There has been fierce criticism in the Assembly of the response to a deadly threat to the Province’s trees.
MLAs said authorities took too long to act over the looming threat of ash dieback disease, which had been working its way across continental Europe for decades, and is now at 88 Ulster sites.
Speaking in Stormont, Paul Frew MLA said that because it was not yet firmly gripping mature trees in the wild, Ulster has “a one-off, time-limited opportunity to control and eradicate the disease”.
But he was critical of how it got here in the first place.
Just like the horse meat scandal, he said there was a lack of checks and balances.
He added that the laws did not allow a fast enough reaction to new diseases.
“Although everyone was aware that a disease was attacking ash trees, it took until 2011 before the scientific evidence was available to allow it to be dealt with,” he said.
“So we had the stupid situation whereby certain countries in the EU knew that they were growing diseased trees, freely admitted that they would not plant any such trees on their own land, but continued to sell them to other countries.”
When it came to banning imports after the disease was first uncovered on mainland UK, William Irwin MLA said: “The minister of agriculture and rural development dragged her heels for much too long and indeed, in my opinion, put our woodlands at further extreme risk.”
Ulster had been importing ash plants until a ban was introduced last year. This came after the disease had already been uncovered in Leitrim, just over the border.
Minister Michelle O’Neill told the Assembly on Monday: “Although it is perfectly legal to move trees between countries in the EU without border checks, and we cannot restrict that trade, my department has been considering whether additional controls would help us in monitoring any threat that importation creates.”
She intends to bring a draft law forward to tighten controls soon.