17 August 2001

Ulster sheep set for Eire shipment

THE first lorry loads of sheep from Northern Ireland since foot-and-mouth halted the trade, are expected to cross the border into the Irish Republic imminently.

Shipments were due to get under way one week ago, under a strict new protocol imposed by the Dublin government (Business, Aug 3). Lorries were fuelled up and the paperwork was in place. But meat plants in the south cancelled all orders at the last minute following threats from local farmers.

Ulster Farmers Union leader, Douglas Rowe, described the situation as "totally unacceptable", pointing out that Northern Ireland and the republic have exactly the same F&M disease status. In a terse press release, the UFU threatened to picket imports of southern cattle sold to meat plants in the north.

A crisis meeting was held with the Irish Farmers Association in Dublin on Tuesday (Aug 14). &#42

resulting in a bland joint statement, recognising the protocol and calling for an "all Ireland animal health status". The IFA denied any formal involvement in pressurising meat factories to reject Northern Irish lambs. But it was able to give enough assurances for the UFU to call off its threatened picket.

"We are now satisfied that the IFA wont oppose our exports," said a UFU spokesman. "We are actively putting lamb consignments together to test the system and expect them to go on Friday (Aug 17) or next Monday. We are not anticipating any problems, but if there are, we will step up our campaign again."

Northern Ireland traditionally sends about 750,000 head a year to southern plants, or half the lamb crop. Trade was originally due to resume on Jul 1, but foot dragging by the Irish government resulted in a five-week delay.