A SHORTAGE of hurleys could be just three months away as the effects of ash dieback disease threaten to throw the national past-time into a state of crisis.

Clare’s leading hurley-maker, John Torpey, yesterday likened ash dieback disease to the foot and mouth crisis of 2001, and said that the current stock of ash wood will run out in the spring of 2013.

Ash dieback, or Chalara fraxinea, has been identified in at least a dozen forests in Ireland over the past two weeks, a situation which has prompted the Department of Agriculture to impose strict new regulations on importing ash into the country.

A number of leading hurley-makers, including Mr Torpey, met with representatives from the Department of Agriculture last week.

“This is having a massive impact. We need ash for hurleys. All hurley-makers in the country are in the same position – we need the raw material and, at the moment, we cannot get it,” he said yesterday. “I have a number of very big customers and the volume [of ash] is very big. I have enough to see me through Christmas and on to springtime, but after that, I don’t know. I’ll have to comply with the legislation and so will everyone else.

“Nearly all the hurley-makers are importing ash so you could see a shortage or a fairly large price increase if things don’t change. I don’t know how people are going to get around it at this stage.”

The current legislation requires anyone importing ash into Ireland to produce certification that the wood is disease-free, to remove all traces of bark before the wood is transported or to dry the wood before transportation.

“We have very few options at the moment. We can import ash from a country who can certify that their wood is disease-free, which is impossible at the moment. Or you can take the bark off the ash before you import it – that will add a massive cost to importing the wood and I’m not sure will it ever work for hurleys,” continued Mr Torpey. “Taking the bark off for a log for firewood is one thing, but taking it off for a hurley is a big problem. I don’t know would it be feasible.

“This is the very same as foot and mouth. This disease has been in Poland for 20 years and it can be carried over on a leaf on the bottom of someone’s shoe. But how many people do we have coming back and forth to Poland all the time now? It can be spread so easily.”

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