Control of Dogs (Amendment) Bill, 1991: Second Stage.

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

The primary purpose of this Bill is to amend the Control of Dogs Act, 1986, to provide additional powers to more effectively deal with the problem of dangerous dogs. The Bill also provides for increased licence fees and for varying licence fees by regulations and it makes amendments to certain provisions of the 1986 Act which have been found in practice to be deficient.

A number of incidents both here and in Great Britain in the past 12 months have highlighted the threat which certain types, or breeds, of dogs present to humans. People have been killed. We have read about and seen in full colour on our television screens some horrendous injuries inflicted by dogs, not just on childen but on able-bodied adults as well. Figures available to my Department indicate that in an 18-month period to November 1991 over a 1,000 incidents of dog attacks were recorded by dog wardens as part of their daily routines of which over 70 attacks were classified as serious and resulted in hospitalisation and medical treatment for the victims concerned. A further 240 incidents resulted in the victim receiving some form of first aid. Clearly, this is a situation where we must take action. This action must be measured action which deals with the threat but which allows the vast majority of dog owners to enjoy their dogs without undue restrictions. To do this we must have the power to identify the types of dogs which pose a threat to our safety. We must have the power to deal with them and to neutralise the threat which they represent. The Bill will allow me to do this.

The dog has for centuries, even millennia perhaps, been described as man's best friend. To very many people it is still that. Unfortunately, as in so many other areas of human activity, the dog's friendship has been abused by man — admittedly in a minority of cases. Unfortunately, this minority has made special efforts to breed strains and crosses of dogs which will have a particularly nasty temperament, they have crossed these with larger and more powerful breeds and they have used them for unacceptable purposes such as dog fighting, animal baiting and the furtherance and protection of criminal activities. There is no place in our society for such animals. Thankfully, we do not as yet have a serious problem with this type of animal in this country. This Bill will provide me, as Minister for the Environment, with the necessary powers to ensure that we can prevent a serious problem from occuring.

It is worth mentioning, while dealing with the issue of extremely dangerous dogs, that our neighbours in Great Britain have taken measures to deal with their dangerous dogs and, in the process, highlighted how deficient were our laws. Last year they enacted new legislation which effectively banned certain particularly unsavoury types of dogs. One of the ways of complying with this legislation was to export the animals concerned — in other words, to remove them to another country. This Bill will give me power by regulation to ban the importation of certain classes of dogs, a power which does not exist at present.

The public concern expressed at the time of last year's serious dog attacks, about which I spoke earlier, and the public demand for action highlighted the limitations of the Control of Dogs Act, 1986, in terms of mounting an effective and suitably targeted response to the problem. Our first concern was to ensure that certain dogs — those with the capacity or the tendency to inflict serious injury — would not have the opportunity to do so when in public places. It was against this background that the Control of Dogs (Restriction of Certain Dogs) Regulations, 1991, which require the muzzling, leashing and identification of specified dogs when in a public place, were made last June. This Bill allows a much greater range of options to be taken. It will, therefore, enable a more flexible and effective response to be mounted. It will also permit urgent action to be taken should future circumstances so demand.

I think it is worth mentioning here that we have received a very substantial amount of correspondence from dog owners, clubs and other bodies criticising the muzzling regulations and criticising this Bill. Much of this correspondence has been reasonable and reasoned; some of it has been disturbing in its tone and in its lack of concern for the safety, comfort and welfare of others. I should also say that we have received a considerable volume of correspondence from people who supported the new measures, people who were frightened to use public parks and facilities because of fear of certain dogs, people who feared for the safety of their children, elderly people, joggers. There is a balance to be struck between these interests, bearing in mind the overriding need to safeguard the safety of the public.

My objective is to establish an effective system for the control of these dogs. While the restrictions imposed by the 1991 regulations go a long way to deal with the immediate problem, I must consider what other measures would be useful in securing public safety. To this end the Bill now before the House will enable me, as Minister, to make regulations prohibiting certain dogs from public places or specified public places, prohibiting the ownership, keeping, purchase, disposal, abandonment, allowing to stray, breeding or importation of dangerous dogs, requiring the insurance of certain dogs and, ultimately, requiring the destruction or sterilisation of dangerous dogs.

Apart from dealing with the matter of dangerous dogs, the Bill also provides for increased licence fees and provides wider power to vary licence fees by regulations. It also provides for higher fines and for wider use of on-the-spot fines. It will, thus, give me power to deal with dogs in a variety of different ways having regard to the level of threat which I consider the different types of dogs may present to the safety of people.

The enactment of this legislation also offers the opportunity to make a number of amendments to provisions of the Control of Dogs Act, 1986, which have been found in practice to be deficient. These include restricting a general dog licence to dogs kept at one premises, requiring the production of a dog licence before recovering a seized dog, empowering a dog warden to enter premises where a guard dog is kept — he can only enter premises where more than five dogs are kept at the moment — and a tidying up of offences provisions.

I would like now to deal in some detail with the main provisions of the Control of Dogs (Amendment) Bill, 1991. Section 1 is a standard definitions section, while section 2 provides a new definition of "general dog licence" as a licence entitling a person to keep a number of dogs at a premises specified in the licence. Relating the general dog licence to a particular premises as proposed in the Bill will eliminate certain abuses of the present dog licence system whereby dog owners may get around the licensing provisions by an umbrella organisation obtaining one licence to cover all dogs registered with it. Minor amendments, consequential on the new definition of a general dog licence, are also provided for in this section as well as a transitional provision to protect "old style" general dog licences current immediately before the commencement of the section.

Section 3 will increase the level of licence fees from £5 to £10 for an ordinary dog licence and from £100 to £200 for a general dog licence. The section also restates the power to vary licence fees by regulations and to prescribe different fees for different classes of dogs. This is an important power. It gives me the option of graduating licence levels to reflect the fact that certain kinds of dogs, the ones with the most potential to inflict injury on members of the public, require a higher level of policing by the dog warden service; such an option may also encourage dog owners to opt for more benign dogs.

The effect of section 4 is to require a person when claiming a stray dog to produce a current dog licence or a general dog licence in respect of that dog. Under the existing arrangements, any person claiming a stray dog must satisfy the local authority or the superintendent of the Garda Sióchána as the case may be, that he is the owner of the dog or has been authorised by the owner to claim the dog, make a declaration to that effect and pay for any expenditure that may have been incurred in respect of the seizure and detention of the dog. The production of a current dog licence is a logical and reasonable requirement, which will help to establish the bona fides of the person claiming the dog and will also go some way to combating the very real problem of the large number of dogs which remain unlicensed.

Section 5 will amend and extend the powers of dog wardens to seize and detain dogs, to enter premises and to demand production of a licence. The effect of the amendments will be, firstly, to empower a dog warden to enter premises, other than a dwelling, where he believes a guard dog or more than five dogs are being kept, Under present legislation, he can enter premises only if he believes more than five dogs are kept there and, secondly, to extend the powers of the local authorities in regard to dogs seized by wardens. At present, unclaimed strays can be held for five days before they can be put down. Under section 5 dogs seized for breaches of the Acts or regulations and held pending court proceedings may be put down unless the owner within five days agrees to pay the reasonable costs of keeping the dog pending the decision of the District Court.

Section 6 substitutes a whole new section for section 19 of the 1986 Act. In fact, this is the heart of this Bill. Section 19 of the 1986 Act empowers the Minister to make regulations in relation to the registration and operation of premises in which dogs are kept, the regulation of the use of guard dogs, the muzzling and identification of dogs, including licence identification, and the exemption of certain classes of person from the requirements of regulations made under the Act. The guard dog regulations of 1988 and 1989, which provide controls over the use of guard dogs and cover the construction, registration and operation of guard dog kennels, were made under section 19 of the 1986 Act. The Control of Dogs Act (Restriction of Certain Dogs) Regulations, 1991, requiring the muzzling, leashing and identification of 12 specified types of dogs in public places, were also made under that section.

The provisions of section 6 will allow a more comprehensive range of options to be taken to deal with the problem of dangerous dogs and reduce the threat to public safety posed by such dogs. The Bill will permit tough new measures to cover a wide range of dog control arrangements. These new provisions, which can be tailored to meet different circumstances and to deal with different kinds of dogs in different ways, strengthen existing powers relating to the identification, muzzling and leashing of dogs.

Broadly speaking, the new section will enable me to make regulations for all or any of the following purposes: to make provision for the registration and operation of premises where a guard dog or more than five dogs are kept — the existing powers under the 1986 Act relate only to premises where more than five dogs are kept; to make provision for the regulation of the use of guard dogs; to make provision for the muzzling of dogs or specified classes of dogs, either generally or in specified circumstances; to make provision for the prohibition of specified classes of dogs in public places or specified public places; to make provision for a ban on the ownership, keeping, purchase, disposal, abandonment, allowing to stray, breeding or importation of specified classes of dogs, which, in the opinion of the Minister, have such characteristics as to cause them to be a danger to the public; to require the sterilisation or destruction in a humane manner of certain dogs; to make provision to require the owners of dogs or specified classes of dogs to effect insurance against injury or damage caused by the dogs to person or property; to make provision for the identification of dogs or specified classes of dogs and of their ownership either by details attached to a collar or by other means; to make provision for certain exemptions from all or any of the regulations and to classify persons or dogs for the purposes of the regulations.

Thus the Bill will give me the power to deal with dogs in different ways having regard to the level of threat which I consider different types present to public safety. For example, I could prohibit one type of dog from public places, while prohibiting the ownership, keeping, purchase and so on of another type. In extreme cases I could require the destruction of all dogs of a particularly unsavoury type as well as prohibiting importation, purchase and so on, or I could make all the other prohibitions but allow existing owners to keep their dogs provided they were sterilised, insured and complied with other restrictions, such as not being in public places.

Section 7 simplifies the offences provisions of the 1986 Act and provides for a maximum penalty for all offences of £1,000 and/or up to three months imprisonment. Sections 8 and 9 make minor amendments to various sections of the 1986 Act consequent on the redefinition of offences. Section 8 will enable on-the-spot fines to be imposed in respect of prescribed breaches of regulations.

I consider this latter provision to be particularly important from the point of view of effective enforcement of the new legislation. The wider application of the on-the-spot fine system envisaged under section 8 will allow greater scope to effect proper dog control "on-the-spot"— where it matters. This has been a problem, for instance, with the regulations requiring the muzzling, leashing and identification of specified classes of dogs introduced last summer. It is not possible under present legislation to include breaches of these regulations under the on-the-spot fine system. Finally, section 10 sets out the Short Title and provides for collective citation, construction and commencement.

I know that emotive terms such as "draconian measures" have been used by certain pressure groups to describe the new powers the Bill will provide to deal with dangerous dogs. I want to assure dog owners that I will not be taking draconian measures against anybody or against any dog. My duty is to protect the public. I will do whatever is necessary, no more.

I appreciate that some organisations and bodies and individuals involved with dogs and animal welfare consider that dog legislation, such as the muzzling provisions introduced last year, and this Bill, are discriminatory. These groups favour deed or behaviour-orientated legislation. Their argument is that it is dog owners who should be held responsible for their dogs' behaviour, that dogs should be proven to be a public menace before being restricted. While dog owners should be encouraged to act responsibly towards their dogs and to exercise effectual control of their pets when in public places, I would be very slow to endorse deed or behaviour-based legislation for the control of dangerous dogs. It is difficult to accept the argument that a dog must be proven to be a public menace. Such a concept would be difficult to administer and would, at best, be an unreliable method of ensuring public safety. Inevitably, it would result in dog attacks being made before the particular dog could be dealt with. To apply controls to a particular dog after he has shown a vicious tendency, could well be too late to save an innocent person from serious injury or worse.

The principle of allowing a dog a "first bite" is an outdated and unacceptable one. My responsibilities require me to err on the side of public safety. It would be very difficult for me to defend a "deed or behaviour" approach to dog control in the event of an attack involving serious injury, especially to children.

The Control of Dogs (Amendment) Bill, 1991 is an enabling Bill — regulations will be required to bring the more substantial provisions of the Bill, once enacted, into force. In framing the new legislation, it is important to get it right. To this end, it is important that all interested bodies have an opportunity to give their views and advice. It was for that reason that my Department, in July 1991, wrote to various organisations and individuals informing them of the intention to introduce legislation to provide additional options to deal in a comprehensive manner with all aspects of dog control and inviting their views on the most effective methods of implementing the legislation. Submissions have been received from all the various bodies and these are currently being examined in my Department.

I would describe this Bill as a comprehensive approach to the problem of dangerous dogs. The Bill is an enabling one. In formulating the regulations necessary to implement it, I will be taking account of the extensive consultations my Department have had with animal welfare organisations and other organisations concerned with dogs. I will be taking account, also, of the views expressed by others. We now have eight months' experience of operating the muzzling regulations and we can learn from that.

When the Bill has been enacted I propose to replace existing regulations with a comprehensive new set of regulations which will provide a measured and flexible response to the problem of dangerous dogs.

I am convinced that the problem presented by certain types of dogs is serious and that the public's demand for action is such that it merits the overall approach to tackle it as set out in this Bill. I am happy, therefore, to commend this Bill to the House.

The Control of Dogs (Amendment) Bill is of interest and of concern to a great many dog owners, many of whom consider that the Minister is barking up the wrong tree with the provisions of this Bill. To summarise the main point generally, the problem is not dangerous dogs but dangerous owners. This Bill does little or nothing to circumscribe owners who ill-treat dogs or who provoke them so badly that they become dangerous.

I have very serious reservations about this legislation because the Bill was conceived in panic as a reaction to media hype following a few horrible attacks by individual dogs both here and in Britain on individuals, but especially in Britain. Of course, any right thinking person will want to have sufficient legislation and regulations to maximise public safety and to do so with the minimum intrusion, alienation, or difficulty for dogs.

There was a feeling that the provisions of this Bill, or the potential for regulations under it, is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I have had discussions and lots of correspondence with a large number of very responsible dog owners throughout the country who are deeply perturbed about some of the provisions of recent regulations and of this Bill. They are particularly perturbed about the muzzling requirement for certain breeds. There are certain other breeds which because of physical attributes cannot be muzzled. It is pointed out that the very fact of muzzling certain dogs can cause that dog to be irritable, to be more dangerous than it would otherwise be, to be out of sorts, with the potential for knocking people down and for causing traffic accidents because of being disoriented by muzzling. I do not think the Bill before the House reflects sufficient balance on the part of the Minister in relation to the question of the muzzling of dogs.

There are some provisions in the Bill which are welcome. Would the Minister not agree that quintessentially this is the type of Bill which should be dealt with by a special committee of this House which could hear evidence from experts in the veterinary field, the Irish Kennel Club, dog owners and especially from representatives of the campaign against muzzling, who have been extremely articulate in putting forward a case against muzzling of dogs? They have been articulate, balanced and reasonable. They have not been hysterical and they have faced up to the reality that certain individual dogs can be dangerous.

The Minister in his speech has indicated that a large number of deputations was received in respect of this Bill. Clearly, those deputations were not received by the present Minister, who is in his post only for the last couple of weeks. Before this Bill proceeds to Committee Stage, I would ask the Minister to meet deputations from such bodies as the Irish Kennel Club, the campaign against muzzling and also organisations such as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I am sure the Minister, like myself, wants to take every reasonable step to protect the public against the dangers of attack from a dangerous dog. I am sure he also wants to take every reasonable step open to him to ensure that dogs are treated properly. This comes back to the central failure of the Bill to deal with the question of the ownership of dogs.

It is still possible for young puppies to be bought as Christmas presents only to be abandoned within weeks or months. This practice is not referred to in this legislation. Nothing in the Bill, so far as I can see, gives the Minister power, by regulation or otherwise, to control the initial ownership of a dog. The question of ownership of dogs is a key question. The ownership of a dog is in certain circumstances not acceptable if the persons concerned do not have adequate space to house the dog — a factor to be taken into account — or if previously they have neglected, ill-treated, trained or provoked their dog in such a way as to be a danger to themselves, their families and the public in general. There ought to be more definite control.

There are features in this Bill which are welcome. I welcome the idea of a general dog licence. A dog licence to keep an unspecified number of dogs should apply to the person and the premises. The holder of such a licence should also be required to have individual licences in respect of each dog aged, say, more than four months or thereabouts. Individual licences should be for the life of the dog and the cost should be about £50 at current prices. An identification number or code unique to that dog should appear on each licence and on a disc or badge to be worn by the dog whenever it is in a public place.

The provisions of section 4 of the 1986 Act are not being enforced, a problem common to all legislation enacted by this House. I mentioned yesterday during the course of the debate on the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill that we enact legislation but do not make regulations to enforce it. This is another case in point. Any person can purchase a licence in a post office without any questions being asked. Indeed, the description of the dog which appears on the licence could be applied to almost any dog of the same breed.

The provisions contained in section 6 (2) (d) to (h) are dangerously broad and are not specific. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce this section. In the view of some, it is possibly unconstitutional. In their view the provisions of subparagraph (o) which provide for the classification of persons are clearly repugnant to the Constitution. These clauses should relate only to persons convicted of specified offences or to dogs declared dangerous by a judge. Section 6, therefore, is the section with which we have most problems.

In relation to muzzling, this is an extremely cruel practice and can be interpreted by some dogs as severe punishment. Consequently, it can often lead to a gentle dog being turned into a dangerous one. It is impossible to muzzle some breeds and for others it can cause suffocation. It does not prevent a dog from scratching, knocking down a person or causing a traffic accident due to the fact that the dog is irritable or has been alienated. There should be some recognised tribunal or office with power to order that a specific dog, rather than a breed of dog, be muzzled. This should be treated as an alternative to the destruction of the dog and debarring individuals from owning dogs. It may well be that a good owner of a dog would be debarred because of the behaviour of one of his dogs rather than because he was cruel or showed a lack of attention to training. That is the other side of the coin.

Under the Bill the Minister will have power to make regulations in regard to sterilisation. Sterilisation will not necessarily alter the disposition of a dog and it should, therefore, be used only as a means of controlling population. I would like the Minister in reply to indicate what function will be served by granting him the power to order that certain dogs be neutered.

I think it is the unanimous view on all sides of the House that dogs should be controlled and that there should be clear regulations relating to the control and ownership of dogs. However, there will not be unanimity on the specific provisions of the Bill; there are too many disparate views for that. We owe it to ourselves to ensure that whatever legislation we pass in this respect is not only effective but will not be avoidably cruel even for a small number of dogs. For this reason I ask the Minister to consider my proposal that we establish a special committee of the House to deal with Committee Stage of the Bill. As I said, such a format would permit us to invite experts to appear before the committee to assess the effect of certain sections. It would be useful to do this and be of great help in processing and improving the Bill and in ensuring it gains wide support among the dog-owning community.

I have grave reservations about the contents of this Bill even though I acknowledge and recognise that certain breeds of dog have to be controlled in a responsible manner. I note the Minister indicated that he will be taking "measured action". I have no great objection to referring the Bill to a special committee of the House because it is necessary that we tease it out at great length rather than merely reacting to what has happened here and abroad. We were shocked and horrified by the damage and serious injuries caused, particularly to young children, by certain breeds of animal.

I come from a county noted for the breeding and rearing of good dogs. I object, therefore, to certain aspects of the Bill, in particular the proposal that the cost of a general dog licence be increased from £100 to £200. It is my experience that those who keep and breed dogs in Cork city for sporting purposes are responsible people. They walk their dogs in the countryside and feed them well before going to work, that is if they are lucky enough to have a job to go to. People in Cork city and county look after their dogs well and are very loyal to them. I assure the House that the dogs in turn are very loyal to them.

I accept that the Minister has a responsibility to introduce legislation to control certain breeds and that there is a need to do so. Those who breed and cross breed specific breeds of dog and who import and export dogs for fighting purposes must be condemned because this amounts to cruelty. I will help the Minister in any way I can in outlawing that activity but we must not throw out the baby with the bath water in this instance. I have great reservations about the impact this Bill will have on those who act responsibly when it comes to looking after their dogs.

For many years now I have been a dog owner. I bought my dog in the local dogs' home and had him for 15 years. He was a companion for my children and was not a cross dog. Indeed he saved them from attack from other animals. He responded to the love and care shown to him and repaid their loyalty. That is the reason I have grave reservations about the proposal in this legislation to muzzle animals who have been tremendously loyal to both children and adults. It is an emotional subject for people like me: unfortunately, I had to get the dog put down when it became ill. It is a hard thing for many people, especially the elderly, to do.

Crime is now rampant throughout urban and rural areas and people see a dog as probably the best burglar alarm they can get. A faithful dog, bred from a pup, gives a certain amount of security, especially to the elderly, who very often do not have anybody to visit them. The Minister will agree that a dog also gives companionship and I am sure he has no intention of legislating in respect of a dog of that nature. That is why it is difficult to implement the Bill in its entirety. The Minister, who is new in his Department, should have discussions with the various groups who have made very strong representations regarding the proposed legislation.

Having been involved with the Guide Dogs' Association, I know that an animal can become like a human being and I am sure that the Minister has no intention of trying to muzzle an animal of this kind. Nevertheless, the legislation covers the ownership of all dogs. There are times when I despair of people's cruelty to animals. Many young people are not taught, either at home or in school, the value of the loyalty of a dog which comes from owning it over a long period. I am sure the Minister is aware of the fact that pups are given as Christmas presents and dumped in a short time because they are considered a nuisance. This is very sad because it means that the dog is not valued by the recipient or the person who gave it.

I am reluctant to push ahead with legislation which has such hard and fast rules. The Minister referred to "measured action" and I hope he will expand on that when he replies to this debate. I owned a dog for a long time. He would go with anyone and even stay overnight with other people. They felt quite happy and secure with him, even though he was a labrador, a breed which has no great fighting characteristics. He had a tremendous amount of loyalty to those who loved him.

I am worried about some aspects of the Bill. There is no provision for the implementation of guidelines defining a guard dog or indeed a dangerous dog. Many of us have different breeds of dogs, some are docile and effective. However, I should like to know who will decide what breed of dog is dangerous. For too long local authorities have been given the responsibility for looking after dangerous and stray dogs. Before further legislation is implemented we should examine whether local authorities can effectively implement existing legislation. My experience is that they do not have the resources to do so. Dog wardens are limited in what they can do; and, if the dog licence is increased to £10, as envisaged in the legislation, there will certainly be a strong reaction. This will result in many stray dogs, they will be hungry and are liable to become vicious because they can be ill-treated.

I also have reservations about raising the general dog licence from £100 to £200. It would be a retrograde step and there will be a strong reaction from people who a have multiple licence. Some members of dog clubs keep five, six or seven dogs each, which would mean that clubs would have to pay £200 for each dog and this would be out of all proportion to what is envisaged in the legislation.

The Bill may do something about keeping dogs off the street in the short term but it is not a viable means of solving the problem of homeless or abandoned dogs in the long term. The Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Cork have a home which is dependent on voluntary funding and a small grant from Cork Corporation. They do tremendous work and cover all aspects of cruelty to animals. Dogs and cats constitute one of the major problems with which they have to contend. Every year there is a crisis because funding is scarce. The same applies to voluntary workers. They do a very difficult job with scant resources. If we are serious about bringing in amending legislation then we must also be serious about funding. Until such time as local authorities and voluntary groups, like the one in Cork and others around the country, get proper funding, we are going nowhere with legislation because it cannot be enforced. That is the worst type of legislation.

Certain breeders keep dogs for profit or to fight. Staffordshire bull terriers are vicious when they are bred to attack other dogs. These dogs should be banned and I would certainly support the Minister in that regard. However, he has produced legislation which will be impossible to implement and which is perhaps not necessary in many cases.

All breeders should have to await a licence until the appropriate agency have performed a background check on the applicant and visited the proposed kennels. A standard licence is issued to people, yet we do not know whether they can breed dogs. Some people are irresponsible enough to cause hassle for genuine dog owners. As a result, all dog owners get a bad name. An agency should be established to consider whether or not, to be blunt about it, people are fit to keep dogs. There is an educational aspect to the breeding of dogs. Yet some people leave their dogs outside the door and hope for the best.

There is also the question of people who breed dogs for sale to shops and other people. While this is acceptable in certain circumstances there is not adequate legislation governing the sale of dogs for profit. I take issue with certain aspects of the Bill. We can go through these in more detail on Committee Stage and put forward certain amendments.

I have grave reservations about some of the points made by the Minister. The Minister regards the increase in the level of licence fees from £5 to £10 for an ordinary dog licence and from £100 to £200 for a general dog licence as reasonable. I regard these increases as unreasonable in certain circumstances as a £10 licence fee will be exorbitant for some people while the £200 licence fee will be outside the means of some clubs. For many people whose only enjoyment is drag hunting, this will be the last straw. I believe these people will react strongly to the proposed increase in licence fees. I ask the Minister to look again at this aspect.

I also have reservations about providing a blanket licence for all dogs without taking into consideration whether or not a person can afford the fee. A fee of £10 may not be regarded as much money by many people but for some people it can be a large sum at certain times. I know elderly people who reared their dogs from pups and I have seen the devastating effects the death of their dogs can have on them.

I have grave reservations about certain aspects of the Bill as it may be too heavy-handed in some cases. I accept what the Minister is trying to do but I believe he should legislate for people who own and breed vicious dogs. Sometimes these people can be seen patrolling the streets of our cities at night with these dogs. They use them to scare and attack people and for criminal purposes. I have no hesitation in supporting the Minister in his efforts to eliminate that type of activity, which is criminal activity at its worst. These dogs have been trained to attack people and in many instances they seriously maim and injure people. As I said, I would have no hesitation in supporting such legislation.

It is intended in this Bill to control all dogs and to ensure that certain, breeds of dogs are muzzled. As was seen recently in Cork, some people would rather go to jail than put a muzzle on their dog. I suppose they have very good reasons for this. They strongly believe that their dogs have been properly bred and looked after and that they have protected them over a long period of time. I have no hesitation in saying to the Minister that he has taken a gigantic step in this Bill in trying to control dogs. I believe all Deputies are of the view that steps should be taken to control vicious dogs. However, we should not in any way inhibit genuine dog lovers who hunt on a Sunday or take their dog for a walk. I believe all Deputies genuinely respect those people.

The Minister said that he was taking measured action. In this context I ask him to consider allowing a committee to examine this matter so that he will have an opportunity of sitting down with the various organisations and members of dogs clubs who are directly involved, who can make a contribution and who possibly have more experience than the Minister. Even though I have been a dog owner for the best part of 20 years they certainly have more experience in this area than I have. These people love their dogs. The Minister has only got the views of people who believe their rights are being infringed. As I said, the Minister has gone too far in this legislation. I ask him to look again at the Bill and engage in consultations with the various organisations involved. Having done this, he may decide to come back to the House with an amended Bill. If he does this he will get the support of people on this side of the House in his efforts to stamp out once and for all the cruel methods people use for breeding dogs to fight other dogs and injure people.

First, I wish to congratulate the Minister on his appointment. I know that he brings great experience to his post. I wish him every success in the Department of the Environment.

If we were talking about the greyhound industry I know the Minister would be able to give us good advice from what is happening in his constituency. However, he would need the wisdom of Solomon to try to solve some of the problems which have arisen in regard to the breeding of vicious and dangerous dogs during the past number of years. The Minister summed up the position very well when he said that dogs are often regarded as man's best friend and that the problems arise when, in a minority of cases, dogs are abused by man. I hope the Minister will be able to resolve this problem by way of the regulations to which he referred.

During the mid-eighties many elderly people living alone were attacked. These people were advised, particularly by the Garda to put their savings into financial institutions and get a dog to protect them. This advice was carried in the local papers and was referred to by the clergy in their sermons. Over the past number of years adults and children alike have been killed by vicious and savage dogs. The rearing of dogs for fighting purposes and protection of criminals is particularly disgraceful.

I would like to refer to the situation that has arisen as a result of the 1986 Act. We have a saying in this country that a man's home is his castle. I have great sympathy for people who have been attacked by dogs in their own houses and gardens. In one case where a man was attacked in his own garden by a vicious dog the case was brought to court, but the judge could not order that the dog be put down because of a deficiency in the 1986 Act. There was no definite provision in that Act for the destroying of animals, as was the case in the legislation of 1877, and there was no penalty for failure to destroy a dog. I am amazed that the provision in the 1877 legislation was eliminated in 1986. I am glad the Minister will have power under this legislation to ensure that penalties are imposed in relation to the controlling or destroying of dogs. As the Minister has said, it is important to clarify this issue. Many people will not use public parks and public amenities for fear of being attacked by dogs. However, it is unacceptable that people could be attacked in their own home or their back garden, as happened in the west two years ago, and the courts had no power to solve the problem.

I support the Minister's statement regarding the importation of certain classes of dogs. In recent years vicious dogs have been imported into this country and people involved in crime, dog fighting and so on have been able to exploit the law in this regard. Under this legislation we will be able to prevent this happening.

I welcome the provisions in the Bill dealing with dog wardens. We have a tendency in this House to introduce very good ideas but we do not provide the finance to implement them. Local authorities continually introduce schemes for litter wardens, environmental officers and so on, but it is not possible to implement the legislation properly if funding is not available to do so. That is certainly the case with dog wardens and I would like the Minister, when replying to give us some information on that issue.

I look forward to the introduction of regulations in this area. I agree with the Minister that some people abuse dogs. That is the kernel of this whole problem and that is the reason we are discussing this issue today. The problem received massive publicity last year when serious injury, and in some cases death, was caused to children and adults by marauding dogs. I hope that under this Bill the Minister will be able to resolve these problems.

I was astounded to see this Bill on the Order Paper last Friday. There are many major crises to be dealt with, such as employment and so on, but we are spending our time legislating for and penalising dog owners as a result of the sins of very few people. The publication of the Bill by the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Flynn, was a knee-jerk reaction to a problem which misrepresented the position of dog owners. I am astounded that the Bill is being followed through by this Minister, who is "flying blind" with legislation on which he has not had consultations and to which he has not given much thought. It has been presented to the House today in the exact form as it was published by his predecessor.

I spoke in the House last week about the problem of wandering horses and animals, a problem that has caused death in this country. Recently, a person was killed in Cork as a result of a horse running along a national primary route. A lorry swerved to avoid the horse and collided with a car, killing one man and seriously injuring another. That is a much more serious problem than the one we are dealing with. Damage is caused to gardens in the suburbs of cities and towns by wandering animals. These animals are also a danger to children on their way to and from school. We are spending hours discussing dogs and dog control when there are much more relevant and pressing issues to be dealt with.

However, as the Bill has been introduced, there is a responsibility on us to deal with it. At the outset I would ask the Minister to take a fresh look at the legislation as published by his predecessor. I agree with the suggestion that this matter would be better dealt with by a committee. Groups such as the Irish Kennel Club, the organisation campaigning against muzzling, the ISPCA and the Guide Dogs' Association are genuinely concerned about certain provisions in the Bill. I am also concerned in this regard. I would ask the Minister to consider again putting the matter into committee. He should not have to take responsibility for a Bill published by his predecessor.

This Bill is a sneaky way of imposing further financial penalties on dog owners by increasing dog licences. It will penalise genuine dog owners and sporting and recreational clubs. The harrier clubs in Cork city engage in drag hunting, an activity which attracts thousands of people from throughout Cork city and county. Organisations such as these, which exist on a shoestring, will be penalised by this legislation. The Government are using the scare of last year as an opportunity to increase dog licences. This will not result in a more effective implementation of the legislation and regulations. It is the local authorities who appoint dog wardens, but they receive no money for this purpose. Therefore the legislation will not be implemented properly. This is an example of legislation without guidelines for implementation. As I have said, this is a knee-jerk reaction to a problem highlighted many times last year, more in the British media than in the Irish media. The Minister referred to cases that arose here, but the problem is not as serious as he outlined.

The Bill is faulty in terms of its definitions. I will refer later to the definition of classes of dogs and guard dogs. The Bill provides for a ban on the ownership and purchase of specific classes of dogs which in the opinion of the Minister for the Environment have such characteristics as to cause them to be a danger to the public. In effect, that will allow the Minister to ban the ownership of any breed of dog he feels needs to be banned. To my knowledge, there is no bank of information here, there are no statistics and there have been no studies carried out on the behaviour of certain classes of dogs. I should like the Minister to tell the House what studies have been commissioned. It is not good enough for the Minister to have an opinion about which dogs might be dangerous. Statistics, and the results of studies, should be produced before any Minister or any individual decides to ban a breed of dog.

The Bill was inherited from the previous Minister who showed himself to be no expert on dogs in his decision to muzzle dogs that do not have a muzzle. The muzzling of bulldogs was a prime example of the previous Minister's lack of knowledge. I ask the Minister, therefore, to reconsider the matter.

The Bill provides for the banning of certain classes of dogs in public places. However, many of the studies carried out show that a large percentage of accidents involving dogs take place in the home. Why is there an obsessional attitude taken in relation to public places? I ask the Minister to reconsider that measure also.

The term "dangerous dog" should attach to a dog's behaviour rather than its breed. I shall illustrate that studies show that it is not the so-called dangerous breeds of dogs that have been involved in most of the incidents but the dogs that are classed as placid or docile.

I shall quote at length from theBritish Medical Journal of 24 August 1991 and the article “Dog bites to children” written by Sara Levene of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, London, to illustrate the points I have made. It states:

Dog bites to children continue to receive media attention, and there have been recent changes in legislation intended to control particular breeds. To detail the size and nature of the problem we analysed data from the Department of Trade and Industry's home and leisure accident surveillance systems (HASS and LASS) for the calendar year November 1987 to November 1988. These systems record relevant accidents presenting to accident and emergency departments in a representative sample of 22 hospitals throughout the United Kingdom. HASS incidents occur in the home and its surrounds; LASS incidents occur outside the home but exclude work and vehicle accidents.

Case listings and cross tabulations were obtained for dog bites to children under 16 years old. Over 2,000 cases were recorded at the 22 hospitals; a breakdown by age and sex is presented in the table.

I shall not present the table to the House. The quotation continues:

With the department's own multiplier, this implies that in the United Kingdom as a whole there were about 25,000 dog bites in the home and 33,000 in "leisure" situations — that is, a total of over 55,000 dog bites to children presented to hospital in the 12 months studied. There may have been other incidents treated at home or by general practitioners.

Most home accidents (21%) took place in the living and dining areas; most leisure accidents (38%) took place in the street. Children were commonly playing (HASS 45%, LASS 29%). Home accidents commonly involved the head and face (45%) whereas leisure accidents most often involved the legs and buttocks (42%). Puncture wounds were the most common injury (HASS 42%, LASS 44%). Referral was usually to home (HASS 73%, LASS 63%), and referral rates to outpatient clinics and to general practitioners were considerably lower than those for children's accidents overall. Only three children required admission to hospital for more than six days.

The breed of dog was recorded in 487 (36%) of HASS incidents. The three commonest were mongrel (114), German Shepherd (66), and Jack Russell (49). Dobermanns were mentioned 22 times and Rottweilers 13 times. Pit bull terriors were not mentioned. LASS incidents recorded breeds in 237 (27%) cases, the three commonest being mongrel (63), German Shepherd (52), and Jack Russell (17). There were 13 incidents involving Dobermanns, eight Rottweilers, and one pit bull terrior.

The article concludes:

These figures show that dog bites to children are common but rarely serious, and that many incidents take place in the home. They suggest that measures to control particular breeds in public places offer at best a partial solution.

In further correspondence to theBritish Medical Journal of 23 September 1991, R.P. Cole from the Wessex Centre for Plastic and Maxillofacial Surgery, Odstock Hospital, Salisbury, stated:

Of the 22 injuries resulting from dog bites (in all age groups) treated by our department over two years, only three were caused by so-called dangerous breeds (all by German Shepherd dogs). The commonest breeds were Jack Russell terrier (four) and spaniel (four).

Before I read the report I would have considered the spaniel to be one of the friendliest, quietest dogs one could have, but here it is regarded as one of the major offenders.

The point I make is that dogs should not be condemned according to breed or type because the only statistics I am aware of show the position should be quite the opposite. I ask the Minister on what grounds he bases his proposals this evening. What studies were carried out by his Department before be brought forward the legislation? What evidence can the Minister give about "all of the accidents recorded", as mentioned in his Second Stage speech? Has the Minister a breakdown of the dog breeds involved? It is correct that the most dramatic and the most serious accidents indicate the involvement of a certain class of dog but we have to consider the general position rather than the highlighted, dramatic and serious incidents.

The article continues:

These findings are consistent with those reported by Dr. Levene. The fact that in all but one of our cases the dog was either known to or owned by the victim (and therefore unlikely to be reported) shows how difficult it would be to reduce the incidence of these mutilating and disfiguring injuries.

I ask the Minister, in a constructive rather than a negative way, to think again on the matter. There is no point in passing faulty legislation. I congratulate the Minister, who is new in his post. He should have given more thought and care to the legislation he inherited before he produced it in the House.

As I said, there is no definition of a guard dog, there is no definition of classes and there is no mention of the tagging of dogs, which should be considered so that a dog could be directly traced to its owner. The system of collars for dogs is one that is open to abuse.

I fault the Minister for introducing the Bill without giving it proper preparation and thought. I criticise the punitive measures in relation to licence fees that would penalise people who enjoy the countryside, enjoy dogs and involve themselves in a healthy pastime that gives pleasure to thousands. To penalise them by introducing legislation to control dangerous dogs was sly and cynical. We are penalising sportsmen who have given so much time to the community down through the years. I appeal to the Minister to delete the proposal to increase the cost of dog licences because it will affect many innocent people involved in innocent, productive sports. I will introduce amendments on Committee Stage in relation to that and other matters.

As a life-long dog owner and animal lover I was aghast when I heard about this Bill. I saw it as a knee-jerk reaction to some very tragic and unsavoury incidents involving children that occurred mainly in the UK. The Bill has been hastily cobbled together. While I am happy that the Minister will take a measured approach to this Bill, he should take on board representations made by the responsible canine associations and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and he should consult with the veterinary surgeons instead of listening to senior civil servants with no particular experience in this area. The Minister should listen to the responsible canine organisations rather than reacting to the media who, unfortunately, tend to set the political agenda in this country with increasing frequency.

Much hysteria has been engendered. The dog is undoubtedly man's best friend and can give more affection, fidelity and loyalty than some people can. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the company of their dogs. This response to those unsavoury incidents is a knee-jerk reaction and the proposals in this Bill have not been fully thought out.

The proposal to muzzle a dog is cruel. A dog, just like a human being, can be claustrophobic. A muzzle may be too small for a large dog. It can turn a tame animal into a savage animal. It can frustrate an animal and can eventually turn him into a vicious dog. If there is a problem with a dog it would be better to put him down than to muzzle him, restricting his liberty and in some cases his liberty to breathe.

The Minister inherited this Bill. Some of the financial measures envisaged in it are farcical. The service charges and the proposal to charge, perhaps an old lady whose only companion is a dog, an exorbitant licence fee is bizarre. It is ridiculous. The imposition of strict financial penalties will not cure this problem but it will cause hardship to individual dog owners.

The problem is that there are certain types of dogs bred specifically to fight for gambling purposes or to appease blood lust. Those dogs should not be allowed into this country. The incidents in which ordinary common or garden dogs are involved are very few and, as Deputy Bernard Allen said, British statistics show that most incidents occur within the home. A child can be playful and pull a dog or hurt him in a vulnerable area and the dog would turn on him. That is a problem, but there are very few recorded incidents here where dogs have attacked people. The introduction of this Bill has been a knee-jerk reaction to what happened in England.

A measured approach is needed and I am sure the Minister will be sympathetic to the needs of hundreds of thousands of people who keep dogs. We should publish a list of the species of dogs which are not acceptable here. We probably introduce more legislation in this House than does any other Parliament in Europe. Despite the trenchant claims for more and more legislation, this House should be given a holiday for a couple of years and the laws we have enacted should be implemented. The Garda Síochána and the local authorities have a role to play here. For many years they have turned a blind eye to the control of dogs. It is a fact that most Garda stations have not even a humane killer and if a dog is injured in an accident and is dying on the street in many cases the Garda Síochána are unable to put the dog down humanely and they have to send for a veterinary surgeon. Many a dog has died without the aid of a humane killer. That is a very small bit of equipment to have provided in Garda stations. If gardaí are going to ask people who own dogs for sums up to £200, then they should buy humane killers out of the proceeds.

The Minister should keep an open mind on this and take on board suggestions from the responsible dog associations who know more about it than anybody in the Minister's Department. The canine associations and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are the only people who can help educate the Minister in a meaningful way. I hope the Minister will take on board many of the suggestions made here today, that there will not be a hysterical reaction and that as few dogs as possible will be proscribed. I hope the Minister will draw up a list of unwanted species, particularly dogs from South America which are brought here specifically to kill other dogs and for gambling purposes. The Minister should also examine dog baiting which has been going on for many years and to which a blind eye has been turned by all authorities. Dog baiting, otter baiting, the digging out of foxes and so on, are nefarious practices and should all be examined by the Minister.

May I extend my best wishes to the Minister and congratulate him on his appointment? I hope the Minister will bring in a very balanced Bill in the fullness of time.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and wish him every success in his new Ministry. Having read through the Bill, it appears to me to have more bite than bark. What caught my eye in the first paragraph is that the Minister proposes to increase the licence fee for dogs. I think part of the problem to date is that very few people have bothered to licence their dogs. If everybody who owned a dog bought a licence for it I believe the income generated would be far in excess of that at present. I have three dogs and in fact I only bought the dog licences yesterday because I had received a reminder from the local authority to do so. This is the first time I ever received a reminder to buy a dog licence from the local authority and I am delighted that the local authorities are sending reminders out. I then forked out £15 for the licences, but I understand that next year it will cost me £30 to licence my three dogs. A great many people have dogs in order to protect their property. Indeed most times burglars will not go near a house with a dog; if there are two dogs, they are less inclined; and, if there are three dogs, they are again even less inclined to burgle that house. Dogs are as good a burglar alarm as you can get. Most people will agree with me on that, particularly in view of the high crime rate at present.

I understand that there is a higher licence fee for guard dogs and I have no objection to that. I remember meeting one security guard who told me that it cost more to hire the dogs per hour than what he was paid per hour. At that time he was earning £3 per hour but it cost £3.50 per hour to hire the dogs.

A great many old age pensioners have a dog. I know that £10 might not seem all that much, but a great many people have more than one dog and perhaps the Minister might consider the idea of a discount of some sort when a person has more than one dog. Perhaps the Minister would look at this area again before Committee Stage.

Sometime ago a dog strayed into our home which was very bedraggled and sad. We brought the dog to the vet, who later described him as a lurcher. Indeed, we incurred veterinary fees for the dog, as indeed most people do who care for their pets and ensure that the dogs get their injections. We then had four dogs but sadly the lurcher went out on the road six months later and got run over and we are now back down to three dogs. People who love animals will care for them. I love dogs and I hate to see a dog suffer. While it is humane to put down a dog who is suffering more by being kept alive, it is very hard to put down a young animal. As everyone who loves dogs knows, every dog has his own personality and one tries to keep any dog if one can.

Whole industries have grown up around the care of pets. Someone has to manufacture dog food, dog leads and the various toys that dogs like to play with, even though we do not go in for many of those items. Will the Minister consider having a sliding scale of licence fees where people have more than one domestic dog? For example, it could cost £10 to licence the first dog, £5 for the second dog and perhaps £2.50 for the third dog. I think such a move would be popular. Indeed, I think we could generate sufficient income to fund the dog warden service if the local authorities pursued the collection of the £5 licence fee more vigorously.

I welcome the provisions of the Bill that protect the public from dangerous dogs. The Garda Síochána have gone into certain homes in my constituency and were greeted by vicious dogs who had been turned on them by their owners. I met a garda who had to run quite considerable risks because of dangerous dogs. This is adequately covered in the Bill and I do not disagree with the actions being taken at that level.

I can appreciate that a muzzle causes discomfort to a dog. Muzzles have to be worn only by certain breeds of dogs when they are out in public. I accept the statistics that the Minister gave us in the course of his Second Stage speech and that figures indicate that in the 18 month period to November 1991 over 1,000 incidents of dog attacks were recorded by the dog wardens as part of their daily routine. I think it is important that we protect the public from vicious dogs but I do not understand why a more comfortable muzzle cannot be developed. This is surely an opening for somebody with ingenuity who can come up with a muzzle that is more comfortable for the dog while at the same time protects the person in the street from attack.

We have to differentiate sharply between dogs which are, as the Minister said, "man's best friend" and those which are engaged in professional guard duty. Our domestic pets also act as watch dogs. There is no question about that and it is very important that people are not charged too much for protecting their own property which cuts down on the time that the Garda spend investigating burglaries. The Minister should certainly come down heavily on people who allow their dogs to run wild and who have no interest in this dog except in training him to attack other people.

The imposition of an on-the-spot fine is a good idea. This reminds me of a story told by a former Member of this House, Mr. Seán Browne, about a sergeant of the Garda Síochána in County Wexford who was a little troublesome. He met a young fellow walking his dog in the main street in Enniscorthy and asked if he had a dog licence. The boy replied that he had not a licence because he had not the money to buy one. The sergeant told him to buy one and warned that he would call to his house next day to check. On the following day the sergeant called and the boy produced the licence. When the sergeant asked where he had obtained the money to buy it the boy replied that he had sold the dog.

I await with interest the Minister's reply. I look forward to participating on Committee Stage and I wish the Minister well.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and wish him well. Shortly after I became a Member of this House in 1981 I was part of a deputation to the then Minister of State at the Department of Justice regarding the problem of stray dogs. That Government lasted only a short time and several Ministers for Justice subsequently held office. In 1986 we eventually got all Ministers to agree that one Department should look after this problem. That was the first step towards the introduction of legislation. I should like to think that I played some part in convincing the parties in Government to allow one Department to deal with it.

This Bill proposes to increase the fee for an ordinary licence from £5 to £10 and to increase from £100 to £200 the fee for a number of dogs owned by one person. In my county we appointed a dog warden three or four years ago. Dog wardens have certain powers but they are not sufficient to solve the problem. An enormous number of stray dogs were putting sheep farmers out of business. I had envisaged that the dog warden would be given responsibility for collecting the licence fee but this is not the case. Only 25 per cent of dog owners purchase licences. Fewer than 2,000 people in County Meath have paid for a dog licence but there are about 25,000 dogs in the county. It costs Meath County Council £30,000 to run the dog warden service. That money comes from badly needed funds which could be used to provide other services. A dog warden has powers but not the power to collect the licence fee. The scheme should work on the basis that the warden has power to collect the licence fee and if a person is not prepared to buy a licence the warden should be enabled to take the dog. If that became the practice we would not have nearly as many stray dogs.

Some people have voluntarily set up dogs homes. I know of one couple in Navan who lived in an estate when they started this work two or three years ago. They have since moved outside the town and now have room to cater for a large number of dogs. In 1991 they found homes for 425 animals. This undertaking is funded by voluntary subscriptions. Perhaps a very small amount of money should be made available, perhaps from lottery funds, to people like that who are providing a badly needed service. More than 50 per cent of those 425 animals would have been put down but for the work of these people. They look after and vaccinate these animals and they charge only the veterinary costs to the individual, about £20 in most cases. They are not making a profit.

I am concerned that this legislation is not getting down to the nub of the problem. We are not giving dog wardens the power to collect licence fees. There is no need to increase the fee by 100 per cent. If proper management powers were given to dog wardens who are policing the system, we would quadruple the licence fee income without any increase. There is no question that this is the proper thing to do. Under this Bill we are simply doubling the fee and letting the system continue. Only a very small number of dogs will be licensed and no one will bother about the rest. It will clearly be seen that we are not tackling the problem. I am against this Bill for that reason.

I would ask the Minister to seriously consider what I am saying because it does not make sense to double the cost of a licence simply because 85 per cent of people do not pay. The Minister should not think he will increase the licence yield because I can tell him he will not solve the problem by so doing, rather he will make it worse.

Special consideration should be given to people who establish voluntary homes to care for stray, unwanted dogs. Such people should be given some allocation of funds — they are not seeking huge amounts — to ensure they can undertake that work without having to beg every penny they need at shopping centres, by way of weekend collections, or anywhere people congregate, at shows or other events, in order to cater for such animals.

As the Minister said, the dog is a very friendly animal. Indeed, many members of the public would consider they can look after dogs in their homes. We are all aware from where many stray dogs emanate. Many are bought as presents for children at Christmas but, when the children return to school, people suddenly realise the job entailed in looking after the animal in the house, which may often be in a built-up area. This leads to many problems and many dogs are allowed to stray.

If we refuse to examine those two aspects then as a Parliament we will have lost the opportunity to legislate in order to ease rather than increase the burden on people who are prepared to pay, while giving wider power to dog wardens. Many dog wardens are doing excellent work throughout the nation. They certainly are in my county.

It is my opinion that we are going somewhat over the top with regard to the muzzling of particular dogs, perhaps over-reacting to some minor incidents. We should certainly ban the entry of particular breeds of dogs to this country. In addition we should seriously consider the information Deputy Allen furnished to the House with regard to the overall position — the numbers and types of accidents that have occurred here and in England over the past couple of years. It could well be argued that the legislation introduced in Britain has not changed the position there very much in real terms since the majority of accidents involve children in their homes.

There is need for major improvements in the provisions of this Bill if we are to solve the problem. Merely increasing the licence fee will not solve the problem without giving dog wardens power to collect such licence fees on the doorstep, which would be the sensible thing to do. Indeed, I would contend that, if the Minister did nothing else, they would be worthwhile. Having spoken to many wardens I am convinced that the majority of them would be quite prepared to solve the problem on the doorstep, if a dog owner is not prepared to pay the licence fee within a day or so, a dog should be taken away. during which a dog may be taken away. That is the only way the legislative provisions can be enforced. Increasing the licence fee from £5 to £10 will not solve any problem. We should remember also that local authorities are starved of cash. I am sure the Minister's eyes have been opened since his appointment at how little cash there is available to tackle major problems. Yet we passed legislation in this House to ensure that local authorities would provide dog wardens in each county, costing huge amounts of money we cannot obtain because the majority of people being asked to pay £5 are not paying even that amount. Lo and behold, we now introduce this Bill the provisions of which will require them to pay £10. One must ask if there is any sense in that. I contend there is absolutely none unless dog wardens are given power to collect the licence fee. That is what I am advocating.

I hope the Minister will take on board some of the points made in the course of this debate. If it takes another six or seven years to introduce amending legislation in this area we will have missed an ideal opportunity.

I have no doubt but that all Members of this House are very concerned at the number of people who have been killed or seriously injured by dangerous dogs here and in Great Britain in the last year. In spite of the many dogs that have had to be destroyed on foot of court orders, there remains a large number of potentially dangerous dogs who will undoubtedly cause injury or even death in the future.

On behalf of the Green Party, Comhaontas Glass, I would have to say I do not agree with the manner in which the Minister proposes to tackle this problem. We have had a foretaste of departmental thinking with the introduction of the draconian muzzling regulations by a former Minister for the Environment.

Does the Minister realise that dog owners generally are up in arms about these muzzling regulations, that dogs who have shown impeccable behaviour over many years have had to be muzzled? Some breeds of dogs which the Minister has included in his order are not suitable for muzzling and this regulation is immeasurably cruel to them. It is a particularly ludicrous regulation in that it applies also to bulldogs, a harmless dog with a flat face. Presumably the only way one could muzzle a bulldog would be to fit some kind of head cage which would completely encompass the dog's head. This regulation was a hasty, ill thought-out move, as are some of the provisions in the Bill.

Many dog owners feel very strongly about these provisions, ordinary citizens, upholders of the law, who have said they would rather go to jail than muzzle their dogs. These are not extremists but ordinary people. I must inform the Minister that there is very real disquiet among many dog owners about the provisions of this Bill.

When the Minister has had an opportunity of reviewing the overall position, I hope he will introduce less stringent muzzling regulations for dogs. There appears to be an attitude or trend of thought in official circles that large dogs only constitute a threat to life and limb. People may tend to forget that children are very vulnerable to attacks by small dogs; even the toy dog breeds can be dangerous if they attack a two or three year old child. When canvassing for the Green Party in the local elections I called on a man who showed me a scar on his face which had been caused when he was three years old by a toy breed dog which knocked him down. We must remember that it is not always large dogs that do the damage, small ones can as well.

There is reference in the Bill to dangerous dogs. The Minister has power to ban ownership of any breed of dog he dislikes without the need for objective proof or statistics in regard to the behaviour of the breeds concerned. The Minister's opinion is sufficient. One would have to question the Minister's expertise in this matter, bearing in mind that a predecessor of his, the Minister for Justice, showed himself to be no expert in this area by his hamfisted handling of the muzzling regulations, demonstrating little or no understanding of dogs.

We must remember also that there are many elderly people whose dog is their only friend and protector, especially while out walking. What protection will their dog be when muzzled? It is extremely unlikely that such a person would own a dog that would attack unless to protect its owner under extreme provocation, much the same as in the case of a normal human being.

There is too much scope in the provisions of this Bill for the making of ministerial regulations. For example, this Bill empowers the Minister to ban all dogs, of any breed he chooses, from being taken out for a walk in any public place. This gives the Minister far too much power. I submit that "dangerous" dogs should be defined by their behaviour not by their breed, since there are wide variations in character in any breed. Responsible, well behaved owners should not be restricted or penalised because of the breed of dog they own. As the Minister should know, very often it is the owner who is at fault. Because of their lack of understanding of animal welfare or because they are bad owners or train or breed fighting dogs, the Minister should legislate against them and not against the type of dog.

We would all agree that the breeding and importation of pitbull terriers, which are specifically bred as fighting dogs, should be prohibited. There may well be other breeds of this nature — and I am sure they could be dealt with — but the scope of the Bill should not extend to dogs such as German Shepherds or Dobermans.

I am aware of the contents of a number of submissions sent to the Minister but I see no reference to them in the new Bill. A previous Minister said he would consult with the various relevant parties but this has not been done. This Bill has been introduced and there is a suggestion that consultation will take place after the Bill is passed and before introducing the regulations. It would appear that the Minister wants these sweeping powers before consulting the relevant parties. Such arrangements would render consultation pointless. It is evident that the Minister has already made up his mind on what he intends to do. This is why the dog owners with whom I have been speaking are very concerned. I fear the Minister will introduce more draconian measures if given a free hand. The Department have already shown themselves to be capable of making ill-considered and ill-informed muzzling regulations which are arbitrarily applied to a random selection of dog breeds.

I should like to refer to the issue of licence fees. I agree totally with what the previous speaker has said in this regard. The licence fee of £5 is quite sufficient and if genuine efforts were made to collect it, it would provide sufficient revenue to run the dog warden service. It is essential that we have identification of dogs. There is controversy about what form this should take but we all agree that dogs, when they are out in a public place, should wear some form of identification. Also, for certain breeds of dogs there should be compulsory insurance to provide protection for people when attacked. I think nobody would disagree with those provisions.

The Minister referred briefly to guard dog regulations which were introduced in 1988. The Green Party would have very serious ideological problems about the whole principle of keeping guard dogs. It must be a nonsense in the context of over 270,000 people being unemployed that security firms employ dogs instead of people. Even on economic grounds, it is absolutely insane to give dogs this precedence over people. The fact is that these dogs are allowed to roam freely behind wire. It is well known that children can get in over these fences — not burglars or robbers — and they are savaged by these dogs. Too many cases of this type occur. We need to rethink this whole area of the use of security dogs.

Because of the various points I have raised I will be opposing the Bill.

I am delighted to avail of the opportunity to make a small contribution to this Bill. I do so as one who has dealt with and handled dogs since I was a small boy, as I am sure has been the case with most other Members of the House. There are one or two things I would like to say in relation to this Bill.

It is true that, following proposals in relation to muzzling of dogs etc., there was an outcry by people who genuinely thought they knew their animal well and that there was no possibility that the animal would behave otherwise than in a docile fashion. As one who has dealt with such animals over a number of years I am sorry to say that is not the case. Any dog, without provocation, can at the snap of the fingers change and do something completely out of character; that is the real danger. People have got to realise that many of these animals — I am speaking about the varieties which have caused the problems and which are dealt with specifically in this Bill — have been domesticated to a large extent, but some are bred for a particular purpose and have caused serious problems.

A minority of animals that have been well cared for, well trained and so on can be quite normal but the possibility of an outburst is one for which we pay very highly. There is no comeback if a child is savaged or a person is attacked. One cannot then say that normally this animal was a domesticated, docile creature; it is completely against that animal's character that he or she should have behaved in that fashion. There is no compensation for the person concerned. Neither is it any compensation for the person concerned that the dog, the animal or the owner had insurance for that purpose. We have seen photographs in some of the newspapers and television pictures in the past three or four weeks of a young person recovering having been savaged by a dog. The legislation is justified and I put down a Private Notice Question on the subject some months ago which was disallowed for various reasons.

There are certain breeds of dogs which have been introduced to this country in the past number of years for reasons of machoism, for want of a better word. The local toughs want to have one of these animals and to be seen dragging them around so that they will put terror and fear into the hearts of all normal, civilised human beings. The one way to eliminate that problem is to ban them completely, and over a period of eight to ten years the problem will disappear but we must muzzle those in existence. I do not think anyone would expect to be given permission to walk a pet tiger without a muzzle and that is how it must be compared. Some animals may be normal for a period but suddenly they can snap. I had an experience several years ago of seeing a well known variety of household pet behave in a most peculiar fashion, seriously injuring at least three people and would have killed somebody had it not been that a number of bystanders were prepared to take action.

Genuinely concerned people are worried about their pets being muzzled. I can understand their anxiety, their fear and so on because they have known the animals over a period and presume that that animal will not react in a particular fashion. The statistics in relation to the number of attacks by a specified number of animals are unacceptable and repeat attacks by the same breed of animal are not acceptable. In the US the number of attacks over a ten year period by pitbull terriers has been very high. Those dogs have been used to intimidate people, to assist in robberies and in other criminal acts. In a civilised society we cannot stand idly by and allow this to happen on the basis that individuals have the right and freedom to own these animals. The greater common good has to take precedence and I hope this is what is intended under the Bill. While those who own animals are concerned that the ways these animals can be used will be curtailed it is a fact that we must balance one against the other and, as I understand it, that is the purpose of the Bill.

I thank Deputies for their interesting and positive contributions to this debate. The major objective of the Bill is to ensure that we are in a position to deal comprehensively with the problem of dangerous dogs. Happily, we do not have too serious a problem at present but it is an area where new problems will develop as time goes on. The best way to ensure that a serious problem does not develop is to have the power to take appropriate action quickly when this is called for to nip potential problems in the bud.

That is the reason I was surprised by a number of the contributions to this debate. Some Deputies seemed to infer that because we did not have a major problem on our hands we should wait until something happened before doing something about it but this runs contrary to what Deputies say in the House. Normally, they ask what is the reason we do not try to anticipate what difficulties may arise, prepare for them and provide leadership.

Second, it was suggested that, in a knee-jerk reaction, someone suddenly decided during the past two days to prepare a Bill and bring it before the House without consultations. Following tragic developments last summer, we consulted with all the interests involved and published a Bill, as far back as last October. Therefore, the suggestion that, in a knee-jerk reaction, we are rushing a Bill which was published last October through the House in late February runs in the face of what many Opposition Deputies have been saying: let us reform the House and try to deal with Bills more quickly. The only way we can deal with a Bill is to have it discussed in the House. It is very difficult to accept the contention, therefore, that we are rushing a Bill, which was published six months ago, through the House.

It is a sad reflection on us that we have so badly treated what has been rightly described as man's best friend. There is a real need for us to change our approach and attitude towards dogs. We must encourage — if necessary, compel — children through education, where possible, to adopt a more responsible attitude to dog ownership.

One of the most beautiful sights at this time of the year is a hillside with a flock of sheep, both ewes and lambs. Yet, tonight in different parts of the country the torn bodies of these little animals will be strewn across fields and ditches. I said, and most Deputies would agree with me, that a dog is man's best friend. I have a dog called Prince and, like Deputy Durkan, I am aware of the loyalty that that little animal is capable of showing. There are approximately 750,000 dogs in the country but less than one-third are licensed. I, as Minister for the Environment have no wish to introduce legislation which sets out to deliberately cut across or make the task of good owners, who care for loyal dogs, more difficult but what are we faced with? Only one-third of the dog population is licensed which means a huge number are uncared for and straying.

Is it right that a young child in this city should be afraid to walk into a public park today or any other day? We can make all the arguments we like about breeds and about the way we should regulate them but surely there has to be an onus on the public to look after their dogs. Even though a great number are very careful and manage their dogs to the best of their ability we have to face up to the fact that many dog owners do not license their dogs or care for them. As a result, there are many marauding dogs in fields, on farms, in our towns and cities who pose a threat. I hope during the course of the debate on Committee Stage we will be able to reach a consensus that this is not a knee-jerk reaction, that these proposals have been teased out during the past few months, that ongoing representations are being made and that, in the final analysis, we will have a measured and coherent way of bringing about a change for the better.

Apart from the problem of specially bred and trained dangerous dogs there is also the problem of unwanted and uncared for dogs. As Deputies have outlined, these were provided as Christmas or birthday presents for children without any consideration being given to the demands a dog makes in terms of care and attention. At best these dogs become known as "latch key" dogs. This means that they are shunted out of the house in the morning and left to run loose all day. At worst, these gift dogs become strays and a greater nuisance and hazard.

Another illustration of irresponsible dog ownership is the ownership of dogs which because of their size and temperament are not suitable for life in confined urban circumstances. Big dogs, which would be fine in an open rural environment where they can run off their energy harmlessly, fret and become agitated when confined in small back gardens. These animals can cause problems when released in a public open space.

Deputy Mitchell suggested that the Bill was a panic measure. I cannot understand how he could reach such a conclusion. He also suggested it was a sledgehammer with which to crack a nut. I certainly would not like to be Deputy Mitchell if the onus was on him to face a parent or to visit in hospital a patient who had been savaged, with cuts to the face, hands and limbs, by a dog — some of us have had this experience. I do not agree we are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. On this side of the House we are not saying we have a monopoly of wisdom. We listen to the other views to make the Bill better. I do not understand how Deputy Mitchell could consider his contribution was of help to me in advancing and developing the proposals before us.

Deputies Mitchell and O'Sullivan suggested I should have consultations with interested bodies but, as I said, consultations have taken place with interested bodies. I received submissions from them and they will be given the fullest consideration before the regulations are made.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for his positive and helpful contribution. I assure him that his concerns and suggestions will be taken into account. I also assure him that I will be taking measured and considered action. I will not be making rash or ill-considered regulations. The important point is that the Bill is very flexible and will enable me to take measures appropriate to the circumstances. I want to come back to the question of flexibility, having the kind of regulatory system which can be called upon to deal with situations which we perhaps do not anticipate now but which would not require another Bill or a three or six months' wait before we could deal comprehensively with problems which may well develop.

Deputy Jim Mitchell and Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan suggested that there should be control on the ownership of dogs. I can imagine the cries about draconian measures if we went down that road. It is extremely difficult to isolate the breeds which may cause problems, but heaven help the Minister who has to decide that it is the owners who cause the problems. I hope that somebody else will be in my place when a decision of that kind has to be made. There were suggestions about how regulations might be framed and these are matters which will be considered when the Bill is passed. Suggestions will be taken into account as well as all the other views we have received. Deputy Jim Mitchell asked what was the purpose of sterilisation, one of the options for regulations. The intention is to have a facility to allow a particular breed which we want to eliminate to die out naturally by way of sterilisation instead of demanding that the dog be put down.

Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan talked about funding for dog control measures. This funding comes from dog licence fees and obviously more money will be provided by the higher licence fees. One of the big problems is the low level of licensing. I covered this earlier. It is an area in which we will be encouraging local authorities to be more active. He also suggested that it was wrong to have a standard licence fee. This is acknowledged in the Bill, which allows me to set different levels of fees for different types of dogs.

Deputy Allen questioned the priority given to this Bill. The Bill was presented last October and is only now being considered, which hardly supports the view that it has been rushed. He also mentioned wandering horses. Of course, it is a matter which must be addressed; but it hardly justifies not dealing with the problem of dangerous dogs. We should not confine ourselves in this House to channels which force us to deal with one problem at a time. I hope we have enough confidence in ourselves to take on quite a number of problems at the same time and deal with them.

Deputy Allen also quoted statistics from a document published in the UK regarding the breeds of dogs and the relationship to accidents recorded in hospitals. He said there were only three cases out of so many thousands which were serious from the point of view of the hospital. I want to say two things about the statistics to which he referred. In trotting out statistics one would have to take account of the total number of the breed in the country relative to other breeds, and whatever breed is in the majority is likely to have the most accidents of some kind or another; we all accept that. However, when it comes to very serious accidents arising from dangerous dogs you will find that the breed to which he referred is far down on the scale. In this instance we are talking about very powerful dogs who have demonstrated in no uncertain terms their capacity not just to inflict minor injury but the kind of injury which is lasting, sometimes permanent and, in regrettable cases, lethal.

Deputy Michael Kitt raised the question of a possible defect in the 1986 Act in relation to the powers of the court to order the putting down of a dangerous dog. I should like to discuss with Deputy Michael Kitt the case which he mentioned as I am not aware of it. We will look at this matter because, as I understand the legislation, that legal authority has been available to the courts since 1986.

Deputy Allen thought that the increase in licence fees was unreasonable. The present fees have been in existence since 1984 and I see nothing wrong in a substantial increase now. However, in view of the measures being adopted, the resources which become available in the context of the dog warden system being improved, or any other suggestions which enable us to ensure a much wider and more successful collection of these licence fees, it could well be that this could afford an opportunity in the future in regard to licences. I was trying to ensure a realistic increase, bearing in mind that the last increase was made in 1984 and I hope we will have the kind of dog warden service which will be adequate to meet the need.

Deputy Allen also referred to the incidence of dog attacks in the home, I have already covered that. Deputy Briscoe talked about the licence fee and the value of dogs for security purposes. However, £30 for his three dogs is very cheap for his peace of mind. He said that the £10 licence fee is likely to represent only a fraction of the cost of a visit to a veterinary surgeon. While I do not want to make light of this, it is extraordinary — this has nothing to do with Deputy Briscoe's contribution — that sometimes, when it comes to charges, licence fees or proposals of that kind for a national service, we are often worried about the amount; yet, when it comes to something which many of us might not regard as important on a comparative basis, we seem to be much more free in what we can afford. This is an increase after eight years and I hope it will be helpful in widening the scope of the dog warden service to take account of some of the overall problems at present, enabling us to manage them better and to control them. If we can do that, then whatever scope or opportunity there may be to take account of those will be sympathetically considered and taken on board.

Deputy McGahon described the muzzling regulation as harsh. I should like to point out that the muzzling requirement applies only to a dog in a public place; there is no restriction on a dog in its home or garden. We will, in the context of the regulations, make sure that muzzling as an option could in the long run find acceptance as far as specified dangerous breeds are concerned.

Deputy Farrelly suggested that dog wardens should be allowed to collect licence fees and issue licences. This is possible within the existing legislation and indeed some local authorities are beginning to move in that direction. It will be interesting to see how this works out and certainly we must encourage any action which will achieve a higher level of licensing. I am sorry that Deputy Farrelly is not here because I understand he made a real contribution in stimulating interest in the 1986 Act. I am now affording him the opportunity to collect almost directly those licences in County Meath and I expect that the 2,000 licences which were paid this year will be suitably enhanced before we talk about the matter again.

I wish to thank Deputies for their thoughtful and considered comments. When the Bill is enacted I will be making comprehensive regulations to replace those currently in operation. I will be taking account of all the views I have received and of the experience we have had in the operation of existing regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Thursday, subject to agreement between the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 5 March 1992.