Border patrols cost a leg

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The Independent Online
Sealing the border against imported BSE-infected cattle from Northern Ireland is costing Irish taxpayers more than IRpounds 36m a year, official sources in Dublin confirmed yesterday.

Operation Matador, the Irish security response to the British confirmation in March of links between BSE and the human disease CJD, led to unprecedented levels of random border searches, special police patrols and checkpoints along the 300 mile land and water border.

Farmers quickly discovered the seriousness of these efforts to defend the IRpounds 1.7bn-a-year (pounds 1.703bn) Irish beef economy. Three illicit cross- border cattle consignments were seized in the first week of the clampdown.

Such was the priority given to the measures that Dublin detectives on a murder inquiry were said to have complained at having to use buses after all spare squad cars were transferred to border duty. The cattle hunt coincided with extra surveillance imposed after the IRA called off its ceasefire.

Meanwhile, three more cases of BSE were confirmed in herds in the Republic, though infection levels remain far below those in Britain. The latest cases, two in Co Wexford and one in Co Longford, bring the total recorded since 1989 to 162 in a national herd of seven million, against over 160,000 in Britain in a 12-million strong herd. However, authorities are concerned that the total of Irish cases this year at 47 is three times the total in 1995.

The complexity of policing the British cattle import ban along a land border (an issue central to EU objections to relaxing restrictions on trade in Scottish beef) was underlined by a Dublin High Court case this week. A judge rejected an attempt by a farmer to obtain the return of cattle seized on suspicion of having been moved over the border.

Ireland fears two economic consequences from the BSE crisis. The first is the possible loss of entire foreign markets. The second danger is a wider collapse in consumer confidence in beef, already evident in massive stocks of unwanted EU-purchased stocks. Figures show 54,756 tonnes of Irish beef is out for tender under this scheme. Across the EU the latest total is 402,921 tonnes.