I speak for the people of Wexford on the Animals Bill.
Animals Bill, 1985: Second Stage (Resumed)
But not after the next election.
I am mindful of the fact that Deputy Woods was in possession on this Bill on 29 January when the debate was adjourned but he is indisposed and I take this opportunity of wishing him a speedy recovery.
The Bill proposes to amend the law in relation to the impounding of animals and to the liability for damage done by animals. In framing the legislation the Government were mindful of the report of the Law Reform Commission on civil liability in respect of damage caused by animals. That report was published in 1982. In general this is a very difficult area of law. The main provision in the Bill abolishes the present immunity enjoyed by owners and occupiers of land in respect of their animals straying on to or wandering on public roads. The Bill imposes strict liability on owners of dogs for any injury or damage caused by their dogs, regardless of the disposition of the animals. The Bill effects to give increased powers to the Garda in respect of the impounding of animals and these powers are being conferred also on local authorities. From now on animals may be impounded by the Garda or by local authorities even in cases where the owner of the wandering animals is known. These powers of impounding are now to extend beyond public roads to places of public interest and public ownership such as State parks.
Perhaps the main underlying provision of the Bill which changes the attitude of all of us towards this problem is that the common law rule that occupiers of land had very little liability for damage caused by animals from that land is being abolished.
It is amazing that so much time has elapsed before tackling a matter that is of basic commonsense and basic justice. We are all aware of the appalling injuries and carnage that have occurred on our roads to motorists and pedestrians as a result of accidents involving animals. This problem is especially serious in rural Ireland, though in certain urban areas it is a growing problem in so far as straying horses are concerned. Section 3 imposes a strict liability on the owners of all dogs for injuries and accidents caused by these animals. Up to now if a dog owner was in a position to prove that his dog had no vicious tendencies or was not generally considered a danger, he was not liable, in most cases, for damage or injury caused by the animal. Perhaps the great omission of the Bill is that the Minister was unable to include further measures to encompass the whole problem of marauding dogs in terms of our sheep population. The National Action Committee on Dog Control, who were set up some years ago, have reported since, as have also the inter-departmental committee set up to inquire into the same problem. I do not know why the Minister has not included the recommendations of both those committees in the Bill. We are changing the liability in respect of accidents or injuries caused by dogs by re-enacting section 1 of the Dogs Act, 1906. This section imposed strict liabilities where dogs injured cattle and extended it to attacks by dogs on persons. I do not understand why it could not have been extended further at this point to include sheep as well as people. It would seem a simple matter to extend the provision to sheep also.
Every county, including Dublin and all the major urban areas, has a problem in regard to marauding dogs attacking sheep. The dog population is going out of control. Perhaps one could say it has been out of control for some time. Though the licence fee for a dog has been increased from £1 to £5, there has not been implemented any effective provision to ensure that all dogs are licensed. There is bandied about a figure of 12 per cent in terms of the dog licensing, but one might ask: 12 per cent of what? I do not think that the authorities have any idea of what the dog population is. Speaking generally we are not a very civic-minded people. We are not a nation of animal lovers and neither have we any special care or concern for the environment. When one puts the three aspects of our tendencies together one wonders why the Minister did not encompass in the legislation the final major problem in relation to animal control — the problem of marauding dogs attacking sheep.
County Wicklow has a dog warden system which has proved extremely effective. Other local authorities are under pressure from members to implement such a scheme, but in view of the present state of local authority financing we in Wexford are not in a position to implement such a system. If the Minister had been in a position to extend this section of the Bill on impounding, there might be no need for further dog warden systems as an effective measure of dealing with this problem.
Section 4 provides for increasing the impounding powers of the Garda and local authorities. At present the Garda can impound animals only where the owners are not known to them; but this Bill will mean that, regardless of the ownership status of the animal, it can be impounded by reason of being a nuisance in a public place or on the roadway.
One major issue in this, as in all other legislation in relation to pounds, is that there are very few members of local authorities or of the Garda who can handle animals, expecially horses. From time to time a rather amusing scenario develops in all parts of the country where one finds urban reared gardaí stationed, for example, in Wexford, chasing around public places and on the roads doing their best to corral and lasso animals wandering in these places. There is no proposal in the Bill that would deal with this difficulty, but until such time as we devise an effective way of physically curtailing wandering animals the Bill will be less than effective. It is much easier to turn a blind eye and to hope that the problem will go away; but there is a big problem in relation to rounding up perhaps up to ten horses that have been wandering around all night, having been released from some field and who may be grazing the long mile.
The section relating to impounding refers only to bovines, equines, sheep and goats. Some speakers have made the case that the section should be extended further to include wild animals that are held in captivity. Deputy Yates has pointed to the problem that arose in Wexford in relation to circus animals. This sort of case may be the exception rather than the rule but there would not appear to be any legislation to deal with the escape of lions from circus cages. That is but one example and I am sure that Members can come up with others.
Section 7 provides for increasing the existing penalties for turning out any animals on to roads or public places. It is incredible that at present the penalties are only 10p and 30p or thereabouts for different offences in this regard. The 10p fine for turning out animals on to the public road is being increased for the first offence to £150 and to £350 for subsequent offences. Perhaps pound owners, local authorities or the Garda should be in a position to refuse to release animals unless these fines are pre-paid. At the moment the fees for getting animals released from the pounds are insufficient even to meet the economic undertaking involved. They are £13.20 per day for horses and £4.05 a day for cattle. This is generally reviewed and is fixed under the orders of the Pounds (Provisions and Maintenance) Act, 1935. The last order in this regard was in July 1984. Small as this figure is, if the authorities could refuse to release animals until fines are paid, even if this pound fee is offered, this legislation in general will be far more effective.
The effect of the legislation generally will be to increase the impounding power and greater effectiveness of the impounding procedure. In 1971 similar legislation was brought in in this regard in Great Britain. However, the major changes in relation to this legislation relate to the whole powers of impounding and liability of ownership of the animals concerned. I appeal to the Minister to include in the Bill the one omission which in my view prevents this from being excellent legislation. As it stands it is extremely welcome. It is amazing that it has taken so long even to get to the House because it is based on commonsense and basic justice, but perhaps the Minister on Committee Stage will look to the possibility of including a provision for extending the Dogs Act, 1906 in relation to dogs marauding on sheep. If this is done there can be no queries or questions about the effectiveness of this Bill.
In relation to the effectiveness a little thought might be given as to whether the Garda or members of local authorities should be trained in the handling of some of these animals, particularly the bigger animals involved. Unlike the situation 30 or 40 years ago, there is no doubt today that the vast majority of our gardaí and members of local authorities have no experience of handling cattle or horses. I commend the Bill as it is to the House and I look forward to a response from the Minister on Committee Stage to the few points I have raised.
I welcome this Bill which is long overdue and necessary. It proposes welcome changes in the law to deal with the many problems of straying animals. Over the years we have had loss of life, serious injuries, damage to properties etc., due to the failure of different Governments to face up to and tackle the serious problem of stray and wandering animals. Before this Bill was introduced it was obvious that the Garda and local authorities had neither the power nor the necessary regulations to tackle these problems. However, the Minister with the introduction of this Bill made a serious error in not having as part of the Bill provision for the control of dogs. I understand that he intends to introduce later a new Dogs Bill, but now is the opportune time for its introduction or a widening of the scope of this Bill to cover the problems of dog control. At present there is a growing demand from farmers' and other organisations for the introduction of legislation to deal with this. The ISPCA are doing their utmost to bring in some aspect of control but, being in the main a voluntary organisation, they have not the resources, the finance or the manpower to tackle this problem seriously. In the past local authorities have tried to make help available to the ISPCA, but with their serious financial problems they cannot do so at the moment. The time has come for the Minister to become more involved in the grant-aiding of dog shelters and to provide 100 per cent grant aid to organisations interested in the provision of such shelters.
The implementation and collection of dog licences are totally inadequate with fewer than 20 per cent of dog owners holding licences at present. The collection of dog licences should be transferred to the local authorities with possibly the revenue collectors taking on this task on a commission basis or new collectors being recruited. This project would be self-financing and would mean a substantial amount of extra revenue to the local authorities to provide and finance such projects as pounds and dog shelters. However, the provision of dog shelters and pounds may not be easy. I can imagine strenuous objections from people living in urban and rural areas because of the fear of devaluation of their houses etc. Recently we had a typical example in my town, Enniscorthy, where it was mooted that a dog shelter would be provided, and uproar arose. I see difficulties for the Minister, the local authorities, the Garda and the ISPCA in providing such shelters in built-up areas.
Wexford farmers in particular have suffered serious financial loss due to killing of their sheep by marauding dogs. Many farmers have had 60 and even up to 100 sheep killed by such dogs. The subsequent financial loss has caused serious hardship and poverty for some families. In 1984 over 1,500 sheep and lambs were slaughtered by marauding dogs, at national level. Farmers are not in a position to claim compensation for such losses. I would like to see the Minister for Agriculture, the Minister for Justice and the farming organisations coming together with a view to providing a compensation fund for such farmers possibly with grant aid from both Departments and a small levy from the farming organisations or the farmers in general paid through the co-operatives and the marts. Many farmers have suffered severe hardship and at present are living below the poverty line. Different Ministers in different Departments should make some effort to compensate farmers and provide a fund for this.
Wandering horses have become a major problem in rural areas and, indeed, in urban areas. With the introduction of this legislation the Garda and the local authorities will be given additional powers to deal with this problem, but additional powers are useless unless the finance and the facilities also are made available. I would like to ask what finance and facilities the Minister will make available. At present the Garda and local authority workers spend hours trying to round up wandering animals throughout the urban and rural areas and bring them to pounds that are in poor condition and badly fenced, and more often than not the animals will break out or the owners will come along at night, break the fences and remove the animals without paying any fine whatsoever. It is laughable to see gardaí trying to act as cowboys rounding up horses etc. in urban areas. An effort should be made to remedy this situation, and this can be done if the Minister provides the finance, the manpower and the support to tackle it. Surely it is not right that gardaí spend hours of their time rounding up horses. They should be using their valuable time in combating crime and looking after the problems of the ordinary people. Urban areas have not adequate or proper pounds to hold such animals. I would like the Minister to make finance available to local authorities to enable them to provide better pounds and better back-up facilities. Section 2 (1) of the Bill states:
So much of the rules of the common law relating to liability for negligence as excludes or restricts the duty which a person might owe to others to take such care as is reasonable to see that damage is not caused by an animal straying on to a public road is hereby abolished.
As a layman I find this section confusing and cloudy. Does the Minister mean that, regardless of what happens, the landowner will be responsible? For example, if the landowner's gates are left open or if the fences are broken down by another party, if the landowner can prove this will he be granted immunity from charges preferred by the Garda? Another matter that needs clarification is that of guard dogs. With the rising crime rate of vandalism particularly in urban areas, many house owners are resorting to guard dogs for protection and many owners are concerned that if their guard dog attacks an intruder and possibly maims him will he be liable for damages. This should not be the case. An owner of a fully licensed guard dog should not be responsible for the behaviour of the dog during a deliberate act of crime.
In the past few years the Garda, local authorities and general public have expressed serious concern about the haphazard way we have dealt with the problems of stray and wandering animals but up to now they were powerless to make any efforts to solve the problem. I hope this Bill will allow the problem to be tackled seriously. I hope the Minister will consider the possibility of introducing immediately the new Bill relating to dogs or else incorporate the provisions in the legislation before the House. I ask him also to clarify the points of concern raised by other speakers.
Like previous speakers on both sides of the House I welcome this Bill which is long overdue. As an indication of how long it is overdue I refer to the recent spate of attacks by wandering dogs on young children and cyclists in Galway city. As a member of the Committee on Legislation I dealt with the 1977 working party report regarding wandering animals and I came across something which gave an indication of how five years ago it was considered legislation in Canada — which country had the same problems as Ireland — should have been changed.
A Mr. Justice Roach in a literary flourish painted an appropriate picture of the regulations and rulings in Canada as they operated in modern social conditions. He made the following comment:
It is now over 200 years since Thomas Gray wrote his famous lines descriptive of rural England at eventide, `The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea'. The lea no doubt included such highways as then traversed the landscape. As I read the modern English cases the herd may still wander along those same highways without the owner being subject to civil liability for the injuries they may cause. No longer in this Province does `the ploughman homeward plod his weary way'. He goes now in his tractor, oft-times along the highway. The farmer whose land adjoins the King's Highway can in this modern era scarcely know the meaning of the `solemn stillness' of which Gray wrote. No longer can he be conscious of the beetle wheeling his droning flight. What he hears, instead, is the whir of motor cars wheeling their way at legalized speed along the adjoining highway. The common law of England may have been adequate in Gray's day. The Courts in England have held that it is still adequate, but surely it must be apparent that today in this Province it is not.
I contend that it applies to us also. The general public will be glad of the changes proposed in this Bill which give to the Garda the authority to round up and impound wandering animals. It also extends that authority to local authorities to impound animals found wandering in public parks and open spaces.
I must compliment the Minister on the increased charges in respect of pounds. These are quite substantial. As a previous speaker pointed out, it was silly that the fine for turning an animal loose on roads was between 10p and 50p. Thus, owners were encouraged to have animals impounded because it was cheaper than keeping them at home. There is also the question of the physical construction of pounds. A substantial amount of money is involved in this area but if the Bill is effective the number of wandering animals should diminish and we might find ourselves with empty pounds. I can understand the reluctance of the Minister to involve himself in building pounds in every village and to prefer that they be provided by private individuals.
The money raised in the pounds, whether payment of fees by owners of animals or by the sale of animals impounded, should be used not only to run the pounds efficiently but also to provide for wardens. Perhaps we should have something like the American system where dog catchers are paid to round up unlicensed animals. These people should have training. As has been pointed out, many gardaí come from urban areas and have no experience of rounding up substantial numbers of horses, as was the case in Galway city.
This Bill is long overdue. The two major measures that are in operation date back to 1935 and to 1851 — in the latter case I refer to the Summary Jurisdiction Act. By virtue of the Provisions of that Act the occupier of land on which an animal trespasses must return the animal to the owner if the owner is known. If the owner is not known, he is at liberty to have the animal impounded but to recover any damages he has to apply to the District Court. This system is archaic and a more rational and modern system will be implemented when this Bill is passed.
In section 6 the Minister refers to undeveloped housing estates. Deputies from urban areas will see what the Minister is trying to do here. In such estates animals are let loose deliberately and they wander quite freely. I compliment the Minister on the way he has worded the Bill so that the local authorities or the Garda may round up and impound animals found in such areas provided that the owner of the land states that the animals are not his and that he does not wish to have them on his land.
One of the changes recommended in the report of the Law Reform Commission was that of strict liability on the owners of animals found wandering. Like the Minister, I believe strict liability is excessively harsh, although I know that animals have been involved in quite a number of accidents. From a report of An Foras Forbartha on accidents in which animals were involved which dealt with the situation up to 1980, it is notable that the number of such accidents was lowest in 1980 as compared with the preceding years back to 1968. This indicates that farmers have realised their animals are valuable and must be better guarded. I hope I am right in that and that the figures will continue to drop. In 1980 in 503 fatal accidents there were two cases in which animals were involved. The total number in the section dealing with injuries was 5,180, in 54 of which animals were involved. It would appear that the numbers are dropping, and I hope that trend continues.
The Minister has recommended that ordinary negligence should be a defence in law against a claim. I concur completely with him and I also agree with the proposal regarding strict liability for all cases of injury caused by attacks on persons by dogs. I can understand why nobody is willing to come to grips with this grave problem. The ICMSA, the IFA and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals made a submission to the Government recommending particular changes in the Dogs Act and I cannot understand why these changes have not been brought before the House.
The growing concern about wandering dogs is natural. Statistics prove that the number of dogs is increasing rapidly and it is difficult to find out who the owners are. I suggest that the Minister enforce dog licensing. When this Bill was first introduced Deputy Hyland said that the loss of revenue from the non-collection of dog licences was in the region of £2.5 million. I am not sure if that figure is accurate but, if it is, this £2 million could provide adequate pounds throughout the country. Deputy Hyland suggested that the licensing fee should be increased to £5. That might be a bit harsh. Nevertheless, I suggest that the Minister update the dog legislation so that each dog would be licensed, wear a collar and have an identification tag. Any animal found without identification would be immediately put into a pound and after a certain time the pound would decide whether the dog would be put down or sold. At present if a dog injuries a person the owner can disclaim all responsibility because it would be very difficult for anybody to prove to whom the animal belonged since he does not wear an identification tag. This is an out for dog owners.
There has been an increase in the number of attacks on people in rural areas, many of whom have guard dogs. Recently a reporter rang me and asked if I was aware of the fact that elderly people were keeping a certain amount of money in their houses in case they were attacked because then they would hand over that money. He asked me what was my opinion of this and I said it would be better if they bought a dog. I did not mean that they should have a dog just for the sake of having a dog; I meant they should have a dog which was trained to defend, although not necessarily attack unless there was no other way out. The Minister should take into account the number of attacks on sheep by dogs. Perhaps on Committee Stage he could ensure that there would be adequate protection for sheep and other animal owners. This would have my 100 per cent support; at present the Bill has 99 per cent of my support.
The ordinary crime of negligence in respect of wandering animals does not occur in areas where there is commonage or where traditionally there has not been any fencing. This applies particularly to the West. Driving from Dublin one notices the changes from hedgerows to stone walls until one reaches the west coast where there are not even walls. It would be very difficult for any farmer to fence areas in Connemara or Kerry. I do not think tourists would like that.
The Minister has recognised that there are large areas of commonage across the country and parks, including the Phoenix Park, which could not be covered by this legislation.
I commend the Bill to the House.
The first thing that struck me on reading this Bill was, with regret, that the crucial recommendation on this branch of the law which had been made by the Law Reform Commission was not being implemented. I wonder about that because we set up this Law Reform Commission at very considerable expense. I understand it costs about £7 million a year to run. They are a very able body of legal and other specialists and they go to some degree of investigation and trouble in examining the questions of law reform delegated to them and prepare their documentation.
They went into the question of civil liability for animals in some detail. First they prepared a very comprehensive and exhaustive working paper, No. 3 of 1977, and not being unduly rushed about it, they prepared their report some years later in 1982 — the Report on Civil Liability for Animals, LRC No. 2, 1982. In that report the crucial factor they wished to see implemented was to provide for the strict liability of owners and animals for damage and injury they would cause. In my view their recommendation is entirely right. A motorist confronted by an animal may sustain serious personal injury — and this could happen to any of us — or death. Families can then be deprived of their wage earners and young children can be left destitute. The question is: should that loss fall on that family, on the farmer or on the person who owns the animal which was responsible for the accident? The farming lobby, which is no mean lobby where power is concerned, would not wish that liability to fall on them. I fear that the reason we have the Bill in its present from, washing down and denuding the force of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission, must be due to some excessive pressure brought about by the farming lobby.
The farming lobby would maintain, I suppose, that if it was not their fault they should not be liable and that it should be on a fault basis. That is a line of argument; but considering all the factors I do not see that it warrants being implemented. The fact remains that it was that person's animal, they should control it and ensure that it cannot cause the death or injury of innocent people. If an accident happens in that way and a person is injured for life, the damage has been done and the question that must be determined is "Who is to carry the can for that injury?". Is it to be the innocent motorist or the owner of the animal? It ought to be the owner of the animal. Would it place a tremendous burden on the farming community if such a legal provision was instituted? Is this a provision which would put farmers out of business, which would be a tremendous burden on their profits and which would be a tremendous difficulty for them? Is that the kind of argument that is put forward? If it is, it does not hold water.
Some investigations were carried out as to what it would cost a farmer to insure himself against this liability. When we considered this in the Joint Committee on Legislation we thought that there might be something in this argument that it would cost substantial sums for a farmer to get insured to cover his public liability for his animals causing death or injury to people. The information given to us from the Irish Insurance Association in their letter of 13 July 1984, addressed to the Clerk of the Joint Committee on Legislation, indicated that the average existing premium for a farmers' liability insurance is in the region of £25 to £30 and they went on to say that in the event of a farmer's liability being made straight — in other words, that they would be liable for any injury or damage caused by their animals in any circumstances — that would warrant an increase in the premium of the order of 200 per cent. An increase of the order of 200 per cent on an existing premium of £30 gives a premium of under £100, which is not the end of the world by any means, and a small price to pay for providing security and compensation for unfortunate people unlucky enough to be involved in a serious accident with animals on a dark country road. It would not be beyond the bounds of fairness, equity or reason to expect farmers to carry that kind of insurance. They could well carry that in their profit and loss accounts. It is an indication of unreasonableness that for so small a premium they would endeavour to avoid liability for accidents caused in such a way.
Are we talking about something that rarely happens? What is the extent of injuries or deaths caused by this situation? I do not suggest that this is a very common occurrence, but it happens all the time. Unfortunately, the most recent figures we have available are only up to the year 1980. There may be later figures available but we have not got them at our disposal. Deputy Coogan referred to the figures and, as he said, for every year between 1968 and 1980 at least two deaths were caused as a result of these accidents involving animals and some years it was as high as nine. It was never less than two deaths being caused. So far as injuries were concerned, the lowest figure for any year was 54. In most years it was well over the 100 mark. There were 100 injuries per year and at least two deaths per year caused in this way. While it is not an overwhelming preponderance of injuries there is a substantial enough number involved and it is a regular thing. For the unfortunate person at the wrong end of the situation it is a very serious matter and it could spell disaster for an entire family. All that would be required to deal with that kind of situation would be a relatively modest expenditure of under £100 a year for a farmer in providing insurance.
Reference was made to the question of fencing and to the question of whether it is customary to fence in certain locations. I am unhappy about that exception from the Bill. It seems too vague, and the question of whether it would be customary in a particular area to fence is something that I would have wished to be more specifically laid down in the Bill. Having to go into evidence of what was customary in an area could create problems for courts in that there would be borderline areas where that question alone could give rise to considerable doubt. The fact that an injured party will still have to prove his case and prove negligence against the owner of the animal, if this Bill is passed in its present form, gives rise to considerable difficulties on the part of the claimant for damages. The question of locating the owner of the animal, trying to find out under what circumstances the animal escaped onto the road and of assessing whether the fence was weak, whether the farmer had maintained it, and of establishing where exactly the animal got onto the road are questions that could present insuperable difficulties of proof to an injured person. For that reason the onus ought to be on the farmer to excuse himself rather than that the burden of proof be on the injured party.
I welcome this Bill which will control wandering animals. In the past three years I had the experience of knowing of two people who had fatal accidents, one was a motor cyclist and one a motorist. Both were killed because of animals wandering on the road. In Kerry during the weekend I saw at least five horses wandering near Tralee causing considerable disruption of traffic on the main road. I welcome the Bill because we all agree it is time something was done to control such animals and to provide for impounding them. Local authorities in future can put animals in pounds, but unfortunately many counties have not got proper pounds. In former years every town had a pound attached to it. I suggest that local authorities and urban district councils will have to buy land on which to set up pounds into which they will be allowed to put the animals which they can sell or destroy if not collected. In the past councils had to get an order from a district justice and this sometimes caused considerable delay. Therefore, the Bill gives important new powers to local authorities and I am sure that as a consequence the number of animals wandering abroad will be reduced considerably.
I suggest that one provision should be amended on Committee. A farmer may keep his fences very well but somebody passing by at night, whether as a joke or blackguardism, may open his gates and allow his animals to escape on to the public road. There should be a provision in the Bill to protect that landowner if it can be proved that he had been keeping his fences in good trim.
I welcome the provisions on dogs. All of us have seen the damage done and the injuries caused by them to sheep and, in Kerry, even to cattle. In my parish 12 to 14 dogs every night hunted cattle and caused considerable injury and damage, because bullocks and cows got their legs broken. Eventually, farmers had to poison or shoot those dogs. Heretofore, no one was liable for such damage but the Bill provides that dog owners will be liable in future. In the sections dealing with dogs I think there is room for an amendment. A farmer living on a remote holding may keep a dog to protect his person and property but if a robber or a blackguard calls and is attacked by the dog the owner can be liable for heavy damages. Throughout the country people living in such circumstances depend on guard dogs to protect their persons, their property and their stock and there should be something in the Bill to render them not liable when their dogs attack intruders.
The Minister should consider allowing local authorities to collect dog licence fees and to use the money to appoint dog wardens. This would help to reduce the number of wandering unclaimed dogs throughout the country which do such terrible damage. Only about one-tenth of the licence fees due on dogs are taken out. If we had 100 per cent collection it would mean there would be a substantial fund for local authorities out of which to pay wardens.
I am glad that the fine has been increased substantially for allowing animals to stray. It will be £150 for a first offence and £350 for a second. This should act as a deterrent. People will have to keep their fences in good trim. The provisions will deter those who do not own land and permit their animals to wander on the public road at night.
The Bill does not refer to insurance cover. In the past farmers obtained public liability insurance for a premium of between £25 and £30 annually but I have no doubt that when the Bill is passed that premium will be increased considerably. Has the Minister had any discussions with insurance companies about the extent of the increase? It must be remembered that it will mean an extra cost to farmers. There is no doubt that dog owners will also have to take out insurance cover for their animals.
I welcome the provisions. I have no doubt that owners of animals will keep them under control from now on. Wandering animals on the public road have always been a great hazard to traffic. I have had occasion to come upon two fatal accidents caused by wandering animals. I am pleased to note that the provisions will deal with marauding dogs. Such animals have caused a lot of damage down the years; the figure must run into millions of pounds. It is time we had legislation to control wandering animals and marauding dogs.
This important Bill is overdue and tackles some real problems. The net effect of its provisions will be to make life safer in the countryside and more pleasant in urban areas. However, I have two reservations about its provisions. I endorse emphatically the reservation expressed by Deputy Mervyn Taylor about the failure of the Bill to include one of the central recommendations of the Law Reform Commission on whose report the Bill was based. The Law Reform Commission proposed that the law should be replaced by a general provision to the effect that the keeper of any animal should be strictly liable for any damage caused by it, the damage caused to be reduced if there was contributory negligence on the part of the injured person and strict liability to be subject to certain qualifications such as what I call an act of God.
That was an important, if not central, recommendation, in the report of the Law Reform Commission and it should have been acted upon. I understand the reasons why it was not acted upon and I can see how in some of the discussions we had in the Joint Committee on Legislation this was becoming an urban-rural issue. As a Member whose roots are entirely rural and who still regards himself as essentially a rural person I can understand those fears but, nonetheless, it should have been possible to find some obligatory insurance scheme for farmers which would meet the cases I have in mind. The vast majority of farmers have a strong vested interest in ensuring that their animals do not stray and that they are neither the cause of accidents nor injured in them. There is a strong vested commonsense interest on the part of animal owners in ensuring that straying does not take place and accidents are not caused.
However, I believe a provision such as I suggested would have brought greater pressure on animal owners — they are not necessarily farmers — who are careless or negligent, or both, and allow their animals to wander, are oblivious to and unworried about the consequences. We are all aware of fatal accidents caused because animal owners were careless or negligent, allowed their animals to wander and could do so with impunity. We have heard of cases where those injured were left not just without compensation but where billed for the cost of the accident. I compliment the farming lobby, if that is what happened, that got its way on this clause, and regret it is not part of the Bill.
I regret that the Bill was being prepared at the same time as the Joint Committee on Legislation was debating the report of the Law Reform Commission on this subject. We had a case of a Government Department working in tandem with a committee of the Oireachtas. It was a discourtesy to the Joint Committee that this was allowed to happen. There was full agreement and open discussion at meetings of that all-party committee and we made it clear to the Department what we were doing. However, the Department pressed ahead. The Department were less than courteous in dealings with the committee. I should like to place on record the dissatisfaction felt by all members of that Joint Committee about the way that was done. I hope we do not have duplication of that sort in future.
Apart from the two reservations I have expressed I welcome the provisions in the Bill. I intervene on the substance of the Bill as an urban Member in response to representations I have had from two categories of people in my constituency. I am referring to those who have suffered from the stray, untamed, undisciplined dogs who wander in ever-increasing numbers in the new housing estates and are causing terror to many young and old people. I have received representations also from people who are concerned about dogs that may not be untamed and may have good homes but are a source of harassment to elderly people because of the failure of their owners to keep them in proper check. Yesterday I received a letter from a lady in Howth whose elderly husband finds it almost impossible to go for a walk because of the constant harassment he receives from large undisciplined well-fed dogs that come from good homes and have pedigrees as long as one's arm. Those dogs make the ordinary recreation of such elderly people very difficult. I know the provisions of the Bill will not change that but it will create a consciousness among animal owners that they will be answerable under the new severe restrictions. I hope that in positive sense the provisions will create a greater awareness among dog owners about the rights of other people who use public paths and parks.
The power which gives gardaí the right to impound directly is long overdue and I welcome it. It is right that the new power will apply even where the owner of the animal is known. The Bill will be welcomed by all animal lovers because no true lover of animals wants to see animals in danger. This animal loving measure is designed as much to protect the interests of animals as it is to protect human beings. I am glad the Bill proposes to increase the effectiveness of the impounding measures. The present system does not work and is ineffective in many areas.
I am glad to note also that the fines proposed under the provisions of this Bill will be substantial because those to date, which I believe were rooted in the thirties, were laughable. They created no sense of fear, nor did they act as a deterrent in the event of people being answerable for breaches of the law.
I am glad that the use of pounds will not be confined simply to public ones, that there will be provision for private pounds. As Deputy Coogan pointed out, if the provisions of this Bill are effective it may well mean that we could have spent a lot of money building public pounds which might not be needed ultimately. I am not sure that will happen, but the possibility of using private pounds could well obviate a great deal of public expense which might prove to be unnecessary ultimately.
As an urban Deputy I particularly welcome the proposal of strict liability being imposed in all cases of injuries or damages caused to a person attacked by a dog. That should render our lives somewhat safer in the months of May and June as we face into the local elections when usually all of us have our share of scarred ankles and feet from attacks by dogs, each dog knowing that he or she was entitled to the first bite. Now the provision of a dog being entitled to the first bite is gone. That message may not get across to the dogs in time for the local elections; but, with that gone, we may all feel somewhat safer.
All of us are aware of and share in the agony of those farmers mentioned by Deputy McEllistrim, to have seen their flocks of sheep savaged by dogs, sometimes by dogs let loose deliberately by groups of youths who come out to enjoy the sport of seeing savage dogs let loose on sheep, to the suffering and destruction of the sheep and the great loss of the farmers concerned. The Bill includes provisions which should render that pastime less profitable and enjoyable to those involved than heretofore.
I am also glad that those people who knowingly let loose dogs with a tendency to indiscipline, to bite or attack people, those owners who take the chance of bringing out dogs with a track record of ferocity, with a track record of attacking people, will now be liable. However, I am not sure that the relevant section will be all that workable. For example, how can one prove that dogs have a track record of attacks on people? Will there be some system of red, yellow or other coloured card, some gradations of offence for those dogs guilty of this? It will be very difficult to prove that an owner could have known that his dog was liable to attack people, that in the past his dog had attacked people? Even though I realise this will be a provision difficult to enforce, sometimes the very existence of such a provision acts as a deterrent, so that people will at least be more careful. Perhaps we cannot ask for much more.
The problem of stray, savage or uncontrolled dogs, of those who make life difficult for all but their owners, is a growing problem in must urban areas. I have mentioned already attacks on people, the dirt difficulties and dangers caused by straying dogs in many of our larger urban estates. The Minister mentioned the alarming rate at which our canine population is growing. It is true that it is growing at an alarming rate. The evidence is there for all of us to see and the consequences of a lack of control over this increasing population are all too obvious. In the present climate I would not risk suggesting that the Government might contemplate some sort of scheme to provide contraceptive facilities to dog owners who may feel it would be a good idea that we begin to endeavour to curb our canine population. The time might not be right for such a proposal; but, in all seriousness, it is something we may have to think about in years to come.
With those reservations I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister for it.
I welcome most sections of the Bill. Like other speakers, I am most concerned at the number of accidents, some fatal, and injuries done to people on account of straying animals on our roads. Deputies have dwelt at length on this because it is not a problem in urban areas only but extends throughout the country. For example, even on small country roads we encounter the same kinds of problems when one regularly comes across accidents involving stray animals. Any legislation that helps alleviate that problem is to be welcomed.
My main concern about this Bill is in regard to the sections relating to increased powers to be given to local authorities. I am always concerned at any legislation we introduce here which in the long run will entail more expenditure on the part of local authorities. We have seen this happen in the case of much legislation in recent years when the onus was thrown onto local authorities for its implementation. In this case local authorities must provide more money for the establishment of animal homes or pounds. In recent years Galway County Council, in conjunction with Galway Corporation, have been endeavouring to find funds to set up an animal home at a time when finance is not readily available. As Deputy Manning said, there are many people, animal lovers, who wish to have such animal homes established. There is also a strong farmers' lobby in rural areas for the establishment of such homes. This means there is tremendous pressure on all local authorities for the establishment of such homes. When replying perhaps the Minister would let us know whether any additional funds can be made available to local authorities for this purpose. For example, I can tell the House that this year our local authority are allocating £8,000 for an animal home in County Galway and that we provided £10,000 in 1984. That is a small percentage only of the amount of money that must be made available on foot of this legislation. The IFA have also come out very strongly in favour of these types of ventures and have welcomed many sections of the Bill. Indeed they knew a lot more about the legislation than did many Members of this House.
Like Deputy Manning, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Legislation. As far as I am aware, that legislation was drafted before we had finished our discussions on the report of the Law Reform Committee. I agree with him when he said that that committee had been dealt with in a most discourteous manner and am glad to note that we shall be meeting the Leader of the House at the end of this month to discuss the role of our committee, which is an important committee but which has been treated on a number of occasions in a most discourteous way, particularly in relation to this Bill.
The need for this Bill becomes very obvious when one examines the minimal penalties that obtained heretofore, with penalties of 50p and 10p for allowing animals wander onto public roads. Such penalties have correctly been increased to £150 for a first offence and £350 for a second or subsequent offence, there being an increase catered for in the regulations concerning pound breaking. We welcome such changes.
I should like to raise a matter dealt with by other speakers also, that is, the question of dog licensing. Some figures were given in the House of the amount of money that could be gained from having a comprehensive dog licensing system. Naturally we would welcome that but I hope that any dog licensing system would be operated by local authorities and, more importantly, that the funds from that system would be paid to local authorities. In the past, local authorities did not benefit from revenue from motor taxation or from settlements in court.
The farmers and the IFA have repeatedly made strong representations to public representatives regarding attacks on sheep and this Bill will help in that regard as at present owners have no liability in regard to damage done by sheep and dogs. It would also mean that the very serious losses sustained by farmers because of attacks on sheep will end if the provisions of the Bill work.
There are stray dogs roaming through underdeveloped housing estates all over the country and this Bill will help to control them. I hope this legislation will deal with the problems which I mentioned. I also hope that more funds will be made available to local authorities by the Government especially when one considers that if dog wardens are appointed, pounds will have to be provided. In every county now, a smaller number of people are paying rates. In Galway the figure is 11 per cent of the total population.
We must remember that local authorities are very short of funds. There is much talk of reform but the only reform we see relates to constituency boundaries of local authorities. There should be a proper funding and taxation system in regard to local authorities. I welcome the Bill in so far as it tackles the serious problems relating to stray animals and I hope that the Minister will clarify some of the points I raised.
In parts of the country unfenced land is causing great problems in regard to stray animals, especially sheep. In some places, animals continuously stray on the roads and I am very concerned about this. I welcome the provision in relation to owners' liability concerning stray animals. If a motorist is blinded by the lights of an oncoming car, it is very hard to see animals on the road and a considerable amount of damage can be done by a car if there is a collision. Owners should make every endeavour to keep their animals off the road and every dog should be licensed. I hope the Minister will empower local authorities to collect dog licences because they will need funds to set up pounds for stray animals, which will prove expensive.
If a farmer's gate is left open by people going into his field and cattle stray on to the road, one wonders if a car collides with an animal who is liable. If an animal is killed, it is very expensive for the farmer to replace it but, of course, it is even more expensive for the motorist. I hope these matters will be resolved.
I wish to apologise for the unavoidable absence of the Minister. This debate has been very helpful and constructive and the Minister is glad that there was a general welcome for the Bill from all sides of the House. The extent of that welcome underlines the concern felt by people in many parts of the country about the nuisance of wandering animals and their frustration and exasperation when they find that the present law is inadequate to cope with it. These feelings were voiced particularly by Deputies from areas where the problem is greatest. I speak from practical experience because Limerick and Kildare have been plagued in this way for many years but I know that several other areas, including outlying areas in Dublin, have also been badly affected.
To those people the enactment of this Bill promises to bring to an end what has been a nuisance and, in many cases, a nightmare. This is because the Bill will put into the hands of those who can effectively deal with the problem — the Garda and the local authorities — the necessary powers to round up and impound animals that are wandering on the roads or tresspassing in public parks or other public open spaces. Moreover the people who are being given these powers are subject to the pressures of public opinion, to a greater or lesser extent, and I have no doubt that public opinion will be brought to bear to ensure that whatever action is required will be carried out promptly and firmly. Not that I have any fear that the Garda or the local authorities will be unwilling to use the powers which the Oireachtas has given them. I am sure we can rely upon them to use their powers and to do so effectively.
Deputies raised quite a number of points during the debate and I shall try to deal with them in the course of my reply. Of course, the Committee Stage will provide an opportunity for these points to be discussed in detail. But there was one matter on which many Deputies expressed concern — quite rightly — and that is the problem of stray dogs and dog control generally. I should like to deal with that first. They said the Bill should have included provision for the control of these dogs. Now, as most Deputies know, this problem has been around for quite a number of years and successive administrations have been trying to do something about it. One of the big difficulties, as I see it, is that there is no one Government Department charged with the primary responsibility for looking after it. Be that as it may, steps towards remedying this situation were taken some time ago by my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, with the establishment of an inter-departmental committee to look into all aspects of the problem. That committee have since reported and their recommendations are now before the various Departments for study. I expect that the whole matter will be brought before the Government for decision in the near future.
Turning now to the other points that were raised, Deputy O'Dea inquired why no changes in the law relating to liability for damage caused by animals are proposed save for those set out in sections 2 and 3 of the Bill. For the reasons set out in my opening speech, it was decided that it would be premature to introduce a general principle of strict liability, as recommended by the Law Reform Commission. It was the view of the Law Commission in England that the present rules of strict liability for damage by animals had much to recommend them and should be retained. On the other hand, as has been pointed out in the Law Reform Commission's working paper, the statutory amendments of those rules, reflected in the English Animals Act, 1971, have been much criticised.
After full consideration, it was decided that any defects in the existing common law rules relating to strict liability for damage caused by animals are not such as to warrant their amendment by way of statute, pending their possible absorption, in due course, by a general principle of strict liability as recommended by the Law Reform Commission. Accordingly, the Bill does not propose to amend the existing common law rules in this area, save in relation to strict liability for damage caused by dogs.
Deputy Hyland made a most thoughtful and constructive contribution to the debate and raised many detailed points which will require careful consideration. I will look into these points between now and Committee Stage when there will be a better opportunity to discuss them in detail.
I will be dealing with many of Deputy Hyland's points in the course of my reply but I want to make a general point first and that is that when we are talking about liability for damage caused by animals or persons we are in the area of the law relating to civil liability. It is peculiarly an area where the law sets out the principles to be followed, leaving its application to the courts in the particular circumstances of each case so that there can be the necessary flexibility to enable the court to do justice, having regard to the merits of each of the parties.
It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the Legislature to lay down precise instructions in this area that would make it possible to say with certainty what the outcome of every case would be. That is because the situations in which accidents happen are so different and because so much depends on an assessment of the meaning of the duty to take reasonable care not to harm other people. The people involved in an accident can put very different interpretations on that phrase, as we all know. But, nevertheless, these general principles, expressed as imposing on everyone a duty to take care, can serve as a guide and lead to many cases being settled without the need for a court hearing.
A number of Deputies referred to the scope of subsection (1) of section 2. The effect of this subsection is as follows: it will remove the immunity from actions in negligence at present enjoyed by occupiers of land in respect of damage caused by their animals straying on to the public road. But for this immunity the legal duty of care would be on such persons as owners of the animals. The provision in section 2 will place them on the same footing as any other citizen in regard to actions in negligence for damage which their animals cause. It will be a matter for the court to decide, in each case, whether the owner of the animal exercised due care. If, in any particular case, the court does find that the owner of the animal complied with his duty of care and was not negligent, it will not find him liable in damages to the injured party.
The wording of subsection (1) is necessitated by the complex legal background and by the uncertain scope of the rule of law of common law which the provision abolishes. The provision is in accordance with the draft recommended by the Law Reform Commission and follows the corresponding from adopted in England in the Animals Act, 1971 and in Northern Ireland in the Animals Order, 1976.
Deputy O'Dea inquired as to the scope of the existing rule of law proposed to be abolished by subsection (1) of section 2. This is a general rule of common law to the effect that an occupier of land adjoining the highway is under no liability if his domestic animals stray onto the highway and there injure a user of the highway, whether the straying was caused by his negligent failure to build or maintain fences or by some other factor. In England, this rule was confirmed by the House of Lords in the leading case ofSearle v. Wallbank, to which the Deputy referred. As stated in the Law Reform Commission's working paper, published in 1977, the general principle in this rule of common law has been accepted in Ireland in a number of cases. As I have said, the limitations of the rule are uncertain; it is for this reason that subsection (1) of section 2 is widely drafted. However, the intention in subsection (1) is quite clear: it proposes to abolish this rule of common law in its entirety. The effect of the provision, accordingly, will be that the immunity to question will no longer be available. Thus the ordinary rules of negligence will apply in the case of animals in the particular categories referred to by the Deputy, where they cause damage having strayed onto the public road, that is to say, animals owned by non-landowners and animals which stray from land which does not adjoin the public road.
Several Deputies referred to the position of a farmer whose animal causes damage through the intervention of a third party — for example, where an animal escapes on to the public road when a trespasser has left a gate open, or where a gap has been left when a vehicle crashes into a fence. The question of whether, and to what extent, the owner of the animal has failed to observe his duty to take care in relation to such an incident is a matter for the court ultimately to decide, having regard to the particular circumstances of the case. In some cases the owner will not be liable at all and the third party will be fully liable, assuming that there has not been contributory negligence by the injured party. In other cases both the animal owner and the third party will be liable to the extent that each is regarded by the court as having contributed to the damage by his failure to take care.
Farmers and landowners, therefore, will be in the same position in this respect as any other citizen in regard to the degree of their liability for damage due, in whole or in part, to the intervention of a third party.
Deputy Cosgrave inquired whether liability for damage caused will be on the animal owner or the owner of the land in cases where animals stray on to the public road from land which the animal owner has leased for grazing purposes. In such cases, also, the incidence of liability can only be decided by the court having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
It appears, however, that in the type of case referred to by the Deputy the primary responsibility, at least, would be on the animal owner, as the person owing a duty of care in respect of the animal causing the damage.
Deputy Hyland inquired about the position, under the Bill, in relation to damage caused by animals straying on to the public road from land which is held in common by a number of individuals. The Bill makes no special provision regarding the respective degrees of liability in such cases. This would raise complex legal issues which would be appropriate for decision by the court in each case coming before it.
Deputy Hyland raised also the question of liability in respect of animals such as deer, fox or badger which cause damage having come through a farmer's fence and on to the road. So far as civil liability is concerned, such animals would be regarded as wild animals not reduced to captivity and, therefore, liability would not be incurred in respect of any damage they might cause.
Deputy Yates referred to damage which may be caused by an animal which escapes from its drovers while being driven on the public road. The position in those cases will not be affected by the provisions of the Bill. It is not possible to say, in general terms, what the liability would be in such cases. This would be a matter for the court to decide.
Deputy Hyland adverted to subsection (2) of section 2, which refers to "areas where fencing is not customary". The question as to whether any area comes within this category, for the purposes of the subsection, will be a question of fact to be determined by the court in any case in which the question is raised.
Deputy Hyland inquired also whether a Schedule to the Bill might list such areas. It would be a difficult task to draw up an exhaustive list of such areas without elaborate machinery for determining what areas came within the definition. This list would have to be reviewed from time to time. The wording of subsection (2) has been very carefully considered to see if a more concrete definition could be arrived at but it was decided to adhere to the present wording, having regard to the fact that it has been used in the corresponding English and Northern Ireland legislation, which was adopted and recommended by the Law Reform Commission.
On a question raised by Deputy O'Dea in relation to persons coming within the scope of subsection (2) of section 2, I should say that such persons may be found liable in negligence after the provision comes into effect, but it will be a matter for the court to decide whether they are so liable, having regard to all the circumstances in each case.
Deputy Woods referred to the question of obliging landowners to fence their land. As the Deputy said, the Bill does not impose any duty to fence. Any such provision would not be appropriate to the Bill. The question was raised, in particular, of obliging landowners, including local authorities, to fence off their lands where they adjoin the public road. In addition, a number of Deputies suggested that there should be road signs indicating to motorists that they are entering unfenced areas. These matters would be for consideration in the context of road traffic legislation and the suggestions made in this regard will be conveyed to the Minister for the Environment, who is the appropriate Minister.
I now come to section 3 of the Bill, which relates to liability for damage and injury caused by dogs. I am glad to note that no objection has been raised in the debate to the basic principle in this section, which is that strict liability should be extended to damage caused in attacks on persons by dogs, but with exemption from strict liability in certain cases.
Several Deputies suggested that further provision should be made in the Bill in regard to the liability of occupiers of premises whose dogs cause damage to trespassers. The Bill provides already that the general rule of strict liability will not apply in such cases, so that the occupier will be liable only in accordance with the ordinary rules of negligence. This is in accordance with a recommendation by the Law Reform Commission, made in the light of the Supreme Court's restatement of the law relating to liability towards trespassers in the 1975 case McNamara v. ESB.
A number of Deputies suggested that occupiers of premises should be wholly exempted from liability for damage caused by their dogs to trespassers. Reference was made to the situation of vulnerable sections of the community, such as old people, whose dogs injure persons entering their premises. Any such statutory provision, exempting occupiers from liability for damage caused by their dogs to trespassers, would have to take into account the large variety of cases that can arise. Thus it would be necessary to distinguish between criminal trespass and trespass which is innocent or inadvertent. Questions would arise as to whether the provision should be confined to particular types of premises, such as residential premises and, indeed, whether it should relate only to trespass during the hours of darkness. The question would also arise as to the type of dog which would be in question and the purpose for which it was kept. In individual instances it can happen that the injury caused by a dog is disproportionate to any damage which the trespasser might cause. In view of these considerations, it appears that the degree of liability incurred by the occupier in such cases is best left for decision by the court, which will have regard to all the circumstances of each case. This is a developing branch of the law and the necessary degree of flexibility is allowed to the courts by the new subsection (5), which the Bill proposes should be inserted in section 1 of the Dogs Act 1906. Accordingly, the Minister would not consider himself justified in proposing a statutory exception from the general rule laid down by the Supreme Court as to the nature of the duty of care owned by occupiers in such cases.
During the debate, references were made to damage caused by dogs attacking sheep. Recently I was made aware of a case in Kildare in which a small farmer lost his entire flock, his entire profit, as a result of marauding dogs.
Any further statutory provision relating to this aspect particularly would be appropriate for consideration by the Minister for Agriculture, who is at present examining the report of the inter-departmental committee on dog control.
Deputy Hyland raised the question of liability for damage caused by stray dogs which attack themselves temporarily to the premises of a person other than their owner. The position in such cases is that, under the Dogs Act, 1906, the occupier of any premises where a dog is kept or permitted to remain is presumed to be the owner of the dog. However, it is always open to the occupier of the premises to prove that he was not the owner of the dog at the time the damage was caused, in which case he should normally be exempt from liability for the damage.
Several Deputies raised questions about the licensing of dogs and the fees payable for such licences. Any such provision would require an amendment of the Finance Act which at present governs the licensing of dogs and would be appropriate for consideration in the context of the general review of dog control measures which is at present taking place.
A number of Deputies raised the question of insurance against the new heads of liability being imposed under sections 2 and 3 of the Bill. Under section 2, persons having animals on their land will now be liable for damage which their animals cause, having strayed onto the public road. Such persons would probably find it advisable to insure against this liability. While inquiries made from insurance sources indicate that such insurance would be available, it is not possible, in the absence of claims experience, to estimate what the additional premium would be. A corresponding provision has been in force in England and Wales since 1971 and inquiries made from insurance sources there do not disclose that any difficulty has been experienced in securing insurance against this additional liability.
Dog owners also would probably find it advisable to insure against the strict liability for personal injuries by their dogs now imposed under section 3. Inquiries from insurance sources indicate that the additional premium required in this connection would not be significant in amount.
Deputy Faulkner referred to the desirability of informing landowners and farmers of the insurance implications of the Bill. This aspect will be brought to the attention of the farming organisations.
Deputy Glenn and Deputy O'Dea suggested that insurance against the new heads of liability being imposed by the Bill should be made compulsory. It is not considered that such a provision would be warranted, particularly since the Bill merely provides for an extension of the liability which already exists in the law relating to animals. The imposition of compulsory insurance in this area would involve provision for supervising and enforcing such a system. I should add that the introduction of compulsory insurance has not been found necessary in respect of the corresponding liability introduced in England and Wales in 1971 and in Northern Ireland in 1976.
As the Minister said in his opening remarks, one of the main purposes of the Bill is to amend the law on impounding of animals. I have heard with great interest the comments made by Deputies on this aspect. Wandering animals constitute a serious problem and, as has been indicated, it is proposed to meet this problem by giving the Garda and local authorities specific powers to impound such animals and to strengthen the impounding procedure itself. Some Deputies expressed doubt as to whether such impounding can be carried out with existing manpower resources. While the Minister is very conscious of the demands being made on Garda time, I would point out that the most serious manifestations of the wandering animal problem are concentrated in a relatively few areas. Gardaí and, where appropriate, local authority staff are best placed to implement effectively the proposed impounding powers. It is not considered that it would be appropriate to contemplate the appointment of special wardens for this purpose, as has been suggested by some Deputies, at the very least before experience has been gained under the arrangements provided for in the Bill.
A number of Deputies expressed concern as to the adequacy of impounding facilities and related financial arrangements. Inquiries have been made from local authorities in this connection. These inquiries indicate that, generally speaking, there are sufficient impounding facilities at present. However, this aspect will be pursued in any instance where it transpires that the facilities are inadequate after the coming into effect of the impounding provisions in this Bill. The general intention is that these impounding provisions should be self-financing, as far as possible, through increased fines, higher pound fees and, where necessary, the sale of impounded animals. I would also refer Deputies to the provision in section 5 of the Bill whereby, in order to meet any short-term demand for impounding facilities following the coming into force of the Bill, local authorities may arrange for animals to be impounded in private pounds. This would save the necessity for providing permanent impounding facilities that might rarely be used once the legislation had full effect.
Deputy Walsh and Deputy Tunney raised the question of the cost of transporting animals to the pounds. Under existing law this cannot be covered by pound fees and a provision has been included in section 4 (5) of the Bill enabling local authorities to recover the cost of transportation from the animal owner.
Deputy Prendergast and Deputy Cosgrave referred to the necessity for giving speedy effect to the regulations provided for in the Bill, so that there will be no delay in enforcement. On this aspect, I can inform the Deputies that the necessary regulations are at an advanced stage of drafting and it is intended that they will be completed and put into effect without delay on the enactment of the Bill.
A number of Deputies have queried the provisions in the Bill regarding impounding by local authorities of animals trespassing on their lands, and the related provision allowing impounding of such animals by the Garda at the request of the local authority concerned. Deputy Hyland and Deputy O'Dea suggested that it was inappropriate that local authorities should have an impounding function in such cases. Deputy Treacy and Deputy Walsh queried the provision whereby the Garda Síochána could impound animals on such land only at the request of the local authority concerned. I would point out that the Garda must be regarded as being, in a sense, the agents of the authorities concerned in such cases, and it would not be appropriate that they should enter on such lands for the purpose of impounding animals without reference to the authorities by whom the land is owned or occupied. In this connection I would refer Deputies to the provisions of section 4 (4). The intention is that the exercise of impounding powers by the Garda and local authorities will be covered by amended regulations to make them more direct and effective. This would govern such aspects as the notification of impounding, the periods for which animals must be held and the disposal of impounded animals.
Deputy Hyland queried the grant of power to the Garda and local authorities to impound even where the owner of the animal is known. I would point out that this power will be discretionary. There will be cases where it will be reasonable to facilitate the return of the animal direct to its owner. In other cases, however, particularly where the owner repeatedly and deliberately allows his animals on to the public road or on to public open spaces, it will be necessary for the authority concerned to have an impounding power, even though the owner of the animal is known.
Deputy Hyland and Deputy Byrne referred to the problems which arise from the ownership of horses by persons who have no accommodation or other facilities for their maintenance. It is acknowledged that a problem exists in this respect, and the Minister is considering what other measures might be taken, in addition to those proposed in the Bill, to deal with it.
A number of Deputies referred to problems caused by itinerants' horses. Deputy Treacy and Deputy Doyle referred to the question of providing fenced grazing areas for these horses, but any special provision of this nature would be outside the scope of the present Bill.
Deputy Yates and Deputy Woods referred to the desirability of providing for private detention of trespassing animals. I would point out in this connection that, at least so far as urban areas are concerned, trespassing by large animals is a comparatively recent phenomenon, deriving from the acquisition of such animals by persons who have not got adequate facilities for them. These animals are allowed to wander on public roads and public open spaces from which they occasionally enter private gardens. This problem would arise in rural areas to a much more limited extent. So far as animals wandering on public roads and in public open spaces are concerned, I am confident that the problem will be met by the measures now proposed in the Bill. This should have the effect of very considerably reducing the number of intrusions by large animals on to private property. In rural areas, where cases have arisen over the years of livestock straying from one person's land to another's, the position is adequately met by the existing statutory provisions, which were probably designed to avoid breaches of the peace that could occur where the occupier of the land trespassed on was allowed to detain the animal.
In reply to a question raised by Deputy Treacy, I should say that separate statistics are not kept in relation to the total extent of losses incurred through damage caused by animals. I would add, in relation to a suggestion made by Deputy Treacy and Deputy Glenn, that there is no proposal to provide compensation for damage caused by animals whose owners are not known.
I come now to the arrangements regarding private pounds, provided for in section 5 of the Bill. The Minister said in his opening remarks that the Bill envisages that private pounds will be utilised only in areas where the need arises, as determined by the local authority. The Minister is satisfied that this is a suitable provision which will be used effectively by local authorities in appropriate cases. In reply to a point raised by Deputy Yates, I can assure him that arrangements with local authorities for the provision of private pounds will be on a purely voluntary basis and that there will be no question of compulsory acquisition of land or premises for that purpose.
Deputy Barrett and Deputy Glenn were concerned about problems experienced in some districts in the Dublin area in relation to the provision of pounds. Inquiries are being made about the position in the particular areas to which they refer. On a more general note, I trust that the provisions in section 5 of the Bill will facilitate and put on a proper basis arrangements for the use of private pounds in areas where the provision of a public pound is found to be unduly difficult or expensive.
Section 5 (3) provides for the making of regulations in relation to private pounds. Deputy Glenn inquired whether this provision will also apply to public pounds. On this point, I should say that the regulations for public pounds are separate, being made under section 8 of the Pounds (Provision and Maintenance) Act, 1935, though some provisions relating to public pounds will correspond to those in the private pounds regulations.
Deputy Hyland and Deputy Yates referred to the importance of compliance with animals diseases regulations in relation to the provision of private pounds. I can assure the Deputies that such regulations will be fully complied with. The animals diseases regulations are being reviewed at present by the Department of Agriculture and their relation to the impounding process will be borne in mind in this connection.
Deputy O'Dea asked for clarification of the purpose of section 6. As I said in my opening remarks, this provision is designed to deal with the problem caused by animals wandering from undeveloped housing estates. These cause a serious nuisance which the Garda and local authorities would not be able to deal with in the absence of a special provision, as the animals causing the nuisance would be on private property. The problem arises from the slow development of many private housing estates which take perhaps four or five years to be substantially completed.
Subsection (2) gives a general definition of the kind of land to which section 6 will apply but the intention is that the provisions of the section will apply to particular sites only where a nuisance of the kind in question arises. The local authority will be in the best position to determine whether such a nuisance exists and if it does, they may designate the site as a "designated area", thus bringing the provision of section 6 into operation in relation to that site. Once this is done, it will be open to the occupier of the site to authorise the Garda and the local authority to remove the wandering animals, which might then be impounded. If the occupier does not so authorise the local authority and the Garda, he will be liable for damage caused by the animals straying from the land as if he were the owner of the animals.
In reply to a question raised by the Deputy, I should say that subsection (2) of section 6 will cover land of the kind referred to in the subsection at any stage after planning permission has been obtained, even though development has not commenced. As I have indicated, the provisions of section 6 will apply in any particular case only on the making of a designation order in respect of the particular site in question.
Subsection (3) provides that a designation order may be made in respect of any portion of land coming within the category defined in subsection (2). Thus it could be made, for example, in respect of the particular part of a development site on which houses have not yet been built. The term "occupier" would be applied to the person occupying the site for the purpose of development and would not be applied to the occupiers of individual houses on the site.
Deputy Taylor referred to the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission regarding strict liability for damage caused by animals. The Minister pointed out in his opening speech that this would mean for landowners and farmers a change from virtual immunity to full responsibility for every animal. I do not think that should happen in one step. There is no strict liability for damage caused by motor vehicles in the Acts in question and I do not think it would be helpful to impose full liability in respect of the Bill before us. However, I think we should progress towards that point.
Deputy Kitt asked if money could be provided for animal shelters. This is something that has arisen in my constituency in Kildare. However, it is not a matter that could be dealt with in the context of this Bill although it may arise in relation to the general question of the control of stray dogs.
I think I have covered all the points raised by Deputies. However, if unwittingly I have omitted some there will be an opportunity of raising them and having them discussed fully on Committee Stage. I wish again to apologise for the absence of the Minister which I wish to assure the House was not intentional. It was absolutely impossible for him to be here. I thank the Deputies for the constructive way they have contributed to this debate and I assure them that their comments and suggestions will be given careful consideration between now and Committee Stage.