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Minister allows pigeon racing from Northern France

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan T.D., today announced changes to the rules for the gathering and export of pigeons which will facilitate pigeon racing from three Administrative Divisions in Northern France - Britanny, Normandy and Pays de la Loire - to Ireland and the transit through the State of birds from Northern Ireland for such racing.

The Minister said that on the basis of a risk assessment, her Department had concluded that such racing did not present any increased threat of introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza to Ireland at this time. The assessment had taken into account the significant reduction in the incidence of the virus throughout the EU as well the relatively small area in France in which pigeons may be released to race and the distance of several hundred kilometres between that area and those locations where there were cases/outbreaks of H5N1 in France earlier in the year. Furthermore, there are not expected to be any more than a very small number of races originating in France.

Minister Coughlan pointed out that specific conditions will continue to attach to any licences issued by her Department, either to import birds to transit through the State or to export birds to France to be released to race. The conditions will specify the limited area in which pigeons may be released and it is anticipated that only a very small number of races will take place from France. She emphasised that racing was not being permitted from any area in France close to where there had been cases of H5N1 avian 'flu.

The Minister stressed that, as with the recent decision to allow pigeon racing to/from Britain, decisions of this nature could only be taken on the basis of a risk assessment and that, should that assessment change at any point to suggest an increased threat, she wouldn't hesitate to reverse today's decision.

Minister Coughlan also confirmed that her Department had been in contact with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland with a view to taking an all-island approach to this issue. The Minister said that she was anxious to maintain the very close working relationship between the two Departments given the mutual interest they shared in preventing the introduction of avian influenza to the island.

16 June, 2006

Date Released: 16 June 2006