Discovery of ‘illegal abattoir’ fuels IRA suspicions

Willie Frazer
Willie Frazer

Another suspected illegal animal slaughterhouse and meat cutting plant has been uncovered in south Armagh, the Food Standards Agency has said.

Meat produced at the operation discovered in the Newry and Mourne area was allegedly done so without official hygiene checks, the agency added.

Searches of two properties in Forkhill and one in the Bessbrook area were carried out. However, police said “no illegal activity” was discovered at the Bessbrook site.

The latest discovery follows a raid on an illegal abattoir at a fuel laundering plant in Newry in 2012.

When information on the Newry operation was revealed last year there were claims of IRA involvement in the lucrative criminal network.

At the time, victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer said the discovery vindicated his belief that republicans were involved in the “horse burger” scandal.

“People laughed when I said the IRA was involved. But it is only in certain areas where you could carry out that level of activity and get away with it,” he said.

Commenting on yesterday’s multi-agency operation, he said republicans still controlled both the meat and fuel scams and that yesterday’s discovery was only “the tip of the iceberg”.

“There are another two or three [illegal abattoirs] still running,” he claimed.

“The profit is in butchering stolen cattle and cattle that are too old to be in the food chain. Horses were also being slaughtered up until the horse meat scandal hit the headlines.”

Mr Frazer added: “There are Protestants involved in all this too but republicans control it and at least get a cut.”

Investigations are ongoing to find out what businesses the produce discovered yesterday was sold to.

Yesterday a police spokesman said: “A suspected illegal animal slaughter and meat cutting operation was discovered. A number of items have been seized for examination.”

Newry and Armagh MLA Willie Irwin said that the operation was targeting “illegal abattoirs” and linked it to scares over horse meat in the food chain.

Police said the multi-agency investigation also involved the Department of Agriculture and Newry and Mourne District Council.

Chief Inspector Davy Beck said the investigation is at an early stage. However, he confirmed that the aim was to address agricultural crime to protect the safety of the food chain.

Maria Jennings, director of the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland, said it was working closely with other agencies “to stop further production at this plant and to protect the safety of the food chain”.

She added: “The information we have tells us that meat was being produced illegally, without official hygiene checks.

“We are currently investigating which businesses have been supplied with meat from the plant and we will provide further information once we have it.”

Mr Irwin said the operation was targeted at those involved in the illegal slaughtering of animals and the alleged subsequent sale of meat through retail outlets.

“There is a huge emphasis placed on traceability of meat products from the farm gate to the supermarket shelf,” he said.

“This is for very good reasons given the recent scares over horse meat. This current operation is highly important in a wider context and I am pleased to see some action being taken on the issue of illegal abattoirs in south Armagh.”

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley described the latest discovery as “extremely worrying”. The Newry and Armagh representative said: “Anything that calls into question the safety of the food chain is always concerning, especially in light of the horse meat scandal.

“The fact several agencies are involved in this is all the more worrying.

“People want to be assured that the food they are eating is safe and it is important that we are made aware as soon as possible just what is involved in today’s operation in relation to food safety.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact police in Newry on 0845 600 8000.