Ash crisis runs straight to roots of GAA
GAELIC GAMES:The ash dieback problem has the GAA authorities on high alert, writes IAN O'RIORDAN
The already clear and present danger of a sudden and potentially complete devastation of the ash tree continues to leave the GAA on high alert – and they’re not the only ones.
Although highly valued in various guises, the ash tree in the Irish context has long been associated with the manufacture of hurleys, not least because of the irreplaceably unique properties of the wood itself. In the worst case scenario, even the likes of Henry Shefflin and Joe Canning might find themselves looking towards the synthetic hurl, as strange as that might feel.
It’s just over a month since the first reported Irish case of Chalara fraxinea – more commonly known as ash dieback, a rampant, fungal disease that can effectively spread like wildfire. Around 35,000 imported ash saplings have now been destroyed, starting at a forest in Leitrim, then four other sites, after the entire consignment was traced back to the Netherlands.
The problem is drifting westward from continental Europe, with 90 per cent of Denmark’s ash population already wiped out, and reports too that the disease is now “out of control” in the UK, where there are 80 million ash trees. Over the weekend came further reports of the first outbreak of ash dieback in Northern Ireland, at five separate sites in Down and Antrim, where notice of destruction has been served.
Governments across Europe have reacted accordingly; the Department of Agriculture here last week passing legislation to ban the import of all young ash plants and seeds from any infected area, extending that to a ban on any ash wood not already de-barked and sufficiently dried.
“That recognition, and realisation, is there, and that need for legislation so that measures can be taken to ensure the spread is arrested, if at all possible,” says Pat Daly, the GAA’s Director of Games, and representing their interests on the matter.
“This has come out of the blue, really. So it’s difficult to say what the full impact will be, at this stage. The scare might pass over, everything contained. Or alternatively, in six months time, it could be even more pronounced. It’s just hard to say. What I can say is that every conceivable action is being taken to ensure it is contained.
“But of course it raises huge concerns about the supply of ash, and problems emerging from that could have huge implications for hurling. If the extreme happens then yes, a lot of people could be out of business in 12 months time.”
Indeed it comes as a sort of double-whammy to the GAA’s concerns about ash supply: around 350,000 hurleys are manufactured in this country every year, about 65 per cent of which are made from imported ash. The GAA had initiated a plan to be entirely self-sufficient in ash by 2017, although ash dieback might have a considerable impact on that.