That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:
Protection of Animals Act, 1911 (Section 1) (Variation of Fines) Regulations, 1994, copies of which Regulations in draft were laid before Dáil Éireann on 6th April, 1994.
There has been a good deal of publicity in recent times about cruelty to animals and I find it perturbing. In recent months particularly, I have been extremely concerned about reports of serious abuse and ill-treatment of animals. Such practices as badger baiting, or the "blooding" of greyhounds with hares, rabbits or any other such defenceless animals, have no place in civilised society. As I have previously made clear, I totally condemn such activities and would encourage anyone with any evidence of such practices to report the matter to the Garda.
I should point out that the Garda Síochána is responsible for the enforcement of the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965, which govern the welfare of all animals, domestic or wild. This legislation makes provision for fines and prison sentences on conviction of cruelty. The court is also empowered to deprive an owner who has been convicted of cruelty of any animal in relation to which the offence was committed. My Department works and will continue to work with the Garda authorities in dealing with offences of this nature. There is a good working relationship between the Garda and the Department staff involved.
The subject of hare coursing has generated considerable debate in the past year or so. This arose from the ineluctable fact that certain elements of coursing were unacceptable and that reforms were needed. Following detailed consideration of the issues the Government decided that coursing should not be banned but that much tighter controls should be introduced to eliminate the "kill" which was seen as the most unacceptable aspect of the sport. Last December the Greyhound Industry (Amendment) Act, 1993 was passed into law. This includes a provision enabling the Minister to make regulations requiring the muzzling of greyhounds at coursing and the veterinary supervision of hares. The monitoring committee which I established last year is in the process of reviewing developments to date and I will consider whether regulations are needed when the review is completed. The measures I referred to have already been implemented by the Irish Coursing Club on a voluntary basis.
It is an offence under the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965, to cause cruelty, or for the owner to permit cruelty to be caused to any animal, domestic or wild. Persons guilty of an offence of cruelty within the meaning of the Acts are liable on summary conviction in respect of a first or second offence to a fine not exceeding £500, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or both, and in respect of a third or subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding £500, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.
Section 20 of the Control of Dogs Act, 1986 empowers the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to vary by regulations the maximum amount of the fine referred to above. Where such regulations are proposed to be made, a draft of the regulations must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulations must not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each House.
In view of the recent serious incidents to which I have already referred, I am proposing to double the fine for the offence of cruelty to animals from £500 to £1,000. The fine of £1,000 is the normal maximum for summary conviction and therefore is the highest figure that can be stipulated under this legislation. The increase is deemed necessary in the light of recent media reports of serious abuse and ill-treatment of animals, including the "blooding" of greyhounds with live rabbits and other small animals, badger baiting etc. These highly-publicised incidents have been widely condemned and have led to numerous calls for tougher measures against offenders. The increase in the fine will act as a greater deterrent against this type of cruel activity.
Following the highly publicised incidents early this year I acted swiftly and promised immediate changes in the fines for the offence of cruelty to animals. Today I am fulfilling that promise and it shows that I am prepared to make the maximum use of the powers available to me. I emphasised at that time also that my position on blooding was clear — I condemned that activity and said that it had no place in the greyhound industry. I wish to reiterate this position now. I know that it is shared on all sides of the House and that this motion will be welcomed and supported by all sides.
The Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 was amended last year and more comprehensive amendments are planned. In this process it is my intention to examine the possibility of strengthening the powers of Bord na gCon to deal with anyone in the industry who is found to have carried out the practice of blooding.
It is appropriate at this juncture to focus briefly on animal welfare in general. In recent years animal welfare has assumed a higher profile, not alone in this country but also at EU level where new rules on various aspects of animal protection have been introduced. The increasing public concern about cruelty to animals is part of a general recognition of the need to adopt a sensitive and caring attitude to and treatment of the animal world. There is a strong commitment to animal welfare in this country. This is eloquently borne out by the fact that, in the design of schemes under the National Development Plan, 1994-99 as mentioned in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work, priority will be given to assisting farmers, particularly those in the lower income and resource categories, in complying with the new EU Directives on, inter alia, animal welfare.
It also merits mention that Ireland along with other EU member states is party to Council of Europe Conventions on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, on the slaughter of animals and on the transport of animals. Arising from the conventions, the EU Commission has produced a number of proposals some of which are now the subject of EU Directives on animal welfare. Additionally, there are two further Council of Europe Conventions which my Department is examining with a view to Ireland's accession to them, namely, the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Pet Animals and the Protocol of Amendment to the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes. It is hoped to take decisions on their signature and ratification after full consideration of all the issues involved.
Recent incidents have shown that animal cruelty can occur and it is essential that appropriate penalties for acts of cruelty be in place. I believe the majority of people agree with this approach and am confident that the House will be of like mind and will approve the draft regulations now before it.