Before we adjourned for the sos I was trying to establish with the Minister the need to increase revenue from the licences. I said that it was obviously quite scandalous that there were 700,000 dogs and that only 170,000 licence fees were collected. If there are 700,000 dogs and each of them is licensed for a £10 fee, the income would amount to about £7 million. That is leaving aside the extra revenue to be derived under various regulations in this Bill. I would imagine that £7 million would completely fund the dog warden service. I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments.
Control of Dogs (Amendment) Bill, 1991: Committee Stage (Resumed).
It is a fairly common feature of modern life that parents like to have a small dog for their children. Dogs can be very beneficial for children in terms of their development. I would hate to see any imposition on parents in buying a dog for their children. They should not have to pay an exhorbitant sum. Would it not make more sense in respect of pets for children for the Minister to put in place a procedure whereby licences at the current rate could be collected? Obviously a large number of dogs are unlicensed. It would be better to leave the fee as it is and make sure that those fees outstanding are collected.
Deputy Garland's sums are right. I would be extremely happy if we were in a position to collect licences from all dog owners. It is estimated that there are about 750,000 dogs in the country, a large proportion of whom are totally uncared for and straying, having no real homes. I do not know the exact number of dog owners who provide for, understand and treat a dog as man's best friend. If we were dealing only with dog owners who loved and cared for their dogs we would not need new legislation. There is, however, a real problem which we are addressing.
The effect of amendment No. 4 would be to remove the power to change the level of fees by regulation. That is not generally acceptable. It would mean that the fees would remain at the level set in the Act until such time as a new Bill was brought before the Oireachtas. It is not reasonable to suggest that the time of the Houses of the Oireachtas should be taken up by a Bill simply to up-date licence fees. The licence fee was last increased in 1984 and we are making provision here to increase it from £5 to £10. That figure appears to be acceptable.
From the discussions I have had in the limited time which has been available, relating to such matters as more responsible dog ownership, it is clear that there is a need to enhance and improve the dog warden service in order to eliminate problems. I hope that the additional funds will make this possible. Those funds are being devoted exclusively to the improvement of that service. The local authorities must make their own arrangements. They have been struggling to cope with this problem and I expect that the new resources will assist them. However, it is essential that we try to find new and different means to increase substantially the number of dog owners whose dogs are licensed. We must have a more equitable and fairer scheme to address this question. That is my desire and intention.
To exclude from the Bill the possibility of increasing the licence fee at some future date would be undesirable. It might be necessary in, say, five years to increase the fee for a particular type of breed causing a problem for the warden service. The vast majority of breeds do not create a problem but a number do. The Bill provides the freedom to consider increasing the licence fee in such instances. In respect of other legislation, Deputies have often asked why it should be necessary to come back to the House to make provisions of that type, saying that it should have been included in the original legislation. There is no intention to impose further increases in the licence fee in the immediate future. The provision is flexible and avoids the necessity to come back to the House should the occasion arise. There has been no division on this type of issue in respect of other Bills.
I am absolutely amazed at the Minister's response. I know he is new in the job and we cannot blame him for the failures of numerous predecessors. The principal Act dates back to 1986 and the whole principle of dog licences goes back a lot further. The Minister is saying that responsible dog owners will buy the licence and if other people will not buy a licence what can we do about it. It is the Minister's job to do something about it. He is admitting that there are perhaps 500,000 unlicensed dogs, many of which are not under control and the ownership of which is very uncertain. This is the problem with which this Bill should be dealing. We must have a compulsory national identification scheme which is computerised. This would make it easy to ascertain whether a licence has been purchased for a particular dog. It would facilitate the dog wardens and any dogs not properly identified could be taken away immediately. I think they are doing that at present.
I am not at all impressed by the Minister's response and I would ask him to think again. This is a very serious matter and it is not being adequately addressed.
As I am standing in temporarily on this Bill and I am notau fait with what has already been said by my colleagues in relation to this section my view would be that we should not create too many barriers for people in the matter of licensing their dogs. I am not arguing about the increased fee for a general dog licence because those concerned are involved in a commercial way but for domestic pets the lower the barriers in relation to the registration of dogs the better. Obviously, the more people who license their dogs the more knowledge there is as to who owns dogs and who is responsible for them. To this end the licence fee should be nominal. While £10 per year for most of us in this House is not a huge sum of money, for many families in areas where there is the highest population of stray dogs income levels are such that £10 is a significant amount. For that reason I argue that the Minister should look at the question of increasing that figure across the board and see whether he should proceed with such a move or whether there should be some alleviation for people in certain circumstances.
The amendment tabled in the names of Deputies Gilmore and McCartan relates to how licence fees will be fixed in the future and asks that regard be had to the size, weight and breed of dog and to the use for which a dog is kept. If that amendment were included in the section proposed by the Minister I would have no problem with him having the right to impose the fees without coming back to the House. It is important to bear in mind the range of uses to which dogs are put. My concern is to protect the householder, and to ensure that greater responsibility is accepted for the family pet, that they are well cared for and that the great value they are for children is utilised to a greater extent.
If we go down the road of using the licence fee as a revenue earner we undermine the concept of trying to get control of dogs in a way which ensures they are properly cared for, properly registered and marked.
I should like to say to Deputy Garland that it may be popular to suggest that everyone who owns a dog in Ireland is going to be responsible and is going to be a good dog owner but I am in this House to face reality, not dreams. I am certain that, regrettably, a large number of the people in this country today who own dogs do not care for them, allow them to stray, are not interested in controlling them, and do not take the appropriate steps to ensure controlled breeding of their animal by way of proper accommodation, veterinary attention, management and so on. I do not want this taken out of context in such a deliberate way as Deputy Garland has chosen to do on this occasion. That is not to suggest that I am not interested in getting every person in this country who can afford it, and where it is legitimate for them to do so, to pay a dog licence fee. If it were possible for every dog owner in this country to face that reality and I saw that I would go after it the same as the Deputy but I know it is not real and I will not tell the House it is real.
In relation to Deputy De Rossa's question there is no point in setting out to have a very complex licence fee system for dogs. The argument put forward in the amendment is that there should be flexibility, having regard to the size, weight and breed of dog and to the use for which the dog is kept. There is much to be said about "the use for which the dog is kept". If one takes the first part of the amendment it is possible to have an old age pensioner with little means who could have a very heavy pet dog and of a breed which might cause problems for other people but not for him or his neighbours. I want to ensure that in drafting the regulations I do not hurt an owner in such circumstances. I do not favour a complex licence fee system. Suffice it to say there is a certain amount of room for scope which can take account of problems which have been referred to and I will do my best to meet those legitimate requirements.
Is it the wish of the House that we put the question on amendment No. 4?
I have tabled an amendment. I have listened with interest to the Minister's contribution. I had asked him to give the official explanation of section 3 (c). The words and the language used make the section all-embracing. In reply to Deputy Garland the Minister said that because there may be stray dogs or accidents of birth in the canine breeds it would be wrong to define the provision, that we can easily cater for this matter by regulation. I accept that but all the language in this section has a particular meaning and I would like to know the Department's thinking on it. When we tabled the amendment we were concerned that the section spoke for the totality. Many people have told me they would be prepared to pay £50 for a licence for the lifetime of a dog. I do not know whether they informed the Minister or the officials in the Department of that. There would be an economic benefit involved in such a move in so far as the wardens would be eliminated. I presume the 170,000 people will continue to pay their licence fees as they have done heretofore unless the increased fee results in a reduction in licensing. I would ask the Minister when replying to this section to outline the reason this all-embracing language is used. It can mean all sorts of different things to different people. When the Minister has gone on to greener pastures the person who succeeds him may get different advice from different officials in the Department and more draconian measures may be used. That is what we are trying to address. We are not trying to inhibit good order and the administration of this legislation.
First, the licence fees were set in 1984. Everyone who contributed this morning said they would like to see the warden service improved. Particular reference was made to Dublin city and county where there are seven wardens. One of the problems that we encountered in the past was that we were not prepared to face up to reality and meet the cost of that service. The increased licence fees will, I hope, enable us to improve the service throughout the country. In this context, a much higher percentage of those who own dogs at present will have to pay their licence fees. As I said, I will be anxious to have discussions with the local authorities to see what steps can be taken to ensure this happens.
Deputy Carey's proposition, that dog owners be allowed purchase a licence covering a three, five or ten year period, sounds plausible and I will look at it to see if this can be done but we should bear one or two points in mind. It was put to me strongly that each person should pay the same amount in respect of each dog, that the general dog licence presented some people with an opportunity to pay somewhat less in aggregate and in order to be fair the same amount should be paid in respect of each dog. Deputy Carey's proposition seems to put that concept in jeopardy. It would also present us with a problem of assessing what the lifespan of a dog might be but given that this is the second time the Deputy has mentioned this problem I am prepared to look at his suggestion before Report Stage.
I would remind the Deputy, in relation to cash flow, that for local authorities each year stands on its own and because money is paid in advance does not mean that local authorities would be in any stronger position in dealing with their problems three or four years hence. Indeed, it could lead to false expectations being created. I am prepared, however, to see if I can meet the Deputy's wishes in this regard. I am not too sure, however, if I will be successful.
We are discussing amendment No. 4 and are we discussing amendment No. 5 with it?
We are taking amendments Nos. 4 and 5 together, as agreed this morning.
I took it from the Minister's response to the points I raised that he was favourably disposed to accept at least part of amendment No. 5, which has regard to the use for which the dog is kept. Is that correct?
There is no need to incorporate it. Subsection (5) will present the Minister with sufficient opportunity to do exactly what has been suggested at the end of the proposed amendment.
In accepting the Minister's good intentions I should say that part of the difficulty — I have not read the Bill through — is that normally regulations are passed here by way of negative motion; in other words, they are not debated in this House——
They can be.
——and we are not given an opportunity to have a say on what has been included in the regulations. While the Minister may well take this into account in drafting the regulations I ask him to give an undertaking to bring the regulations before the House some Friday morning or afternoon — an hour may be sufficient to address the issue — so that the House can be satisfied that these matters are being dealt with adequately.
As I said this morning in regard to the regulations which will be drawn up following the passage of the Bill, I will continue to have the widest possible consultations to ensure we find a good solution to the problems facing us. If time permits, and the Whips agree, I would have no objection to having a further discussion at a later stage on the regulations. As far as I am aware, this is not the normal practice but that would not deter me from having discussions at any time to either improve the legislation or regulations.
I have no wish to prolong the debate on the matter but, as I said, the normal practice in regard to legislation which comes before the House is to provide for regulations which, unless they are annulled by a motion of the House, automatically become law. Due to the way Standing Orders operate here a motion can only be brought forward in Private Members' time. For all practical purposes, regulations cannot be annulled in this House. I ask the Minister therefore to consider making regulations by way of a positive order; in other words, they would have to be approved by the House. This could be done in a short debate on a Friday morning or afternoon.
I should like to make one further point. I asked earlier that we would not create obstacles to the registration and licensing of dogs particularly the family pet. The Minister referred in particular to the old age pensioners who keep a pet for company or simply to bark and frighten away people whom they might regard as intruders. This is as much the case in rural areas as it is in urban areas.
I suggest to the Minister that, in making regulations, he should, as in the case of licences for televisions, consider giving them to old age pensioners free of charge. This would not result in a great loss of revenue to the State or interfere with the service it is hoped to provide. Indeed, by so doing he would provide much security for old age pensioners who, as we are aware, feel increasingly under threat in our modern society.
Man's inhumanity to man or woman does not always stop there; it can often extend to animals, especially dogs. There is need, therefore, for regulations and legislation to control dogs. However, the Minister is looking for excessive powers and that has not been dealt with adequately. I support the suggestion made by Deputy De Rossa that the Minister should consider granting old age pensioners a free dog licence. Old people often get muddled when it comes to filling forms with the result that many of us spend long hours filling them out for them. This is a regulation they could do without. The law requires them to have a dog licence but this is more often ignored. This would be one less form for old people to fill up. This suggestion would be of help to them financially and would amount to a compassionate and humanitarian gesture.
I support this proposal. However, senior citizens should be required to register their dogs but with no fee attached. I ask the Minister to seriously consider exempting old age pensioners from having to pay this fee. If that is not possible, I appeal to him not to impose the increases in the case of senior citizens.
There has been a lot of repetition on this amendment. We have to deal with many more amendments and I ask Deputies to avoid repetition.
Any Minister would like to make the kind of concessions which have been sought. However, it is difficult enough to be Minister for the Environment without taking on the functions of the Minister for Social Welfare as well. The sum of £10 for a dog licence is a very tiny part of the total cost of keeping, maintaining and looking after a dog for a year. As I said on Second Stage, it is surprising that people are reluctant to pay for a television or a dog licence — they seem to have a mental block in this regard — but they do not seem to mind paying other charges. The increase we are seeking is the first since 1984. I have not had complaints from any groups in regard to the proposed increase. Indeed, I would go as far as to say — I am quite sure my colleagues will agree — that old age pensioners are the highest percentage of contributors in the sense that they pay their licences. I could be wrong but I am prepared to bet that, in the context of those who pay their licence, they constitute a very significant number.
The reason for having new resources is to enhance the dog warden service. Many of the groups representing dog owners are extremely anxious to have an efficient service. We cannot argue for concessions and at the same time expect me — or a local authority — to improve the warden services. Earlier this morning we discussed the number of wardens in Dublin city and county and other places. The service is stretched to the limit and if there is any possibility of improving it we must face up to the reality of increasing the licence and making sure that dog owners who are not paying their licences at present are obliged to do so.
Is Deputy Kemmy pressing his amendment?
Perhaps the Minister will come back on Report Stage with further proposals in this regard.
There will be nothing higher on my agenda between now and Report Stage than dealing with the problems which the Deputy raised.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 3, line 20, after "regulations" to insert "and in particular, shall have regard to the size, weight and breed of dog and to have regard to the use for which the dog is kept".
If the Minister is willing to introduce a positive motion in the House in relation to the regulations I would be prepared to withdraw this amendment.
That would present a difficulty for me as it is not the norm and it also implies that I intend to be ruthless, which is not my intention, in the way the regulations will be designed. I said that I will have the greatest possible consultation on this matter and the existing provision gives me the flexibility to take account of the amendment proposed by Deputy De Rossa and his colleagues.
I do not wish to waste time on a vote which I will not win. On the understanding that the Minister will have regard to our concerns on the issues raised in the amendment, I will withdraw the amendment. Perhaps he will also circulate the draft regulations to the Deputies who tabled the amendment before Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 3, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
"(d) the addition of the following new subsection:
‘(3) All proceeds from general dog licence or dog licences shall be assigned for the puroses of the control and welfare of dogs, including the costs of regulation, dog wardens and the provision of dog control centres and facilities.'.".
This is a self-explanatory amendment but I should like to hear the Minister's response.
We covered this matter on numerous occasions this morning and we said that all the fees would be devoted to the warden service. In that context the amendment is unnecessary as already there is provision in the Control of Dogs Act, 1986, that the fees in respect of a dog licence and a general dog licence are repayable to the local authority which issue them. At the moment licences are issued and fees collected by An Post under arrangements agreed with local authorities. The fees are passed on by An Post to the local authorities concerned after deduction of a set sum to cover the administrative cost of An Post.
In practice, local authorities spend far more on their dog control services than they collect in licence fees. The increase in dog licence fees, provided for in the Bill, will give much needed additional resources to local authorities to fund their dog control services and will enable a greater level of enforcement to be applied. It is likely to be a long time before local authorities make a surplus on dog control operations, but, if they do, they should have discretion on how to use such surplus within their revenue generally.
The Minister's assurances with regard to the current operation of the law are welcome. I have no doubt that the motives of those who tabled the amendment arise from their experiences at local authority level throughout the country of the way in which the Department of the Environment appear to be eroding the powers and responsibilities of local authorities generally on the one hand and laying down legislation and regulations — as, for example, in this area — where the local authorities simply do not have the resources available to them to carry out their responsibilities. At present, Dublin City Council, of which I am a member, are down something in the order of £60 million on what they should be since the rates support grant was introduced in 1977 in the wake of the abolition of domestic rates. That is the scale on which Dublin City Council have lost in terms of funding to carry out the services which they are expected to provide on behalf of their citizens.
The Minister should be supported in the general thrust of what is happening in attempting to deal with the problem of stray, wandering and vicious dogs. However, the problem is twofold: the first is that inadequate funds are made available to local authorities to carry out their functions in this area. I illustrated graphically earlier on in the debate how poorly off Dublin city and county are in this regard. There is a trend, when there is frustration at the level of service in Dublin or elsewhere, to criticise the Minister. The not uncommon reaction of the Department is to issue a directive, take over responsibility and regulate the matter directly, including the spending of money. I do not want to digress too far but, by way of illustration, there is a ludicrous situation in Dublin regarding the collection of parking meter charges which Dublin Corporation collect, on a day to day, meter for meter basis round our streets.
There is a sum in the region of £4.5 million in an account held by Dublin Corporation on behalf of the Minister from this meter collection which we are not allowed to spend. The Minister will not release the moneys even though there is a crying need for traffic management and planning in the city. If a provision as explicit as this is not written into our legislation I am worried that at some future date it will be possible, either through ministerial directive, regulation or whim, to divert the resources from the local authority to the Minister who will then run the dog service from the Department.
This is particularly worrying when one bears in mind that all but three local authorities employ the services of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to carry out their functions under the legislation. The prospect of a Minister in a Department running this service, through a national association, for 90 per cent of the country is all too appealing. At present the three dog wardens in Dublin city are pleading with the ISPCA to provide basic equipment to enable them to deal with vicious animals. However, the ISPCA are not adequately pursuing their interests because there are ideological reservations about, for example, the use of tranquilisers or certain equipment to overpower vicious animals. While this merry-go-round is going on the people of Dublin are left as it were at the mercy of stray and vicious animals. As I said, dog wardens have suspended all their activities in the control of stray and dangerous animals for the past two weeks.
We are not prepared to walk away from this amendment as quickly as the Minister would like us to do. It is important to write into the legislation an emphatic declaration that all the proceeds from dog licences will be earmarked for the dog warden service. As I said earlier, the dog warden service is the key to the effective operation of this legislation.
Section 8 (1) of the 1986 Control of Dogs Act provides:
The following fees shall be payable to a local authority in respect of the issue of a dog licence or a general licence, that is to say—
(a) in respect of the issue of a dog licence, a fee of £5, and
(b) in respect of the issue of a general dog licence, a fee of £100.
Therefore, if I wanted, theoretically, to put my hands on this money, which I have no intention of doing, it is clear that the Act provides for the payment of the licence fee directly to the local authority. The 1991 Local Government Act prescribes certain functions for the Minister for the Environment in the devolution of further powers to local authorities.
I ask the Deputy to examine his amendment and the ultimate logic in it. It proposes that if we reach a stage where there is a theoretical surplus to the local authorities from dog licences against their needs in terms of the provision of the warden service, they could, in certain circumstances, use these resources for other purposes as they saw fit. We need to face reality. We are so far away from meeting the financial requirements of the warden service from the income from dog licences that I do not want to think about it at this stage. I think it is fair to say that the legal provision which will ensure that the local authority have control of these financial resources is not in doubt. If the position should arise that they have surplus resources from dog licences, which I believe is unthinkable at the moment, they will also have the right under local autonomy, to do as they see fit with these resources.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 3, before section 4, to insert the following new section:
"4.—Section 9 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the substitution in subsection (1) of `on a lead or chain while in public places' for `under effectual control'.".
This amendment deals with what I regard as a rather nebulous phrase in section 9 of the 1986 Act which requires people who escort dogs in public places to have them "under effectual control". This provision is open to many different interpretations. It is suggested that a more appropriate and definite definition should be used which would enable the dog warden service to deal, in a more definite way, with people who escort dogs in public places. This would ensure that there would not be scope for debate in a public place as to what is effectual control. This amendment proposes to delete the phrase "under effectual control" from the 1986 Act and substitute the term "on a lead or chain while in public places". I believe this wording is used by the Minister elsewhere in the Bill. Therefore, it should apply in this instance also.
I have much sympathy with what Deputy McCartan says. However, I know from experience that dogs which are not exercised regularly tend to become very aggressive and violent. I do not know how we could accommodate this with what Deputy McCartan has said.
I accept what the Deputy has said about the different interpretations of the phrase "under effectual control". A dog owner who is walking his dog in a public place could say he had his dog under effectual control but that certain things happened. I accept that in such circumstances there could be a problem with the interpretation of the term "under effectual control". However, if we impose a requirement on dog owners to have their dogs on a chain or lead at all times when they are in public places we are effectively saying to dog owners that they cannot exercise their dogs. This could give rise to serious problems. I should like to hear the Minister's comment on that point.
It is difficult to know how far we should go in this instance and how flexible we should be. We must remember that we are dealing with people who have very dangerous dogs which they use to intimidate people. As Deputy Durkan said, these young muscular men who have these dangerous dogs on leads are very intimidating. I believe even Mike Tyson would be intimidated if he was confronted by one of these young men with a big dog. This happens mainly in cities rather than in rural areas. One has to wonder what these young men are doing with these big dogs because they do not look as if they are exercising them. Can we stop these people from walking their dogs if they have a lead on them? I often wonder if these young men think these dogs give them a status in the community and make people notice them. At one time dogs were known as the poor man's flock, especially among travelling people. These people have given a new meaning to this. At the same time we have to take into consideration the ordinary people who merely like to take their dogs for a walk. Therefore, I believe it is difficult to find wording which will cover all dog owners, the majority of whom are genuine dog lovers and the small minority who use dangerous dogs for a different purpose. I have some sympathy for the Minister in this respect.
I support this amendment. We have to remember that we are talking about two different types of dog owners. People who walk their dogs on Dún Laoghaire pier, for example, where many people and families go for walks, should be required to have their dogs on a lead. Dogs that run wild frighten children and adults. When dog owners are told they should have their dogs under control they get very aggressive and annoyed and do nothing about it. Perhaps dogs should be kept on a lead in built-up areas, in parks or at piers, but it would be unrealistic to expect people in the country to bring their dogs for a walk to always have them on a lead. When I take my dogs to the beach I do not always keep them on a lead because they are small and harmless dogs. It should be obligatory in certain areas to keep dogs on a lead and it should not be up to the individual to decide whether to do so.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): There are two matters to be considered here: the type of dog involved and where one is walking the dog. Obviously in the country it is natural to let dogs run free and exercise themselves but in cities and built-up areas it would be highly dangerous to let dogs run wild. The Minister mentioned Solomon and perhaps, he will call in his powers again.
Does the Minister have power to designate certain areas where dogs could be allowed run free? In areas other than those designated, dogs should be kept on a lead or a chain.
Many dog owners have very little garden space or land and the question of restricting dogs in all public places is unacceptable. There must be some freedom in public parks, walkways and piers to exercise dogs. The amendment is not acceptable because it would impose an unduly severe restriction on all dog owners or persons in charge of a dog when in a public place. The term "under effectual control" allows the person accompanying a dog to keep it on a chain or lead or under voice command. There is little demand for the leashing and chaining of dogs when in all public places.
Under the new section 19 there is power to make regulations providing for the control of dogs. This power can be used to make provision for specific types or classes of dogs. Furthermore local authorities may, under section 17 of the 1986 Act, make by-laws relating to the control of dogs within their functional areas and these by-laws may specify areas within which dogs must be leashed or may be be excluded. In reply to Deputy Liam Fitzgerald's request, local authorities are in a position to meet that requirement.
The difficulty about the overall proposal is that it fails to take account of the fact that a huge number of dogs present little or no problem whether on a lead or not. The purpose of the Bill in essence is to control dangerous dogs and to protect the public safety. We do not want to interfere in a broad way with the good management of dogs either by way of lead, voice control or whatever. A variety of measures of control do not involve the essential requirement of having a dog on a lead or a chain. This amendment would impose a huge burden on a great number of dog owners whose dogs are no threat to the public and therefore it is unacceptable. The existing provisions cover the matter adequately.
In relation to other provisions which involve regulations governing muzzling and matters of that kind it would be a great step forward if we could ensure that all breeds of dogs that normally tend to be dangerous or have caused problems are kept on a lead. That would solve many problems, but to take the matter any further is a bit much. It is unnecessary and would result in many objections from the general body of dog owners whose dogs are harmless and cause no problem.
We are getting down to the nub of the issue. I do not wish to argue with Deputy Fennell about her little dogs but small dogs can be as much of a menace and a threat as big dogs. They may run underneath people's feet tripping them, and be a danger to children as well as adults. The fundamental proposition is that a dog in a public place should be on a leash. As regards the exercising of dogs, one must pose the question whether the urban environment is the place to have a dog.
I was born in Dublin but reared in a rural environment and my family always owned dogs. I have a great love for dogs but I would refuse to have a dog in the city because it is an entirely inappropriate environment in which to keep a dog. There is a requirement in all public parks that dogs be kept on a leash. It is against the by-laws and regulations that dog owners let their dogs run free in these parks.
The motion for my amendment stems from the difficulty of the dog warden service in dealing with this problem. When dog wardens approach people with an over active animal that poses a threat to people who are lawfully in a public place the argument arises as to what is and what is not effectual control. Some people consider that because dogs who run ahead of their owner and perhaps worry passers by are within a whistle call of the owner, that is effectual control, but I do not believe it is. The dog warden service find particular difficulty with the operation of this provision.
Section 9 of the original legislation attempted to address the concerns expressed by my constituency colleague, Deputy Fitzgerald, about the right to exercise dogs. The Minister said local authorities may regulate for this. Similar debates have taken place in Dublin City Council and councillors have suggested that sections of our larger public parks be designed for the purpose of dog exercise. However, there is a problem of resources. The finances are not available to construct fences that would separate areas. The House has discussed the problem before. Sections 9 (1) (b) and (c) of the principal Act provide that the premises of any person — which, in the context of the legislation, may include a body corporate or a statutory body — may be used with the consent of that person. Dublin Corporation, for example, could consent to members of the public taking their dogs to designated areas or portions of a property to run loose. The onus is on dog wardens to find someone with a property large enough and who will give the dog owner permission to run his or her dogs over the land. As I understand it, the idea is that, because there is a risk and a worry in connection with dangerous dog breeds, straying animals and dogs running free in public places, legislation is required for control purposes. Primarily, we rely upon the dog warden service to implement the legislation. A major difficulty arises when phrases such as "broad spaces" and "under effective control" are contained in the legislation.
That issue fits into another concern of mine that will be debated later in the legislation, time permitting, that is, my concern about the muzzling of dogs. I am opposed in principle to the concept of muzzling dogs, irrespective of breed. I believe that that practice is inhumane and that it is not an appropriate way to seek to control and regulate animals. Therefore, I would push for a much wider requirement to keep dogs on a leash in public places. That is the way to deal with the threat presented by dogs bred for aggressive purposes or dogs that could be a potential worry to innocent passers-by on a public way, because of either their size or their appearance. Those animals should be required to be on a leash and under the control of a responsible person. If that were the position then by and large the problem in relation to the different breeds nominated under the 1991 Regulations would not arise.
For reasons that I shall go into later, I do have worries about the way in which the muzzling of a dog will react on the animal itself, about the way in which it will create a reaction from people to the animal carrying the muzzle and about other different aspects. I do not consider that muzzling is the way to resolve worries about different breeds or types of animal. My interest is in trying to introduce a general principle that dogs, irrespective of size, breed or disposition, once in a public place, must be on a lead. It should then be a matter for owners of private property or statutory bodies with charge over public places to regulate how and where dogs may be exercised and to run free.
We cannot have it both ways. The Minister cannot argue on the one hand, as he did earlier today, that we have a problem with difficult dogs and difficult people who have difficult dogs, and then on the other hand say that we should provide that little dogs, in-between size dogs and nice dogs should be allowed to run free. The dog warden service simply cannot cope with that kind of chaos. There has to be clarity and there has to be one rule for all.
I agree with Deputy McCartan that we are coming to the nub of the Bill. There are difficulties in framing legislation to cover all eventualities. It does not make sense to legislate for the muzzling of certain breeds of dogs without going after delinquent owners — those are the people whom we should try to identify in legislation. I shall give one very brief example. A journalist forThe Irish Times, Mr. Dermot Kerry, in an article about the Bill two days ago in “An Irishman's Diary”, caught the kernel of the difficulty faced by both sides of the House in an illustration that the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, would be interested in. I quote from his article:
The regulations might have gone unnoticed but for Mrs. Beth Sherrard, a Cork woman, who was challenged about her unmuzzled German Shepherd, whom she was walking near her home. She promptly told the garda she did not intend to put a muzzle on him. It landed her in court, and she said she would go to prison rather than pay a fine.
At the same time a little Dalmatian in Limerick being treated by a local vet bit off the vet's ear. That is an illustration that the House might consider: on the one hand, a German Shepherd walking peacefully along the road and on the other hand, a little Dalmatian behaving very viciously. It is almost impossible to enact blanket legislation to cover all eventualities.
Essentially, it is the deliquent and bad owners of dogs who are at fault. We should identify those people and make it impossible for them to practice their nefarious breeding, training and use of dangerous animals. That should be the object of this whole exercise; we should not penalise well-meaning innocent people who are going about their lawful business and who get great solace and satisfaction from their animals. It is very difficult for the House to target what we want to achieve. There is a consensus between both sides of the House; our difference is in the best way to frame the wording of various provisions.
I said at the very beginning that I had a measured and flexible response to the problem. Deputy Kemmy in both his most recent and his earlier contributions teased out the difficulties. However, to introduce into the Dáil a Bill designed to identify problem owners would be equally difficult.
On occasions in the past Deputy McCartan and I have crossed swords in the House when debating legislation. The Deputy says that I am blowing hot and cold. As clearly as I can, I want to indicate that that is not the case. If we were to assume for a moment that the Deputies' amendment were accepted, then we would have the spectacle of a farmer pushing 50 cows down a road, assisted by a sheep dog on a lead. Deputy Fennell seemed to take account of the different problems experienced in various parts of the country in relation to an absolute requirement that one must have a dog on a lead in a public place. It would be unthinkable for the House to try to force a farmer to manage a herd of cattle or a flock of sheep with a dog on a lead. That is just one example to demonstrate that I am not blowing hot and cold. There are practical problems involved in going absolutely in that direction.
The general tenor of Deputy McCartan's comments about keeping dogs on a lead in public places and in built-up areas makes a great deal of sense. However, I accept that many owners of numerous breeds of dogs are able to manage their dogs excellently by voice control and other means. I know people very experienced in the management of dogs and their management could not be bettered and I would not seek to impose another directive on such people.
Local authorities have absolute discretion to select sites or parts of parks for which by-laws would require that dogs be admitted only if on a leash. I accept that that is a matter for the local authorities. My job is to endeavour to frame legislation which takes account of that possibility, which takes account of the general requirement outlined by Deputy McCartan, which takes account of owners who are in a position to manage and control their dogs without doing that, which takes account of the farming position as well nationwide where, to oblige a dog owner to have a dog leashed while managing a sheep or cattle herd would not be practical. For these and many other reasons I cannot agree to the amendment. It is not hot; it is not cold; it is just for real.
I thank the Minister for his response. Perhaps we should turn down the temperature somewhat in the manner in which we are addressing the provisions of this Bill. The Minister has addressed one difficulty that had not crossed my mind. Would the Minister accept that there is at least a different set of considerations to be applied to an urban, built-up, area as opposed to rural areas? I accept the point the Minister made about a farmer who must go about his business on the highway, to conduct his animals, using a sheepdog or a farmyard dog.
I suggest to the Minister that real differences and problems arise in urban areas. I am not coming in here with some type of high-faluting problem I have picked simply to entertain the Minister or anyone else. This arises directly from our examination experience, at city council level, of the way in which the dog warden service operates in Dublin.
Would the Minister be disposed to examine for Report Stage, this amendment and the problem I seek to address here? Would he consider looking at section 9 (1) of the Principal Act and address it in a general sense by laying down a proviso—where it is said: "unless such owner or the person in charge of the dog accompanies it and keeps it under effectual control"— including in urban areas the necessity to employ the use of a leash, etc? Certainly in the urban constituency I represent I would not predict any objection on the part of the broad community to such a stricture, as it is generally accepted that people in urban areas who have dogs, who take them out into public places, should be obliged to have them on a leash. That would be a reasonable approach.
I do not propose to press my amendment if the Minister is disposed to examining this aspect again for Report Stage along the general lines I have suggested or, indeed, any other line that would better suggest itself to him or his officials.
There is a certain amount of logic in what Deputy McCartan says. At the same time, when one thinks of it in pure legislative terms from a national point of view, the only mechanism obtaining to deal with the diversity of problems that emerge are the by-laws. As I see it, local authorities are the instruments for the effective discharge of that function. We are viewing this as ordinary politicians endeavouring to cover the ambit of the types of problems encountered generally. Therefore, it is necessary to keep it broad and general. Probably we are not now addressing some of the more tedious problems that can arise in urban or rural areas.
I gave one reason off the top of my head for not going in the direction advocated by Deputy McCartan. Indeed, the Deputy's desires are properly met within the existing framework, the by-laws within local authority areas covering urban areas.
Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong but all a local authority can do is regulate with regard to their parks and public spaces but they cannot regulate with regard to a public road or highway.
We must remember that even normally placid dogs may become disorientated or angry by the noise of heavy traffic and could become violent. The point Deputy McCartan was making was that local authorities in urban areas would not have power to control such circumstances except in property owned by them, in public parks and so on.
I should like to have a little more time to examine that.
I propose withdrawing my amendment. I will certainly be tabling it again on Report Stage. In the interim I hope the Minister will have had an opportunity to re-examine the issue.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 3, before section 4, to insert the following new section:
"4.—Section 11 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the insertion in subsection (2) of ‘without a warrant' after ‘dwelling'.".
This is a basic amendment of the Principal Act not dealt with in the Bill and deals with the power of wardens to pursue stray dogs under the provisions of section 11 of the Principal Act. Section 11 (1) of the Principal Act reads:
A dog warden shall take all reasonable steps to seize and detain any dog that appears to him to be a stray dog and he may enter any premises (other than a dwelling) for the purposes of such seizure and detention.
The problem for the dog warden service is that, as the legislation is framed, if while pursuing an escaping dog it enters private property, they must have a warrant to enable them to enter the property. Their difficulty is that they must then head off, find a member of the Garda, or a Peace Commissioner and pursue the animal some hours, or perhaps even days, with a court warrant authorising them to enter on the private property. That makes a nonsense of the way in which these legislative provisions can be operated.
I have reservations even about the qualifications obtaining in the Principal Act of excluding dwellings. Nonetheless I appreciate that balances must be struck in all legislation in regard to the inviolability of the home and whatever else. Indeed, the spectacle of the lazy dog owner can be observed frequently, walking to the front gate of their house, giving the poor brute a kick on the backside telling it to go off down the road for the exercise Deputy Liam Fitzgerald says such animals so badly need. In the interim, the owner props himself or herself against a pillar of the house, keeping a lazy eye on the animal while in sight and, after a while, might whistle to bring it back home. Clearly if a dog warden or any other authority should appear on the horizon, the animal will be whistled back home, put under lock and key of the dwelling environs. Nothing can be done; the warden must scratch his head and move on.
On account of that not too frequent scenario I would have reservations even about this qualification of exempting dwellings. The job of a dog warden is to pursue stray animals but if any animal enters a front or back garden the warden cannot go any further and must continue on down the road. But where an animal enters other premises such as a farm, a factory area or wherever, not a dwelling, a warden should be allowed to capture the animal without the need for a warrant. An animal is a stray animal whether or not it makes it to the haven of someone else's property.
I might quote section 11 (1) and (2) of the Control of Dogs Act, 1986, the Principal Act, which read:
(1) A dog warden shall take all reasonable steps to seize and detain any dog that appears to him to be a stray dog and he may enter any premises (other than a dwelling) for the purposes of such seizure and detention.
(2) A member of the Garda Síochána may seize and detain any dog that appears to him to be a stray dog and he may enter any premises (other than a dwelling) for the purposes of such seizure and detention.
Therefore, as I see it, this amendment is unnecessary. The insertion of the proposed words is not necessary and would not add anything to the existing powers. I am at a loss to know why such representations are being made to Deputy McCartan in that context.
It arises from the experiences of the dog warden service in the city in which I, being a councillor, take a very active interest. The problem with regard to the dog warden service in Dublin is that those wardens are the employees of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, if you like, on contract from Dublin Corporation. They have attempted through the association to get clarification for some of the legal nuances that can arise with regard to the legislation, with regard to, for example, the authority of the warden to question persons under the age of 16 when he meets such a person on the road with a dog or are seeking to maintain effectual control over a dog. They have sought, time and again, to get legal advice on that. It is all very well to say in law that they may enter property but that law must be put against the provisions in our Constitution with regard to the rights of property. The general principle is that one does not have a right to enter the property of another irrespective of legislation so permitting. We have to deal with the constitutional rights that exist with regard to property. The way that is traditionally done is that the person in authority, be it a member of the Garda Síochána or a warden, has recourse to the courts to obtain a warrant or obtains the authority of a judge, on showing good cause, to set aside temporarily, the property rights of the individual concerned, giving the right of entry. This principle attends all rights of entry of the Garda Síochána and so on. That is why in the 1986 legislation there are sections dealing with the issue of warrants for the purposes of searching for and seizing animals. If a person in authority could enter a premises whenever he liked we would not have the provisions in the 1986 Act with regard to search warrants. Our law does not allow us to just give the right of entry. My amendment seeks to clarify the position. The dog warden service have been advised to move with caution with regard to this power because they could leave themselves open to actions for trespass. It will not benefit a warden if prosecuted, to cite the authority laid down in section 11 of this Bill because a judge may rule that one can only enter the property of another on the authority of a warrant, unless we expressly say so in the legislation. In all legislation dealing with such powers for the Garda or others, the legislation specifies that the powers can only be exercised on foot of a warrant or expressly without a warrant. My wording would help to clarify the confusion that currently exists.
If the Minister says that my amendment would have little or no effect, why is there a problem in including it if, as I believe, it would help to clarify a problem?
I have no evidence to suggest that we have run into any difficulty with regard to the exercise of the provision in section 11. In the normal course of events, it is not that one is disinclined to add something that is unnecessary, it is just that there is no evidence to suggest that this is a problem. The provisions are very solid. With regard to adding something which does not make a difference, I would put the question to the Deputy the other way around. If it would not make a difference of some kind, why have it?
It would make a difference.
(Limerick East): I was watching the debate with interest and I was impressed by the detail with which the House concerns itself in the control of dogs and sometimes of the family pet. The regulations suggested by the previous Minister were far too stringent. I would contrast that concern with the lack of concern of the Government or of this Minister with the control of cats. I am talking in particular about large cats in captivity. I presume the Minister is aware that in November 1991 a gentleman in Castlemahon, County Limerick——
Is the Deputy allowed to change the debate from canine to feline?
Do not be catty.
Wait a minute, and we will see.
(Limerick East):——purchased two Siberian tigers. These are being kept on a farm in County Limerick. The gentleman in question is unable to produce any documentation relating to the purchase of the animals. There are no permits indicating that these tigers entered the country legally and the relevant Department are unable to inform the local veterinary office whether there is any legal procedure for bringing large cats into the country and keeping them as domestic pets. When challenged the gentleman concerned said that he bought the two Siberian tigers as a birthday present for his daughter. This is an extraordinary situation. The relevant Departments, Agriculture and Food and the Environment have been contacted but there seems to be no reply on this issue. It would appear that the tigers were imported legally but the relevant Departments do not seem to be able to either confirm or deny that. There is a glaring omission in our legislation which would allow an untrained and inexperienced person to purchase and keep two such dangerous and exotic animals, in a back garden. I know they are caged, but the cage is, I understand, home made.
Deputy Noonan has made his point.
(Limerick East): I will not take very long.
Deputy Noonan, I appreciate the point and your concern but as a parliamentarian you know that on Committee Stage we deal with matters specific to what is in the proposed legislation. If we were dealing with a proposal in respect of all quadrupeds, I could see the Deputy introducing the matter of the tigers but the Deputy appreciates that he will not achieve any great purpose, apart from giving an airing to the problem. With regard to including the issue in section 4 of the Control of Dogs Bill, he is not likely to be very successful.
(Limerick East): I am making a simple but relevant point. Section 4 says that a person is claiming ownership of a stray dog will have to produce a licence for inspection by the local authority or a superintendent of the Garda Síochána in respect of that dog or a general licence in respect of that dog as being part of a group of dogs. Is it not extraordinary that the House is going into such detail with regard to the family pet who has strayed from home——
Deputy Noonan would be entitled to saymirabile dictu what we are doing but he could not hope to process the matter to the point where we would include in section 4 any provision in respect of the tigers, therefore, he is out of order.
(Limerick East): I am not proposing an amendment here. I am pointing out to the Minister that there are exotic species in this country who are entering the country illegally, are being used for breeding purposes and that there is no control over them, while if one's dog strays from home one must produce a licence before one can recover him. I have been informed by a very senior person in animal care here that there is a caged lion in a backyard in Cork so we are not talking only about two Siberian tigers in County Limerick.
Deputy Noonan, we have had a sufficiency of flippancy.
(Limerick East): When I was watching the debate upstairs Deputy Wyse was Acting Chairman. I came down because I thought he would be interested in the caged lion in Cork and that I would get slightly more latitude. I want to make a final point.
The Deputy will have to make it very quickly.
He has enjoyed a freedom far greater than the unfortunate tigers he is talking about.
(Limerick East): I ask the Minister for the Environment to examine the situation where somebody is breeding Siberian tigers in their backyard at Castlemahon, County Limerick. The tigers are housed in a home-made cage. The female is now pregnant and I presume there will be a trade in tiger cubs. I am informed by authorities in this area that they have been so successful in breeding large cats in captivity there is a policy to discontinue breeding such animals in the zoos and that the neutering of tigers and lions is being considered. There is also the matter of the keeping of a lion to be taken into account.
The Deputy's presumptions as to the fertility or otherwise of the animal in question has been raised, we have had enough.
It is trivialising the proceedings.
(Limerick East): If Deputy Fitzgerald thinks this is trivial, it is simply a measure of the length of time he has left County Limerick.
The Deputy is trivialising the legislation before the House.
The last time Limerick won an All-Ireland Hurling final was in 1973——
Please do not provoke me.
They seem to have not only won an All-Ireland this evening but to have won an all-Ireland hurling final while the football game was on.
You were very quiet for many years in Tipperary.
Were dogs playing in the All-Ireland final?
The matter raised is one entirely for the Department of Agriculture and Food. It comes under the auspices of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911. Recognising all the rules that have been broken here in the past four or five minutes, I will pass on the Deputy's concerns to my colleague, Deputy Walsh, the Minister for Agriculture and Food.
Is it your intention, Deputy McCartan, to press amendment No. 8?
I was quite baffled as to where we were before that interjection. The Minister suggested that the wording was superfluous, that it is not necessary to include it, but I believe the amendment is necessary. I invite the Minister to look at the matter again before Report Stage, when I will re-enter it. I hope the Minister will have the opportunity in the interim to consult with the dog wardens about the difficulties they have in this regard. I have in my possession an opinion of counsel on the 1986 Act. I will quote from it briefly lest the Minister thinks that this is some fanciful notion of my own. Counsel's opinion on the powers laid down in section 16 are as follows:
The powers referred to in the preceding paragraph — these are the powers emphatically laid down under section 16 of the 1986 Act — may be regarded as exhaustive. A dog warden should not regard himself as having in addition to these powers any greater power of arrest, search, seizure or indeed investigation than any other citizen. Should he presume to do so he leaves himself and his employer open to civil court action, Judicial Review and possibly even criminal prosecution.
That is the view of learned counsel who has looked at this matter and rightly or wrongly it leaves the service in some quandary.
I simply want to clarify although dog wardens have the permissive power to enter we need the explicit suggestion that that power can be exercised without recourse to judicial authority, in other words without a warrant.
Having expressed my concerns in this regard, I will withdraw my amendment.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 3, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5.—Section 13 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the addition in paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of `or Garda Síochána'.".
In the absence of my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, I am not in a position to advance the cause of this amendment as I cannot see how it fits into the legislation. I am sorry if it has baffled the Minister as much as it has baffled me. I will look at this again to see what line Deputy Gilmore was pursuing.
Can we anticipate the same decision in respect of amendment No. 10?
No, I wish to pursue amendment No. 10.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 3, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5.—Section 15 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the substitution for line 5, of subsection (1), of `Every local authority shall employ two or more persons, (provided that not less than two are full-time).'.".
The wording of this amendment is self-explanatory and I hope it will find favour with the Minister. I will leave the matter at that because time is running out.
We owe a good deal to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and also to the animal welfare groups who augment the work of the dog wardens. Indeed individual members of the Garda Síochána should be singled out for their good work in this area. Not all members of the force have the same conscientious attitude to cruelty to animals. We have a very good scheme in Limerick, which I commend to the Minister. Every year the local branch of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals honour individual gardaí for their work in this regard. Perhaps this practice could be universally applied throughout the country where individual gardaí have distinguished service in bringing cases of cruelty to animals to court. The honours are awarded in Limerick every year at a social function which is sometimes held in the City Hall. Indeed I made the presentation this year. This is a way of recognising the individual contribution of members of the Garda Síochána who augment the work of the dog wardens. As we have not sufficient money to employ dog wardens we should try to enlist the help of the Garda.
In response to Deputy Kemmy let me say that I will give some further thought to the extent to which I can support and be involved in extending this scheme nationwide which encourages and honours the special efforts of individual members of the force in this area.
I am afraid that Deputy McCartan's amendment cannot be accepted. The requirement in section 15 that the local authority must employ one or more dog wardens is a sufficient statutory burden to impose. Not all local authorities would employ two dog wardens at present. It must be remembered that the control of dogs is a burden on the local authorities as they operate the dog warden service at a loss and must make up the shortfall between the cost of the service and the income received from dog licence fees from their own resources. I also ask the Deputy to have regard to the fact that some of our local authorities are very small. The general purpose of the provision could be met in a great number of local authorities — and I look forward to the day when they would have the resources to do even better than that. I think the Deputy will appreciate that to enshrine this in law and make it obligatory right across the board is looking for a bit too much.
The Minister's suggestion that we are looking for a bit too much exposes a little more that while the Minister is happy to promote legislation he is equally happy to let the legislation lie virtually unimplemented because of the lack of resources.
It must be incumbent on the Minister to look at the way the legislation is in fact implemented. Without getting into too great a debate on the development of local authority administration generally, it must be said that this Government and indeed successive Governments have never been too slow to take powers and functions away from the local authorities. The general thrust of this legislation is to be welcomed in that it is giving back powers and responsibilities to the local authorities. However I wish that the Government would be consistent and recognise the important role the local authorities play in the administration of our civil society and the importance of enhancing and developing the structures, powers and responsibilities of the local authorities. It is equally frustrating to be given powers and responsibilities while being starved of funds. I had understood that this message had been brought home clearly to Fianna Fáil in recent years by the informal association of Fianna Fáil councillors throughout the country who rebelled against the centralisation of authority in the various Departments and the fact that local authorities were being starved of funds. I understood the message had got home very clearly that there was no point in electing councillors to local authorities who could not even fill a pothole in their constituency or provide houses for people who badly need them. The Minister is enhancing the authority and responsibilities of local authorities but he is not prepared to make any commitment enabling local authorities to meet their responsibilities. The Minister must give some indication that moneys will be found to fund this service. We put down this amendment to see what the Minister's reaction would be. Would he say that, given the scale of the job on hand, this is a reasonable basic minimum?
The 1986 Act defines what a local authority is. The Minister spoke about small local authorities. I am not sure that there are such bodies encompassed in the definition of local authorities. In Dublin city we have only three dog wardens. Earlier, I read out a letter from the corporation to the ISPCA which indicated that if the administrative officer had his way we would have only one dog warden dealing with stray or vicious animals on the streets; the other two would be checking up on licences and following up the ten-day notices issued to owners of unlicensed dogs. In the biggest local authority areas we are in practice below the basic minimum provided for in this amendment. There is a need to establish basic standards if this legislation is to have any meaning. That is why I advanced the proposition that each local authority be obliged to employ at least two full-time wardens. I cannot think of one local authority area in which there would be a warden with nothing to do. There are over 600,000 dogs which need the immediate attention of a warden. A local authority, big or small, could provide work for the service. It would be a very good source of employment because it would generate revenue. What is the reservation? We should lay down minimum standards and get this legislation moving.
I have great sympathy with Deputy McCartan's amendment. In 1986 the then Minister might have been able to argue that it was a good idea to provide that every local authority should have at least one dog warden. The onus now being placed on dog wardens and local authorities calls for much greater resources for the service. We in this House are very good at passing legislation which we promptly despatch to local authorities to implement. We then wash our hands of it and ignore the fact that it is not being implemented. I refer to such legislation as the Dog Control Act and the Litter Act. We say it is the responsibility of the local authorities, not of central Government.
The only good thing about this legislation is that in this instance revenue from dog licences and fines will go to the local authorities. Very often central Government gobble up any moneys which come in, for example, the fines imposed under the Litter Act. I would invite the Minister to spend a day with a dog warden in Dublin city or county. He should travel in the warden's van and accompany him in tackling a pit bull terrier, using the minimal equipment supplied. Last year the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Flynn, introduced regulations about muzzling, the length of leads and the age of the person with the dog. These were three extra tasks imposed on a warden who was already operating under the 1986 Act. He must first identify whether a dog is of a breed which must be muzzled, then look at the length of the lead and get some identification from the person leading the dog if he believes that person is under the age of 16. The job specification of dog wardens is constantly being expanded.
I do not believe there is a real incentive for the Minister to assist in this service. I am afraid we will have the kind of panic which occurred in 1991 if there is another serious incident where a child is mauled by a vicious dog. If this happens the Minister will be able to say that the control of dogs is a task for the local authorities and is not his responsibility. He will not get off the hook that easily. The Principal Act at least ensures that every local authority has one dog warden. I would ask the Minister to carry out a survey and listen to the local authority officials who are trying to provide this service. He should take a trip in a dog warden's van; it might open his eyes.
I agree totally with the amendment put forward by Deputies Gilmore and McCartan. It is a nonsense for the Minister to say that we cannot afford to take on dog wardens. I am not blaming him in particular. It is partly due to the way our economic system works. We have over 270,000 people unemployed who are ready and willing to work. The dog warden service is undermanned but there is no way we can bring these together. It illustrates once again the need for a basic income scheme which would free up the labour market and enable local authorities to take on these people for this very worthwhile work.
In the case of Dublin city we do not have adequate resources. This legislation will impose more duties on the dog wardens and it must be acknowledged that they are not able to cope with the present position. I am not convinced that the amendment answers this problem. It requires a minimum of two wardens. That would address the problem in many local authority areas. In the case of Dublin we have to look to ways and means for the reallocation of resources or for additional resources to provide for that service.
It is unusual to place a statutory burden on a local authority to employ a specified number of persons. In the 1986 Act the base is not stated as being the optimum. A cost was attached to it and if we are to increase that burden by a further statutory obligation on the local authorities, without knowing their resources, it would be absolutely reckless on the part of a Minister for the Environment. It would run in the face of everything asked for in terms of local authorities making up their minds on their needs, based on their financial ability. On a broader scale, we must ask if we have resources for everything? Do we not have a very highly taxed community? Does each one of us not have a burden of debt of £23,000? We cannot borrow any more to meet it and we cannot raise more taxes to meet it. Nobody has suggested the taxes we must raise in order to do that or the amount of money we must borrow. It is not that local authorities are curtailed but rather what we can afford and what the community can give. Essentially I am being asked to take away a power from local authorities to make a decision about what they should do in these circumstances. With regard to resources, we should increase the amount of money available to local authorities from the licence fees and bring into the net the great number of dog owners who at present do not pay the licence fee.
To ask any Minister for the Environment to impose an additional obligation, without due regard to the financial position of the local authority and without any discussion would be unbelievable. I have been asked to do this by local elected members who are seeking powers in their own area.
In response to Deputy McCartan's question I should say side rules are dangerous. If we look at Dublin city and county we are talking about seven dog wardens for a population of about one million people. Nobody is trying to pretend that number is adequate. In County Leitrim where there are 25,000 people there is an obligation to have one dog warden. Would it be good practice to oblige Leitrim to have two dog wardens bearing in mind the statistics I have given for Dublin. When I speak about a small authority, I am referring to a small authority in the context of their financial ability and the geography of the area they serve. I am not saying one warden is sufficient for any area. It was a base line from which the service was to grow. After that it is a question of how much money can we raise and whether this can be ultimately self-financing and enhanced by additional licences being paid by a greater number of people. They are the realities as I see them and there is no way around them.
As Deputy Liam Fitzgerald said this amendment does not really address the problem in Dublin although I hope I have illustrated that we are perilously close, in the city at least, to falling below the base line to which the Minister referred. In response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Gilmore the previous Minister for the Environment in May 1991 established that for six of the local authorities in the country all had one warden. Curiously, one county only has no full-time dog warden: the county of the Taoiseach, the man who made his living out of providing food for dogs.
They are well fed and cared for.
One wonders why the county of Longford has one part-time warden. I would have thought, given the county's geographic spread, that it was utterly irresponsible to consider that one person could do the job of dog control in any county.
When the Minister mentioned in his first response, the cause of the small authority I looked at the definition of "local authority" in the 1986 Act. It refers to county councils and borough councils but not to town commissioners or urban district councils. One cannot genuinely talk in this context about providing one warden even if it is for little Leitrim, or more particularly, lovely Leitrim. One person cannot be expected to deal adequately with the problems of stray and troublesome dogs in a county. This is trying to use an element of the stick to force local authorities to move on from a token and a minimalist response to the legislation which has been in place now for six years. On the other hand it is an effort to address the other side of the coin, the lack of economic and financial response from central Government to making legislation which central Government have put on the Statute Book. There are two ways of looking at this.
Section 15 of the original Act did not refer to the need to lay down a minimum regarding staff or specify that at least one warden should be employed. Subsection (2) of that section required the local authority to maintain a pound or a home for dogs. The Minister is putting more onus on the shoulders of local authorities than simply saying, "employ a person".
I do not think we should be too concerned because if we work within the available resources and make the legislation work for us we will create the revenue to cover the responsibilities. Due to the half-hearted minimalist reaction to the legislation, perhaps enforced by reasons of staff embargoes or lack of resources the service is not efficient, the revenue is not coming in and is going nowhere. The amendment is an important one to force on local authorities to highlight the lack of financial commitment from central Government for legislation they are putting on the Statute Book.
In supporting the points raised by previous speakers I am tempted to ask what are we doing here? What will be the effect of the detail and the reflection which has gone into this legislation? Are we simply going through the parliamentary motions? Surely, the objective of what we do in this House is to change things, to make things better, to correct anomalies or disadvantages from which people suffer? That is what I believe legislation is about. What is the point in this legislation if down the line there will not be sufficient resources or personnel to ensure that what we agree today will be put into effect? Where is the point in all of this if we cannot have an assurance that what we agree and vote on will not be implemented? It is rather like the chicken and the egg. The Minister said that if we had the resources we could pay the wardens. I agree with those who say one dog warden in a county is not sufficient. Seven in an area the size of Dublin or in other cities is not sufficient. We need double that number.
Approximately 580,000 people do not have a licence. If all of these paid up, and paid even £5, we would be talking about a substantial amount of money which would allow us to employ extra wardens. I also suggest, in an effort to achieve this desirable goal, that it might be worthwhile organising an advertising campaign. The television licence advertising campaign was very effective in putting the "frighteners" on people and it led to a substantial amount of money being raised. We should tell people that they have to have a licence and that someone is going to call at their door. It is much more difficult to hide a dog than a television set.
We should make an all-out effort to get the money in and make a commitment to provide the necessary number of wardens, because if we do not, not only will the public become more cynical but so will we, in the context of our effectiveness. The Minister should take control and ensure that instructions are given down the line so that this problem is tackled realistically. I do not want to upset the Minister. It is all very well for him to throw his hands in the air and say that we cannot tell people what to do but I believe that is what we have to do.
Is the Minister upset?
I do not intend to delay the House very long, including my colleague, Deputy Kemmy, on the Front Bench, but I felt, listening to the debate in my office, that I had to come into the House to say what I had to say. This legislation will be a nonsense if the amendment we are now discussing is not taken on board by the Minister. It would be like a long list of other legislation which imposes financial burdens on local authorities who have no money to carry out their statutory duties. This is not dealt with in the Bill.
As regards the dog warden system, in my own county of Kildare we have one dog warden who is financed partly by the IFA, dog licence fees and other subscriptions. Despite his best efforts, he is totally ineffective. There are dogs roaming wild through housing estates in County Kildare who would eat a person alive in some instances if one did not have a good lump of stick with which to protect oneself. The warden is not effective because money is not there to provide him with the necessary resources, staff and other facilities. The Minister is now introducing further legislation which will place an extra burden on local authorities but all he is doing is wasting the time of this House. As the last speaker has said, the public will only become more cynical in regard to our efforts to do something which will affect their lives.
We are repeating our mistakes in introducing legislation that cannot be implemented because resources are not being provided. The best recent example of this is the Bill to control private abattoirs which places a responsibility on the local authorities to provide veterinary inspectors. Because the Government have failed to make an order to set the charges — I am drawing an analogy between the two Bills — in all cases where veterinary inspectors have been appointed, the local authorities have incurred costs of about £50,000 a year. This case is worse because the Minister is not providing the necessary resources to implement what I consider to be good law, but good law is an ass if it cannot be implemented. The Minister must provide the local authorities with the necessary resources so that they can implement the good law he is proposing.
I wish to take up the point made by Deputy Fennell who asked what are we doing here because it seems that we are involved in an exercise of public deception. A problem has arisen and the response of the Government and the Legislature is to pass grandiose legislation which cannot be implemented. If memory serves me correctly, the 1986 Act was introduced in response to an attack on a child by a dog either in Tallaght or Clondalkin. There was a public outcry at the time and the Government's response, as I said, was to introduce new legislation to control dogs and the 1986 Act was born.
This legislation has been introduced in response to the public concern expressed in this country following the attack on a child by a pitbull terrier in Britain. The newspapers showed in graphic detail the damage done to the child as a result of that attack. The response of the Minister for the Environment at that time was to introduce new regulations to muzzle a long list of dogs and legislation to go with it. Therefore when there is a public outcry about the need to control dogs the Government's answer is to introduce new legislation. The fact of the matter however is that the existing legislation is not being implemented for the simple reason that there are not enough dog wardens to implement it. Section 6 of this Bill enables the Minister for the Environment to make regulations dealing with about 20 different matters all of which would have to be policed and controlled by dog wardens who do not exist on the ground.
I take Deputy Fitzgerald's point that this amendment does not address the problem in Dublin. Incidentally we are not talking here about small local authorities but about county councils and their equivalents most of which have just one dog warden, the bare minimum provided for in the 1986 Act, in order to fulfil their obligations under that Act. An amendment which proposed that resources be provided to enable the local authorities to hire dog wardens would be ruled out of order by the Chair. The least we can do to signal — and it does no more than that — that it is the wish of this House that more dog wardens be employed is to suggest that the minimum number, as required by the 1986 Act, be increased by one. I fully accept that this does not address the problem in Dublin. Even when there are four separate local authorities in Dublin, more than eight dog wardens will still be required to address the problem. However I feel that it is necessary for us to indicate that there is a need to employ more dog wardens.
The Minister is correct when he says that, ultimately, it is a question of resources. Those of us who are members of local authorities know only too well that the local authorities are blue in the face in regard to legislation that is handed down from the Oireachtas and regulations handed down from the Department of the Environment which require them to do this, that and the other, for which they do not have the resources to implement or employ the necessary staff. Ultimately, it comes down to a question of resources and the Minister for the Environment is going to have to address it.
We must be honest with the people. There is no point in telling them that new legislation is being passed in this House to control dogs when the resources are not being provided to give effect to it. It would be far better and far more honest if the Minister for the Environment stood up in this House and told the people that we do not have the resources to police the 600,000 unlicensed dogs, to provide dog wardens to enforce the existing legislation, much less the new legislation, and that they will have to live with the problem of uncontrolled dogs. That would be an honest response, but it is a dishonest response to the problem to pass legislation introducing regulations which we all know cannot be implemented.
The existing legislation and regulations are not being implemented because of lack of resources and staff and new and additional regulations and legislation cannot be implemented for that reason. We are only asking for one extra dog warden in each local authority and if the Minister is saying that the resources are not there to do the minimum amount then he should tell the public that dogs cannot be controlled because the resources are not available and that he, effectively, has thrown his hat at it.
Deputy McCartan rose.
I wish to advise the Deputy that we must finish Committee Stage at 7 p.m.
I am acutely aware of that. The issue relates directly to the capacity of the legislation to work. The Minister seems to think that matters are working well but, before he replies to the points made by Deputies on this side of the House in regard to this amendment, I should like to quote from a circular sent from the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to their dog wardens round the country. All except three of the local authorities listed employ or have staff sub-contracted to the ISPCA for the purposes of the provision of the dog warden service. The heading on the circular recently issued is "Donations". It states:
Members of the executive committee have expressed concern at the surprising discrepancy or variation in amounts of donations returned to HQ by some wardens. It would appear that, in some of the poorer parts of the country, some wardens do not appear to be receiving any donations from the public. All wardens are urged to endeavour to secure donations. The receipt of donations from the public is often a barometer of how the service is valued by the local community. Also HQ administration is under increasing pressure to operate within a very tight budget. Wardens are asked to renew efforts to secure donations, no matter how small, and return them to the ISPCA HQ.
Wardens are not only expected to chase stray dogs and vicious animals but, apparently, to make the service operate from the point of view of the major contractor — the ISPCA — they are supposed to collect money as well. It is the most graphic illustration I can give to this House regarding the service; it is in tatters. The reason is that we have legislated to provide a service without giving it the financial resources to do the job.
Has the Minister a difficulty in providing a minimum of two dog wardens in each local authority area? Is there a difficulty in regard to the definition of "local authority"? Will he accept an amendment which refers to "county councils" and "county boroughs"?
That is what "local authority" means.
I sympathise with the sentiments expressed by Deputies who feel that legislation which has been introduced is not, for one reason or another, enforced as well as it might be.
There is usually only one reason for that.
Let me develop my point. If we do not have resources should we not introduce legislation even though it would be our hope and aspiration to reach that goal? Will we not bother to introduce legislation because we do not have an ideal situation? I am not suggesting that we go down that road. The reason for this legislation is that there are irresponsible dog owners. When someone owns a dog it imposes certain obligations in regard to training, management and control of the animal.
I will now respond to the other argument in the context of legislation. Will we legislate for everything? Will we pay for everything? Have society or individuals no responsibility to do anything for themselves? Must we follow everyone with a dog to their home or premises with the taxpayer supplying the money? Can we be educated to understand that we can make savings by doing things ourselves and being encouraged to do them? On the one hand Deputies argue that we must legislate and provide finance for everything — God knows where it will come from — and on the other hand they talk about me not obliging local authorities to have at least two dog wardens. I argued that it is a matter for local authorities, consistent with their resources, to do so and that I could not force them to do so. We set down the base requirements in the 1986 Act and if we now make it obligatory on local authorities to have two wardens there will be a cost in salaries of £400,000. If I did that each Member would be entitled to ask who would provide the money.
We have talked all day about this service being self-financing. That is not the case at present but it is the way we want it to operate in future. If everybody who owned a dog paid for a licence it could be self-financing and the number of dog wardens could be increased substantially. I said earlier that I would have discussions with local authorities with a view to funding ways and means to ensure that we can substantially increase the income from dog licences to enable us to have part-time and full-time dog wardens on a much wider scale across the whole country.
We cannot make local authorities do something under legislation and I wish to tell Deputy Stagg that we are not shrinking from the problem. We want it to work but we must face reality. Some local authorities are quite small and I cannot oblige them to make expenditure where the resources are not available to them to do that. However, it is consistent with everything we have said all day, that the answer to the problem is that dog owners should pay the licence and that the licence be used exclusively for the warden service. If that happened, we would be in a position to provide as good a service as the country could afford. Having said that, I do not want to argue about legislation not being enacted because we do not have resources. If you go down that road the State will be obliged to handle evey problem which comes up, as far as society is concerned. It is time to address the question of our responsibility. Ownershp of dogs carries obligations and the State and the taxpayer cannot be expected to meet the natural obligations which people have in every instance; we will go as far as we can in encouraging local authorities to enhance and increase those numbers consistent with the money becoming available to do it. They will have the right to decide how to spend it on the services and I do not think we can go any further than that.
While I am impressed with the eloquence with which the Minister makes his case, I am not impressed by his arguments. I am very disappointed that the Minister will not accept this amendment. In 1986, when the basic founding legislation was introduced, by definition a financial obligation was imposed on local authorities. The argument that you cannot do this, that you cannot force local authorities to do something because of their stretched financial resources does not really stand up. The Minister asked if we had to legislate for everything; of course we do not, nor do we suggest that you must pursue everyone down the road with a dog warden. There is not even one full-time dog warden in the Taoiseach's county. How can that local authority give effect to this legislation? Only 20 of the 32 or more local authorities we are dealing with in the context of this legislation have the services of a full-time dog warden available to them.
I am merely suggesting that there is a problem on a massive scale in this area. The Minister has been motivated to bring in legislation to deal with this problem and we are simply saying that more resources need to be directed towards it. We are suggesting, as a minimum, that each local authority should be required to employ two dog wardens. This will not break a local authority in terms of finance. Rather it will give a signal that this House wants to see some action as a result of this legislation.
I have spoken with dog wardens in Dublin and they recognise that they may be working themselves out of a job if the problem is brought under control and people act responsibly. Nevertheless, a commitment is needed to ensure that the legislation is effective. Our amendment shows that we are serious about the legislation. The introduction of the minimum requirement of two dog wardens per county proposed in our amendment does not mean we will be running away with ourselves or allowing for the scenario which the Minister painted here earlier of dog wardens chasing people up and down the highways and byways of the country. That is not what is being suggested. The requirement of two dog wardens per county will not overstretch the resources of local authorities.
I am not arguing that two dog wardens per county is sufficient. I hope nothing I have said would give the Deputy the impression that I regard the present numbers in the service as adequate. I would be extremely disappointed if a substantially greater number of people were not employed in the service in a year or two from now. I would also go so far as to say that if I were to accede to the Deputy's amendment it may well be that certain local authorities who could and should employ a greater number of dog wardens would, in the light of experience and improved revenue from the dog licences, regard their obligations as fulfilled if they met a new statutory requirement.
The Deputy referred to the position in 1986. I do not recall the circumstances which prevailed at that time. I expect the Minister of the day was worried about whether local authorities would introduce this scheme at all. Therefore, the laying down of a base line was an essential tool to enable this to happen. I would not be in favour of setting targets, limits or obligations for local authorities. I am saying that I would be extremely disappointed if the net call-down from the licences was not improved substantially, which would lead to an increase in the number of dog wardens. As I said, no limit should be set for local authorities because different circumstances obtain in different areas. It is my ambition to ensure, through negotiations and discussions with local authorities, that the service will be enhanced over the next couple of years.
As I believe this amendment is a basic litmus test of the effectiveness of the legislation, I ask that the question be put.
- Ahearn, Therese.
- Allen, Bernard.
- Barnes, Monica.
- Barry, Peter.
- Bell, Michael.
- Belton, Louis J.
- Boylan, Andrew.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Byrne, Eric.
- Carey, Donal.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
- Currie, Austin.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Deasy, Austin.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Enright, Thomas W.
- Farrelly, John V.
- Fennell, Nuala.
- Ferris, Michael.
- Finucane, Michael.
- FitzGerald, Garret.
- Flaherty, Mary.
- Garland, Roger.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Gregory, Tony.
- Harte, Paddy.
- Higgins, Jim.
- Hogan, Philip.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- Kemmy, Jim.
- Kenny, Enda.
- Lee, Pat.
- McCartan, Pat.
- McCormack, Pádraic.
- McGahon, Brendan.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- McGrath, Paul.
- Mitchell, Gay.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Nealon, Ted.
- Noonan, Michael (Limerick East).
- O'Keeffe, Jim.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- O'Sullivan, Gerry.
- O'Sullivan, Toddy.
- Owen, Nora.
- Pattison, Séamus.
- Quinn, Ruairí.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Reynolds, Gerry.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Shatter, Alan.
- Sheehan, Patrick J.
- Spring, Dick.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
- Timmins, Godfrey.
- Yates, Ivan.
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Brady, Gerard.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Briscoe, Ben.
- Burke, Raphael P.
- Calleary, Seán.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Clohessy, Peadar.
- Collins, Gerard.
- Connolly, Ger.
- Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
- Cowen, Brian.
- Cullimore, Séamus.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Davern, Noel.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dennehy, John.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Ellis, John.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Flood, Chris.
- Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Harney, Mary.
- Hillery, Brian.
- Hilliard, Colm.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Kelly, Laurence.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kirk, Séamus.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lawlor, Liam.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lyons, Denis.
- Martin, Micheál.
- McCreevy, Charlie.
- McDaid, Jim.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
- Molloy, Robert.
- Morley, P.J.
- Nolan, M.J.
- Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
- O'Connell, John.
- O'Hanlon, Rory.
- O'Keeffe, Ned.
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Toole, Martin Joe.
- Power, Seán.
- Quill, Máirín.
- Reynolds, Albert.
- Roche, Dick.
- Smith, Michael.
- Stafford, John.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Walsh, Joe
- Wilson, John P.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wyse, Pearse.
We now come to amendment No. 11 in the name of Deputy Kemmy. I observe that amendment No. 12 is an alternative and I suggest therefore that both amendments be discussed together.
The next four amendments are related to my amendment and I have no objection to taking the five amendments together.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 4, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
"(b) (i) Destruction shall not apply to a dog which has been tattooed, implanted, or otherwise identified under a national dog identification and registration scheme, unless ordered by a District Court.
(ii) Where a tattoo or other means of identification is not visible on a dog, the dog shall be scanned for the presence of a microchip implant.".
Before the vote the Minister chose to address a homily to this side of the House and he perhaps rebuked us for some of the amendments that had been put down. I assure the Minister most sincerely that the amendments were well grounded and well intentioned.
I take his point that the Government must not interfere in every aspect of life and that the best the Government can do is lay down an infrastructure that will allow people to lead civilised, decent lives. That is grand as an overall formula, but when the House comes to the nitty-gritty of a Bill such as this — and the House has not had a discussion on dog control for the past six years — it is hard to frame legislation that will gain universal approval when it concerns issues about which Members themselves have questions.
The Bill is based on several unproved assumptions. One of its big flaws is that it does not attempt to deal with dog fighting, possibly one of the root causes for the existence of dangerous dogs in our society. Those responsible are in the main the delinquent owners of dogs and that is an aspect that I should like to deal with. The Bill provides the Minister with wide powers and he is able to make impositions such as destruction, sterilisation and other stringent measures. The first section of my amendment seeks to limit the Minister's powers in that regard. The second part of the amendment seeks to extend those powers, I suppose. There may, perhaps, be some controversy on that point.
In an earlier contribution I mentioned an interesting article published inThe Irish Times two days ago. Dermot Kelly analysed the Minister's Bill and made a few pointers about what it was that the dog lobbyists were trying to achieve. I quote from that article:
If an effective identification does come about, all dogs would be traceable, or be liable to be put down. Their owners would also be responsible for any damage they do.
Dermot Kelly went on to say that dog owners would press the Minister to pin responsibility for dogs on their owners and would support the idea of a national identification scheme. I support such a scheme, too. I am sure that all Members would. To have a national identification scheme from which the Minister could work is the only logical, professional way forward. Dealing with that point, Dermot Kelly stated:
Provision is also made for the introduction of a national identification scheme. This latter proposal enjoys the support of the dog lobby, including the Irish Kennel Club, but the system of identification remains controversial. Some favour implanting all dogs for which licences are issued. Others prefer tattooing.
The trouble with implants is that dogs could only be identified after scanning and scanners would be expensive to instal on a large scale.
Perhaps I am making some of the points here against myself, but that is not wrong. We have not come to the House to try to trick the Minister making legislation that is not good. On the contrary, we have wished that the Minister would take on board some of our points. There is no benefit in every amendment tabled by the Opposition being voted down by the Government.
This issue is not black and white, I am certain of that from my own study of the Bill. This is a very difficult issue to be certain about. It is also very hard to frame some of the points made by the Minister and some of the points made by Opposition Members in precise language. A minefield of difficulties is encountered in an attempt to frame legislation that will cover all aspects and allow people to enjoy the company of dogs while also banning dog fighting — a provision omitted in the Bill — and dangerous dogs and making provision to not muzzle dogs according to breed. This Bill is an imprecise instrument by which to achieve what it was designed for. Even though the Bill is a good attempt to provide legislation that updates and improves the 1986 legislation, there will be difficulties in ensuring its universal application and it will cause more difficulties further down the line.
Before the Bill is voted on and concluded tonight, I ask the Minister and his officials to consider some of the points made by Opposition Deputies and, if possible, to take them on board at a later stage, if not in the House then in practice.
I support the amendment. which was clearly described by Deputy Kemmy in his summary of the Control of Dogs (Amendment) Bill. I should like to hear the Minister tell us what is his attitude to a national identification scheme. Those who really love dogs and who belong to dogs' organisations have already stated support for that procedure. Although implants and scanners might be expensive, they would provide a modern method of dealing with the issue, one that was efficient and left no room for doubt.
My party would like to re-enter the amendments on Report Stage because we are not satisfied with the outcome of the debate. The Minister had no amendment tabled today but if he moves any amendments before Report Stage we will consider them.
I have a quick answer to the point just raised. The Deputy mentioned tattooing or other means of electronic identification of dogs. Naturally, I am completely in favour of such a scheme, and provision is made for it. That is the only sure method of identifying owners, particularly in areas where there are problems in the control of dangerous dogs and so on.
However, the effect of clause (b) (i) of both amendments Nos. 11 and 12 would be that the power to destroy a dog detained in connection with an offence, unless somebody undertook to pay for its keep, would not be exercisable in relation to a dog that had been tattooed, implanted or otherwise identified under a national dog identification scheme if such a scheme were in operation. Clearly, that is not acceptable. The fact that a dog could be identified would make it easier to contact its owner and secure an undertaking to pay. The objective of this section of the Bill is to ensure that local authorities will not be out of pocket for keeping a dog and will not have to resort to the courts to recover money except in exceptional circumstances. The amendment would negative that provision and cannot be accepted.
I am disappointed that the Minister does not accept my point. People who belong to the Irish Kennel Club and other similar organisations feel that their position would be considerably exposed without the provision of some kind of appeal system. That is the reason for reference to the District Court in the amendment.
Much controversy has arisen as a result of serious stories about extremelly bad and vicious animals that have been published in the British news media and in some of the Irish papers. By and large, when talking about the Bill today, the Minister has agreed that the vast majority of dog owners are dog lovers. They would like to be provided with some kind of defence. Perhaps the Minister could devise some means of protection, through the District Court, or some group within a local authority, who could adjudicate on this without incurring a cost factor.
To contend that all dogs of a certain breed are dangerous and must be controlled lest they attack someone is not a logical response. It is not logical to condemn all dogs of a certain breed in a blanket fashion. Indeed that is the fundamentally flawed thinking behind this Bill. The only criteria that can be adopted in this matter are those based on the behavioural aspects of dogs rather than adopting a black and white attitude throughout these provisions.
I hope that in the months ahead the Minister will continue his talks with the various bodies that have made submissions to him. While this may be perceived in this House as a marginal Bill, I predict it will have widespread ramifications outside all of our contributions being read and measured by people interested in this subject.
As it is now 7 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of An Dáil of this day:
"That the sections undisposed of and the Title are hereby agreed to and the Bill is, accordingly, reported to the House without amendment".
Is that agreed? Agreed.
May I ask when it is proposed to take Report Stage of this Bill?
On Tuesday next, subject to agreement between the Whips.
We will want to re-table our amendments, not having received satisfactory answers from the Minister.
Would the Minister at least inquire of the Government Whip — because there does not appear to be any clarity from parties on this side of the House — whether reasonable time can be made available to debate this important Bill in that the time made available for its discussion today was totally inadequate.