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the rise of animal rights militancy in Ireland 1964-2022




Throughout the 1970's,80's and 90's , the Statelet of Northern Ireland was, in the words of British Intelligence historian Stephen Dorril, the "most surveyed 'country' in the world. Every citizen, probably, had a file, every household was under surveillance down to the most minute detail". Despite this,  the North of Ireland saw the first ALF actions in Ireland, and throughout the 1980’s and 90’s the activists there were easily the most prolific and militant.

CANCEL CULTURE - The first mention of animal liberation in Ireland took place in 1964 at Crebilly Coursing Grounds in Co. Antrim. Person’s unknown cut a large hole in the fence of the compound holding all the Clubs hares. The Coursers arrived for their fun the next day and discovered an empty compound and a damaged fence. The Club had to cancel its meet.

No group ever claimed the action and police (the RUC) speculated that it was 'pranksters or someone opposed to blood sports’.

A lull of 18 years was broken in 1982 when two fur shops in Belfast city centre had windows smashed three times over a 5-week period and a mink farm just outside the city was daubed with graffiti. All actions were claimed by the Animal Liberation Front and heralded their first appearance in Ireland.

This cell struck again a year later when they paid a nocturnal visit to a factory ‘farm’ in Castlereagh, Belfast. Eight hens were removed, and farm machinery was damaged.

Also in 1982, an incident occured which may or may not have been the work  of animal activists - 3 masked men, one wielding a shotgun, burst into the security guards room at Whitford Polo Grounds in Wexford. They immediately overpower the lone security guard, tie him up and then set all the hares free from the compound they were being held for the following days Coursing event. No group ever claimed the action and other than Richard Martin MP, animal activists don't use guns. It may have been a rival Coursing club, but they typically steal hares from each other, not set them free. There was an active ALF cell in Wexford around this time so perhaps it was their work. Either way, the hares were free.

Northern Irelands Crebilly Coursing Club again faced the wrath of the animal rights community when dozens of activists blockaded the entrance to the Club in November 1984.The RUC had to forcibly remove people, delaying the event, and garnering much media attention. Civil disobedience in the name of animals was a novelty and the Press were fascinated.

The next month saw a repeat performance at Crebilly. Extra police had been drafted in to protect the Club and its activities. Despite RUC numbers and experience at crowd control, a 100-strong group from the student-based Anti-Blood Sports Society led a surge through police lines and blockaded the Clubs entrance. Two people were arrested, and the event eventually went ahead. Both actions garnered a lot of publicity and reflected the younger, more dynamic influx of campaigners to the movement.

A few nights later the ALF raided a Coursing Club in nearby Dungannon twice on consecutive nights. They set all 40 hares free the first night and returned 24 hours later to tear down half the fencing around the now-empty enclosure. Just to make sure.

Hare Coursing was essentially banned in Northern Ireland in 2002, with a formal prohibition coming into law in 2011.Coursing remains legal in the Republic.






Actions in Great Britain were often an inspiration for activists in Ireland. Take the Mars Bar poisoning hoax for example.

The Mars corporation had been cynically funding “research” on rhesus monkeys into tooth decay. This involved feeding the monkeys a high sugar diet (like mars bars) to destroy their teeth, then trying out various “cures”.

Where a more mainstream animal rights organization might spend years and millions on slowly building public awareness, pleading with industry and lobbying politicians to intervene – with perhaps little or no success- the ALF went straight for the jugular.

A MARS A DAY?HOW ABOUT NO MARS IN TEN DAYS? - In November 1984, two Mars Bars were delivered to the BBC and the Mirror newspaper. Both bars of confectionary contained small doses of Alphakil rat poison with a letter claiming many more poisoned mars bars were in public circulation. Dozens of mars bars with a large “X” drawn on the wrapper started showing up on shelves of various shops all over the Britain. When opened, the bars contained similar warning letters to those received by the media.

A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES - The media, then the public, followed by the State, blew up. The tabloids went to town on the story, with reports of people feeling nauseous after eating a mars bar. Sales of the product stopped for an entire ten days and then took ten weeks to return to normal. Mars employed 1000 people to remove every bar from every shelf in Britain at a cost of three million pounds. The Company immediately withdrew from funding vivisection, bringing these experiments to a halt.

The UK Government responded by setting up a special police branch to focus solely of animal rights activists called ARNI (Animal Rights National Index). This was the first time the animal movement had inflicted a serious dent in the nation’s economy and it scared the bejasus out of them. The ALF admitted it was a hoax a few weeks later.

The cost to the ALF for this action was about $8 worth of chocolate.

“The point of it fundamentally was to create a shock wave” explained ‘Ben’, one of the masterminds behind the operation anonymously to journalist David Henshaw for his book 'Animal Warfare'.

That it certainly did.













Amongst other things, this action underlined the ALF’s disinterest in public opinion, including that of the broader animal rights community. It illustrated how public opinion can be irrelevant when targeting a specific company about a particular issue.

It also demonstrated the potential potency of this type of action.

The next month, December 1984, bottles of Sunsilk with a large “X” scrawled on them began showing up in shops in Dublin, Kilkenny and Limerick.

The Irish ALF alerted the media about another poison scare, claiming they had distributed bottles of Sunsilk laced with bleach in shops across Ireland because the Corporation that produced them – Unilever - engaged in animal experiments. This prompted a major withdrawal of all Sunsilk products from all 14 of Boots stores in Northern Ireland and many in the South.

In the same month animal rights activists contacted the media to claim they have poisoned turkeys in sale in the run up to Christmas. Quinnsworth removed thousands of turkeys from their 35 stores in the area for inspection. They were all found to be free from rat poison and duly returned to the shelves but still cost the companies concerned dearly whilst generating plenty of headlines for the militants.

More insidiously in 1990 the ALF contacted media in Cork and threatened to poison water reservoirs in Cork, Kerry and Limerick if the upcoming nationwide Coursing season went ahead. Almost immediately after reporting this in the newspapers, residents at one north Cork Suburb contacted the Council complaining of odd-tasting water. The Council shut off water to 600 homes as they carried out tests. Slightly high counts of chlorine were detected but nothing of concern and the pipes were tuned back on.

That same year in April, L'Oreal hair products covered in stickers that warned of tampering showed up at numerous shops around Belfast and Lisburn as well as numerous parts of Great Britain. The ALF claimed responsibility as L'Oreal removed all hair products from their shelves. This contrasts with the response to the same situation in Britain, where the threat was essentially ignored by the Police and media.

A repeat of the turkey poisoning hoax was attempted  in December 1991, this time in Limerick city, when frozen turkeys injected with rat poison turned up in the post at a local newspaper, with notes attached claiming contamination of Turkeys nationwide. Whether by accident or design, this action only garnered limited press and it failed to materialize into a full-blown public scare.


Food poisoning hoaxes are an unusual form of direct action because they rely on an outside variable to succeed. A gullible and hysterical mass media are essential, if unwitting, components of this approach. This tactic is guaranteed to generate only negative press for the animal rights activists, though it also typically sheds unwanted light on the targeted company. Despite the fear this tactic can sometimes generate, the fact is no-one ever got ill from consuming products the ALF claim to have spiked and no-one was ever likely too given these were always hoax’s, designed to financially damage the targeted companies. Despite its anti-social nature, the tactic proved to be remarkably effective when given the oxygen of publicity.



The tactic seems to have died out around this time and has not resurfaced.

The Belfast ALF persisted with waves of attacks on butchers shops, fur shops, gun shops and fast food restaurants throughout the city over the next 5 years. Premises had windows smashed, locks glued, graffiti daubed on walls and fires started. Hunter's vehicles were blown up or set on fire. Crebilly and Dungannon Coursing clubs were yet again visited in 1990 by the ALF.

Dungannon club was  burned almost to the ground and was out of action for almost a year, costing the club $250,000.

The RUC established a team of 50 detectives to hunt down those responsible and in 1989 they arrested two men from Belfast – David Cusick and Edward Gilmore – for firebombing a car belonging to a foxhunter.

In 1991, the ALF cell in the North claimed they had received plastic explosives from a sympathetic IRA member but the IRA denied this. Whatever the truth, that year saw a spectacular rise in ALF arsons throughout the Province. Three pubs that supported hunting were firebombed. Butchers shops and farmers property was burned. The ALF cell bragged in the media about how successful they had been over the last year, claiming 17 separate attacks in the previous 6 months alone.

As if to underline that message, they continued burning shops, fishing boats, hunters vehicles and empty buildings of factory farms in a spree that lasted until the end of the 1991. They were so prolific at this time that a prominent Ulster Unionist Party MP urged Brain Mawhinny, the UK Secretary of State, to proscribe the ALF under the Emergency Powers Act, meaning mere membership of the group would mean a prison sentence. This was a useless gesture as the ALF has no membership as such. Nor is there a leadership or any formal structure, it’s simply a tactic that expresses itself in action. Whether Mawhinny understood this or not, he refused the request, stating the RUC had adequate resources to deal with them.

He was right.

A 50-strong team of RUC detectives had been following suspects for the previous 3 months before they struck, raiding homes and arresting 8 people for various ALF actions. One, David Nelson, was held on bail, charged with two counts of planting incendiary devices, one charge of planting a petrol bomb underneath a car, criminal damage and 5 counts of arson. He was already on a suspended sentence when arrested so bail was denied. The RUC brought charges of arson against another 4 people regarding 10 attacks over the previous 18 months.

At their Trial in May 1992 three activists were given prison sentences on charges of arson and criminal damage. David Nelson got 3 and a half years. The other two – Alistair Mullen and Graeme Cambell got 2 years each on similar charges. Due to his age, Cambell was sent to a young offenders institution while the other two were taken to the notorious Maze prison. Cambell appealed his sentence and after 6 months was released. The two judges hearing his case decided his sentence was “too heavy” and suspended it, meaning he was free to go.






These three, all from the same ALF cell, became Ireland first animal rights prisoners and their was a brief hiatus in ALF actions across the North as a result. Things picked up again in late 1993 when a Belfast McDonalds had windows smashed and locks glued. In February 1994 the Northern ALF sent a wave of incendiary devices in the post to people involved in blood sports in Britain and Ireland. Some were intercepted but others made it through and caused slight damage when opened.

That summer, a building at Queens University psychology lab was set on fire and the ALF paid a visit to the Master of the County Down Staghounds but they get the wrong address and attack the man’s fathers house instead. He was himself a retired Master of Staghounds.

Later that year, a young woman named Nina Wilson was arrested at an animal rights information stall in Belfast city centre. Police accused her of planting a firebomb at Parson and Parsons , a nearby field-sports shop, two hours earlier.

Nina had moved from her native Cumbria to Belfast some years earlier to study electronics. She got involved with the local animal rights group and often spent her weekends sabbing foxhunts or running an animal outreach stall in the city.

A few hours before her arrest on that August weekend, Nina had taken some time away from the stall to do a little shopping and had browsed around Parson and Parsons shop looking for a wax jacket to buy. She tried on a few jackets for size and left without making a purchase. Shortly after she left , the ALF phoned the shop to warn the owners of an incendiary device in their store. Police were called and a search was made of the premises. An incendiary device was indeed found, in a pocket of a wax jacket. Police then went directly to the animal rights stall down the street and arrested Nina.

Forensics discovered fibres of Nina's gloves in the pocket of the jacket the incendiary had been left in and paraffin from the device on her gloves. The prosecution thought they had a watertight case. The Crown claimed there was ”overwhelming forensics evidence” against Nina and that it would be an “astounding” coincidence if Nina was not the guilty person.

Despite all that, after a 3 day trial Nina was found not guilty. Her defence argued the forensics were botched by Police before the evidence was properly bagged. The Jury agreed. Her supporters in the Courtroom erupted in cheers and Nina was free to carry on campaigning for animals.

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"We will continue to use ruthless methods against ruthless men"
                                                                 the  ALF's message to Coursers in Cork 1987     


“The point of it fundamentally was to create a shock wave”
                   'Ben', ALF activist behind the Mars Bar hoax in the UK,1984                     

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above - the only two poisoned Mars Bars were these two that were sent into the media - image from Animal Warfare book by David Henshaw 1989

above from the Belfast Telegraph, August 26, 1994

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CARELESS WHISPERS - Reflecting on his arrest by the RUC while in prison, Cambell admitted naiveté about his rights and the law when faced with well-experienced police interrogators. Despite their 3 month spying operation, the RUC actually had very little on any of the accused. "The case against us in the end was based solely on admissions made by all eight defendants during police questioning" he wrote in the ALF (UK) Supporters Group newsletter from Autumn 1992 (p.10).Police alleged they had found his fingerprints on an unexploded incendiary device, and they showed him interview notes from some other defendants that implicated him in arson attacks on a hunters car. Faced with this 'evidence', and denied a solicitor, Alistair admitted to some of the charges. "As I found out later, the other defendants statements, implicating me, could not be used as evidence against me, and the police didn't have any other evidence on me." Remember folks, JUST SAY NOthing!

 No-one talks      Everyone walks
listen without prejudicing yourself
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above - Brian 'is that the door?' Titterington
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say your prayers its Ian Paisley - "Fun on a Sunday?NEVER!"

The Game and County Fare in Co. Antrim is a showcase for human dominion and a celebration of all thing’s animal abusive. Mr. Brian Titterington is one of the Fares main organizers. Many days in the late 1980's, he must have wished he wasn't. He probably learned to hate the ring of the bell, answering the door to yet another unwanted plumber, concerned paramedic, or smiling pizza delivery guy....

The harassment started off small, slogans painted over adverts for the annual Fayre, held outside Belfast, first appeared in 1984.Such attacks became a yearly feature and soon were combined with direct and regular harassment of the fares organizers. Over the next 5 years, Mr Titterington himself was the subject of over three hundred hoax call-outs- every conceivable service was sent to his house including:  ambulances, taxis, fire brigade, pizza delivery, more taxis, plumbers, electricians, another ambulance, gardeners, the police, you name it, Brian got it. Repeatedly. His property, including his car, was also regularly vandalized.

It got so bad he was forced to move house in 1989 and went ex-directory, meaning his name, address and phone number no longer appeared in the 'yellow pages' phone book. Believe me this is worse than it sounds, for those of you born after circa 1995.It’s a bit like being deplatformed from Facebook.

Actions culminated in 1994 when the ALF posted 3 letter bombs to organizers of the Fayre, including Mr.Titterington. All 3 devices were intercepted by the police before they got to their targets.

Pressure was even coming from the Free Presbyterian Church, led by firebrand Ian Paisley. They were mad because the Fayre was happening on a Sunday, the Lords Day of Rest, when even the playgrounds should be closed. Talk about getting shot by both sides.

After the letter bombs, things seem to have quietened down for Mr Titterington and the Fayre, as the ALF shifted focus to other targets in the area.

The Fayre continues to this day but went 'virtual' last year (2021), in line with Covid restrictions. Which makes it sound even more boring than an actual live Fayre but at least you wouldn't get rained on.

Ulster’s Games and Country Fayre, note the Master of Foxhounds trying to be normal in his white tights and his shitty hat and his little whip etc.

Alan Partridge, debating with a foxhunter "The games up - by nightfall you'll be swinging from a lamppost, your bugle stuck up your backside, so the last gas escaping from your body makes a bleakly comic sound.....hnnnnnsssss"


 see clip here-

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We   Will   Rock   You! 

above - broken window of shop selling foie gras on Grafton St., ALF action, Dublin 1987

  "One of the most insidious organisations to have emerged in this country in recent years" 
                                                    Pat Brosnan on the ALF, the Irish Examiner,Oct. 1,p.3,1990        

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One night in Dublin in early April 1987,20-year old Sioda O'Reily and friend Liam met up for a few pints in a local pub. They got talking about animal rights and the recent wave of ALF attacks on city centre shops. Butchers, Furriers, Angling shops, meat delivery vehicles, anything directly involved in the animal trade, were having their windows smashed, locks glued, and slogans spray painted wildly all over their walls. Commuters could not fail to notice the aftermath of these attacks in the mornings following. And not just Dublin. Belfast, Cork and Waterford had it going on too.

Sioda had recently been reading issues of 'Frontline', an ALF periodical, full of action reports and interviews with anonymous activists. Perhaps prompted by this, Sioda suggested to his friend they travel that night to a nearby butchers’ shop on Liam’s motorbike and throw lumps of coal through its windows.

Liam agreed and off they went on Siodas motorbike. When they arrived at McGahans butchers shop , Liam dismounted and  launched one lump of coal at the shop window but it bounced off. Sioda then dismounted and threw his lump straight through the window.

They both immediately got back on the motorbike and sped off but it wasn’t over yet. Splitting up to go their separate ways, Liam went on foot and Sioda sped off home on his bike, adrenalin surfing through them both as the sound of crashing glass still rung in their ears.

Liam was arrested when he arrived at his parent's house. The crash of breaking glass had also rung in the ears of a nearby Garda patrol car and Liam was spotted and silently trailed till he got home.  Surprised and caught off-guard, he soon confessed to the act of vandalism and agreed to give evidence in Court.

Police raided Sioda's house where he lived with his parents the next day. His father, Sean, a burly retired Garda himself was apoplectic with rage when erstwhile colleagues came to his door waving a search warrant. In Siodas bedroom they found four issues of 'Frontline', an ALF (Canada) Supporters Group.

Sioda continued to deny the charges in Court, even when the prosecution produced the inflammatory magazines, described as 'revolting' by presiding Judge Denis Shields. Sioda said he had been given them at an animal rights stall, thought they were 'stupid' but was keeping them for a friend. He denied being in the ALF.

Mitigating evidence, as presented by Sioda's father, was that Sioda had fallen off a bike and hit his head when aged 12 and had spent six weeks in a coma.

Sioda and Liam were both fined $50.

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The prevalence of smashing windows of butchers shops and fur shops peaked in the late 1980's-early 1990's. The hundreds of attacks listed in the Diary of Actions probably only reflects a portion of what actually went on - reports in the media at this time tell a story of widespread and underreported acts of vandalism on butchers, field sports shops and furriers across Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Belfast. Many shops were repeatedly attacked, like Barnardos furriers in Dublin. Vehicles were often targeted as well. Arrests were made in Belfast, leading ultimately to the imprisonment of three of the cells members in 1992 but the less-experienced Gardai in the South were unable to "smash the ALF" as they intended. There were a handful of arrests leading to small fines that did nothing to slow down ALF actions.

The tactic slowed down by 2010 - perhaps better security and the prevalence of CCTV inhibited this approach. However, Barnardos Furriers continue to receive attention from the ALF periodically, with the owners home also been targeted on numerous occasions.


above - from Irish Independent, October 15th,1987.

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above,left and right -Gardai announce formation of a new unit to investigate and "Smash the Animal Liberation Front in Ireland"*Irish Independent, October 15th,1987.

 * SPOILER ALERT ! - the Gardai do not smash the Animal Liberation Front in Ireland.


- above from the Irish Press,Dublin,June 13,p.1,1987
(they refer to the ALF as the AFL)

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On February 11th 1985, indie legends The Smiths released their second album "Meat is Murder".

The following week , February 20th, Cork newspapers described how a  'phantom gang' spray painted this album title on 15 city centre butchers shops over a  single night 'in a well-coordinated action'. Coincidence? Animal activism or extroverted Smiths fans? Maybe both! Who knows!

Only the Phantom Gang know! Although the actions were, bizarrely,  condemned by the Irish Anti-Vivisection League, Morrisey would have been pleased, if only briefly.


Morrissey looking briefly amused

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(looks like they weren't caught)

All three images of butchers cleaning graffiti off their shop windows the morning after from the Evening EchoFeb, 21, 1985.

  "Anyone who wants to profit from slaughter and cruelty to animals deserves it"      Irish Animal Liberation Front          


above - The Ungovernable Force

Conflict's drummer, Paco, takes time to smell the roses

SMASH HITS - In 1987, Conflict released their magnus opus The Ungovernable Force. Both a volatile call to arms and a direct action "how-to" guide, this album inspired punks everywhere to engage with the world around them. Songs like the infamous "This is the ALF" explicitly endorsed direct action as a tool for change and guaranteed attention from the UK's Special Branch for years to follow.

Musically, it was a magnificent blend of thrash metal and punk, formulated in large part by the bands guitarist at the time, Kevin Webb (RIP).The sonic delivery perfectly complements the urgency and fury of the lyrics, delivered in a near-hysterical primal scream. Clocking in at about a half hour of music in total, this album is a near perfect emotional time-capsule of Thatcher's Britain.

Flyers with maps on them highlighting butchers shops in the area and encouraging attack were sometimes passed around at their gigs (by fans, not the band).More butchers shops were probably attacked in this period (mid 1980's-mid 1990's) than at any other, both here and in the UK.  

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Conflict guitarist Kevin Webb circa 1986


above - ALF's warning to farmers who support Coursing, from the Kerryman,Dec.26,1987


above - headline from Southern Star,Jan.31 1987, p.2

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                    Butchers window - obscene display     


animal liberation front

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animal liberation front

above - from the Evening Herald (Dublin),Sept.08,1986,p.17

The article above from the Evening Herald in Dublin is an interesting roundup of the numerous small scale but persistent actions being carried out by individuals or small groups all around the Republic in the name of animal rights. Their estimation of 100 active ALF members in the Republic is a Gardai figure so its hard to know how accurate it is, particularly as the Police had very little insight or experience with 'crimes' like these. Its  reasonable to assume the Garda Siochana - institutionally and individually - had absolutely no reference points for this type of illegal activity. They simply didn't know where to begin. They couldn't get into the heads of people who would do this kind of thing. Thats why they arrested entirely law-abiding campaigners like John Fitzgerald - arrested 11 times in about 5 years and never convicted despite Police fabricating evidence and lying in Court. That's why they arrested and held for questioning Pat Phelan, the elderly head of ICABS during the 1980's and 90's, so often. Despite his frequent condemnation of all things ALF, and his age, the Gardai didn't know where else to turn. The lack of many formal animal welfare/rights groups in Ireland at the time didn't help either - there was little to spy on or infiltrate.




Note the second last paragraph of the article - " ALF people in England have served prison sentences of two years" -within a few years of this article, ALF activists were getting sent down for up to 10 years (Ronnie Lee) and by the mid 1990's,  activists were being sentenced to 14 and 18 year stretches (Keith Mann and Barry Horne respectively).

...more to follow....

“Do you know why most survivors of the Holocaust are vegan? It's because they know what it's like to be treated like an animal.”   Chuck Palahniuk  (Fight Club author and vegan) in his book 'Lullaby' 2002   



we are the mother of all fuckers

above -  MAD MAN DISEASE - Official from the Department of Health walks past a mound of burning cow carcass, UK,1996

* monologue from The Second Coming TV series 2003 spoken by Christopher Eccleston

PIECE OF MIND - In the mid 1990's over one million UK cows were incinerated this way in an attempt to eradicate BSE/Mad Cow Disease, a man-made disease created by feeding cows - a herbivorous animal -  the decomposing brains of other slain cows, a product known as MBM. Despite the obvious dangers of turning nature on its head like this ,it was done because it increases milk production in dairy cows. As most dairy cows end up being killed for food*, this disease then spread to meat-eating humans in the form of vCJD, killing 177 since 1994 in the UK alone. 

For a sector that endlessly lambasts "townies" for 'not knowing how the countryside works', this was a shocking and damning display of naked greed and wicked indifference to the natural world if ever there was one.

* vegetarians please take note - the dairy industry is the beef industry. You support one when you support the other.

As a result of this disease, the LIVE EXPORT of cows from the EU, including Ireland, to the Middle East was prohibited by Iran in 1996 and other countries soon followed suit - the USA and China being particularly significant losses to the grim trade.

....more to follow ....

 You are becoming Gods. There's a new master of creation, and it's you! Unravelled DNA, and at the same time you're cultivating bacteria strong enough to kill every living thing! Do you think you are ready  for that much power?

You lot?

You lot?

Cheeky bastards. You're running around science like kids with guns, creating a new world, while the world you've got is stinking, but, hands up, hands up anyone who thinks you've got it right. Yeah, there's always one. I can see you. If you want the position of God then take the responsibility.

 I know what you're like. I've been you. Knowing there is great evil and doing nothing about it. Keeping my head down, giving a quid to charity, signing a petition, joking about it down the pub, but doing nothing.

 Because I've seen what you've done. You stupid, stupid people. You've finally did it, I've seen it. Heaven is empty, while hell is bursting to the seams.*

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