Ireland must be “extremely vigilant” for the arrival of the red fire ant on its shores, according to Michael Ring TD.
Speaking in the Dáil this week, the Mayo TD warned that the invasive ant species, native to South America, has been recorded in Italy and that if it reached northern Europe and Ireland, it would have a “devastating effect on agriculture”.
Ring said that in the US, the red fire ant costs $6bn annually.
“Now it has been found in Italy, which is the first such discovery in Europe. It damages crops and electrical equipment and spreads very quickly because of global warming, the movement of people and, in particular, the importation of soil,” he warned.
The Fine Gael TD called on Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State Martin Heydon to ensure Ireland prevents the movement of the ant to Ireland.
“I ask the Minister to indicate whether there is an awareness of this danger. What agency in the State is responsible if this ant arrives in Ireland? What action can be taken quickly to eradicate it before it gets a foothold here?
“If it gets a foothold, it will be very difficult to get rid of it. It spreads very quickly and it is very damaging…We do not want this ant here,” he said.
Minister Heydon acknowledged that “there have been reports recently of red fire ants arriving in the south of Europe and that a population in the wild has been reported in Sicily”, but noted that this is the first such report in Europe.
“There is no evidence that the species is present in Ireland. The species is largely a tropical or subtropical species. There is no evidence of expansion into temperate zones and nor is this anticipated in the immediate future,” he reassured.
The Minister said that responsibility for preventing the arrival of invasion species in Ireland lies with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and said that work is under way for a national management plan for invasive alien species.
“The NPWS intends to have a final draft of the plan ready for public consultation later this year and envisages that the plan will be finalised and launched in 2024,” he said.
While welcoming the move, Michael Ring TD said that the red fire ant has been found in Finland, Spain and the UK.
“It has been found in imported soil and dealt with, but the risk is still there and we have to be extremely vigilant,” he said.