“The big question of course is who knew about the trade in Irish horses on false passports, and when” BBC Spotlight on the horse meat scandal broadcast 5th March 2013
On 5th March 2013, the BBC in Northern Ireland broadcast a Spotlight special on the horse meat scandal in which the horse meat trade in (the Republic of) Ireland was scrutinized. You can watch the 40-minute special in three parts on YouTube here(see below). This edition of Spotlight reminded me of the special last year on the Sean Quinn international property dealings – crisp, information-rich, simply and engagingly presented; it is the best TV coverage so far on the horse meat scandal in the (Republic of) Ireland that I have seen.
The programme reported that 24,637 horses had been slaughtered in Ireland in 2012, and that this was far more than in the 9,405 in the entire UK. It reported the mark-ups, that traders were buying a lorryload of horses for GBP 1,000 and selling it for GBP 5,000.
“In the Republic, we also know of one approach to the Department of Agriculture which had hard evidence of wrong-doing, in fact that approach was made by our insider” BBC Spotlight
It also uncovered allegations that our own Department of Agriculture had been told about concerns about Irish horses with false passports, and the “insider” on which the programme relied, alleged he was told by the Department to “let the mess clean itself up”, presumably meaning that eventually the supply of horses would dry up, and meanwhile no-one would be any the wiser having already consumed horse meat. A separate Irish whistleblower had written to the UK authorities last year with allegations about false passports and Ossory Meats, and the UK authorities say that it is standard practice for such allegations to be shared with the Irish authorities.
The programme uncovered evidence of passports being switched, with a risk being that medicine-contaminated or unhealthy horses were being presented at slaughterhouses with bogus passports, as if they were fit for human consumption. Ossory Meats in Banagher, county Offaly threatened a Midlands horse sanctuary with libel proceedings for suggesting that a horse was switched by their company for one which is still alive today.
Jennifer O’Leary who presented the special, reported that our own agriculture minister, Simon Coveney was contacted for comment, as was his Department, but none was forthcoming with the Minister too busy and his Department unable to comment on ongoing investigations. The Department did claim that it was not informed about the second whistleblowing about Ossory Meats to the UK authorities.
The programme reported that in the instance of their informer, it was four years ago that the horse meat scandal started. That criminals were forging passports and inserting microchips on an “industrial scale”. PhenylButazone or “Bute” and another steroid Cortizone were routinely given to the horses.
How did the BBC verify the claims? They visited a site where the insider said horses died if they were too sick for export or transports, the BBC found horse remains. The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reporting that one horsetrader named by the insider had been found with 40 forged Irish horse transports and box of microchips. One horsetrader, against whom the insider made allegations, was arrested transporting horses and also cannabis.
In the Dail this week, the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty asked Minister Coveney about the programme, and the parliamentary questions are shown below. Yesterday, the Department published a report in which it said that it was two months ago, 14th January 2013 that it learned of the horse DNA scandal. The press release is here and the report is here.
So, on the face of it, we have a scandal that is at least four years old, we have criminals making huge sums of money from the trade in horses on false passports, with chipping and false passports used on an “industrial scale”, we have the horses routinely provided with bute and Cortizone and evidence of passport switching. We have allegations that the Department of Agriculture knew about the issues some time ago, but the Department refuses to comment. According to the Department of Agriculture report yesterday “On Friday 8 th March, the Department carried out identification checks on horses presented for slaughter at Ossory Meats. In respect of the horses presented, 25 of them had irregularities, these irregularities related to passport and microchip identifiers. In some cases, while the microchip in the equine matched the passport, the marking on the horse and the passports were very different. In other cases horses presented as yearlings were in fact much older. These animals were humanely slaughtered and destroyed. The company has since been suspended from operations.”
The BBC programme looked at just one angle to the horse meat scandal – the initial slaughtering of horses – it didn’t examine how horses then got into the human food chain. But its examination of how loose the systems are at the horse slaughter end of the chain will only exacerbate the worry that things were just as bad at the food-labelling and beef processing plant part of the chain later on. And perhaps now, that the Department of Agriculture has concluded its investigation, it might find time to comment on what it knew and when.
Stills above are screengrabs from the BBC Spotlight programme.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to the broadcast of a BBC Spotlight programme on 5 March 2013 on the horse meat scandal, if he will confirm that his Department responded to an approach two years ago which raised concerns about Irish horses and the food chain; and if the approach was responded to by his Department with a statement “the mess will clean itself”
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to the broadcast of a BBC Spotlight programme on 5 March 2013 on the horse meat scandal, if he can confirm that he was requested to provide a comment to the programme makers but responded that he was too busy; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to the broadcast of a BBC Spotlight programme on 5March 2013 on the horse meat scandal, if he will confirm that information was provided to his Department two years ago which raised concerns about Irish horses and the food chain; and if so, the way in which his Department responded to those concerns.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to the broadcast of a BBC Spotlight programme on 5 March 2013 on the horse meat scandal, if he proposes to investigate the claims made in the programme regarding passports for low weight and less valuable horses to the meat trade being switched for higher weight and more valuable horses to the meat trade.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to the broadcast of a BBC Spotlight programme on 5th March 2013 on the horse meat scandal, if he will confirm the number of horses slaughtered in the State in 2012, and if he will quantify the way the slaughtered animals were subsequently processed.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to the broadcast of a BBC Spotlight programme on 5 March 2013 on the horse meat scandal, if he will confirm that he is satisfied with the operation of Ossory Meats in Banagher County Offaly; and if any of the concerns raised in the programme will be investigated by his Department.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney: I propose to take questions 13081/13, 13082/13, 13083/13, 13084/13, 13085/13 and 13086/13 together.
11,402 horses were slaughtered in slaughter plants approved by my Department in 2012. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has advised that 12,960 horses were slaughtered in local authority approved slaughter plants in 2012. I understand that the bulk of the meat from these animals was exported for human consumption, some following further processing in approved cutting plants in Ireland. The remainder was exported as full carcasses. The main export markets are Belgium, France and Italy.
Under EU law, responsibility for compliance with food safety and traceability requirements rests in the first instance with food business operators (FBOs). This is augmented by official controls, applied at different stages in the food supply chain. My Department implements official controls in relation to horse identification at marts and other sales venues, in abattoirs under its supervision and at points of entry to the country.
All equines (which include horses, ponies and donkeys) are required to be identified in accordance with EU and national legislation. Equines issued with a passport after 1 July 2009 must have a corresponding microchip implanted by a veterinarian, which is recorded in the passport and creates a link between the passport and the animal. The passport includes information on any veterinary medicines administered to equines. An equine for slaughter for human consumption must be accompanied to the slaughterhouse by its passport and the information on the passport determines whether the animal can be slaughtered for human consumption. Horses treated with certain veterinary medicines such as phenylbutazone, known in the industry as ‘bute’, are permanently excluded from the human food chain in order to protect public health and the passport of the horse in question is endorsed by the prescribing veterinary practitioner to this effect.
My Department has detailed procedures for the slaughter of horses in abattoirs under its supervision and has communicated these and the checks required both to its staff and the business operators. It has liaised with passport issuing agencies in Ireland and has developed protocols to allow abattoir operators to check the details of passports with these agencies to seek to ensure that they are valid and that only those horses eligible for slaughter are slaughtered. Where forged or tampered passports accompanying horses to slaughter are detected, it is the policy that such animals are destroyed and removed from the food chain.
Ongoing vigilance is maintained in relation to official controls in this area. In that connection, the European Communities (Equine) (Amendment) Regulations, S.I. No. 371/2012, introduced recently, provide for the updating of S.I. No. 357/2011 (European Communities (Equine) Regulations 2011) to strengthen the powers of the Minister in relation to approval of an issuing body for equine passports, authorised officers and prosecutions in relation to equine identification.
My Department is establishing a centralized equine database. The intention is that this database will be used at abattoirs to assist in verifying the authenticity of horse passports for the equine presented and to record its date of slaughter.
I can confirm that my Department has received a number of complaints in this area, some of which have been non-specific in nature. Information received in relation to alleged illegal activities in this State is taken seriously and investigated as appropriate by my Department and in certain cases by the Gardai. There is ongoing contact in this regard between the Department and the authorities in Northern Ireland and Britain. It must also be noted however that some claims have been made in the public domain in relation to this issue which, when examined by my Department, did not stand up to close scrutiny or warrant further investigation.
While my Department does not comment on ongoing investigations, appropriate corrective action is taken if non-compliances are detected. I can advise that during 2011-2012 the Department issued Compliance Notices to two horse slaughter plants under its supervision. This led to temporary suspension of activities while corrective measures were put in place. In addition the approvals of one organisation to maintain a stud book and issue horse passports were revoked during 2012.
With regard specifically to the BBC Spotlight programme on 5th March, it would not be appropriate for me to comment publicly on allegations made. I was not available for interview for this particular programme because of other commitments but I can advise that my Department did comment on queries received from the programme makers. I understand that some of the allegations made in this programme relate to activities outside the State, in which case appropriate checks would be a matter for authorities in the jurisdictions concerned. I understand issues were also raised in relation to an equine slaughter plant in this jurisdiction, which at the time concerned was under the supervision of a local authority. At present there are two local authority supervised equine slaughter plants in operation – one in Co. Offaly and one in Co. Limerick. I have decided to take both these plants under the supervision of my Department.
via NAMA Wine Lake | Click the green link above for latest news and over 2,400 related articles. NAMA – National Asset Management Agency – part of Ireland’s response to its banking crisis and property bubble.
via NAMA Wine Lake | Click the green link above for latest news and over 2,400 related articles. NAMA – National Asset Management Agency – part of Ireland’s response to its banking crisis and property bubble.
Any bets on what is going to happen in this situation. I have a bad feeling this is leading in the direction of Johnny Citizen.
Will we have a special tax to pay off this installment?
However Mr Noonan said he was “still confident of a positive outcome” to negotiations with the ECB.
He referred to the negotiations as “pussyfooting” and said Ireland should be seeking a write-down of debt, not an extension of the term for paying it back.
Mr Doherty also asked for details of whether the ECB had rejected a proposal, if an alternative proposal would be ready for the next meeting of the ECB board; and what the Government would regard as a satisfactory outcome.
Mr Noonan said it would not be helpful to go into detail, and accused Sinn Féin of positioning itself to reject whatever deal was agreed.
He reiterated his expectation of a deal on the note in the coming weeks and said it was his belief that the Government will get a satisfactory arrangement by the 31 March deadline.
He asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny if he was availing of it. “Who among his ministerial colleagues is availing of it?” he added. “How can he justify it to people at home who fear the introduction of the Government’s property tax on their family home when 13 of his Cabinet colleagues are writing off against their income tax bill the cost of a second home in Dublin?”
Mr Doherty said the tax break or “the dual abode allowance” was exclusively for Ministers and officeholders.
Those from outside Dublin, he added, were allowed to write off €6,500 against their income tax bill if they had a second home in the capital without having to provide a single receipt. If they did not have a second home in Dublin and stayed in a hotel, they could write off against their income tax bill €3,500 for having their laundry done and without having to give a receipt.
“When the Taoiseach was in opposition and Deputy Micheál Martin and his gang were availing of this lavish tax break, he promised to abolish it,” Mr Doherty added. “Since he has taken office, far from abolishing it, we have seen the cost increase by 30 per cent to €112,000.”
Mr Kenny said Mr Doherty claimed overnight allowances to which he was entitled. “They are a multiple of what any Minister, who does not receive overnight allowances, would claim,” he added.
He said most Ministers were in Dublin four or five nights a week, depending on their schedule or duties. “The matters mentioned by the deputy are part of what the Government is considering in respect of the budget which, as he is aware, will be presented by the Minister for Finance next week,” he added.
Mr Doherty said Ministers must write to the Revenue Commissioners to ask that their income tax bill would be written down up to €6,500 in unvouched expenses. The Minister’s solicitor’s and auctioneer’s fees would be written off against tax.
“How many Ministers have availed of the €3,500 deduction for the purposes of having their laundry done because they stay in a hotel or a guesthouse?” he added.
Mr Kenny replied: “Ministers are entitled to an allowance of €6,000 which they can claim at the 41 per cent tax rate, which works out at approximately €3,500.
As a rural member, the deputy is in a position to claim approximately €30,000 or more.”
Opposition politicians may have largely abandoned their sallies on Minister for Health James Reilly’s position on the bumping-up of a site in Balbriggan belonging to his associate, for development as a primary care centre, but controversy and malodour involving the Minister and his actions are not going away. Today we learn of continued resistance by consultants to his late-in-the-day reform of work practices, but it was earlier this week that the Minister revealed in the Dail that practically all medicines used in the Irish public health system are expensive non-generic medicines. This compares with just 20% use of non-generic medicines in our closest neighbour, the UK.
Minister Reilly was responding to a series of questions from the Sinn Fein health spokesman Caoimhghin O’Caolain and the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty. It was revealed that in 2011, a staggering total of €1.85bn of drugs were prescribed in Ireland and that just a paltry €100m per annum are non-generic. In a recent IMF report on selected issues in Ireland, it was revealed that in the UK, 80% of drugs prescribed are generic. It seems that the IMF estimate of generic drug use in Ireland of 20% was four times over the true percentage*, which just aggravates the point being made by the IMF. Generic drugs, whose patents may have expired, are less expensive than non-generic drugs, yet Ireland’s health service, overseen by Minister Reilly is aloof to tackling an area which could see hundreds of millions of euro savings per annum. Just how much longer can this minister continue in his post.
The full parliamentary questions and responses are here:
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: To ask the Minister for Health the full drugs bill for the Health Service Executive for 2010, 2011 and to date in 2012; if he will provide a breakdown of same by scheme, by patent status and branded generic status.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Health if he will provide an estimate of the cost of drugs and medication used by the public health service in each of 2010 and 2011.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Health if he will provide an estimate of the cost of generic drugs and medication used by the public health service in 2010 and 2011.
Minister for Health, James Reilly: HSE expenditure on drugs and non-drug items (dressings, etc.) under the GMS and community drug schemes for the years 2010 and 2011, including mark ups and dispensing fees for pharmacists and wholesalers, is set out in the following table:
The HSE’s Performance Report indicates that expenditure up to July 2012 is approximately €1 billion . Expenditure on generic drugs is estimated to be in the region of €100 million per annum.
The outstanding information sought by the Deputies is being collated and will be supplied as soon as possible.
* UPDATE: 25th October, 2012. It has been pointed out that the IMF study examined volume which showed that 20% of volume was non-generic, the PQs above reveal that 5% by value is non-generic.
The minister has been accused of stroke politics in recent weeks, after two towns in his Dublin North constituency — Balbriggan and Swords — were added to a list of locations for primary care centres.
Yesterday it was confirmed that a meeting with NAMA took place on April 20 and a number of primary care locations were discussed, including Balbriggan.”However, no specific address was mentioned,” stressed Dr Reilly.
He added: “Within its commercial remit NAMA advises that it is at all times open to proposals which can contribute to the achievement of broader social and economic objectives. In this context many issues of interest to the health services were discussed.”
A spokesman for the minister said there had been “no discussion of any specific primary care site — NAMA would be precluded from so doing”.
But Mr Doherty raised further questions about whether Minister for Health James Reilly was “hands-on with the issue of the selection of a primary care centre site in Balbriggan”.
He added: “Why did Minister Reilly not divulge this information before now?”
He said the minister had repeatedly stated that he had nothing to do with the choice of the site for the Balbriggan primary care centre.
During an Oireachtas debate in September, Dr Reilly said:”I had no hand, act nor part in this.”
The recent controversy over the location of primary care centres escalated after it was revealed that a Fine Gael associate, Seamus Murphy, originally owned the site in Balbriggan chosen for the primary care building.
However, it later transpired the site was in NAMA and the original owner would not benefit from its sale.
Mr Doherty said there continued to be unanswered questions about the Balbriggan site.
Almost every national or local paper you pick up in Ireland has something to say about cutbacks, staffing, budget overruns, wards closing etc.
If this continues hospitals are more likely to become places of risk rather than a place where the ill or injured are treated.
Beware you local hospital may kill you.
Here are just a few examples
LETTERKENNY General Hospital is the worst funded hospital in the State, receiving the least amount of cash per patient.
And staffing levels per patient are also the worst, figures obtained by Sinn Fein TDs Pádraig MacLochlainn and Pearse Doherty show.
The TDs released the figures to Donegal Daily – confirming a report on this site more than nine months ago.
Dublin hospitals get twice as much cash.
THERE ARE growing concerns over staffing levels at Roscommon County Hospital where numbers remain below the employment ceiling, the Herald can reveal.
Local sources have this week raised concern over staffing levels at the hospital, which remain below the permitted ceiling of 285 whole time equivalent (WTE) staff, according to the latest figures available.
New figures show that staff levels were 2.5 percent below the WTE ceiling in the month of June, when there were 279.73 staff at the hospital.
The concerns come as it also emerges that the county hospital had the highest absenteeism levels in the Galway/Roscommon Hospital Group and that agency and overtime costs had been dramatically cut over the past year.
Figures for June showed that absenteeism levels exceeded seven percent at the county hospital. This compared to four percent at Galway University and Portiuncula hospitals.
A further breakdown of the figures showed that absenteeism rates at the county hospital were highest among other patient and client care staff (12.5%), management and admin staff (9.9%) and nursing staff (9.5%).
A public protest against the closure of an operating theatre at Wexford General Hospital will be held outside the hospital on Saturday afternoon.
Cllr. Anthony Kelly of Sinn Fein is calling on Wexford’s Oireachtas members to immediately come out and call for this decision to be reversed.
“I’m calling on the people of County Wexford, irrespective of their political beliefs, to come out and support this event,” said Cllr. Kelly, who added, “The buck clearly stops with the Minister for Health.”
The hospital was over budget by over €10m in July.
In a statement tonight, the hospital said it was managing its finances prudently and had made savings of 6% in its budget this year, despite a 5% increase in in-patient care.
Tallaght is one of around five major hospitals that are heavily over budget and last year it was over budget by over €14m.
The Government has said there will be no supplementary health budget to assist health overruns.
The HSE said tonight that under Service Level Agreements (SLAs) these hospitals are permitted to seek an overdraft up to 7% of their budget for the final quarter of the year.