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Sinn Féin MEP calls for all-Ireland response to Bird Flu threat

16 August, 2005

Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald MEP has today called upon Health Minister Mary Harney to liaise with her counterpart in the North to draw up an effective island wide strategy to deal with the threat posed to public health from the outbreak of a potential flu pandemic. It has emerged that Minister Harney‚s department had postponed two meetings on the issue and Ms McDonald said that it was Œimperative that these meetings are scheduled as soon as possible‚.

Ms McDonald made her calls after it had been revealed that Russian authorities were battling to contain an outbreak in Siberia, although it was not known if it is the ŒH5N1‚ strain which has killed more than 50 people in Asia since 2003.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"This innocuous sounding virus has killed a number of people in South East Asia over the past number of months and reports emanating from Russia suggest that they are also battling to contain the disease. With air travel such an important and accessible means of transport today between nations and continents, the risk of the disease spreading into Europe and across the globe cannot be discounted. Whilst not wanting to sound alarmist, we must be as well prepared as possible for any potential outbreak in Ireland.

"It would be a completely common sense and realistic approach for the Department of Health in the North to liaise and co-operate with the Department of Health and Children in the Twenty-six Counties in order to ensure that an effective all-Ireland strategy is developed and put in place to properly deal with this potential threat to health and public safety.

"My colleague John O‚Dowd wrote to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety on this issue in May. Whilst an initial meeting has taken place between both health bodies, Minister Harney‚s department has asked that further meetings be postponed until the new health structures in the 26 counties have bedded in.

"Immediate action is required if we are to produce a joined up strategy to deal with a potential influenza outbreak." ENDS

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