The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) investigated 21 potential outbreaks of the serious plant disease Erwinia amylovora (fireblight) last year.

Out of these investigations 17 confirmed cases were identified.

The Social Democrats TD for Wicklow, Jennifer Whitmore, had asked the minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, in a parliamentary question this week, if DAFM had carried out a “comprehensive disease risk analysis” regarding fireblight before the relaxation of of rules in 2023 in relation to the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) scheme.

DAFM confirmed last November that because of “heightened demand for hedgerow plants” the requirement to meet the “Irish Provenance or Irish Origin requirement” when purchasing Whitethorn hedging plants had been removed.

Minister Charlie McConalogue told Deputy Whitmore that DAFM carries out annual plant health surveillance checks for plant pests and diseases, including fireblight.

“Ireland is recognised as having a favourable plant health status and has the highest number of protected zones in the EU, with 23 pests and diseases listed.

“The amendment to the specifications for the planting a new hedgerow action within the ACRES scheme relates to Whitethorn species only, in respect of which the requirement for Irish provenance and Irish origin was removed.

“The amendment was made, following representations from stakeholders, to address supply demands,” the minister added.

He acknowledged however that Whitethorn is a host plant for fireblight but said that it is governed by a number of import requirements including that imports from other members states are notified to DAFM within 48 hours after arrival.

“Evidence of the associated EU plant passport remains a key requirement of any whitethorn hedges planted under ACRES,” Minister McConalogue stated.

Information supplied by DAFM highlights where the 17 cases of Fireblight was found in Ireland in 2023:

According to Minister McConalogue in line with EU rules, at each of the outbreak sites a demarcated area consisting of a 500 metre infested zone and a 5km buffer zone were established in line with the “known biology of the pest”.

“Of the 17 outbreaks, delimiting surveys up to 1km have been conducted at 11 outbreak sites.

“Delimiting surveys will resume during the Spring of 2024, when growing season resumes,” the minister added.