Missing sheep 'are a sword hanging over Irish industry'

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The Independent Online

The authorities in both parts of Ireland were yesterday anxiously waiting for the results of foot-and-mouth tests on animals from a farm in Co Louth, close to the Republic's border with Northern Ireland.

The authorities in both parts of Ireland were yesterday anxiously waiting for the results of foot-and-mouth tests on animals from a farm in Co Louth, close to the Republic's border with Northern Ireland.

Sheep from the farm were slaughtered over Tuesday and yesterday in what a spokesman at the Department of Agriculture in Dublin insisted was a precautionary measure. Samples have been sent to Britain for testing.

The farm is around 10 miles from the farm on the northern side of the border which experienced the island's only outbreak of the disease.

For weeks this had appeared to be successfully isolated, with no further outbreaks in Northern Ireland or the Republic.

The Dublin spokesman added: "Similar developments have happened at hundreds of other establishments in this country since the start of the present emergency."

Around 140 sheep were slaughtered on Tuesday, with scores more yesterday. The farm is within the surveillance zone which was placed around the South Armagh farm some weeks ago.

There have been worries about the whereabouts of up to 60 sheep, which were reportedly in the South Armagh border area and are now tech- nically unaccounted for. An IR£3,000 reward has been offered for information on these animals.

Shaun Irvine, president of the Livestock Auctioneers' Association, said that the sheep must be found, adding: "They are a sword hanging over our industry."

Hopes that Ireland might avoid foot-and-mouth have increased recently as the weeks have gone by without outbreaks, leading to moves to ease restrictions on activities such as conferences, concerts and many sporting events.

But at the same time, the mounting tide of outbreaks in Britain, together with the spread to mainland Europe, has meant that both parts of Ireland remain apprehensive. The South continues to maintain vehicle checks along the border with the North, using police and troops, which is causing long traffic tailbacks.

The Irish Agriculture Minister, Joe Walsh, has voiced continued Dublin concern about the what he described as the "horrendous" foot-and-mouth position in Britain and the need for continued vigilance. He declared: "We are not yet home and dry. The situation in Britain is a cause of serious, continuing concern."

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