O’Neill launches new disease prevention measures at ports
Agriculture Minister, Michelle O'Neill MLA, has launched a new initiative to improve disease prevention measures at local ports.
The measures involve the provision by DARD’s Veterinary Service of automatic Vehicle Disinfection Units (VDUs) at the ports of Larne, Belfast and Warrenpoint. These units will be activated during an outbreak of epizootic animal disease such as Foot and Mouth Disease in Britain and will be used for disinfecting traffic exiting the ferries. They were designed and installed in-house by DARD’s Rivers Agency.
The new installations, which are based on a design used at ports in the south, replace equipment put in place during the outbreak of FMD in 2001 but which has now reached the end of its useful life. Three new units have been installed in Belfast, two in Larne and one in Warrenpoint. The units are strategically placed to ensure that all traffic exiting the ferries must pass through them before leaving the port.
Speaking at the launch in the port of Belfast, the Minister explained: "The purpose of disinfection measures is to kill off any virus that might be carried on vehicular traffic and thereby help prevent the disease entering the North of Ireland. Whilst the threat from disease is currently low, the world today is a much smaller place and we have traffic coming through our ports from all over the world. Neither I nor my Department can afford to be complacent and we must therefore be prepared to meet that threat if and when it becomes a reality.
"The cost to the public purse here of the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease was £24million with an additional £5.3million indirect costs to the food chain. Statistics indicate that we have had a major incursion of disease locally every 7 to 10 years and my predecessor Michelle Gildernew fought several animal disease scares ranging from FMD to Bluetongue. I am determined to continue her Fortress Ireland approach to ensure that I do all I can to protect both our industry and economy.”
Discussing the development of the new VDUs, the Minister explained: “These new measures are an excellent example of best practice which I hope other Executive colleagues could consider from similar type projects that their officials are currently working on. Officials from Veterinary Service engaged with Rivers Agency colleagues to design and build these new units at a modest cost of £150,000, rather than external consultants which saved the Department approximately £30,000 of the taxpayer’s money. Veterinary Service also liaised closely with officials in the south and was able to adopt a best practice model from measures already in place there. So the project is a major success on both cross-border co-operation and inter-agency within my Department.”
In conclusion, the Minister also paid tribute to the Harbour Authorities and Ferry Operators saying: "We in DARD value the co-operation received from our Portal Industry Partners in regard to installation of these new disease prevention measures. I look forward to enhancing those linkages over the next four years. "
She added: “The development and launch of this new initiative today at our ports is very good news for both the industry and travellers at the ports. It provides a new swifter system for disinfecting vehicles and is a great success story in terms of utilising existing in-house expertise, which will allow the savings made to be used elsewhere during the current tough economic conditions.
“However, we must not be complacent and although today’s new equipment installation will be a significant step forward to help us keep disease out at local ports, we must always remain vigilant against the threat from epizootic disease.”