All-island response to foot-and-mouth threat

An urgent all-island approach to stop foot-and-mouth disease from entering Ireland today swung into action.

In Dublin, a high-level government committee is gathering to reiterate a state-wide ban on live animals, fresh meats and non-pasteurised milk originating from the UK.

Meanwhile in the North, the Stormont Executive is holding an emergency Cabinet meeting at noon to consider its response to the threat to the farming industry from the outbreak in Surrey, England.

Minister for Agriculture and Food Mary Coughlan has already been in talks with Stormont Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew to co-ordinate north-south efforts to avoid a repeat of the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) epidemic.

The North's First Minister Rev Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are expected to attend today’s Stormont Cabinet meeting.

Ms Coughlan said inspectors in her department were tracing animals that arrived in the Republic from the UK in recent weeks. The minister said her officials are also consulting experts from the Dublin-based National Disease Surveillance Centre this morning.

“There will be more discussions and more control measures announced if deemed appropriate,” she explained.

“At the moment we are dealing with something we haven’t enough information on to determine how widespread this outbreak in the UK is.”

Ms Gildernew also confirmed she had been in contact with officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in England.

The Irish Farmers’ Association and other agricultural groups called for a maximum bio-security alert to protect the multi-million euro meat industry in the State.

There were four outbreaks of the disease in the North during the last epidemic in 2001.

The first occurred in Meigh in south Armagh along the border, two incidences occurred in Ardboe in Co Tyrone and there was another outbreak in Cushendall in Co Antrim.

More than 50,000 animals were slaughtered in the North. One foot-and-mouth case was also discovered in the Republic.

The epidemic resulted in the authorities in Dublin and Belfast introducing restrictions on movement.

Specially-constructed disinfection machines were deployed at ports and travellers at sea ports and airports also had to walk through disinfected mats.

The Six Nations rugby championship was disrupted, with the Ireland team’s matches against Scotland, Wales and England postponed until the autumn.

Dublin’s St Patrick’s Day festival was rescheduled, the Ploughing Championships were cancelled, as was the North's main agricultural showpiece event The Balmoral Show.

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