Hurley-makers in Ireland fear an Irish Government ban of ash tree imports from regions affected by the chalara dieback fungal disease will cripple their business. The disease, which has been reported in Ireland and Britain, has already wiped out 90 per cent of Denmark’s ash population.
Manufacturers could now be hit by further restrictions on the import of ash into Ireland following an agreement by senior governmental figures from Dublin and Stormont this week. According to official figures, 70 per cent of the 350,000 hurleys used in Ireland each year are made from imported ash.
Hurley-makers face an acute problem because although Ireland has an abundance of young ash trees, most are many years from being sufficiently mature for use in hurley manufacturing. Under emergency legislation, importers will be required to demonstrate that wood is free from infection by showing that it comes from an area known to be free from disease, or has been treated to remove or kill any disease.
The fungus, spread by airbourne spores, has now been confirmed at 52 locations in Britain. And the fear is that ash trade between British growers and Irish hurley-makers could cease altogether. In the past six weeks, 100,000 chalara-infected ash trees have been destroyed in Britain, as well as 34,000 in Co. Leitrim. “If there is no ash allowed to come in from England, Scotland, Wales and the rest of Europe, then it will have a big effect on our industry,” said Brian Dowling, owner of Star Hurleys.
The Kilkenny-native, who estimates that his own company relies upon imports from Britain for “around 50 per cent” of its manufacturing, added: “Normally we would bring ash in as round (logs), but now we will have to bring it in via debarked and treated planks, which could be more expensive.”
The GAA has also expressed its concern, describing the infection as ‘a serious threat’. GAA chief Pat Daly said: “We have had several meetings with the Department of Agriculture and other stakeholders in this. It is a serious threat so everybody must work together to try minimise the impact the disease has here.”
Another Irish hurley manufacturer who spoke to The Irish Post added: “It is crucial to our industry that trade remains open and we are hopeful that we will be able to continue to use British ash.”
The spokesperson for the Connaught- based company said: “We are also concerned with the longterm effects and whether people will stop growing ash because it is susceptible to disease.”