Emergency plan agreed to prevent cattle moving across the Border

 

A THIRD consignment of smuggled cattle was seized on the Co Monaghan border yesterday as the Government implemented the EU worldwide ban on the export of livestock and beef products from the UK.

The Government has approved additional resources to provide an "intensified level of controls" along the Border in an attempt to stop cattle being smuggled into the Republic from the North.

Announcing in the Dail that he had signed the order bringing the EU ban into force in the State yesterday, the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Yates, said that all animals crossing the Border illegally would be destroyed.

The Minister said that the level of Garda and Customs activity had been very significantly increased and that no effort would be spared to prevent such movements.

As he was speaking, a top level meeting of Garda, Army and Customs and Excise officers was convened in Sligo to co-ordinate measures aimed at preventing the movement of cattle across the Border.

The measures will be based on those put in place in 1967, when the Border was virtually sealed because of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain which led to a total ban on the movement of UK cattle.

While there is growing concern over the possible illegal importation of animals from Northern Ireland into the Republic, there is also increasing concern over the inability of Irish exporters to land almost 7,000 cattle in Egypt. Three Irish cattle boats, carrying almost 5,000 animals, have arrived at the port of Alexandria. One of the boats, The Friesian Express, which has been anchored off the port since Sunday, has only enough fodder to last another day.

Attempts by the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton, to persuade President Mubarak of Egypt to withdraw his presidential decree banning EU products will be made today.

A Government spokesman indicated on Monday night that the Taoiseach was making arrangements to telephone President Mubarak and King Hussein of Jordan to obtain clearance for the shipment of Irish beef to Arab countries.

Yesterday, a spokesman said that attendance at a Cabinet meeting and at Question Time in the Dail had prevented the Taoiseach from making telephone contact with the two Arab leaders, but he confirmed that the calls would be made today.

"He [Mr Bruton] will give reassurances about the quality of Irish beef. The facts of the differentiation (between Irish and British beef) may not be understood. There are different controls between here and Britain", the spokesman said.

Veterinary officers from the Department of Agriculture have left for the Middle East and arrangements are being made for officials to visit other overseas markets in the coming days.

The Cabinet decided yesterday that a unilateral approach should to be made to Mr Mubarak, who has banned the importation of all livestock and beef from the EU because of the BSE scare in Britain. The Government had been waiting for the EU to impose its ban on Britain beef products before making representations for reopening the Irish cattle trade with Egypt, which was worth almost £300 million last year.

In addition, Mr Yates will be in contact later today with his Iranian counterpart to seek the reopening of yet another market closed to Ireland as a result of the crisis.

The Government spokesman also revealed that a major advertising campaign would be launched by An Bord Bia to reassure consumers at home and abroad on the safety of Irish beef.

In Britain, where the Prime Minister, Mr John Major, failed in a final attempt to persuade the EU's standing veterinary committee to reverse its ban, beef sales continued to fall and the National Farmers' Union called for a car case disposal scheme involving the slaughter of older cows.

The EU Commission will meet this morning to confirm the ban on British beef exports.

Meanwhile, the Times in London reported that police in Sardinia and Turin have warned that smugglers with possible Mafia links were trading British beef under "false health certificates" from Ireland.