Dáil Éireann - Volume 536 - 16 May, 2001

Priority Questions. - Livestock Movement.

64. Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the situation on the sale and movement of livestock; when livestock marts will resume business in view of major overstocking and financial problems on many farms as a result of foot and mouth disease restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14127/01]

[594] Mr. Walsh: In recent weeks, I made a number of adjustments to the foot and mouth disease controls, based on recommendations from the expert group and subject to strict protocols being adhered to. In particular, recent adjustments have been made to allow the movement of stock bulls, the movement of cattle from feedlots, the movement of cattle between fragments of the same holding and, most recently, farm to farm cattle sales with effect from 14 May.

Marts may be currently used for the assembly of cattle, sheep and pigs going directly for slaughter. As regards the general resumption of mart operations, the expert group has not for the present made any recommendations in this regard and while I am conscious of the pressures on farmers, I am equally conscious that a further outbreak of foot and mouth disease in this country would have far more serious consequences for the farming community and for the economy generally.

For this reason I do not intend to relax controls indiscriminately. However, I will take appropriate measures in relation to the phased resumption of marts when the expert group, on the basis of a risk assessment, makes recommendations in this regard.

Mr. Crawford: I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome any movement towards cattle sales and general free movement of cattle. Will he accept that the protocol introduced is a case of bureaucracy gone mad? The fact that every farmer must contact Bandon directly rather than be able to deal with his local DVO or Teagasc office, as was the position in the past, is introducing a bureaucracy into the system that will be difficult to deal with, especially for the older farmers. They could go to their local office in the past and deal with people they knew across the counter. Do computers not work in this country? A good system was set up in Ballymascanlon and Clontribret which showed that area aid maps could be put on the table in a second. Why has the system been centralised in Bandon, County Cork?

Banks are putting a good deal of pressure on farmers. I am aware of an old man who bought a bull last week and was delighted to be able to do so, but he has 11 weanlings to sell and the farmer who said he would buy them from him told him that he cannot move them for 30 days. Can the system be made more farmer-friendly to help farmers to deal with the major expense they have had and to allow for some normality? The farmer who bought that bull was depending on the money from the sale of the weanlings to pay for it but now he finds he cannot sell his weanlings. He was not led to understand that would be the case but the position changes on a daily basis.

Mr. Walsh: The movement of susceptible animals is the single highest risk in the spread of foot and mouth disease. That is the final matter to be resolved. We have proceeded in a conservative [595] and cautionary way along the lines of allowing certain restrictions to be lifted. The last one lifted was with regard to the farm to farm movement of cattle. That arrangement was for farmers to make application to the south western services at Bandon. When Bandon came under attack I noticed my two colleagues arrived and I am confident of their support in relation to the very good efficient and professional job being done in Bandon.

Mr. Dukes: We do not want Bandon to be besieged or submerged.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: We are quite capable of dealing with any attack in Bandon.

Mr. Walsh: Bandon has shown in the past that it is an exceptionally professional organisation in dealing with farm related matters and it has the advantage of the database there. I asked the Department officials to examine if the operation could not be more streamlined by the use of fax and e-mail facilities. At present people must send their applications by mail and that takes a little time to process. Those working in the office felt that for the first day or two they would be able to get matters up and running quickly by dealing with applications arriving in the post as that would allow them the full day to process them as opposed to receiving applications by fax at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. . I have no doubt that will be the case. I will meet representative of ICOS and the farming organisations in the next few days to examine how the system can be more streamlined.

Given that only last week antibodies were confirmed in a herd in Magherafelt in County Derry and also in a flock in the Glens of Antrim and there continue to be outbreaks of the disease in Britain, we will have to take a precautionary attitude to the matter of opening up the system.

Mr. Crawford: Can I take it the Minister is saying the staff within this private organisation in Bandon are much more efficient than his own staff at DVO and Teagasc level? The staff in DVOs, especially in the Border area, have given a tremendous service and I would think they are more than capable of giving a service on this issue.

Are we not at risk that because of the foot and mouth disease crisis we are putting rules, regulations and orders into the systems which are completely unworkable and that on farm to farm movements they are just not tenable?

An Ceann Comhairle: We must move on to Question No. 65.