many rogue dealers will have ceased operating and to what extent will the industry have been cleaned up by the measures contained in the legislation? The Minister of State should review the legislation and discuss it with us in the House. We will need to review it to ascertain if it is working, how it is being used and if it is achieving its declared objectives. If smuggling and cross-Border fraud cease, it will have been worth it. Our experience of the revelations at the beef tribunal implies that we have still not managed to clean up the industry and restore public confidence in it. Nobody in the House can fail to welcome the Department's approach to rooting out the bad apples in the industry in order that honest farmers, dealers and factories operating within the law are protected and consumer confidence is restored.
The fear has been expressed that the powers contained in the legislation will have a dreadful effect on innocent individuals charged under it.  For that reason I welcome the Minister's announcement concerning amendments. There will be a review of section 2, which contains wide powers, after 12 months. The Minister of State has listened to the views of Members on the definition of “dealer” and the right of appeal provided for in the Agriculture Appeals Bill will be extended to this legislation. Such essential protections are required when legislation contains such wide powers. Some farmers have fears due to bad relationships with local agricultural officers and given the powers vested in such officers, it is important that a balance is struck in the legislation to protect the innocent. I commend the Minister of State on his speedy response.
The Minister of State said that the purpose of the Bill is to enable power to be exercised in cases where there is a risk of an outbreak of a serious animal disease. This suggests that the emergency will come to an end. I notice that the Minister of State is shaking his head.
Ms O'Meara: We have tabled some further amendments since this morning. I acknowledge that the Minister of State has taken a broad view. He has accepted some amendments and others in principle. I look forward to Committee Stage when we can tease out the amendments with which he has a difficulty.
It is time two matters were looked at to restore consumer confidence, the first of which is the need to separate food production from food safety – it is essential that confidence is restored in food production – and the second the issue of a food producer's licence. When I suggested to a number of farmers over the weekend that this would protect the honest decent producer, their response was that it would be a good idea. I look forward to the legislation being discussed in the House in the not too distant future. When this emergency has come to an end we should have a stronger agriculture industry which has the confidence of the consumer.
Mr. Costello: I welcome the Minister of State. It is important that legislation is being introduced. Its extent, detail and substance show how unregulated the sector has been. The movement, slaughter, transport and sale of animals has been open to tampering, smuggling and abuse. I do not like to see legislation introduced in an emergency fashion. It always goes wrong, and I could quote a number of instances in which this has happened. Here we have draconian legislation in terms of  the powers that are given to the authorised officer. From what the Minister has said, it looks like this legislation will be in place for a long time to come. We have been totally unsuccessful in eradicating bovine TB and brucellosis, despite the millions of pounds spent. Clearly, there have been abuses and it is not just the old badger which has been responsible for the spread of both those diseases.
One of the things missing from the Bill is an emergency plan. We have plans in place to cope with disasters such as floods and bombings. The local authority was able to put a plan into action when there was major flooding a few months ago in Dublin. There should be a disaster plan available for a crisis of this nature. At the first warning of foot and mouth disease, the Minister's Department, transport companies, port authorities and local authorities should all be able to implement a pre-ordained plan. This would avoid complaints from the public through the media that there has been an inadequate response in certain areas because officials were unsure of what to do and procedures were not in place.
Senator Callanan suggested that there should be a single veterinary regime for the whole island and I agree. Similar precautions would then be in place right across the board. This could ideally be dealt with in the context of the cross-Border institutions. I think this should be a major part of the input of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development into cross-Border institutions.
My greatest concern about this legislation is that while it clamps down very strongly on the importers, dealers and farmers, there is no sense of emphasis on the factories. I see the wonderful phrase “body corporate” in the Bill. I would like a spade to be called a spade on this issue. It is referred to as an aside and I am concerned that the emphasis is not where it should be. If the factories were doing their job, it would not be possible for smugglers to make money out of the scams. If the tags were properly checked at the factories, if there was proper supervision and if the factory owners were held responsible for any scam perpetrated, there would not be this traffic in animals.
Mr. Costello: That should be outlined in the interpretation section. A body corporate should be defined and it should be spelt out that it covers the factories that have been abusing the system, that it covers companies such as Goodman and Kepak which have been engaged in questionable practices for a very long time. I want that spelled out here. The small importer, the small farmer  and the small dealer are targeted but the big body corporate sector is not adequately targeted.
Section 9(1) states that the body corporate is “also” guilty. Why “also“? He or she should be up there at the very beginning. Section 10 is a very important section dealing with ear tagging. It refers not to the body corporate but simply to the person who has unlawfully brought the animal into the State. That is the only person being targeted in relation to the offence of ear tagging, yet there could have been many other people involved.
The body corporate that is ultimately responsible for allowing the scam of avoiding ear tagging is the factory. How can a British animal be brought to a Kepak factory in Athleague, County Roscommon, without ear tags and it goes unnoticed by the factory personnel? Was Super Glue used? Did the scars heal so well—
Mr. Costello: We heard that 8,000 animals have been smuggled into the country in the past two months. Unless the factories are involved, the scams cannot take place. The factories must be at the core of this legislation and that is not the case. They are referred to merely as body corporate. That is the best euphemism I have ever heard. Let us spell out where the problem lies. I want this legislation restructured so that it can be clearly seen where the blame lies.
I hope the Minister will consider amendments in relation to a review of this legislation. There are emergencies on a regular basis in agriculture, but that does not mean we should deal with them with emergency legislation. I do not wish to see this legislation standing in this form a day longer than needs be. Proper precautionary legislation should be drafted.
Dr. M. Hayes: I welcome the Minister of State and join others in the congratulations to him and his officials and to the Minister, Deputy Walsh, for their efforts in countering the danger of a foot and mouth epidemic. I acknowledge the actions of Bríd Rodgers – they seem to have gone unnoticed by some Senators – who has closed the ports in Northern Ireland. It is very brave and courageous of her to stop movement within the United Kingdom. It is one of the products of devolved Government that might not have been available under direct rule.
I agree with Senators Ross and Norris. They put the point across with a good deal more verve than I can summon up. It is important that the public is kept aware of the disease. The public can only be shocked for about a week at a time and then something else comes along. It must be spelled out to the public how awful and terrible the disease is. Some of the London broadsheets described foot and mouth disease as a form of animal flu. People recover from flu in about three weeks, and so do animals from the disease, they  said. The insidious nature of this disease has to be explained.
I welcome the legislation and congratulate the Minister. I am concerned, however, about emergency legislation, particularly draconian legislation. The Statute Book is littered with legislation which was initiated in response to an emergency of one sort or other and which was then found not to be effective or to be over the top. I would welcome an indication that the Minister will be willing to look at this again in tranquillity in six or nine months' time when we can look at the effect of this legislation and decide what must be done.
Throughout this Bill there are loud reverberations of stable doors being shut, although I hasten to say that it was not the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, who left them open. Nevertheless, we are dealing with problems which have been latent and not properly recognised. To put it at its most charitable, there has been a history of irregular movement of stock on the south Armagh border since the time of Cúchulainn and the Táin. We have known for the last 30 years that people are making tracks across the Border. This is why some people in Northern Ireland look wryly at current efforts to seal the Border, which was sometimes permeable to semtex, and make it impenetrable to beef burgers and epizootic diseases. We must wake up to the fact of a land border which is exploited for criminal reasons, in ways which are destructive of the economy and which drain money from the exchequers North and South. These issues should be addressed when the current crisis is over.
I have great sympathy with Members who want this matter treated on an all-island basis. I reflected last night on photographs of the meeting of Jack Lynch and Terence O'Neill in 1967 when there was a foot and mouth threat to the island. They quickly put together a regime which ensured that the island was kept free of disease and it would be an enormous pity if, with the institutions and machinery which have followed the Good Friday Agreement, we were less able to do that today. This machinery should be built on, as it is important for the farming industry in Northern Ireland that it becomes a disease free region and maintains its position as a food producer.
Although I am a strong supporter of the European Union, the completion of the Single Market has created difficulties, as Senator Ross mentioned. I hope it will be possible for the Minister to approach the European institutions to argue for safety measures before free market access in this case. The free market has dismantled the defences which were available on this island so that we are not now able to impose inspections at ports and points of entry. If defences could be arranged on an all-island basis so much the better.
As Senators have remarked, there is strong evidence of scams, wrong-doing and of criminal  activity by many people along the line. It is scandalous that sheep are brought from England and Scotland through Northern Ireland and into the Republic, then accepted by meat plants as Irish sheep for the purpose of purchase, remuneration, grants or rebates. I hope those guilty of such offences will be pursued with the full rigour of the law.
While this law is not retrospective, nevertheless I welcome the section dealing with tags and the changing of tags on animals. I have some difficulty with the construction of the new section 17A(8) and its relationship to section 17A(9). These subsections seem to indicate that there are two kinds of authorised officers with different powers, one group who are simply authorised officers and others who are inspectors of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. That may be my bad reading but I would welcome an explanation from the Minister.
I commend the Minister for the steps taken and for bringing forward the legislation. I suggest that every effort be made to deal with this problem on an all-island basis, within the remit of the all-island institutions that have been set up, to ensure that this and future epidemics are kept off the island. The current crisis should not blind us to the fact that there is a money-making racket in operation along the Border, involving not only cattle but diesel, drink and unbranded goods. Until the profit motive is removed this will continue and it cannot be stopped by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development alone but by the entire effort of the Governments, North and South, acting in concert. I wish the Minister well and pray that we escape a real outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the Republic.
Mr. Quinn: I welcome this Bill, but reluctantly as I regret the need for it. This a national crisis, a fact recognised by the vast majority of the population. I met shoppers in a supermarket in Dundalk this morning who must cross a roadblock to get to the centre of the town as the exclusion zone surrounding the quarantined farm at Meigh reaches the town. To bring goods home from the centre of Dundalk people must go through a Garda patrol. The British talk of the Dunkirk spirit and I saw a similar spirit in Dundalk today, a recognition that we have to overcome this problem.
There is a need for cool heads. My daughter rang me yesterday from Paris where she is in the business of importing Irish goods to French supermarkets. She told me that it is difficult to explain to people in France that, while we do not have foot and mouth disease in Ireland, many normally available products are banned from export to France. She blames some people in Ireland for losing their heads. The headline in a Dublin newspaper read “The plague is here” when foot and mouth disease was discovered in  Armagh. Unless we act coolly we will lose control of the situation.
We face nothing less than a national crisis and it is one which will cost us dear even if we succeed in keeping the disease from this part of the island. It is already the cause of losses in the tourism industry. As the chairman of the St. Patrick's Day festival, I and fellow organisers last week had to make the decision to postpone this year's festival for some time, although we did not find that decision too difficult because of the crisis. Active members of tourism bodies did ask that we opt for some measure short of cancellation. Despite that, we were all very aware of the heavy losses that will be incurred if these measures are not taken, not just by the tourism industry but by businesses and individual traders.
The overall cost of the crisis to our tourism industry is estimated to be in the region of £500 million for this year alone. It is a truly staggering amount and one that will have a knock-on effect for all sectors of the economy. Yet it is a price all are agreed it is right to pay. Something which struck me in conversation over the past two weeks is that this crisis has brought home to people how flimsy is the foundation on which our recent prosperity is built. One person I spoke to in Dublin was worried that suddenly his job, his house and his whole future was at risk from something that one month ago would not have been imagined. This crisis may have the positive side effect of puncturing the reckless confidence which became a national characteristic as the Celtic tiger went from strength to strength in recent years. Up to one month ago nobody would have envisaged a scenario which would stop our economic growth in its tracks. We may be better off in the long run for having received this wake-up call. Senator Gibbons spoke of his anger towards those who decry the importance and seriousness of this matter. We must remember how flimsy our economy is; anything could go wrong.
Now that we have successfully mobilised the public, our priorities should change and we should seek to maintain a cool head. We may be in for a long haul in regard to this disease and should examine how best to position ourselves as far as the outside world is concerned. I was alarmed to read that the Taoiseach intends to send most of his Ministers around the world with the St. Patrick's Day message that Ireland is treating foot and mouth disease more seriously than the British. That appears to be a rather impetuous reaction when we should be adopting a steady and cool headed approach. By shouting about our attitude to the disease we will draw attention to the problem rather than mitigate its impact.
Many people do not quite understand what the problem is. The more we portray the disease as a national threat the more seriously it will be viewed throughout the world, but people will view it seriously on their own terms rather than on ours. A senior manager in the tourism industry, involved in organising the arrival of student  bands which planned to attend St. Patrick's Day parades here, but which will not now be on public display, has received calls from anxious parents asking him to ensure their children will not be fed beef. This clearly displays the way in which the situation can be misinterpreted. Some appear to think that foot and mouth disease is a food safety issue. I find it very difficult to explain to people on the shop floor that it is not. People confuse foot and mouth disease with BSE and CJD. If people see us treating this disease even more seriously than we treated BSE, they will naturally jump to the conclusion that it is more threatening to human health.
It is not easy to explain to outsiders the reason we take foot and mouth disease so seriously when it does not pose any threat to human health. We must ensure our actions do not convey the impression to outsiders that there is such a threat. Neither is foot and mouth disease threatening to animals. Left alone, animals would recover from the disease in a week or two in the same way as we would recover from a mild flu. The disease is only fatal to animals because humans make it so; the burning of carcases is evidence of that fatality.
I do not deny that foot and mouth is a serious disease which poses a national threat. It is a serious disease not because it is life threatening to animals or humans, but because it threatens the world trade in food on which we rely to such a great extent. The confirmation of foot and mouth disease in Ireland would result in Ireland losing its disease free status on world markets. That fact is not clearly understood by members of the public here or abroad. The loss of our disease free status would be a national disaster and we must fight with all our might to prevent it.
We must avoid creating more serious problems through our handling of the crisis. The New York Times carried a front page story about the cancellation of St. Patrick's Day festivities due to foot and mouth disease. I did not see the article myself, but I hope the reason for the cancellation was clearly explained. I sense, however, that people a long way from here will simply feel that we have a disease problem, as evidenced by the comments of the band members' parents. It would be better if Government Ministers stayed at home for St. Patrick's Day.
I had one major reservation about the Bill, but it was removed by the Government amendment imposing a time limit on its provisions. I congratulate the Minister of State on introducing it. I have always taken the view that “quickie” legislation usually proves to be bad legislation. Senator O'Toole regularly makes the same point. I am delighted by the Government's agreement to attach time limits to emergency legislation and I am of the view that the time limit in this case is quite logical. Law passed in the heat of the moment does not receive the scrutiny which permanent legislation demands and deserves. It is only proper that we would respond quickly and effectively to a crisis and I congratulate the Department on so doing. We must realise,  however, that our response in the heat of passion may be an overreaction and that we should revisit these issues with cooler heads.
The Bill confers powers which can truly be described as draconian, a word used several times today. It confers powers to invade, search, seize and destroy private property on a raft of people, actions which, under the Constitution and our legislation, we are very careful to restrict in normal circumstances. We should only make permanent provision for such actions after very careful consideration, consideration which is not afforded to us at this stage because of the urgency of the situation.
In meeting current urgent needs, we do not need to mortgage our entire future. The imposition of a time limit on the Bill's provisions will force us to revisit the legislation in less frantic circumstances. The situation may look different in 12 months and we may discover that changes are required. We may then be able to acknowledge that this problem extends further than the dozen or so rogue traders who have been discussed at length in recent days. I suggest that for every rogue trader, there are a dozen officials prepared to turn a blind eye and 100 law abiding farmers fully aware of the wrongdoing perpetrated in their names.
I addressed a large IFA meeting in the Curragh three years ago and spoke about the enemy within. I am not old enough to remember World War II, but I recall the signs in Britain which stated “beware of the enemy within”, namely, those who supported the enemy cause. Such enemies have existed here for a long time and, having listened to many of the speakers here today, their identity is clear. We have, however, turned a blind eye to them for years.
I listened to “Liveline” earlier and heard Joe Duffy's interview with an individual who admits responsibility for bringing foot and mouth disease into Ireland. It was clear that he believed he was carrying on normal business. Such people could not work unless others supported them and turned a blind eye to their activities. I do not understand how a factory opens at 4 a.m. to accept animals from across the Border. Perhaps that is normal. In the case in question, I understand the names of local farmers were allocated to the beasts which arrived. If that is the case, many people are turning a blind eye. We must do something about the enemy within.
This problem will not have gone away in 12 months, but we will be in a better position to deal with it than we are now. I, therefore, welcome the Government's amendment that the legislation will not be extended without the agreement of the Houses. At that stage we will be able to identify any problems created and any improvements which need to be made. I welcome the Bill, the Minister of State and the fact that he has recognised the need for and accepted amendments, be they Government or Opposition amendments.
Mr. Chambers: I congratulate the Minister and the Government, with the Commissioner, Mr. David Byrne, at EU level, on their positive and constructive approach to dealing with this issue. They have made decisions and put structures in place to deal with the problem in a proper and planned manner. The legislation is necessary. While we have been bogged down with regulation and legislation during the years, given the situation and the importance of the industry, the legislation is necessary. That said, it is important that it is reviewed because it contains many strong measures. The legislation needs to be carefully applied to be fair to all concerned and to ensure the rights of individuals are not infringed by the strong measures given to departmental officials.
The Oireachtas has passed much legislation dealing with the beef sector. We established a beef regulation scheme to regulate the supply of beef from farm to consumer. The current situation has identified a weakness in the regulation of the sheep industry. I also heard the interview on “Liveline” with the farmer who imported sheep from Northern Ireland. It was interesting to hear his views about what he did, and he regarded it as normal practice. He said that it was done in the sight of departmental inspectors. That highlights the need for the legislation. The Bill will respond in no small way to the needs of the agriculture industry, which is very important to the economy, while dealing with some outstanding issues which are and will continue to be of great concern and which create significant costs for the State.
Dealers have been part of the agricultural economy for many generations, and we must be careful to allow them trade in a businesslike way while protecting the resource and the industry. Factories need supplies. Live exports are fundamental to the beef industry. Many people are involved in dealing and they play an important part in the agricultural economy in an open, fair and organised way. They make a great contribution and it is important that the measures in the legislation do not interfere with them unduly. I understand the measures deal strictly with areas which have the disease or which are of concern and require control and inspection.
I concur with the views expressed about ethics within the Department. Dealers cannot transgress the law without its support. There is a need for a code of ethics and responsibility audits for departmental officials who will operate the legislation and deal with factories and beef exports. I welcome the section which introduces tagging for sheep. It is important that there is traceability in order that we know from where livestock has come and how many are in the State. We should plan for this and provide the necessary funding. Regulation of this type is needed for the long-term planning of the agriculture sector.
There is a certain element of confusion in dealing with disease. There is a school of thought that the closure of small abattoirs has resulted in an increase in the transportation of livestock for  slaughter. On the one hand, this leads to improved control systems, a view advanced by the food industry and Enterprise Ireland. On the other, it results in the increased transportation of stock, a factor in the spread of foot and mouth disease. There is a strong case for keeping cattle close to where they were born to reduce the movement of livestock. The more local the abattoir, the less need for transportation. This will result in greater control and less risk to the health of livestock and, consequently, the economic health of the agriculture industry.
While I welcome the thrust of the legislation, there is a financial incentive through currency differentials or different VAT rates between North and South to smuggle sheep or other livestock from the North or other parts of the United Kingdom into the Republic. There is a need to examine this incentive on a cross-Border basis. It is not enough to enact legislation, although it places a responsibility on people to register and make themselves more accountable to the State and the profession. There is a need to examine the industry on a cross-Border basis. If certain changes were made in tandem with the legislation, much of the incentive for people to take advantage of the State would be wiped out. Their actions put in jeopardy an industry that is fundamental to the economy.
I thank the organisations, particularly the IFA and other farming bodies, which have played a major role in supporting the Government and other State agencies. They have done what they can in relation to preventing the spread of foot and mouth disease to the State. Their actions were constructive and positive. The people have been united on this issue and they feel a responsibility towards the State. While there may be some criticism of the quick introduction of the legislation, the people recognise that it is a necessary response. It is progressive in the context of dealing with the needs of the agriculture industry.
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