Concerns among the country’s 2,500 beekeepers were raised in the Dáil regarding the risks associated with the importation of bees, particularly the hive beetle which was discovered in Italy last year, having arrived there from Africa.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, replying to separate questions from Seán Kyne (FG, Galway West), Seán Flemng (FF, Laois-Offaly), and Bobby Alyward (FF, Carlow-Kilkenny), said American foulbrood and the small hive beetle are both notifiable diseases.
Replying to the deputies, he said American foulbrood has existed in Ireland for many years but the small hive beetle has never been found here.
In response to the outbreak of small hive beetle in Italy, his department established a sentinel apiary programme with the support of the Federation of Irish Beekeeping Associations and the Native Irish Honey Bee Society.
Volunteer beekeepers in areas which are considered to represent greatest risk for the introduction of pests such as the Small hive beetle, and other beekeepers, are joining this programme.
More than 20 beekeepers, providing a representative geographical spread across the country, are involved.
A similar programme has also been rolled out across the North.
The programme will provide early notification in the event that any exotic pest or disease affecting honey bees arrive in Ireland.
His department co-ordinates the programme and provided the equipment and guidelines to the beekeepers.
It also provides the diagnostic service.
Mr Coveney said the option of national action to limit or ban imports of bees must respect the primacy of EU regulations which apply to the international trade in bees.
Direct imports of bees into Ireland from outside the EU are not permitted, although imports from other EU states, which meet the EU’s bee health certification requirements, are allowed.
Mr Coveney said the value of pollinators (including honey bees) for Irish food crops was estimated in 2008 to be worth €53m.
This does not include the value of pollinators in terms of non-food crops and maintaining bio-diversity in the wild.
Mr Coveney said the value of honey produced in Ireland in 2014 was estimated at slightly over €3m.
He said his department has not conducted a study to assess the possible impact of a significant bee disease outbreak.
“However I know a disease outbreak, and especially an exotic disease outbreak, could have a significant negative impact on the Irish bee population,” he said.
Senator John Whelan (Lab) asked in the Seanad that a strategy be prepared for the beekeeping and honey sector in tandem with Northern Ireland.
Minister of state Joe McHugh said the department intended to engage with the Irish beekeeping associations shortly to prepare a submission to the European Commission in early 2016 seeking co-funding for a new national apiculture programme (2016 -2019).
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