On the 11th June, it was announced that a new case of BSE had probably been found in Ireland. This is, of course, disappointing; the week before Ireland was declared to have a "negligible risk" status as regards BSE. Ireland's status is probably going to be raised to "controlled risk", which happens to be the risk status it had when the US and some other important markets were opened to Irish beef in the last few months.

In an article in the Irish Times the following day, we heard from the minister for agriculture, Simon Coveney, what was being done to determine the source of the infection.

In discussing the rigour of the system for tracking and monitoring cattle in Ireland, Mr. Coveney is quoted as follows:

He said Ireland "probably knows more about our bovine herd than we do about our people" and there was a "very, very detailed, credible system" in place for monitoring animals.

OK.

So he's saying that, as all details of all cattle are entered into a centralised database, we can know everything about the whole herd in Ireland (somewhere around 6,000,000 cattle), including, for example, where they were at any particular point in time. And that it's remarkable that we don't know this much information about the people in Ireland.

While he is not suggesting that it's regrettable that we know more about cattle than people, it's staggering that a politician in a democratic country would make such a comment.

In a republican democracy, it's supposed to work the other way 'round.

To a republican democracy, it is repugnant for the government to know anything about any person except what is needed to provide a service to that person.

That a government minister would say something like this lends validity to the growing desires of so-called democratic governments to infringe on individual's rights to privacy and free association.