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Minister Harney must not sit on her hands over Bird Flu threat - Mary Lou McDonald MEP

25 August, 2005

Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald MEP has today warned the Minister for Health to seriously address the rapidly changing situation in regards to the Bird Flu virus, which has spread from South East Asia into Russia. Ms McDonald said an immediate meeting must be arranged between the Departments of Health in the South and North to discuss 'an all-Ireland approach to any future pandemic'.

Ms McDonald made her comments as European experts are set to discuss a response to the disease in Brussels today. Ms McDonald also said that any further delays for the arrangement of a meeting between the Northern and Southern Health Departments would be 'unacceptable' after it emerged Ms Harney's department postponed two meetings on the issue in 2004 and 2005.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"I want to reiterate my previous comments that we should not be alarmist on this matter. However, developments are moving quickly with the news that the Dutch are set to keep their 5.5 million free range poultry indoors as a precautionary measure against the spread of avian bird flu.

"I am calling upon Minister Harney to seek an immediate meeting with her counterparts in the north to discuss a joined up approach to tackling any potential outbreak in Ireland. It is not acceptable that the Minister's Department has postponed two meetings on this matter. The Department asked for the postponement until the new health structures had bedded in. To my knowledge, there is now no possible excuse for the delay of this meeting.

"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 26 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." ENDS

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