Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 2 Dec 1986

Vol. 370 No. 5

Private Members' Business. - Control of Dogs Bill, 1986 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When I finished speaking on the last occasion I had been saying that a further obstacle to effective enforcement of the existing control measures is the diffusion of responsibility between various Departments. The Bill, therefore, will entrust overall responsibility in the matter to the Minister for the Environment because of his involvement with local government, at which level the problems will be tackled on the ground. The major local authorities, namely the 27 county councils and five county borough corporations together with Dún Laoghaire Borough Corporation will administer the Act in their respective areas.

This will involve licensing dogs appointing dog wardens and providing dog shelters. The licence revenue which will accrue to the local authorities concerned in respect of dogs licensed in their respective areas is expected to be sufficient to cover the expenses incurred. It is envisaged that local authority areas with small dog populations and consequently low revenue will make appropriate arrangements with adjoining authorities for the operation of joint schemes. The intention is that the dog control measure will operate on a selffinancing basis.

I think all genuine dog lovers will have no compunction about paying the licence fee when they will have tangible evidence that the money is being utilised for a proper system of dog control. For some years the Department of the Environment have been encouraging local authorities to get involved in dog control and have been grant-aiding those who did get involved to the extent of 50 per cent of their costs. For this year, a sum of £125,000 has been provided in the Department of the Environment Estimates for the purpose and it is estimated that sums of £175,000 in 1987 will also be required.

At present 15 local authorities are involved actively in dog control and the powers which this Bill will give them will be of considerable help. Most of these local authorities engage the services of the ISPCA, who operate on an agency basis for the authorities concerned. It is proposed in the Bill to permit such arrangements to continue so that each local authority can decide to operate the scheme directly, or operate a joint scheme with another local authority, or have the scheme operated on their behalf by the ISPCA or other body concerned with animal welfare.

While there are many owners who exercise proper care and control of their dogs and due consideration for their neighbours there are, unfortunately, some who let their dogs run wild. This is the real problem and is the cause of sheep worrying, attacks on people, traffic accidents and so on. Until we get the loose dogs off our lands and streets we will not solve the problem and accordingly the Bill proposes that a loose dog which is not accompanied by any person and is outside the confines of the land or premises where it is kept will be regarded as a stray dog and will be seized by a dog warden. This is the core of the Bill and will give real teeth to those operating it. While the aim of the dog wardens will be to encourage and advise on responsible dog ownership, I recognise that there are those who will ignore such advice and these people must be dealt with in a different way.

In order to restrain impulsive buying of dogs, particularly as presents for children at Christmas and on other special occasions, I am providing in section 2 that a licence must be obtained in advance of the purchase of a dog. The section accordingly will make it unlawful to purchase or sell a dog which is not covered by a licence. We discussed this section at length in the Seanad where it was regarded as very important if the Act is to be effective.

Section 8 specifies the licence fees which are unchanged at £5 for a dog licence and £100 for a general dog licence. The Minister will have power to alter these rates by way of regulations or to specify different rates in respect of different classes of dogs. While it is not intended to specify different rates in the immediate future, it is considered prudent to provide the necessary powers in case at some future date it is considered desirable to adjust licence fees to distinguish between different beeds or sizes of dogs or between sterilised and unsterilised dogs.

Section 9 imposes an obligation on owners or other persons in charge of dogs to accompany them and keep them under effectual control when they are outside the confines of the premises where they are kept. Therefore, persons who permit their dogs to wander around the streets or, in a rural area, to move off their land will commit an offence under the Act. The existing law, under the Dogs Order, 1966, provides for control of dogs between sunset and sunrise only. The offence now being created is a new one, but it is essential that it be introduced if we are to have effective dog control. Wandering dogs, not under anybody's control, are a menace and are the cause of many serious incidents and their owners must be made accountable.

Section 11 is aimed at providing effective powers for ridding our towns and countryside of stray dogs. The existing law governing stray dogs is contained in the Dogs Act, 1906, and provides that a police officer who believes that a dog found in a highway or place of public resort is a stray dog may seize it. As I have stated already, it is inappropriate that primary responsibility for enforcement of these provisions should rest with the Garda Síochána and the section accordingly provides that dog wardens shall take all reasonable steps to seize stray dogs. This will impose an obligation on the warden to seize strays. The Garda under this section will continue to be empowered to seize strays, but it is envisaged that with an effective dog warden service in operation the services of the Garda will be rarely required. Section 15 imposes on each local authority the duty to employ at least one dog warden and to establish and maintain dog shelters. A local authority will, however, be empowered to delegate the entire dog control function to the ISPCA or, with the consent of the Minister, to a body connected with animal welfare. A local authority, again with the consent of the Minister, may delegate to any person the function of providing and running dog shelters and of dealing with the dogs therein.

Section 17 authorises local authorities to make by-laws relating to the control of dogs within their functional areas. Depending on the situation locally, each authority will have its own priorities and may or may not wish to impose controls, additional to those in the Bill, within its own area or within particular locations. The section lists specific controls which an authority may introduce, namely, requiring a person to remove the faeces where a dog has fouled a public place, specifying areas where dogs must be kept on a leash or where dogs, other than guide dogs, would be prohibited altogether. The environmental and public health aspects of dog faeces in urban areas are of increasing public concern and some public authorities in other countries have taken action to tackle this problem. I conside it desirable, therefore, to provide this enabling power should any of our local authorities wish to take similar action. I would like to emphasise that it is an enabling power and that the decisions in this area will rest with the elected representatives of the local authorities.

Opportunity is being taken in the Bill to increase the maximum fine for a conviction under the Protection of Animals Acts from £50 to £500 and this is provided for in section 20. It is provided also that fines may be increased in future by way of regulations; such regulations would require the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

From an agricultural point of view, section 23 is important. Under the law as it stands — Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act, 1960 — it is a good defence for shooting a dog if the defendant proves that the dog was shot when worrying livestock on agricultural land. I now propose that this provision be widened to permit the shooting of dogs worrying or about to worry livestock no matter where they are and of stray dogs which had not left the vicinity where livestock had been injured or killed and which could not be seized or identified.

Section 35 enables the Minister to extend the provisions of the Act relating to acceptance of unwanted dogs, the provision of shelters and the grant aiding of bodies providing shelters, to other pet animals. The limited service operating in some local authorities at present for dog control is providing a very useful service by taking in large numbers of unwanted cats as well as dogs. It is considered desirable, therefore, that the Bill should provide a statutory basis for that activity. I wish to emphasise that there is no question of wardens being involved in the seizure of cats. This provision is designed to facilitate the disposal of unwanted cats.

These are the salient features of the Bill which I commend to the House and in so doing I would like to thank all those who have contributed in some way to the preparation of this Bill, particularly the National Action Committee on Dog Control, the ISPCA, the Irish Kennel Club and the Advisory Council on Animal Health.

Before I conclude I would like to compliment the Members of the other House on their helpful and constructive contributions and I hope we will have a similar type of debate in this House. The Bill is long overdue. There is a crying demand for it. Each day as I open the paper I am terrified that I will see reports of this terrible saga that is happening year in and year out at about this time of the year of sheep being torn apart by ravaging dogs. I gave a commitment to the various groups of people, particularly those involved in sheep farming, to make a serious effort to conclude this Bill in time for the lambing season. I will be putting pressure on the Whips — and I know I will have the co-operation of Deputy Noonan and those on the other side of the House — to get to Committee Stage hopefully next week and have the Bill concluded before the Christmas.

(Limerick West): I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this legislation. It is very detailed and wide-ranging and is badly needed in this area. Everybody concerned in the drafting of this Bill is to be congratulated on some very fine work.

I understand it was necessary to go back to Acts from the last century to ensure that the legislation before us takes into account all aspects of dog control and is not contrary to any Acts at present on the Statute Book. The Bill brings together some very old legislation and makes some very important revisions and particularly provides for responsibility for the control of dogs to be put into the hands of local authorities. This means that the Minister for the Environment will be responsible for overseeing the Act. But it is to be noted also that the legislation is presented by the Minister for Agriculture. I suppose in other countries where agriculture is of far less importance than it is here a Bill of this kind would be promoted by a Minister other than the Minister for Agriculture. It is a measure of our interest in dogs and their close and sometimes not very happy connection with agriculture that it is the Minister for Agriculture who is promoting this Bill and that I, as Opposition spokesperson on Agriculture, am welcoming it here this evening.

The Bill goes a long way towards meeting the demands of this party. I will be making some suggestions to the Minister and we will be putting down amendments on Committee Stage. My first reaction when I saw the Bill was to think in terms of the need for continuing protection of livestock, particularly sheep, from the ravages of dogs. Note that I do not say savage dogs but simply dogs because, as we all know, a dog or group of dogs can cause terrible destruction to lambs or any class of sheep and they are frequently dogs whose owners see them as doing no wrong. There is need to control dogs in the interests of livestock farmers, particularly sheep farmers, and I know that is uppermost in the mind of the Minister. Sheep numbers have increased in the past number of years and I look forward to some further increase in their numbers in the years ahead. I suppose there is now a need to branch into alternative or supplementary forms of farming especially because of the unfortunate restrictions which are being imposed and which I am sorry to say look as if they may be imposed further in the milk and beef sector. Therefore, sheep can offer a good alternative use of farm land and farming skills. If only for the sake of sheep, this legislation in regard to dogs is very necessary.

However, even if these worries about sheep were not foremost in my mind, on reading the details about the number of dogs in the country and how few of them are licensed, I would recommend this Bill very strongly. The Minister has stated in his contribution here to the House that something in the region of 300,000 dogs are estimated to be in the country and that of this huge number only approximately 80,000 had licences taken out in respect of them in 1985. In this regard the existing law about dog licences is truly worrying and makes it all the more necessary that there be much stricter control than we have had up to now.

I agree that the local authorities are the people to do the job and as a member of a local authority I have repeatedly advocated this as a very useful exercise for a local authority. It is an exercise which certainly will demand control and, as the Minister pointed out in his contribution, will ensure that the elected members of those authorities will have certain powers within this legislation to introduce by-laws as the case may be. Some local authorities have already appointed dog wardens and from the information that I have been getting, the operation of these dog wardens by the local authorities is satisfactory. Some fine work is being done. Wicklow is a case in point. I have been there and I have spoken to the members of the local authorities and the officials there and they told me that the operation of their dog warden service is welcomed by all concerned. I hope now with this legislation going through the House that the appointment of dog wardens and the construction of dogs' homes will be extended to all parts of the country. Not only will proper enforcement of this Bill when it becomes law benefit livestock owners but it will benefit everybody. I am thinking in terms of the general environment and the damage that can be done by stray dogs. There have been very unfortunate cases. In certain circumstances dogs can present a very serious health risk in addition to what has already been referred to, dogs worrying sheep. Here is an added opportunity to ensure that stray dogs particularly, of which there are far too many, will not be causing a risk to health in humans and in animals.

Of course, we must keep in mind that neglect of the law in regard to dogs or failure to bring that law up to date can be a cause of cruelty for the unfortunate dogs which stray or are allowed to stray without enough to eat or proper shelter. As every farmer knows, a properly trained, well controlled and well looked after dog can be of great help in the management of livestock and dogs can give companionship to all kinds of people, young and old.

The key section in the Bill of the new controls is the appointment of dog wardens by the local authorities and the possibility for local authorities to put up shelters for dogs which are a necessary part of that control. I agree also with the provision in the Bill for local authorities to make arrangements with other bodies to take over part of their functions in regard to the operation of the Bill. Here I ask the Minister to spell out in a little more detail what exactly he has in mind. Will it be the decision of the local authority to hand over their function or part of their function to the other bodies as he has pointed out, or will it be necessary at all times to do that? The purpose of the Bill is to enable the local authorities to appoint dog wardens. If some of these functions are handed over to other bodies, who will operate the functions of the dog warden? Who will control the dog warden? What statutory power would those bodies have to carry out the functions as laid out in the Bill?

While I welcome the fact that maybe there are opportunities for the powers to be delegated, I am concerned that the functions delegated under this Bill will not be carried out as they should be. If the local authorities find that the delegated functions are not being carried out, can they stop the withdrawal of those functions and if they do, will it cause problems? These bodies to a large extent are voluntary bodies which can have either good or bad officer boards. This is something that should be tightened up on Committee Stage. I am glad the Garda Síochána will retain their powers in relation to dogs although, if the local authorities are doing their work as they should, the Garda will not have a lot of their time taken up in controlling dogs. It is a good idea that local authorities should make arrangements with other bodies and with other local authorities in relation to controlling dogs. I welcome this, bearing in the mind the precautions I have just outlined. The ISPCA and many other societies have done fine work in this area.

We must ensure that the law is enforced and that concern is shown for animals. I hope the local authorities will take their obligations under this Bill seriously as it is important to enforce the legislation. In the early years the Exchequer will make grants to local authorities to enable them to operate the Act. There are a number of Acts empowering the local authorities to do certain things but more often than not we find that the local authorities are not provided with the necessary finance. When replying will the Minister outline in more detail his intention with regard to grants under this legislation? It might be necessary to include this in the Bill, but we can work that out on Committee Stage.

It is envisaged that eventually this legislation will be self-financing but it would be a pity if it fell now through lack of finance. If the finance to be provided were written into the Bill, the Minister for Finance would have no alternative but to provide the necessary funding. I hope the revenue from dog licensing will be collected to enable the legislation to become self-financing in a short time. People who wish to keep dogs should be responsible for the financing of the controls and people who have no interest in dogs should not be at a financial disadvantage. However, I accept that in the early years of the new controls the local authorities will have to be given sufficient funding to implement the controls.

This is a valuable Bill which should be given the publicity it deserves. One can have a very good product but unless it is marketed properly it will not sell. The same could be said for this legislation. It will not work unless it is properly publicised. The Minister should increase public awareness of the problems and of the new controls. The production of an annual report would keep up the public awareness of the need for the controls. In about 12 months after this Bill is passed we should have a progress report from the local authorities relating to the appointment of dog wardens and the result of their work should be made known. The local authorities should report to the Minister for the Environment and perhaps the Minister would publish once a year an account from each local authority on the basis of precise questions as to their activities under the Act. I do not suggest that my point about publicity should be included in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will consider putting in a new section providing for an annual report which we consider necessary to ensure that progress will be made under various local authorities.

Section 3 provides that a local authority may, with the consent of the Minister, enter into arrangements with any other person for the issue of licences on their behalf. I am a little concerned about what is involved here. I am not very keen on the idea that some undefined person or persons could be given the work of issuing and collecting fees on behalf of the local authorities. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the position in that regard. I know there is a precedent in the system under which rates are collected by local authorities but this section raises some questions. Will there be a single type licence for the whole country? Is there a risk that if the issue of licences is given to different classes of person there may be a certain amount of confusion about who has a licence or whether they are valid——

That might be more appropriate on Committee Stage.

(Limerick West): I am merely making a passing reference. What about the ease with which people may take out licences? The Minister should take all these questions into consideration when replying to the debate.

One must also consider that only 80,000 of the 700,000 dogs in the country are licensed and, therefore, we should not create difficulties in connection with getting a dog licence. Indeed we should do all we can to encourage people to license their dogs and such licences should still be available at post offices. Perhaps the Minister would consider a general arrangement whereby An Post would co-operate in this regard. Will the practice of buying dog licences in post offices cease after the introduction of this legislation? An Post should have a personal and keen interest in the enforcement of this legislation because unfortunate postmen have been the victims of dogs in the past——

So have politicians.

Luckily, politicians are thick skinned.

(Limerick West): Serious injuries have not been caused to postmen as a rule but, nevertheless, they have been attacked. Deputy Byrne mentioned thick skinned politicians but I am lucky, as all dogs like me. It was suggested to me recently that dogs do not like people in uniform and that is why they attack postmen. I hope the Minister will make an approach to An Post to continue the arrangements in regard to buying dog licences at post offices.

By law, dogs are required to wear collars and identification tags. However, the law in this regard is not always observed and great stress should be placed on this aspect of owning a dog. Anybody who has regard for a dog will provide a collar and so on which could save a lot of trouble — perhaps even the life of a dog — if it strays accidentally. I hope that the dog wardens to be appointed by local authorities will ensure that people comply with the law.

I am glad the existing provisions in the Bill regarding the liability of an owner whose dog damages livestock will still prevail. I am also pleased that the provision first brought in under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act, 1960, regarding the shooting of dogs worrying livestock is also being continued. One would wish to avoid shooting a dog, if possible, but it is unavoidable in certain circumstances. I refer specifically to the terrible damage done to sheep by dogs.

Another point worth mentioning is that regulations to control rabies are provided for under the diseases of animals legislation operated by the Minister for Agriculture. I am glad that these controls will continue. Should the scourge of rabies ever come into this country this Bill will provide a very effective means of supplementing the controls in that other legislation.

Before concluding there are a few other points I would like to refer to and I would ask the Minister to consider these very carefully. There is a very worthwhile association who provide dogs for the blind. The training of dogs is very necessary to enable blind people to get about. I am not saying that this should be written into the Bill but I am saying that some consideration might be given when legislation gets off the ground to ensuring that some of the revenue from the collection of the licence fee goes to that organisation who train dogs for the blind. Perhaps grants could be made available to encourage them to expand their work.

I presume that the £100 licence fee mentioned by the Minister enables a licence holder to keep as many dogs as he considers necessary, including greyhounds. Can the Minister tell the House how long the grant aid will be in operation? Will it be in operation until such time as he or the Minister for the Environment is satisfied that the scheme as operated by the local authorities is self-financing? In addition to what I have already stated it is important that the necessary finance be made available initially in order to get the legislation off the ground. The farming organisations generally welcome this legislation. As the lambing season is now approaching it is necessary that the legislation be in operation in order to ensure that there be less ravaging and fewer killings of sheep.

Can the Minister tell the House if the grant system to enable local authorities to erect dog shelters will continue? There are very few dog shelters in the country. It is very difficult to procure a site for a dog shelter. People either in a housing estate or elsewhere would not like to have dog kennels located beside them. Dog shelters are necessary and I hope the necessary finance will be made available. Perhaps the Minister will outline in his reply the number of local authorities who have availed of the grants in recent years. The estimated figure for grants is in the region of £200,000. This would suggest that there are very few shelters being erected and put into operation.

I am glad that the present dog licence fee of £5 is being continued. I think this is sufficient. The provisions of the Bill might not be as effective if the licence fee was out of reach of many dog owners. It is essential that every dog owner ensures that his dog is licensed. I expect there will be a demand in certain instances that dogs belonging to the elderly, for instance, be exempt from the licence fee but that is something we might consider on Committee Stage. Perhaps such a measure would be very difficult to implement but it should be considered.

Can the Minister spell out in detail what the powers of the Garda Síochána will be in regard to the seizure of dogs? What will be their relationship with the dog wardens, who are to be appointed by the local authorities? Will the Garda and the dog wardens work in tandem? As I said, the Bill is a very good one. This is a very necessary piece of legislation. There is an undoubted need in the interests of human health and of the environment to do something about the many stray dogs which are wandering the streets and countryside.

I welcome the Bill and I congratulate the Minister and his colleagues in the various Departments who have assisted him in putting together this very fine piece of draft legislation. I wish it a successful passage through the House. We will be tabling a number of amendments on Committee Stage designed to strengthen the Bill and to make it more progressive. I know these amendments will be acceptable to the Minister and that together we can enact legislation which will be acceptable, effective and positive.

I also welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on its introduction. It has already passed through the Seanad and we all hope it will have a speedy passage and soon become law. It is appropriate that this Bill is being introduced at this time and I hope it will be signed by the President before the next lambing season. We can all recall harrowing tales and television pictures of marauding dogs worrying sheep every spring. It is estimated that the loss to sheep farmers caused by stray dogs is in the region of £3,000 per annum. That is a significant amount of money when one considers that the sheep sector of farming is worth well over £50 million to the economy each year and contributes significantly to our exports. We have a duty to do everything we can to protect that sector. At present dogs roaming around in packs are causing much damage and consequent expense to farmers.

Many of the measures incorporated in this Bill are taken from the report issued by the interdepartmental committee set up in 1983 under the chairmanship of the Department of Agriculture. The Departments of Health, Finance and the Environment were also represented on the committee. Recommendations have been made on many occasions by the national sheep committee of the IFA. Some of those recommendations were made when Conal Boyle from my county was chairman of that committee. He is delighted that this Bill is at last going through the House.

The number of dogs in the country at present is estimated to be in excess of 600,000 or 700,000, while only about 80,000 are licensed. Obviously there is an urgent need for this Bill. The entire revenue from dog licences in 1985 was £400,000. Had licences been bought for all dogs the figure would have been in the region of £2.5 million.

Under this Bill the control of dogs is being largely taken from the Garda and given to dog wardens. The Bill states that local authorities may employ dog wardens to provide and maintain shelters. It is essential that dog wardens are provided with training and instruction and that their work be done under proper supervision. I welcome the fact that these people will be responsible for this work because the Garda have quite enough to do in dealing with lawlessness and crime. Nevertheless it is proper that the Garda should have a say in the implementation of the law. It is desirable that there should be close co-operation between the Garda and the dog wardens when appointed. The duplication of function with regard to keeping a register of stray dogs could cause confusion unless there is an exchange of information and co-operation between the wardens and the Garda.

When the Bill is in operation the revenue will be used first of all to pay for the dog wardens appointed by the local authorities and the money will also go towards the provision of dog shelters in local authority areas. A number of local authorities have already provided shelters and others are looking at sites which would be suitable for shelters when this Bill comes into operation.

The Bill also deals with the identification of dogs. It is very important that dogs should always wear collars, not only for the protection of people but for the protection of the dog itself. If a stray dog is wearing a collar efforts can be made to return it to its proper owner.

I mentioned the damage that has been done to sheep but we should not forget that cattle can also be worried by stray dogs, especially when they are operating in packs. This can cause premature births and abortions.

This Bill is a definite step in the right direction and I hope it will be in force before the coming season. I am sure the eyes of the farming community are upon us and they are hoping that this measure will be speedily implemented.

I welcome the Bill and I am delighted to see it before the House. All of us, particularly those in the agricultural scene, will be well aware of the scandal of the lack of control of dogs. Things have been getting worse over the past ten years. The Minister admitted in his speech that we are not sure how many dogs there are in the country because as yet there has been no census of the dog population. Perhaps we should commission the Minister's party to carry out such a census during the next election because I am fairly sure that every dog in the country will be put upon them.

I compliment the Minister on bringing in this Bill. Up to now my party as well as the other parties have probably hidden behind the fact that the matter concerned the Departments of Justice, of the Environment and of Agriculture. I am delighted that it is now under the control of the Department of the Environment solely. I hope that this Bill has a speedy passage through the House. Enormous damage has been done throughout the years by marauding dogs. There has been damage to humans, not alone in being bitten but, as mentioned by the Minister, in dogs being the cause of toxocara canis, an ailment from which I suffered very recently.

It got the Deputy, too.

I do not know whether the infection came from dogs. I have been bitten on many an occasion and I have had to suffer on. Children, particularly, are very vulnerable. They are vulnerable because of the people I would regard as rogue owners who keep dogs for no good reason and let them run loose without any regard for the safety of children or adults.

The greatest cost to the State is in the loss of sheep. Deputy McGinley mentioned a figure of £3,000 per annum. I am sure he did not mean that to be a reference countrywide; perhaps he was speaking about Donegal. That figure is far too low for the loss of income to farmers around the country. I agree with him about the harrowing scenes we have seen on television and on films. To see sheep mauled and killed in fields is an absolute disgrace. This happens particularly in and around towns. I am quite blunt in saying that some dog owners in towns apparently show scant regard for the sheep population. They do not understand the agony and hardship caused to all concerned. We have heard of sheep farmers in Wicklow and in my own county living close to towns who had to get out of that business because of the losses incurred by marauding dogs. That is why I welcome the very strong statement of the Minister that an almost shoot-on-sight policy can be adopted. The softly, softly approach is just not on.

We must agree that a dog can be a man's best friend, but a dog can be one hell of an enemy, also. If a farmer, seeing his sheep being mauled or killed, was not allowed to shoot on sight, this Bill would have no teeth. I am glad that that is not the case and I support that aspect more strongly than any other in the Bill. I am delighted that the Minister has had the courage to stand up to those who might be a little squeamish about that suggestion.

The licensing of dogs is very important. Only about 12 per cent of dogs are licensed at present and increasing the licence fee from £5 would have no bearing whatsoever on the control of dogs. I am glad that the fee is being left as it is, but the provision being left in the Bill for a future increase is as it should be. Those who are good enough to license their dogs probably look after their animals. It is the other owners whom we want to get after. I am interested to note that the county councils will be collecting the money. I presume to use for their own funds. I hope that this proposal will become self-financing. As county councils are being run at present, they would not mind if it were a little better than self-financing. There are a great many potholes in Wexford and if dog licence fees fill them, that is all to the good. I should like to see money coming from somewhere.

We all should compliment the ISPCA for their tremendous work down through the years. This is mostly on a voluntary basis. I was speaking to a dog warden in Wexford recently who does his work in his own time, completely voluntarily. It is heartening that there are still people prepared to give their time and energy to such a deserving cause. These people do absolutely excellent work and must be complimented. Those who have done such work in the past must be considered for positions such as will be offered in the future. On a voluntary basis they provide shelter and they collect the dogs. The person to whom I was speaking told me that he collects about 100 dogs per week some of which are put down and some of which are given out to deserving owners. It is interesting to note the amount of work that these people put into the selection of those to whom dogs will be given. That is vitally important. Dogs cannot be given out willy-nilly: that a person shows an interest in a dog as a present for a son or daughter at Christmas is not enough. I am not sure if from now on when purchasing a dog it will be necessary that the dog would have to be licensed.

I would ask the Minister to clarify subsection (2) of section 16 when replying. It is suggested there that the dog warden, in exercising a power of entry into any premises in pursuance of this Act, may bring with him into such premises such other persons as he believes to be necessary. I am sure it is not the Army that is being spoken of there. What exactly has the Minister in mind?

Rabies may not be the concern of the Bill, but it certainly is concerned with dogs. I hope that this country will always remain free of that disease. Whatever it takes to keep the country rabies-free will have the support of this side of the House. However stiff the penalties might be, we would agree with them. We should do everything within our power to ensure that this disease does not enter the country.

Finally, my greatest fear is that this Bill, having gone through the House with the support of every Member, will be put on the shelf and forgotten. Let it be a success. Whatever is needed to ensure its success must be done. If it takes some extra money next year over what is being provided now, that extra money should be provided. Let us not short change on the good work which has been done within the Bill. I would regard that as penny wise and pound foolish. I am delighted to see this Bill, which is long overdue. It certainly will have the support of everybody on this side of the House.

I support the Bill and welcome it. While I have reservations about a few sections of it, it is true that dogs have caused havoc and many worried nights, not alone to sheep and cattle, but to the unfortunate farmers who have had to stay up all night on occasions to mind their stock. In my county, as Deputy Noonan would agree, we have had sad experiences of terrible ravages on cattle and sheep. This has caused great concern to all of us and great loss to the farming community.

The roaming dog is always a danger to a child. The child is more vulnerable because he does not understand the nature of the animal. There is a tendency that the child will play with a dog with the result that the child could be bitten.

The dog was used to bring in cattle and to turn in sheep. That was natural. Dogs were pets, but now dogs are kept to defend not alone property but the lives of their owners. I am not sure about the true definition of "control". I have in mind a coursing field where dogs are slipped. No matter how one looks at it, that coursing field is a public place because there can be anything from 1,200 to 2,000 people present. I admit this is a technical point but I am worried that this law might be so rigid that it could result in dog owners being prosecuted for not keeping their dogs under control because when dogs are chasing a hare they are very excited.

Unwanted dogs can be handed over to the local authority. Their function is to have the dogs put down in humane manner but I wonder if the local authorities are equipped to carry out such duties. The Minister has covered many of the areas I wished to raise, but there are just a few points I am not too happy about. Section 4 reads:

A local authority shall not issue a dog licence or a general dog licence to any person who——

(a) is under the age of sixteen years, or

(b) is disqualified, pursuant to section 18 of this Act, from keeping a dog.

A number of dogs are raced in this country. The owner of this year's Derby winner comes from my area and is under 16 years of age. Could a person under the age of 16 who is the registered owner of the dog be prosecuted, if the dog licence is taken out by his father? I am not trying to make a case for or against this but I am raising this technical point.

Section 10 (1) reads:

A person shall not permit a greyhound to be in any public place unless such greyhound is being led by means of a sufficiently strong chain or leash.

That rule could infringe the regulation dealing with dog title. I am sure the Minister of State knows the answers to these queries, but I want to know exactly what this means in case I am asked about it at a later stage.

Section 11 (7) reads:

Five days following the making of an entry in the register pursuant to subsection (6) of this section, or following the giving of a notice pursuant to subsection (4) of this section, whichever is the later, the local authority, or the Superintendent of the Garda Síochána, as the case may be, if no person has been given the dog pursuant to subsection (5) of this section and paid all expenses relating to its seizure and detention, may, subject to subsection (8) of this section, dispose of the dog or arrange for its destruction in a humane manner.

I am not happy that five days is an adequate period because a description of the dog should appear in the local papers, if not the national papers. People become very attached to their pets. I am very attached to dogs; I have three. Dogs are not able to defend themselves and it is only right that the dog should have the right to survival if he is not guilty of an offence.

Section 21 reads:

(1) The owner of a dog shall be liable in damages for damage caused in an attack on any person by the dog and for injury done by it to any livestock;

I am not too sure that is right. Say I am an old person living alone and I have my dog. If an intruder comes in the door or window at night, or if he is outside the house when I let the dog out at 11 p.m. and the dog doing his duty as a watch dog and in defence of my life and property, bites the intruder, would it not be cruel if I were taken into court because the dog bit the intruder who was looking for an opportunity not alone to take my property but to take my life? There should be a definite area where an unwelcome guest or intruder could be tackled by the dog without the owner being brought into court because the dog was doing his duty. There should be some protection for the dog owner, and the dog. There should be an area where the dog should be allowed to protect his owner. This is an area which the Minister might take a look at.

Section 26 reads:

(1) If a Justice of the District Court or a Peace Commissioner is satisfied by the information on oath of a member of the Garda Síochána that there were reasonable grounds for believing that —

(a) a dog has attacked a person or has worried livestock, and

(b) in consequence of the attack or the worrying, the owner of the dog has committed an offence under this Act, and

(c) a person is in possession in any premises of a dog which the member of the Garda Síochána has reasonable grounds for believing to be the dog involved in the said attack or the said worrying,

I agree with that if the dog can be positively identified, but gardaí and chief superintendents at times find it very difficult to identify people, and I am sure it is much simpler to identify a person than a dog. Many difficulties arise about the identification of dogs. Many are the same colour and it could be the word of a garda against that of the owner of the dog because the owner of the dog could have it locked in at the time of investigation. I should like to know how any garda, garda superintendent or warden could identify any dog as the one he saw going through a field or the one that passed him.

I welcome the Bill because its provisions are absolutely essential. I congratulate the Minister of State who has discussed its provisions on many occasions with many of us. I am quite satisfied they will serve their purpose. Perhaps the Minister could reply to the few points I have made which are of concern to me.

I must register a protest at the number of sheep killed by stray dogs roaming in my constituency in recent months. I know it is difficult to identify such dogs. One way in which dogs could be identified is through everybody paying a licence, with dogs wearing a strap around their necks, bearing the names of their owners or some other identifiable number.

I should like to thank those Members of the House who contributed to the debate. It was gratifying that the Bill received such a warm welcome.

In welcoming its provisions Members reflected what would be regarded as a universal feeling throughout the country — this would go for urban as well as rural areas — that something had to be done about the menace of roaming or stray dogs. The provisions of the Bill provide an effective course of action in a practical, common sense approach to the problem. The goodwill towards its provisions must be capitalised on. We must capitalise on the fact that we have introduced a Bill that people want. The best way to do that, in compliance with the wishes of both sides of the House, is to implement its provisions as fully as possible and as quickly as possible. As a society it can be said that undoubtedly we have allowed our standards to slip in our handling of man's best friend. If as a result of the implementation of the provisions of the Bill we get quick results, the obvious merit of a properly controlled dog population should prevent any return to the existing low standards. It is to be hoped that the impetus provided by the introduction of the Bill will be maintained.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the wonderful work done on a voluntary basis by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in relation to dog control over the years. Their approach to the problem has provided a model and pointed the way in which the Government should act. Therefore, it is not surprising that, of the 15 local authorities who have already dog control schemes in operation, 13 have elected to operate those schemes through the agency of the ISPCA. Society owes a debt of gratitude to that association for their work over the years.

Deputy Noonan asked a question about such schemes. For example, a scheme is being operated in Dublin city and county, Wicklow, Carlow-Kilkenny, south Tipperary, Waterford city and county, Kerry, Cork city and county, Sligo, Louth and Longford and there are a number of other areas operating a limited service as well.

The training of dog wardens was mentioned by a number of Deputies. This is a matter that need not be included in the provisions of the Bill as training for the job will be part and parcel of a warden's conditions of employment and will be dealt with administratively. It is the intention that wardens, in all cases, will be properly trained. I understand also that the ISPCA, which will have an important role to play in the operation of the provisions of the Bill, will be providing a handbook for wardens when the Bill is passed which should prove to be a useful aid.

The Bill is not something hypothetical; it is in place already and we can envisage its provisions in operation. It is easily known that Deputy W. O'Brien comes from the Clounanna areas which has encountered some problems. He mentioned ownership of a dog by a 16-year-old. We had a lengthy debate on this aspect in the Seanad. I should say there is nothing to prevent a 16-year-old from owning a dog. A 16-year-old may own and show a dog and take the dog abroad to shows, but it is vital that the licence be in the hands of an adult, the normal practice being in the hands of the parents. However, ownership is a different matter.

(Limerick West): What is the thinking behind it?

Broadly speaking, the thinking behind it is that a person over 16 years of age would be responsible, but it would be the licensee who would be proceeded against in a court of law.

(Limerick West): Not the owner?

Not the owner in the case of a junior. Deputy W. O'Brien raised a point about a householder under section 3. Of course a householder is not liable if his dog attacks an intruder. He is liable only if he is negligent, allows the dog to wander around and bite somebody on the street. If the dog is protecting the owner and his property he is fully entitled to his bite.

Originally the Seanad proposed that seven days be allowed to arrange for the disposal of a dog but as a result of representations by, I think, Senator Hussey, we decided that in these modern days of communications five days were ample. Under the provisions of the 1906 Act it was seven days; now it has been brought down to five days. I do not see any point in changing it back again.

Again, Deputy W. O'Brien raised a point about a coursing field. A coursing field is not a public place. The public have no right to enter the field where the coursing is being carried on. They are confined to the viewing area which is a public place. Again, in response to a point made by Deputy W. O'Brien, I should say that local authorities, with their dog wardens and shelters, will be fully equipped to put down dogs humanely.

Deputy H. Byrne sought clarification of section 16 (2) where a dog warden in exercising a power of entry into any premises may bring a person with him. We envisage there a dog warden bringing a veterinary surgeon onto a property where dogs are kept. That is what we had in mind there. Again, remaining with Deputy H. Byrne, it was interesting to note that a part-time dog warden in Wexford was capable of collecting 100 dogs and that all told — even under a voluntary scheme — 30,000 were collected last year. This shows the advantage of a proper scheme. I agree with him in regard to rogue owners. The basic problem is that these people have a total disregard for other people's rights. The purpose of the Bill is to remedy that. I take Deputy McGinley's point that cattle have been attacked. It has caused a lot of problems with dairy heifers and dairy cows. Sheep are also included in the Bill by definition of livestock.

I agree with Deputy Noonan in regard to a publicity campaign. We are already engaging in a publicity campaign. Very shortly a very good television advertisement on dog control will be shown. Some dogs can be very friendly but at night when they join up with other dogs they become ferocious animals who do a lot of damage. When they return home their manner changes again.

Like Deputy Michael O'Leary.

Like Deputy Hugh Byrne.

I agree with Deputy Noonan that the position in regard to dog collars has been more honoured in the breach than in the observance. With a good supply of dog wardens there should not be any problem in that regard in future. Deputy Noonan also mentioned delegating to An Post the collection of dog licence fees. That would be up to the local authorities. We are trying to keep this Bill as simple and as tidy as possible to allow local authorities a certain amount of latitude as to how they will collect dog licences. More than likely they will be collected through An Post because there is a post office in every village. They would be the obvious people to carry out that sort of work. Deputy Noonan also expressed concern about the different types of licences. The Bill proposes that the Minister for the Environment will lay down the format of the licence which will be uniform throughout the country no matter which local authority issues it. For example, if a licence is taken out in Dún Laoghaire it will be valid throughout the country.

There has been quite a lot of advertising. In regard to rabies, there are advertisements at all the points of entry. Even in small fishing ports there is an awareness of the danger of rabies and uncontrolled dogs. Without making the Bill too leadránach we hope local authorities will set up small committees which will work in conjunction with the sheep dipping committees to deal specifically with dog control. They would have their own local publicity campaigns. On a county-by-county and a borough-by-borough basis they could issue their own reports which could be co-ordinated through the General Council of County Councils of Agriculture. I do not think it is necessary that the issuing of an annual report be included in the Bill. We are devolving the whole function of dog control to local authorities. I would like to think that local representatives would be interested enough to insist that this is done properly and to the satisfaction of the public.

The grants I referred to in my opening remarks are made by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, to local authorities for the provision of dog and cat pounds. I am anxious that this financial support should continue for a limited period to ensure that the provision under section 33 can be brought into being quickly and effectively. In certain areas the problems are comparatively small but in Dublin the problem is massive. It will be up to each local authority to submit their requirements in that regard. In regard to the powers being retained by the Garda, Deputy Noonan is correct when he says that in future the Garda Síochána will not be very involved in dog control. The purpose of the legislation is to provide an alternative control system and not merely a back-up system for the Garda. We are talking about a new system but on occasion it could be necessary for the Garda to become involved in some aspects of dog control, perhaps in connection with a crime.

In regard to the point about local authorities exercising control over the bodies to which these functions are delegated, the provision in section 15 is that local authorities will make their own arrangements with such bodies. In most cases it is the ISPCA that are involved. If the local authorities are not satisfied with the position, they will have to rely on whatever arrangement they make to protect themselves and I am sure they will do so. It will be their duty to ensure that they will be able to correct matters if they go wrong. I have no doubt they will do so.

I would like to thank Members from both sides of the House for their very constructive remarks. I look forward to Committee Stage. It is the wish of everybody, certainly the sheep farmers, that this Bill will be in operation in time for the lambing season.

Question put and agreed to.

Can the Minister give us an indication when Committee Stage will be discussed?

We are being optimistic in hoping that with the agreement of the Whips we will be able to take it next week.

Business has already been agreed for the next two weeks but that is subject to agreement.

The Minister will have to indicate a date for Committee Stage, with the agreement of the Whips.

We will say Tuesday, 9 December, subject to agreement of the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 9 December 1986.