TB levels still major concern - Irwin

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Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman and Stormont Agriculture Committee Chairman William Irwin MLA has raised his concerns at the rise in Bovine TB infection rates in Northern Ireland.

Mr Irwin was speaking after this week’s Agriculture Committee meeting at Stormont where Department Officials provided a briefing on projected compensation pay-outs for the year.

Mr Irwin stated: “TB continues to be a massive issue for our industry going forward and I do remain concerned that the current approach by DARD, in terms of eradication, is simply not robust enough to make the kind of progress the industry needs to see.”

He added: “Compensation pay-outs have jumped by 16% in the last year and officials have informed the Committee that they are looking for an additional £4.5million to meet this year’s demand. Last year £12.5million was paid out in compensation and this year the officials estimate the bill for compensation will stand at £17million.

“The incidence levels this year are high and that is a worry for the industry, especially as other regions appear to be getting to grips with the disease and are seeing decreases in incidence levels. The Republic of Ireland has witnessed much more success in tackling TB and the agencies there have actively followed a policy of targeting wildlife and have seen results with lower incidence rates. Indeed they are now seriously looking at the impact of deer spreading TB and this does demonstrate that the Republic of Ireland is very serious about eradication of TB.”

He concluded: “It is vital that in Northern Ireland DARD acts with similar resolve and whilst studies and monitoring have their place, we only need to look south of the border to see that incidence rates have fallen by 40% since 2008 and are at record low levels – these results have been achieved by swift action in terms of tackling wildlife carriers of TB. There are lessons to be learned and I would urge the Minister and her officials to get to grips with TB and move with more pace against what is a very costly disease to Northern Ireland agriculture.”