[Sinn Fein]

10th March 2003

Sinn Fein delegation meet DARD over concerns at handling of Brucellosis and TB testing

A delegation of Sinn Fein Councillors - Cllr Terry Hearty, Cllr Coleman Burns, Cllr Patrick McDonnald, from Newry and Mourne District Council have met with Liam McKibben and other vets from DARD about the Brucellosis situation in the Newry division and to discuss concerns at the handling of TB and Brucellosis testing. The meeting was called by the council on foot of the crisis and the failure of Ian Pearson to meet the council.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Terry Hearty said:

"The department's veterinary department informed us that a new intensive testing programme was under way, that would include employing 23 new staff and the of testing 500,000 animals in the next 3-4 months.

"However the department were unable to say exactly what resources would be targeted specifically to tackle the spiralling problem identified at the Newry division. This is unacceptable because clearly there is a need to target resources to where they are most in demand. Last year 361 herds had Brucellosis and 157 of them were in the Newry division.

"One year on from the statement from Brid Rodgers promising urgent action there are still far more questions than answers. Why was the disease not tackled faster last year? Why did DARD not employ these staff a year ago? Why were farmers assured by DARD that they had the systems in place to deal with the situation?

"We were also told that a mapping system was to be used to inform the British Army where farms infected with Brucellosis were yet we still see on a regular basis, the highest level of patrolling in the North and British soldiers moving freely from infected farms to uninfected farms, damaging fencing as they go. This can not only lead to stock coming into contact with each other, and increasing the risk of spread of the disease, but also the problem of British soldiers carrying contaminated material from farm to farm.

"The issue of Brucellosis does not solely affect the farming community. This disease has effects on human health and also has a severe cost to the tax payer. If the department is to make the best use of limited resources then targeted testing programmes must be a priority.

"This is exactly the type of issue that a local Assembly and in particular the Public Accounts Committee should be investigating. Local MLA Conor Murphy is the deputy chair of the Assembly Public Accounts Committee. If or when the local Assembly is put back in place I will be urging my colleague to seek an inquiry into the department's handling of the recent Brucellosis and TB outbreaks and the costs associated with the delay in tackling these diseases.

Cllr Hearty also expressed concern at the failure of other councillors from Newry and Mourne to join the delegation, Mr Hearty said:

"This is an issue which affects farmers throughout the Newry and Mourne area. This was a council delegation and councillors from all political parties where invited to meet with the Veterinary Office. It is deeply disappointing that members, particularly from the UUP and SDLP refused to represent their constituents on this important issue. The response of SDLP agriculture spokesperson PJ Bradley is particularly disappointing given his divisive response to this issue." ENDS

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