The Agriculture Minister in Northern Ireland has confirmed that two new suspected cases of foot and mouth are being investigated. Brid Rodgers said that the cases in Ballintoy, County Antrim, and Ardboe, County Tyrone, were linked to previous confirmed outbreaks in Cushendall and Ardboe. A number of animals have been slaughtered as a precaution and samples have been sent for analysis.

The Department of Agriculture in Belfast had said that definitive tests in another scare in Ardboe, County Tyrone, have proved negative. This confirms the results of the preliminary tests in that case.

In a separate development, Minister Rodgers said today that she believed there had been unauthorised movements of livestock as recently as the last few days, despite the continuing threat from foot and mouth. Ms Rodgers said that her officials were making some headway in their investigation of the matter. She added, however, that the strategy for containing the disease would not work if such movements continued.

Members of the Northern Executive met at Stormont this morning for their second special meeting this week. They were briefed by Minister Rodgers on the latest steps she has taken to contain the foot and mouth outbreak. She reported on discussions she had yesterday with her Dublin counterpart, Joe Walsh, when they agreed that the two jurisdictions would increase their level of co-operation in the area of tracing and tracking livestock to prevent a further spread of the disease.

The cull of animals on a farm in County Antrim was continuing today with 15,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle possibly facing slaughter. The Minister has also announced that a modest relaxation on the movement of farm animals in the North from byres to pasture although for the time being livestock is still prevented from crossing public roads and lane ways.