having read about the spread of Ash Die Back disease, I was anxious to find out what our government is doing to prevent its spread here in Northern Ireland, and so I wrote to the department of the environment. To my surprise, I received a reply that does seem to suggest that action is being taken, although I am worried that the necessary sense of urgency is missing.

Steven, a chara

While Ash die-back has not been found in the north of Ireland, regrettably it has been discovered in Co Leitrim. I have indicated my intention to introduce legislation regarding the import and movement of ash plants and untreated wood from area where the disease might be present.
We are co-operating closely with authorities in the south of Ireland on a ‘Fortress Ireland’ approach and authorities in Britain in the relation to our response to this disease. I also plan to speak to Minister Simon Coveney as soon as possible about actions we can take together on this disease, and to raise this important issue at the next North South Ministerial Council in Agriculture Sectoral Format, at the end of the month.
My Department is currently carrying out monitoring of ash plants at nursery and retail premises and at sites of recent planting in both amenity and woodland areas for any signs of this damaging disease, and so far we have not found any evidence of the disease. We have also made available information on our website and you may be aware of the consultation on the Rapid Assessment developed by Forest Research concerning Ash die-back. This remains open for comment until 26 OCtober 2012 and sets out the policy options that derive from its conclusions.

I am appealing for a responsible approach over the forthcoming planting season and encouraging people not to plant imported ash trees this season. This would give a useful degree of protection while further measures for the north are evaluated.

Michelle O’Neill MLA
MInister of Agriculture and Rural Development

I have responded to the Minister, asking why a complete and immediate ban on the movement and import of ash trees into the island of Ireland is not possible. Now that the disease has already arrived here, it is clear that given the opportunity, it will spread here via imported stock. In the time it takes to complete a consultation, the window of opportunity to slow the spread of this terrible disease will have closed, and we will have signed the death warrant of Ireland’s ash trees.

As an aside, it still beggars belief that I originally wrote to the Minister for Environment, who although is not responsible for forestry, couldn’t be bothered to comment and just shunted this over to Agriculture.