Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I have not had an opportunity publicly to wish Deputy Ó Cuív well in his new portfolio. I look forward to constructive, and at times critical, contributions from the Deputy, particularly over the next eight or nine months when we face crucial issues for Irish agriculture arising from the Common Agricultural Policy and another difficult budget.

Today we discuss the Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 which has been in gestation for a long time and which I introduced in the Seanad. We had a constructive debate in the Seanad when all parties contributed in a helpful way. I hope I have made appropriate changes as a result of that debate.

The Bill represents a significant step forward in the area of animal health and welfare law and is a priority for me. It will lead to a consolidation and modernisation of much of the primary legislation in this area, such as the Diseases of Animals Act 1966. Some of this legislation is over 100 years old, such as the Protection of Animals Act 1911. While in the past animal welfare and health may have been seen as distinct, they are closely related and synergy is to be gained by bringing them together under one legislative roof. In the past, the focus was on outlawing animal cruelty rather than the fuller measure of welfare which this Bill provides for.

This Government has shown that it has a strong commitment to improving animal welfare legislation. The Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 was the first Act signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins. This paved the way for the commencement of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010 by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. In 2011 I introduced a code of practice for welfare organisations as part of the ex gratia payments arrangements which placed particular emphasis on the issues of re-homing abandoned animals. The Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council and the associated early warning system continue to work well. This latter arrangement has seen my Department officials working in conjunction with farmers and welfare groups to head off welfare problems. I launched a free telephone number, based in my Department, for people who have animal welfare concerns, and funding for animal welfare organisations was enhanced in last year's budget, despite the difficult economic constraints we are facing. We have also acted on equine welfare by introducing equine passports and microchipping and recording the location of horses for the enforcement of existing and new regulations.

The Animal Health and Welfare Bill continues this agenda and will ultimately provide a framework within which we may significantly improve and safeguard the welfare of animals. Ireland has been successful in dealing with, avoiding and minimising animal health problems. The Animal Health and Welfare Bill will build upon this success. The risks of animal disease have grown significantly since the Diseases of Animals Act was enacted in 1966. There is far greater movement of animals, animal products and people. Ireland needs to ensure it has robust biosecurity procedures in order that the State can act not just when there is a disease outbreak but in a preventative way, focused on risk and reducing risk.

In terms of animal health, this legislation is important for Ireland not only nationally but globally from the perspective of a food producing island. The proposed legislation will play a key role in protecting Ireland's image as a country which not only respects the welfare of its animals but also accords critical importance to its high animal health status. The ability to increase our exports of food products will play a vital role in ensuring improvement in Ireland's economic well-being. We have agreed a very ambitious set of targets to this effect in the Food Harvest 2020 strategy, which was originally put together by the previous Government. Food Harvest 2020 has given the sector a vision of the future and clear targets for the next decade. I am determined to lead the drive towards achieving our export target of €12 billion per annum by 2020. To do this, the sector will need to minimise the losses from animal health issues.

This issue is a concern for all, not just those who earn their livelihoods from animals. As should be clear, the Animal Health and Welfare Bill is not only about farming or rural areas but is of concern to the whole country. While animals may be less central to urban life, ownership, involvement with and interest in animals is hugely important to many urban dwellers. Furthermore, while not the direct focus of the Bill, animal health can have implications for human health. Almost 60% of human infectious diseases can be contracted from animals, whether domestic or wild, and 75% of emerging human diseases have their sources in animals. Controlling animal disease is an important factor in ensuring human health.

This Bill applies across the board, both to rural and urban areas, and to all animals whether they be commercial, domestic, sport, show or for other purposes, and whatever species they may be. The owners of all animals are required to provide feed for their animals, to provide adequate and safe housing and to provide veterinary care and protection. There is a set of principles in animal welfare, known as the five freedoms, which forms the basis for most modern animal welfare legislation, and that was taken into account when putting this Bill together.

The only major distinction the Bill draws is between those animals classed as "protected", which are any animals under the ownership of individuals as opposed to animals in a wild state. Protected animals are accorded greater protection than animals living in the wild as there is an obligation placed on the owner or person in charge to ensure a protected animal is fed, sheltered and so on. However, all animals are protected in so far as cruel acts are forbidden. The term "protected animal" is also used in the equivalent Northern Ireland legislation.

I will now move on from the reasons and general principles behind the Animal Health and Welfare Bill to some of its content. Current legislation requires modernisation because it focuses only on cruelty whereas the Animal Health and Welfare Bill will make improvements in what is legally required of owners to ensure their animals are fed and watered, provided with adequate shelter and have their welfare protected. These are basic common sense requirements. In the case of intensive units there is a need for greater checks as temperature controls and mechanical feeding and watering systems have to be more carefully monitored. This provision in section 19 reflects obligations in place through the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes Act 1984 which is being subsumed into this legislation.

To combat the threats posed by serious disease outbreaks, as witnessed during foot and mouth disease outbreak, and to deal with welfare compromised animals, authorised officers must have adequate powers with appropriate checks and balances. Much care and attention has gone into ensuring the powers of authorised officers are appropriate, balanced and proportionate. Officers cannot come and enter premises as they wish. There must be sound reason to do so and the courts will demand that officers justify their actions in the event that prosecutions follow. The powers given to authorised officers are appropriate and balanced and necessary to prevent the small minority of people who would damage our food industry by introducing disease or by fraudulently claiming to have disease. We either take the necessary action to prevent disease threatening the viability of our industry or we fail to do our job.

In the Animal Health and Welfare Bill, gardaí and customs officers are automatically considered authorised officers. Officers of my Department and other appropriate personnel in local authorities may be appointed as authorised officers. Others, such as temporary veterinary inspectors, may be authorised for limited purposes such as carrying out meat factory checks, as is currently the case.

I have been keen to ensure penalties are strengthened for abuses under the Bill and have made sure that all the significant offences under the Bill, meaning those where animals are injured or where disease problems are spread intentionally, attract the severest penalties. For major cases taken on indictment the maximum penalty has been raised from €100,000 to €250,000 with a maximum custodial sentence of five years' imprisonment. In recent weeks those campaigning for animal welfare have claimed the Government is doing nothing in this area to increase penalties for deliberate cruelty. They should look at this legislation and the debate that took place in the Seanad.

Over the years judges who have heard some of the unpleasant animal cruelty cases have asked for powers to restrict the ownership of animals by those convicted of animal cruelty, particularly repeat offenders.

Such powers must be used carefully and only where an individual has been convicted of repeated or more serious animal welfare offences. Not only could such an individual be potentially prevented from owning animals, he may also be prevented from working with them under sections 58 to 60, inclusive. In some instances of abuse of animals, the owners themselves may be suffering their own mental difficulties rather than who are doing it out of malice. In taking account of this, these powers can limit the ownership of animals. Caring for animals can be therapeutic for some individuals and, therefore, it may be appropriate that they be allowed care for one or two but not a large number that may be beyond their capacity. I remind Deputies that while these powers exist, their use cannot be invoked without appropriate procedures and that the courts will provide oversight and review, particularly in regard to the latter issue.

The Bill will also improve animal health provisions and there will be a greater emphasis on biosecurity. Many of the existing powers of authorised officers are focused on where a disease outbreak has occurred but the legislation also allows for appropriate action to be taken to reduce the risk or the spread of disease generally. It provides, for the first time, a specific provision relating to the payment of compensation in respect of particular types of diseases and provides a proper legal framework in this area. These arrangements are consistent with the Constitution and case law.

The eradication of tuberculosis, TB, is an important policy aim and significant progress has been made in recent years. Ensuring cases of disease are reported and tackled requires the continuing confidence of the farming community that it will be treated fairly and, therefore, compensation for destruction is an important plank. The Bill will make no change to the current administrative approach for such compensation schemes. The disease eradication, ERAD, scheme operates without a legal requirement on the Government to pay compensation. Nevertheless the Government pays, and will continue to pay, fair compensation. There is no reason for a move away from the current approach under the scheme. I promised our Seanad colleagues that I would revert with an appropriate amendment, which will allow greater flexibility in the appeal process. We are working on it and we can discuss it on Committee Stage.

However, the importance of animal health for the State as a whole needs to be protected. This means that we cannot be overly prescriptive in the legislation, as it will be legally applied in all situations. The procedures for dealing with cases of an endemic disease such as TB are not those we would want to apply in the case of outbreaks of rare exotic or imported diseases such as foot and mouth disease or rabies.

The laws relating to animal baiting and dog fighting under section 15 are being strengthened. These practices cannot be tolerated any longer and must be stamped out. Under current legislation, it has been difficult to take a case against those involved in dogfighting. In the most significant case taken in recent years, many of those convicted succeeded on appeal after claiming that they had not been involved in organising the fight but had merely been present. I would like to send a strong signal that I intend to ensure anybody involved in organising or breeding for dogfighting or attending a dog fight will face the courts and the Garda will be able to secure convictions against them. I am amending the law in this area to give the Garda more powers to take a case against somebody who organises, or breeds an animal for, a dog fight and to charge those in attendance at a dog fight if they raid a premises. We will not continue with the farcical scenario that currently prevails where if a dog fight is raided, everybody scatters in all directions and nobody takes responsibility for the dogs and the Garda cannot secure a conviction. I hope to ensure the Garda will make an example of those engaged in this activity at an early stage following the enactment of the legislation in order that we can demonstrate that we are serious. Dogfighting is a barbaric practice, as is the industry built around breeding dogs for the purposes of ripping each other apart. I am confident we will stamp it out through this legislation.

There was concern that this section, which also outlaws a number of other types of performance with animals, as currently worded, could mean that farmers might be taken to court for breaking bulls, for example, or preparing them for shows and so on but that is not our intention. While I consider this possibility remote, as the use of the term "performance" makes it unlikely that activity occurring on a farm would be challenged, I will table an amendment on Committee Stage to confirm that this normal farming practice is acceptable and is not under any threat, unlike dog fighting. The issue of serious cruelty such as mutilation is of significant concern to many people and such practices are also expressly forbidden under the Bill. The penalties for such acts will be significantly increased. Unfortunately, in a number of cities, we have witnessed examples of unacceptable cruelty in recent years.

The Bill also provides for codes of practice. I reassure Members that this approach has worked well in other jurisdictions and my Department has experience using such codes, which have worked remarkably well. They allow, through agreement with the sector as a whole, detailed guidelines to be set out for specific animals. Such codes, adopted under the overall legal powers of this new Bill, are a better way of spelling out detailed best practice rather than over burdening the Bill itself. We have not been overly prescriptive in the legislation regarding how certain practices should be conducted because that would be rigid and inflexible. Instead, the Minister of the day has been given the power to introduce codes of practice through consultation with the relevant sector and, over time, those codes can be amended, updated and modernised, as appropriate, which is the best way to do this. Instead of detailing how much food an animal needs to be fed or what type of accommodation it should have, this can be done through codes of practice and updated as necessary without touching the principal Act, a process that would waste the House's time. We have seen the result of that type of thinking.

The current proposed approach whereby general requirements are laid down, which can, if necessary, be fleshed out via codes of practice is the best way to provide adequate detail and information, suitable protection for animals and minimise bureaucracy for both individuals and the State. The issue of reducing bureaucracy has been important in drafting the Bill. One development in line with this approach is the provision for on-the-spot penalties for minor offences. These are akin to parking tickets and they have advantages for both the individual and the State, as they avoid the time and costs of court proceedings. I emphasise that there is recourse to the courts for individuals who do not wish to pay an on-the-spot penalty and who wish to contest the charge. This provision works well in other areas and has become commonplace in our legal system.

I sought a balance between the differing demands being made upon me during the drafting of the Bill. Views between differing interest groups on the legislation vary and resolving these presents a difficult balancing act. My key objectives in this process have been to bring about a legislative framework that offers greater protection for the welfare of animals while also reducing the risks posed by animal diseases in terms of biosecurity.

I refer to the provisions of the Bill. There are 75 sections spread over 14 Parts. Part 1 largely comprises standard form provisions relating to expenses, costs and laying of documents. It also sets out the purpose and definitions within the Bill and the provision for commencement.

Part 2 contains some key biosecurity measures. Section 8 prohibits farm animals straying and requires that fences and farm buildings be kept secure. I note Deputy Ó Cuív has raised a particular issue in this respect regarding commonage, whereby animals essentially may be roaming free in pretty large areas that are shared by multiple owners. This will be considered in some detail on Committee Stage and if it is necessary to introduce an amendment to provide clarity in this respect, I certainly will do that. Animals mingling present a serious risk of disease spread if a proper management system is not in place. The requirements of this provision are not greater than what the vast majority would consider to be basic good farming practice. Section 9 provides for disease eradication areas. The provisions of section 10 outlaw deliberately interfering with a test or giving a disease deliberately to an animal, presumably to gain compensation.

Part 3 provides for general provisions, which cover all animals, and a greater level of protection to animals which are owned or under the control of a person. An individual is not allowed to harm any animal and furthermore, any animal that an individual owns or is in control of must be provided with adequate food and water and appropriate shelter and its general welfare must be protected. Cruelty is expressly forbidden in Section 12. This includes any unnecessary suffering, whether caused by direct physical abuse, recklessness or negligence. This is to a large extent based on the existing legislation that is in place but in some cases is outdated. For the sake of clarity, this section does not apply to activity occurring during the normal course of hunting, fishing or coursing. However, the cruelty provisions may apply if an animal is hunted after being released when exhausted, mutilated or injured or if a hare is coursed without at least a reasonable chance of escape.

Section 13 provides that keepers must provide protected animals with adequate quantities of suitable food. It obviously would not be possible to provide detailed and precise measures of food and other requirements for all animals and nor would it be desirable to lay down such detail in primary legislation. Therefore, greater detail can be laid down through the codes of practice and secondary legislation to which I referred earlier. Section 16 bans operations resulting in the mutilation of animals such as castration, disbudding or tail docking except where there is a good reason to allow them. In the latter case, I may consider making regulations under the Bill that will allow the procedure. My intention is not to interfere with normal commercial farming, as in the farming context these activities generally are performed for reasons of health and safety of the animal and are done properly at the appropriate age and with significant control of pain and so on. When such conditions are met, as is the case in normal farming practice, there will be no change in such practice.

I do not believe farming organisations need to be concerned in respect of this element of the Bill. Part 3 also bans the sale of animals to minors and requires that animals be inspected by their keepers at regular intervals to ensure their well-being. It also requires the use of anaesthetics when an animal is operated on, protects animals from poison and gives emergency powers for authorised officers and veterinarians, who encounter animals in distress or suffering injuries and requiring immediate destruction, to so do on humane grounds. This section also provides for emergency killing of an animal by an owner or on his or her behalf, for example, by knackery personnel who are properly qualified to so do.

As for Part 4, while common internationally, including at EU level, codes of practice on a legislative basis are relatively new to Ireland. Their primary purpose is to educate and assist the person involved in the various activities relating to keeping animals. A breach of a code of practice is not of itself an offence but a relevant code may be considered by a judge as a form of best practice and may indicate in more detail where an offence has occurred.

Part 5 is based on the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Acts 1979 and 1996. There is provision to allow the charging of animal health levies on a wider range of species and diseases than at present, where levies are only paid in respect of cattle and milk and are for control of tuberculosis and brucellosis. Farmers make an important contribution, through the levy system, towards the compensation regime operated through the ERAD scheme. However, I wish to reassure both Deputies and farm organisations that I have no intention of introducing a new raft of animal disease levies. Anything my Department does in this area will be in consultation with the sector and will be on the basis of mutual consent in respect of everyone's best interests.

Part 6 deals with the slaughter of animals for disease control purposes and compensation with the overall aim of making the compensation provisions more explicit. There is an independent valuation and arbitration system to ensure that where this is done, owners are treated fairly. While this area has attracted some discussion in some cases, this has been based on a misreading of the current legal position. In any case, I wish to reassure Deputies this system will be fair, equitable and in line with the Constitution and case law in this area. Clear grounds for the reduction of compensation are given. Instances in which such compensation can be reduced or refused include where animals were illegally imported, where correct information has not been provided or if an animal is destroyed due to offences under the Animal Remedies Act 1993. In other words, farmers will receive full compensation for their animals under a destruction scheme, if that must happen. However, if someone deliberately infects his or her animals and this is discovered or if people have illegally imported animals without the necessary identification and so on - in other words if the animals were stolen - and if it was necessary subsequently to destroy the aforementioned animals for reasons of disease control, it is not reasonable that full compensation would be paid. In other words, I am trying to get this tricky area right but Members can tease through it again on Committee Stage if they so wish.

Under Part 7, the Bill sets out in Schedule 3 the various activities in respect of which secondary legislation may be introduced, key among which are the prevention of the risk of spread of disease, the control or eradication of disease, matters relating to animal welfare, animal transport and animal identification, as well as to give effect to the acts and institutions of the EU. The extensive list of detailed issues for which regulations can be made is set out in Schedule 3.

Part 8 provides the necessary powers for authorised officers and for a system of notices. Without officers to enforce the Bill, it becomes pointless. The powers of officers are limited and even more so where they are delegated. The powers of prosecution remain with the Minister and cannot be delegated. Furthermore, as I have a skilled cadre of staff members who are familiar with and located in rural areas, the real shortfall in skills and resources on the animal welfare front is in the urban and non-farming sectors. Consequently, the Department is considering the possibility of creating authorised officers who are qualified and have experience working with NGOs and so on.

As I have run out of time, I make the point that this is progressive legislation. It has been debated and discussed for nearly five years when the process was started by the previous Government. The present Government has amended and improved it. I brought the Bill before the Seanad, where approximately five hours of debate took place on it and on foot of which some changes have been made to it. The farming community has nothing to fear from this legislation and I suggest it is members of the aforementioned community, as well as commercial animal owners in general who understand animal welfare better than anyone, including NGOs.

The purpose of the Bill is to put in place modern legislation that is appropriate to a country such as Ireland which has responsibility to protect and care for animals by reflecting best practice in other parts of the world. There has been considerable broad consultation from many sources in preparing the Bill. We have tried to get the balance right between not being overbearing in introducing new laws and regulations while at the same time stamping out totally unacceptable practices such as cockfighting, dogfighting and the mutilation of animals about which we read on a far too regular basis. We are also introducing modern legislation to allow us to intervene at an early stage to prevent disease outbreak or disease spread given the devastating impact that diseases like foot and mouth or BSE would have had on the agrifood sector in the past. I believe we have struck a pretty good balance, but I am happy to listen to people's views, opinions and criticisms, which we will try to take on board. Ultimately, this is about trying to improve the legislation through the debate in the Dáil and in Committee. From that point of view I look forward to hearing what people have to say.

I thank the Minister for his kind words on my appointment as the Fianna Fáil Party spokesperson on agriculture and community. I look forward to many a debate with the Minister. I can guarantee him that when I agree I will say that I agree. I will not oppose for the sake of opposing. However, when I disagree, I will be equally blunt and I will say I disagree.

I welcome the approach the Minister is taking to this Bill and I hear from my colleagues in the Seanad that the debate in that House was open, comprehensive and brought about improvements and changes. I hope that when we reach Committee Stage and consider the detail section by section, the Minister will give whatever time it takes to go through the Bill from A to Z. I have often said that if we are short on time in this House I would rather see curtailment of the Second Stage debate than Committee Stage.

At the end of the day what will count in the court of law and what is paramount there is the wording in the Acts that we enact in this House. I presume what we say on Second Stage may be read by judges, but they must judge by the words in the Acts. Regardless of how good the drafters are or how good the Minister is, the essence of creating good legislation is to go through it and use the Opposition to put all the contrary arguments to ascertain if the Bill contains flaws. If having debated a point and put the case that may have been raised with us and if I am satisfied then that in all reasonable cases what the Minister is proposing is reasonable - we heard, for example, the legal advices he gets on the meaning of words, sentences and provisions - then we will accept it.

Having been involved in legislation for many years, I recognise there are two dangers and it is very hard to get it perfectly right. One danger is to over-provide for of the most bizarre unlikely possibilities and tie up the legislation in all sorts of knots. The other one is that something that appears reasonably innocuous can take on a life of its own once the legislation is passed. It is important to do what the Government proposed we should do at the outset of this Dáil, which is to be an interactive Legislature that considers in detail the legislation we pass. It should not be a case of a Minister coming in and having the debate by rote, perhaps guillotining it and then doing what the Government intended without listing. Legislation passed in that way tends to catch up with itself. I know the Minister and I recognise that he did not operate in that way in the Seanad. I hope that, as he said himself, this will continue in the Dáil in order to get good legislation.

Obviously we are not going to oppose the Bill in principle and we will be supporting it on Second Stage. It started approximately five years ago - it takes about five years to develop major legislation. As the Minister said, in order for it to be good, it requires considerable consultation and therefore we will support the principle of the legislation. When we come to the Committee Stage we will go through every section. If there are issues with the section we will debate it in detail and we will see where we go from there.

I welcome the principle of the Bill because the gathering together in modern legislation of such fundamental legislation is very important. For practitioners going back to legislation from 1911 is bizarre. The previous Government went back to the 1500s and 1600s getting rid of old legislation. We need to continue aggressively to modernise our legislation and to make it accessible to people. The idea of consolidating what was contained in old Acts in order to get it in one piece of legislation makes it much better. The Bill contains many good new provisions as well as making older legislation more accessible.

We are discussing protected animals and basically wildlife is still an issue for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Bill basically deals with what we call domestic animals.

No, it is all animals - wild and protected. However, there are more obligations regarding protected animals because of the human-----

The Minister is not interfering with the obligations of the preservation of wildlife under the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

When it comes to animals, prevention of cruelty and welfare is preferable to prosecution and cure. The fundamental basis of the law must be trying to ensure that as many people as possible do not get prosecuted because they do it right from the beginning. Obviously we must provide for the possibility of prosecution, but the effort should be in prevention rather than prosecution. I understand that this is becoming much more of an issue in farming. Farmers rather than trying to cure diseases have a much better regime of prevention, etc., which is the right way to go.

I fully support what the Minister had to say about animal fighting. The idea of dogfighting and so on is absolutely obscene and I fully agree with what the Minister intends to do in that regard. Anybody involved in that in any way should be amenable to the law and it is important that we go that way, although I know we will get criticism from the anti-hunting lobby and the anti-coursing lobby that the Bill does not deal with that issue. Even though I live in a rural area in that part of the country people only hunt for foxes that eat the lambs - I was involved not in the hunting but in encouraging people to protect the lambs in a farm I used to manage many years ago. It is not a part of the country where hunting and coursing are part of the local life. The Minister is right not to introduce a ban on hunting, fishing or coursing in the Bill. There are parts of the country where they form part of way of life and, so long as it does not involve excessive cruelty, the Minister's approach in this regard is correct. I do not agree with the anti-hunting lobby.

If one tried to ban it one would only drive it underground. There is a balance to be struck and it is important we strike it in the right place.

I have received thousands of e-mails from people opposed to fur farming. I would prefer if thousands of people did not send me the same emails which I have to delete because they block up my in-box. I would like to hear the argument as to why fur farming is so different to cattle farming. Many of the shoes we wear contain leather. We must decide where to draw the line. I have not yet heard any overwhelming argument that fur farming is significantly different than chicken, pig or any other type of farming in which an animal is killed in a humane manner. From my reading of the Bill, the Minister is silent on that issue and does not propose-----

We have done a separate review on fur farming, the details of which I can give to the Deputy. We will not ban it but are putting in place tighter regulations which may include random inspections.

I am not against regulation, inspection, high standards and so on.

The intention is not to ban it.

I presume the Minister would agree that an outright ban is not warranted. The logical extension of that would be, because we would not be killing cattle and so on, our ending up in a place that would destroy the economy. We should instead ensure that each type of farming is done in a humane way.

I listened to what the Minister said about tail docking and such practices. I take it that the measure being introduced will ensure the benefit outweighs the damage caused. For example, everyone would argue that dehorning of young cattle is anti-cruelty because the horns of the cattle can be dangerous to man and beast. It is allowed, therefore, despite it being an unpleasant task. Two people having a harmless row is often referred to in the Irish language as cath na mbó maol, which when translated means the battle of the two dehorned cows. Cattle without horns do not do any damage. It was recognised in older times that dehorned cattle are a lot safer than horned cattle. While these are issues that need to be teased out, the Minister is on balance going in the right direction.

I understand that the farming organisations have raised issues in regard to the inspectorate and welfare organisations. This matter can be teased out further on Committee Stage. Having spoken to the Minister's officials, whom I thank for their briefing, I recognise that there is a need for appointment of authorised officers in urban areas. It is reasonable that authorised officers be appointed where there are no departmental veterinarians or infrastructure. Unless someone proves otherwise, what the Minister is proposing to do appears reasonable.

I support the introduction of a graduated system of fines, including a warning, an on-the-spot fine followed by a more serious fine. I understand that the ultimate sanction will be indictment. However, everything must be proportionate. It is important that we do not provide in legislation for prosecution of minor offences where an easier way of addressing the offence is available. I like the idea of a summary or on-the-spot fine which is equivalent to a parking ticket. Where a person is guilty of more serious transgressions the matter can be taken further. That is reasonable.

I listened with interest to what the Minister had to say about the eradication schemes and money. As I understand it, what is currently provided for will continue but that where a person cheats the system he or she will not be entitled to money. Also, any person who induces a disease or who tries to interfere with a test would not be entitled to compensation from the State. I would have thought that was obvious. I agree with it.

The Minister spent a great deal of time speaking about the codes of practice, which is an interesting concept. Legislation when enacted can be a blunt instrument in the courts. If I understood the Minister's officials correctly, we are now providing for three levels of law, namely, primary statutory law, statutory instruments and the codes of practice. The first two are viewed as the letter of the law in the court. In regard to the code of practice, a person who wishes to take a prosecution would have to find some element of the law, either regulation or primary law, under which he or she could prosecute the offender but that in prosecuting under that section of the Act, the code of practice could be taken into account by the judge. However, it does not have the force of law on a word for word basis in the same way as do the other two aspects. A judge could take it into account when informing a judgment as to what the statutory law means. It is worth a try as it makes a great deal of sense. As I stated earlier, one of the problems in drawing up legislation is that it is hard to foresee every circumstance. I presume the judge looking at the code of practice would look at the common sense meaning of the word rather than the literal meaning of the law and that is the idea.

It is important codes of practice are simple. I agree with the basic approach being taken. I am sure we will have an interesting debate on this issue on Committee Stage. However, this measure will be of assistance. Some of the farming organisations have expressed the concern that this would have a big impact on farming. I presume they will be involved in drawing up the codes of practice and that the codes will basically be good farming practice and a common sense approach to looking after animals well. This is worth discussing. If the choice is going down the codes of practice route or statutory instrument route the code of practice route provides more common sense flexibility.

Ministers are provided through primary legislation with the power to make regulations. I am not against that because the world has become a lot more complicated. If we did not do so all the Acts of the Oireachtas would be getting wider as people require more and more detail. We live in a much different world than 30 or 40 years ago. I believe that now that we have a good committee system it should become the norm rather than the exception that Ministers would refer proposed statutory instruments to the relevant committees with whom they should be willing to debate them prior to their being signed off in this House as regulations. What normally happens is that the Minister signs the regulation, following which there are 28 days during which the Dáil may object but the reality is, given the number of members of Government versus the Opposition, that does not happen.

I recall that on the first occasion I introduced regulations under the Acht Teanga I encountered some difficulty. On the second occasion, I brought the matter before a committee. We debated the matter at length during which time Members came up with some suggestions and I made some amendments.

An interesting point was that when I put the regulation into effect nobody raised a question after that. It is a change. We talk about Dáil reform and people think that reform involves big issues and would mean a spectacular change. However, a great deal of reform that would make practical differences, if we were serious about introducing it, would involve changes of practices that people outside this House would not consider major, but they would make the Oireachtas much more meaningful and would give us better laws. The idea of testing everything with other Deputies, irrespective of which party they are in, would allow them to play the devil's advocate and then one could tease out whether what one thought was a great statutory instrument was as good as one thought it was. If we could change the way we do things and were involved in the full legislative process, we would get much better results from our legislation.

As the Minister is probably aware, I do not like the guillotining of the Committee Stage debate of a Bill because engaging in such debate, namely, the teasing out the detail of a Bill, and not so much the Second Stage debate, is what this House is about. That is what we are here to do and what we were elected to do. We should be teasing out all the possible things that could go wrong with legislation and coming up with the answers.

I was interested in reference to prosecutions and the issue of disqualifying a person from keeping animals. That is a reasonable provision. I was very taken with the humane provision, which is good proposed law, that would facilitate a farmer who, because of a mental issue or some other consideration, could not look after his animals which were important to him. A halfway house arrangement would be provided to allow the farmer to keep a few animals under supervision and with some support. In real life things are not black and white. People are not all bad and there are circumstances that apply. I like when humanity is brought into play. Most of us find out at our clinics that the average punter who gets into a bit of trouble has issues of his or her own that one would have to take into account. One would often think that the person did not really mean to get into that position and rather than coming the heavy it would be much better to see if one could work with him or her. I like that such a provision is in the Bill where such an arrangement could work. One the other hand, if a person acts maliciously and cruelly towards animals, that person can be banned from having animals.

There has been a huge emphasis on the whole issue of farming because of the lobby that is in place. This issue is very important in regard to domestic animals. We must recognise the cruelty that can be inflicted on domestic animals. Many people love their animals and spend a fortune on them but there are also situations where the opposite is the case. There is also the problem that arises at Christmas when people are given presents of animals and then they are abandoned shortly afterwards. Another issue that arose in recent years was that people bought horses or ponies, then they could not afford to keep them and they were abandoned. That is a major issue. We will no doubt tease it out in detail when the Bill is going through the House. It is reasonable that a person under the age of 16 should not be allowed own such an animal. If the owner of a horse is aged between 16 and 18 what is the legal position if one had to pursue the owner? What is the legal position about pursuing a 17 year old owner of a horse if he or she is not acting properly towards it? Presumably the Minister has an answer to that question but it is an issue we can tease out.

They can own it but they cannot buy it. In other words, we do not want 14 or 15 year olds buying horses in marts.

This an issue we could better tease out on Committee Stage. If they cannot buy the animal, can they own it? If a five year old owns a horse and he or she is cruel to the animal, can the Minister prosecute the parents of the child?

We will have to tease that out.

It needs to be. If children have animals, the parents, carers or guardians must be ultimately amendable to the law because one cannot deal directly with a five year old for being cruel to a cat, dog or a hamster. We could have an interesting debate on this issue. The issue of the misuse of animals arises every year because animals are bought, then they are abandoned and nobody wants to know about them.

This issue is fascinating. We will go through the issues as we deal with the Bill. The Minister is not rescinding the ban on stag hunting even though that was promised when he came into Government. I am not saying he should or should not do it. We might be able to discuss the reasons for that on Committee Stage.

Ba mhaith liom moladh a thabhairt don Aire as ucht an Bhille a thabhairt ar aghaidh agus do oifigigh na Roinne as an obair ar fad atá déanta acu ar an mBille. Bille fíor thábhachtach é.

Labhair mé anonn is anall ar go leor eochairphointí san mBille ach, ar ndóigh, nuair a thiocfar chomh fada le Céim an Choiste rachaimid tríd an mBille, céim ar chéim agus mír ar mhír. Scrúdóimid gach rud, beimid ag cur síos leasuithe agus nuair a bheas na leasuithe sin á bplé beimid in ann a fheiceáil an bhfuil gach mír den mBille foirfe nó nach bhfuil. Dar liomsa, is í an teist ar aon Bhille a fhágann an Teach an raibh an tAire sásta glacadh le leasuithe nó nach raibh.

I have touched on a large number of provisions in the Bill but we will go through it systematically section by section on Committee Stage and we will come back to them on Report Stage. I often think the measure of good legislation is how much the Minister can convince the Opposition that amendments they put down are not needed because they are already covered in the Bill, or that if the Opposition puts up a good argument the Minister is willing to reflect on it and return with, if necessary, alternative amendments and is willing to make amendments if, on listening to the debate, good arguments are put forward for changing and developing a Bill. None of us has a monopoly of wisdom. It is a waste not to use all the talents of the House to make sure that we have the best legislation possible.

I will share some of my time with Deputy Colreavy.

I welcome the Bill. It is a response to a gap in existing legislation and one that has been lobbied for by many people concerned with animal welfare over the years. I would like to believe that the little amount of lobbying on the current Bill reflects a general acceptance of what is proposed. One of the reasons for that was the wide-ranging public consultation which elicited submissions from an impressive number of organisations. I would certainly recommend that as a process that ought to be followed when framing all legislation and perhaps it is something that could also be brought more into the work of the committees here. Perhaps the fact that there was such a consultation accounts for the generally favourable response to the Bill as published.

The Minister will be aware that my party in the North has been the main mover behind similar animal welfare legislation and with similar objectives including measures specifically designed to combat the most blatant and horrific examples of animal abuse, namely, the breeding and keeping of dogs for fighting or in pursuit of barbaric practises such as badger baiting. Previous to this we had legislation dealing specifically with the keeping and care of dogs and a separate Bill relating to greyhounds which recognised the unique aspects of the greyhound sector.

The Dog Breeding Establishments Act and the Welfare of Greyhounds Act were met with general approval and met most concerns.

There are still people who favour banning greyhound coursing and racing but they do not have the support of many people. The bottom line must be that no one is allowed wilfully to abuse animals for profit or, even worse, for motives of cruelty. It is to be hoped the Bill will further narrow the scope for such individuals and put in place legislation under which such people can be prosecuted and have suitable punishment bestowed on them. Farm animals and other animals kept for commercial and sporting reasons, as well as domestic pets, are under the care and responsibility of humans and are therefore entitled to protection.

Despite the two items of legislation to which I referred, regarding so-called puppy farms and greyhounds, I and other public representatives continue to be lobbied by people regarding the welfare of dogs. Deputy Ó Cuív referred to thousands of e-mails and Members have been receiving them continuously, particularly in respect of puppy farming. None of us wants to see cruelty of any kind. Some people are straightforwardly opposed to racing and coursing of greyhounds. It is not a position I or my party share but there are legitimate grounds for concern. Any abuses within the sector must be policed by the greyhound sector, with rogue trainers and breeders exposed and thrown out of the sport. They should also be subject to the full rigour of the law.

On occasion, I go to coursing meetings and I am very impressed with the policing of meetings over recent years. The most stringent measures are in place to try to eliminate cruelty. Vets are also present to ensure that, if something happens, what follows is carried out in a humane fashion. The hares used in coursing are inoculated to ensure they are suitable for the course and are not easy prey for the greyhounds. In Abbeyfeale and in County Kerry, coursing is done in a humane way. Full credit is due to everyone associated with it.

The same reasoning should apply to farm animals. I welcome the tightening of legislation to ensure farm animals are provided with protection against cruelty. I would like to see greater rigour in respect of how commercially used species are kept. We may address this on Committee Stage.

I was brought up on a farm. When one is brought up with animals and one's livelihood depends on them, one understands it is in the interests of the farmer to ensure animals in his care are kept in the best possible way. I have seen certain people being extremely cruel to animals. In many instances, they got away with it. Anything that can be done to ensure we eradicate that kind of cruelty, whether domestic or commercial, should be done at all costs. There should be no place for any person to display cruelty towards domestic or other animals.

Part 3 refers to the provision of basic needs, such as food, water and shelter. Section 12 also refers specifically to cruelty. I wonder if that should be more clearly defined in respect of, for example, the type of accommodation in which animals are kept. Reference is made, in section 12(2)(a) to sanctions against people who convey or carry animals, or cause to convey or carry animals, in a way that causes them unnecessary suffering or endangers their lives or health. What that means should be specified. On Committee Stage, I would like to see that tied down more firmly. It is ambiguous and loose. I welcome it but wonder whether that might also not be extended, in some instances, to the day-to-day accommodation of animals kept for commercial purposes. It is argued that animal protection agencies currently have the power to remove pets from circumstances in which they are held which are similar to those deemed acceptable for commercially kept species. There is an issue regarding the manner in which poultry are kept in some commercial establishments, and perhaps that needs to be addressed.

We must consider the health aspect both from a human and animal perspective. The Bill seeks to tighten the protections against the outbreak and spread of disease, which can have enormous commercial implications and also present dangers for human health, as we witnessed in the case of outbreaks among farm animals over the past decade and more.

I am certain the Minister and all Members will recognise the key role that North-South co-operation played in limiting the negative impact of the most recent outbreaks. I look forward, as does my colleague, Michelle O'Neill, the corresponding Minister in the North, to closer and further co­operation across this area of concern and, indeed, the entire agricultural sector. There is a good working relationship between the Ministers, which is to be commended. Long may it continue.

Regarding the prevention and detection of disease and the imposition of the necessary controls, the Bill proposes to endow authorised officers with the power to enter premises and to make required inspections. No one can object to this in the light of the seriousness of the issues at stake but we must get the balance right. Concerns have been expressed regarding the powers to be granted to authorised officers. People are especially sensitive about people being given the power to search premises and gather information such as documents. All Members have been lobbied by the farming organisations on this point. It is a matter of getting the balance right. Those with inspection powers must approach the matter in a sensitive manner in order that they are not seen as forceful or dogmatic towards people witnessing the search of the premises.

It is important this matter is dealt with properly and that the persons authorised with such powers are properly qualified. I welcome the suggestion that such persons be duly qualified and appointed veterinary officers with temporary responsibility in this area. Some of the concerns expressed by the farming organisations, without putting too fine a point on it, relate to the manner in which the Department's special investigations unit has carried out investigations unrelated to animal welfare. That is the history of it and it must be carefully monitored. Those concerns have to do with other bureaucratic requirements regarding compliance and with other aspects of farming regulations, where some feel that a heavy-handed approach is taken. If the legislation is to work and if it is to gain the support and confidence of commercial farmers in particular, it is important due note is taken of those concerns.

It is important that anyone appointed as an inspector under the proposed legislation has been adequately trained and will act in a professional manner in respect of the duties undertaken under this legislation. It is also important the position of inspector should be filled from within relevant public bodies and not contracted privately. I am sure the issue will be fully dealt with, as necessary, during the course of the debate here and possibly through further amendment. The same powers also need to be available in the detection and investigation of cases of cruelty. I also welcome the proposed increase in the levels of lines proposed for breaches of health regulations and disease, given the potentially massive cost of a disease outbreak among farm animals. Anyone who breaches regulations in this respect needs to face heavy sanctions.

With regard to those engaged in breeding dogs and using dogs in organised fighting, I welcome the Minister's stated intention to stamp out this vile practice. It reflects similar legislation brought forward by Sinn Féin in the North.

It is important that this issue be tackled on an all-island basis as otherwise, organisers of such events could seek to evade prosecution and detection by moving their operations across the Border. Organised dogfighting is probably one of the most vile, cruel practices in this country. Dogs are bred specifically to tear each other asunder and there is crossbreeding and so forth to maximise cruelty. We should not tackle the organisers alone but also those who attend such cruel events. They should not be allowed to flout the law by saying they so happened to be at an event and did not know anything about it. This needs to be dealt with and there should be no sympathy for anybody involved in organised cruelty. It is not organised dogfighting but organised cruelty.

Any person who breeds dogs for fighting and allows them to fight, in the course of which the animals are at the very least brutalised and often badly injured and sometimes killed, is clearly an inadequate and disturbed person. There may be grounds for arguing for mental impairment in some cases of animal cruelty, however. This was mentioned by Deputy Ó Cuív, who spoke about individuals living alone in rural isolation. Search people may inflict cruelty on animals unintentionally. There would be sympathy for the perpetrator's mental condition in such cases.

I welcome the proposals in section 16, Part 3, to ban the mutilation of animals for other than strictly necessary purposes. There are still silly notions regarding certain breeds of dogs, an example being where breeders and owners believe the integrity of the breed in question requires that the dogs' tails be docked. Perhaps they are descendants of the Soviet scientist Lysenko who believed that if one cut the tails off mice, they would eventually be born without them. That is interesting.

Section 16 also deals with the sale of animals to minors and contains a proposal to ban the sale of animals to people who are under 16. That, of course, does not prevent young people under that age from having pets, but it is correct that they not be able to keep them without proper care being taken to ensure they will be looked after properly. It ought to be a concern of the person selling an animal that it not be sold to people whom he does not believe will be able to care for it properly.

This issue arises most in regard to the sale of horses to young people. There are many young people, including in towns and cities, who are genuinely attached to and interested in horses. However, in a considerable number of cases, they are clearly not able to look after them. Those horses, without any intention on the part of their young owners, end up being kept in poor conditions and are, in effect, badly treated. In some cases, they are eventually abandoned to stray by owners who cannot afford to or are otherwise unable to look after them. This has never been more the case than in the past two years. The country is full of horses, many of which are abandoned. I have seen television programmes in the not-too-distant past about horses being abandoned in this city and the cruelty inflicted on them by very cruel individuals for their perverse pleasure. In every major town and even in smaller towns, one will find abandoned horses. Their price is so low that nothing is received for them. Therefore, they are abandoned and left to starve or roam the roadsides. This needs to be considered.

There are a number of local authority projects in Dublin and other places through which attempts are made to provide communal accommodation for horses and to help their owners care for them properly. I have been informed that where this has taken place, it has gone a long way towards addressing the problem of horses being badly cared for and roaming the streets. There are projects in certain areas that help young people in particular to express the concern they have for horses by using accommodation provided by local authorities. It is very good for young people to have a connection with animals that require goodness and care.

An issue arises regarding who ought to be responsible for the care of stray horses that are impounded. Some local authorities, not least my own, have run up considerable expenses through having to pay for impounded horses while waiting to see if the owners present themselves. The latter is unlikely given that most impounded horses have been deliberately and recklessly allowed to stray or have been abandoned. There clearly ought to be stricter guidelines on this and on the care of other abandoned or impounded animals in light of tighter legislation such as this Bill.

I would like the Minister to elaborate on Part 12 regarding the regulation of marts. Is it proposed that this provision will apply, if approved, to traditional horse fairs, one of which has been the centre of controversy for the past few years? As I understand it, Dublin City Council is to initiate public consultation on new draft by-laws to govern the holding of the Smithfield fair, which is held on the first Sunday of every month. The proposal is that the number of fairs would be reduced to two per year. As the Minister will be aware, the Smithfield fair is governed by a pre-Oireachtas statute. There is some unhappiness over the proposals and a belief that they are designed to put the fair out of business. Given its tradition and place within Dublin life and the fact that it has long been a centre of horse trading, would it not be better if it and similar fairs were brought under the proposals contained in Part 12? Perhaps the Minister will consider this. I am not certain of the practicalities but know that the people who currently organise the fair at Smithfield have no objection to safeguards, including horse passports and microchips, or to the health and safety regulations referred to in this Bill which could be policed properly and allow the fair to continue.

I affirm my party's support for the Bill. Any grey areas or omissions in regard to some of the issues I have referred to will be addressed through amendments. The legislation is long overdue. Both Deputy Ó Cuív and I were briefed this morning by the Minister's officials, which was helpful. Anything that can improve consultation when bringing legislation for the greater good to this House is to be welcomed and supported.

I am very glad to be here discussing this long-overdue and important Bill. I fully support the idea of legislation to ensure the protection of the welfare of animals. An attempt to outlaw cruelty in any form is obviously to be welcomed. The increase in penalties is a very progressive measure and I support it. However, I have serious concerns about a number of specific exclusions from the Bill and they will have to be dealt with by amendment. If not, the very status and virtue of the health and welfare legislation will be undermined.

The Minister really needs to address the area of enforcement, a matter which represents a gaping hole in the legislation. If the legislation is to be effective, sufficient resources will have to be put in place to make it work. The concept of authorised officers is good. There is flexibility in the sense that an officer could be a member of An Garda Síochána, a Customs and Excise officer, a ministerial appointee or a manager of a local authority. It is welcome and very positive that authorised officers will have the power to enter and inspect premises, examine animals and vehicles, ask for records and seize animals where they, the officers, have a reasonable belief that an offence has been committed.

The penalties and fines are to be increased and there is to be imprisonment for offences. It will be possible to have somebody disqualified from owning an animal or working with an animal where he or she has been found guilty of an offence. All of these are really good measures but we must not look at them in isolation. We must consider them against the backdrop of the embargo on public service recruitment. There are fewer gardaí, customs officers and county council workers, and there is no prospect of this changing. The public sector, as it exists, will not be able to undertake the very important and necessary extra responsibilities, as meritorious and necessary as they may be, unless money is invested to develop this area.

Unless the Minister addresses this matter during the passage of the Bill it is a welcome but meaningless aspiration. It must be supported and the issue requires further examination.

It is positive that the Bill refers to a new and welcome concept of a duty of care to animals. As citizens and human beings, we have such a duty. The idea that legislation and resources would be designed to prevent unnecessary suffering, for example, through the provision of food and shelter, and deal with issues of abandonment, humane slaughter and animal fighting is a good one.

These are progressive measures, but they must be squared with the exclusion of hare coursing and hunting from the protection provided under section 12, which defines cruelty. The Bill acknowledges that these practices are cruel and inflict pain and unnecessary suffering, yet it exempts them from the protection it rightly provides in other circumstances. This is not adequate in a civilised society and is not good enough in a Bill on animal welfare. It is certainly not good enough for hares and foxes.

The time has come to stop bending the knee to the vocal lobby groups of the coursing clubs and hunts and to recognise the reality, namely, that the majority of citizens are opposed to this barbarity and want animals protected. It is regrettable that the Minister's colleague has given the go-ahead for another season of live hare coursing. Coursing clubs are out capturing hares for live baiting sessions that will last from the end of this month until February. We must recognise that support for this blood sport is in decline. There are only 89 hare coursing clubs, representing a significant reduction on previous times. In parallel, there has been an increase in public support for a ban on hare coursing. Every professional marketing survey conducted since 1978 on attitudes towards hare coursing in Ireland has revealed that a substantial majority of the population favours its abolition. Many of those polls were carried out following the introduction of the muzzling of dogs in 1993. The Bill does not represent the views of the majority in that regard. This serious omission will play a major role in the debate on amendments.

Let us be clear. These are not harmless, innocent activities. The animals do not enjoy them. They are not natural pursuits and are cruel, as demonstrated by the fact that the Minister has needed to exempt them from protection under the Bill. Animals are cruelly taken from their environments, confined and coerced to run in straight lines from dogs in wired enclosures. How could this be an enjoyable experience for any animal? Of course it is not. In nature, the hare knows no enemies. When it is threatened, it sits up to signal to other animals that it will be able to outrun them. Generally speaking, a fox or another predator will back off because it will not be able to outrun the hare. When a hare sits up, it is not waiting for the dog to give chase for the craic. Hares do not expect to be chased. It is unnatural for them.

I will not outline the litany of cruelty inflicted on hares, but let us say that compelling and indisputable evidence has been produced by the National Parks and Wildlife Service under freedom of information provisions that outlines a catalogue of fatalities and injuries to hares during last year's coursing season. If I went through them all, we would be here all day. In Ennis, seven hares were hit and there were eight fatalities. In Gorey, 16 hares were hit by dogs. In another part of County Wexford, 12 hares were left unfit for coursing. According to the club's hare capture return, 86 hares were captured, yet only 75 were listed on the first day of coursing without an explanation for the discrepancy. In Thurles, two hares were killed, two were injured, two died overnight and so on.

One of the most compelling pieces of evidence is the report of a ranger who described an incident in County Westmeath. The report reads:

There were nine hares hit on Day one. Of these, one hare was tossed and rolled on the ground; another hare was tossed and mauled; another was mauled on the ground by the two dogs and placed in a wooden box; another was hit about five times and mauled on the ground by the dogs. When the dog owners came running in, one of them grabbed the hare and lifted it away from the dogs by its side .... The hare cried with what I presume was distress during this incident. The steward placed this hare in the wooden box. Another hare was tossed and badly mauled by the dogs later in the day. In all, three hit hares were retrieved and placed in a wooden box. The box was subsequently taken away ... one died and two were released [in a damaged and injured state].

In my opinion and that of the majority of citizens, there is no justification for the continuation of this barbaric and cruel practice. It is a rubbish, as has been hinted at today and will undoubtedly be repeated in subsequent discussions, that this is a tradition and is natural. It is not a tradition. Ironically, it was imported into Ireland by the occupying British forces in the Curragh in the early 1800s. Even if it were a tradition, would that make it acceptable in a modern society? Friday night at the colosseum was a tradition in downtown Rome years ago, but we are not advocating that gladiators fight or that a few Christians be thrown to the lions for people's amusement.

The fact that hares can die of disease or so on is irrelevant. Any animal or human can suffer disease or accidents. Is that a licence to kill or a justification for the continuation of this practice? Clearly, it is not. The measures undertaken in the 1990s, for example, the muzzling of dogs, have not resulted in an end to death or injury. Maimings still occur. It is not good enough to allow this unnecessary practice to continue.

If people like the idea of competition and greyhound racing, they can do what has been done in many other countries, namely, race their dogs in drag coursing. The success of the greyhound industry does not depend on killing and maiming hares. It would be a far greater boost to the greyhound industry were hare coursing outlawed and replaced by drag coursing, as this would make it more appealing to people who are turned off by the current practice.

The need for an animal welfare Bill that bans hare coursing once and for all is one of this legislation's most contentious elements and will be hotly debated on Committee and Report Stages. Hare coursing has been banned in most countries.

That fox hunting has been similarly excluded is remiss. There is a recognition of cruelty but under the Bill it does not matter and will be allowed to proceed. We must consider how to outlaw the digging out of animals or the sending of terriers or other animals below ground to catch or attack creatures. Using a pack of dogs to harass, injure or kill an animal should be included in the Bill as an offence. There is nothing amusing, traditional or fun about that reprehensible practice.

If the legislation is to be truly meaningful, we must factor that in.

An issue that has been much highlighted as an omission from the legislation is the lack of provisions to deal with fur farming, which outrages many citizens. I am aware that this activity was meant to be phased out by not renewing licences and so on but the idea of a ban nonetheless came forward. The Minister has undertaken a review in the area but we have not seen anything substantial in this regard and there are no measures in the Bill to deal with the issue. We must revisit the matter and build some measures into the Bill to deal with the ongoing barbaric fur farming in the State. Perhaps issue could be taken with the regulation of breeding, and there is an argument that this could be part of separate legislation. We may need to consider on Committee Stage amendments to reinforce our stance.

I welcome the Minister in bringing the Bill before the House, as it is a substantial body of work with some very good measures. If these are introduced and properly resourced, they could transform the issue and outlaw much of the cruelty that is sadly perpetuated by a minority of people against the wishes of the majority of the population. It is a progressive Bill in that sense, although there are glaring exclusions which must be dealt with. When the Minister returns I would like him to address how the Bill will be resourced in order to empower or develop staff or authorised officers to deal with the extra tasks that have correctly been placed on their shoulders.

Like other speakers, I welcome the Bill. The Government has been positive in putting what is clearly substantial work into this Bill, which is long overdue. It is over 100 years since the primary legislation in this area was put on the Statute Book in 1911. We are long overdue in updating that legislation to ensure a greater level of protection for animals and put in place controls to prevent cruelty. The other aspect of the Bill concerns disease control, and we are all aware of that, given the foot and mouth disease scares and other outbreaks of contagious disease. It is important that legislation is updated to empower the Government and its authorities to take action and put in place measures to control disease. This is welcome.

With regard to animal welfare and preventing cruelty, my colleague, Deputy Daly, has indicated that we should be more specific in action to protect animal welfare and the prevention of cruelty. The Bill acts positively in this regard, including issues like abandonment as a form of cruelty, as well as not looking after animals and pets. There are also measures to prevent people engaging in acts of animal fighting, mutilation, laying of poison without control, the sale of animals to minors, etc. There are increased penalties when people engage in animal cruelty or do not ensure the proper welfare of animals in their ownership. All of these measures are positive, including a regime of authorised inspectors.

As Deputy Daly noted, it is difficult to square these positive measures and commitments, upgrading the level of protection for animals, with a background of staff numbers being run down in local authorities as a result of the public sector recruitment embargo. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister how he intends to square that circle. There is a problem with pious aspiration, legislative or otherwise, if it is not matched with resources. We will meet that issue in dealing with the referendum on children's rights and the Children First guidelines as well. It is very well to have legislative protection but if there are no resources to back them up one wonders what they mean and how they can be enforced. There are serious questions to be answered by the Government in that regard.

Perhaps the next issue is a bit parochial, although I am sure it is a problem in many places. In bringing forward this Bill the Government is stating a commitment to animal welfare and an improved regime to ensure this occurs. We must think about how local authorities may facilitate animal owners in ensuring they can provide for animals. In my own area there is a big dispute between dog owners and local authorities about the right to walk animals on the beach. There is a real issue concerning users of the beach, including children, who may be afraid of dogs, against the right of animal owners to exercise the animals. Exercise for dogs is very important in a proper care regime, and not walking a dog or exercising an animal can amount to a form of cruelty.

This may be a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government but we must ensure that local authorities understand that they must try to provide facilities in this regard, including off-leash hours or designated areas in parks. It should not be an ad hoc process from local authorities but rather a regime to accommodate people. There should be a process of consultation with animal owners and other stakeholders so that reasonable compromises can be attained between animal owners and local authorities. There is concern about disputes but we must ensure the welfare of animals in that regard.

As Deputy Daly indicated, the gaping omission in this Bill is that although animal cruelty is well defined, along with the need to make it illegal to engage in cruelty against animals, there are two specific opt-outs in the areas of hare coursing and fox hunting. That is unacceptable and difficult to understand. What possible justification is there for this when cruelty is so well defined as causing unnecessary suffering to animals? How can the Minister indicate that cruelty in some circumstances can be allowed, justified or excluded from the provisions of the Bill that try to establish a humane regime for the treatment of animals?

The Minister simply cannot justify this exclusion and he should not do so.

The Bill needs to be amended in this regard because hare coursing involves cruelty to animals in all the ways described by Deputy Daly and fox hunting also involves cruelty and suffering for animals. It is not something the vast majority of people in the country want or support. Outlawing this form of cruelty does not endanger traditional pursuits because, as has been well debated and discussed and I do not need to inform the Minister of it, there are humane alternatives whereby such activities can be carried on in other ways such as through drag coursing which do not require the suffering of animals. The Minister should take his lead from Northern Ireland where hare coursing has been banned and we should do the same. There should be no exemptions. Cruelty to animals is cruelty to animals and it should not be allowed. I welcome the Bill but it is important that the Government makes these amendments and removes the exclusions on hare coursing and fox hunting.

I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Bill. Earlier this was described as progressive legislation and on close examination it is easy to see how this is the case. We are dealing with various strands of legislation which date back as far as 1911. When one sees some of the references we seek to change and how antiquated they are, the Bill is not before time.

Invariably in the past the focus has been on animal cruelty as opposed to the issue of welfare. The Bill deals with both and they are inextricably linked. From a farmer's point of view the issue of welfare is no longer a dirty word. It had been perceived as being connected with red tape and regulation. When we realise how important our food export industry is, we see that the more strides we can take to protect the industry's good name and show the highest standards in animal welfare will enhance and improve our already good reputation as a food island. The targets of Food Harvest 2020 include increasing our food exports to €12 billion a year. At present we feed 35 million people throughout the world with Irish food and our target is to increase this figure to 40 million. This is the scale we are dealing with and it is over and beyond agriculture. It is about the overall economy because agriculture feeds into every community.

When I first heard about the Bill from a farming point of view I had concerns because one thinks of regulation, red tape and more inspections. Farmers need to take great comfort from the fact that significant strides have been made in recent times. Farmers will be the first to state huge improvements have taken place in animal welfare and issues which existed in the past have been eradicated. Over the past ten years we have had collaboration between departmental officials and representatives from the IFA and the ISPCA. On the rare occasion a farmer may be in difficulty and there may be the potential for animals to be in distress down the line preventative measures can be taken and this is working very well. This started in Wexford and has been rolled out. Where a farmer is in difficulty fodder can be obtained and various measures can be taken. Therefore I see many of the measures in the Bill impacting more on urban areas than rural areas.

Farmers are custodians of the land but they are also caretakers of animals. They care for their animals every day of the year from Christmas Day through the height of the summer when everyone else is on holidays. The animals do not know it is holiday time and they must be looked after. Nobody wants to look after them more than farmers and nobody is in a better position to do so. This is why many measures in the Bill are to be welcomed.

I referred to legislation dating back to 1911. According to the 1911 Act, where an animal is extremely badly injured or very diseased and needs to be put down for a humane reasons a police constable may seek the nearest veterinary officer. When one hears such language one realises how old the legislation is. In such humane circumstances we need to make it easier for the farmer on hand or an authorised officer to be able to deal with it for the good of the animal as much as anything else.

I acknowledge the Minister ensuring that no extra cost will be borne by the farmer. Already farmers pay towards the price of tagging and levies for TB and brucellosis. Farmers cannot afford to pay extra for this and I am happy the measures in the Bill go a long way towards this. Where breaches occur the Bill strengthens the fines and this is good. The fact that the fines are graduated gives an element of fairness. A strong message is definitely being sent out with regard to how seriously we take animal welfare and this is very important.

From a code of practice point of view the Bill provides greater flexibility. We have needed to amend primary legislation to make any changes and the Bill will greatly free up the hand of the Minister to act in consultation with the relevant groups. This is important. Balance is very important and we need to be careful because we must be mindful that in years to come the present Minister will not be in office and we must ensure that safeguards exist for the good of the industry in case the role is filled by individuals with a very strong ideology. The good of the industry must always come first and I am happy this is the case.

Codes of practice are used more throughout Europe than they are here and I am very excited about how they can be rolled out. The Minister referred to a reduction in red tape through the introduction of on-the-spot fines and this will be very helpful. It has the potential to make savings across the board. Safeguards are in place and if people want to go down the traditional legal route through the court system they still can, but being able to accept an on-the-spot fine as a graduated measure is an improvement.

With regard to the officers being empowered I see this measure affecting urban areas more than rural areas where there is a deficiency. Some of these empowered inspectors could be trained from non-governmental bodies. There must be an understanding that at present our limited Garda resources mean where incidents occur there is a wait for a garda to arrive, which can take a significant length of time if another situation has arisen. Instead of increasing bureaucracy and red tape we can find efficiencies with the appropriate measures.

With regard to animal fighting, including dogfighting and cockfighting, the change in the law to association from participation is crucial. I totally oppose these activities and I am happy to hear how strongly we will act.

To return to the issue of balance, we must be very careful. People can take a very strong approach to animal safety measures and try to cover all aspects such as trying to stop people who want to go fishing from taking worms out of the ground. One can go too far and unintended consequences can arise. If the means of farmers or others to protect wild animals are curtailed too much they may be left with no alternative but to use poison, which is far more indiscriminate. With the best of intentions we can end up with a much worse consequence. I look forward to the Bill coming before the relevant committee and dealing with the nitty-gritty of it. I commend the Bill to the House and I thank the Minister.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012. The Bill will amend and consolidate previous legislation on animal health. It also aims to ensure the welfare of all animals, including non-farm animals, is properly protected. Penalties for offences will be increased significantly. The primary aim of the Bill is to bring all animal health and welfare legislation under one roof. The main Acts are the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Diseases of Animals Act 1966 and these have been amended extensively.

Many of the areas and issues in the Bill are not new but they will be dealt with in a more efficient and clear manner. The Bill will place a positive obligation on owners of animals to take care of the welfare of animals, such as by feeding and providing shelter and veterinary care.

In the past the State could only intervene in the case of someone who failed to feed his or her animals once the animals were malnourished to a level which clearly constituted cruelty and caused suffering. Under these new provisions, the appropriate authorities will be able to issue animal health and welfare notices requiring animal keepers to feed animals, improve shelter, provide medicine, etc.

The current statutory framework dealing with animal health and welfare is contained in an Act which has been in force for many decades. The Protection of Animals Act 1911 has been the primary statute dealing with issues of animal safety for more than 100 years. The main feature of the Act was the prohibition on the mistreatment of animals by setting out different offences of cruelty which could be committed against animals. Under the Act, a court could order the destruction of an animal whose owner was convicted of an offence of cruelty in circumstances where the court was satisfied that it would be cruel to keep the animal alive. A duty of care was imposed on any person who impounded any animal. There was a prohibition on using dogs for the purposes of drawing any cart, carriage or other vehicles on public highways and any person who set a trap for the purpose of catching hares or rabbits was under the obligation to an inspection at least once daily. This Act also contained a prohibition on animal fighting. However, it was often difficult to secure convictions for this offence. Some examples were wrestling with an animal or otherwise struggling with an animal, dog fighting, cock fighting, animal baiting and throwing or casting with ropes or other appliances any unbroken horse or untrained bull.

Welfare requirements in the Bill are informed by the concept of the five freedoms which have been set out by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. The future thinking on animal welfare is expected to further develop. These are not set in stone in the legislation but are used to inform the requirements set out. Further requirements can be set out by codes of practice or statutory instruments. The five freedoms are freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain full health, freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area, freedom from pain and injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment, freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and the company of the animal's own kind and freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill as a farmer and a person who was reared on a dairy farm. Animal welfare and health are very important. The two are intertwined but are separate issues also. I welcome the updating of legislation to reflect more accurately the needs and the requirements in regard to modern day animal welfare. However, there are some broad questions which concern me, including the possibility of the risk of duplication. I view animals in two categories, the first being commercially farmed animals which already require a herd number to be held by the farmer. This herd number is like a licence and farmers must adhere to very high standards, including good farming practice and cross compliance. The second category is pets, including exotic pets. I would have preferred to have seen the welfare of these animals dealt with separately. Nobody wants to see animals suffer and it is important rules and regulations are in place to ensure this does not occur.

I welcome the recognition of bio-security in this Bill. Clearly, bio-security issues, such as the prevention of foot and mouth disease and other diseases, are very relevant. However, one aspect of bio-security which has not been touched on and possibly should be looked at when time permits is the whole area of land segregation which acts as a barrier to the spread of disease. We are very fortunate in this country to have a highly productive tillage industry and it is important the industry is protected not only for the production of home grown feedstuffs but also the possibility down the line of home grown protein. This is important because currently we are completely reliant on soya from America which is a key component of our beef and dairy industry. I mention the unusual weather patterns we saw this year not only in Ireland but in America. We are at the end of the shipping line and it is vital that this product is available from an animal welfare and food security perspective.

Under Food Harvest 2020, there is a huge drive for milk production in Ireland but we need to be mindful of not wiping out all the tillage producing lands because currently these lands provide a strategic bio-security barrier to prevent the transmission of disease if, God forbid, we had an outbreak. Perhaps we need to look strategically at our land mass to encourage tillage in certain areas as a land barrier much in the same way as forestry companies periodically look at fire breaks in their plantations.

I refer to the penalties proposed. The distinction between farmer and pet owner needs to be underlined. If one is a farmer, one's penalties are deducted from one's single farm payment. However, if one does not have a single farm payment, I can see why these penalties would apply but I would not agree with a penalty being applied twice. I am concerned that the costs incurred by the officials implementing this legislation could be borne by the farmer or the person concerned.

I was glad the Minister recognised the need for sensitivity in regard to welfare cases. I have seen welfare cases in the past and these normally occur not because the person genuinely wanted to be cruel to animals but because of other circumstances whether physical or mental health or other issues in that person's life. It would be morally and legislatively wrong for us to burden a person who is possibly the victim of circumstances with a very punitive punishment. This is a delicate area and needs to be handled very sensitively, which I am sure the Minister will do. It is certainly not an area for over-zealous and egotistical inspectors to get involved in. While I have seen all these regulations and requirements imposed on the animal owner, I have not seen a comprehensive list of the educational, practical and training requirements for these inspectors who will implement this legislation, especially if they are from NGOs.

I was of the belief that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine had the required skills and officers to do this work. I would be very slow to accept authorised officers having unlimited rights of access because without proper training, they could become a health and safety liability. I dislike the mention of search warrants for private dwellings. It does not fit in with the spirit of this legislation and my fear is that under the wrong stewardship, we could wrong decent people.

Under Part 3, section 13(1)(a) on the feeding of animals, there is a provision to provide quality, wholesome uncontaminated drinking water, which is only right. However, we have an issue here. The water system in rural Ireland is completely incapable of dealing with the expansion of the bovine herd under Food Harvest 2020. I regularly hear farmer screaming that they have water problems and lack of water pressure. People have water problems in many estates. While we might want water metering, the first thing we need to do is to stop the 40% of water leakages heading south into the ground. If a person has an issue relating to animal welfare because his or her local authority has failed to deliver the correct amount of water, one would wonder who bears the responsibility and who foots the bill in this case.

On a light-hearted note, for the purpose of this Bill, land is described as all land, including land covered by water. Many dairy and tillage farmers like me were not only farmers but fishermen over the past summer. Flooding was a huge problem but I arm sure that was not what was meant by the definition in this Bill.

I welcome the provision in regard to abandonment in section 14. This occurs regularly, most severely with mink but also with deer. In the past mink have been very destructive when released into the environment. Our domestic hens were all killed by wild mink which also wipe out duck populations. People released deer in the Nagle mountains close to where I live and they have become uncontrollable, destructive, are a nuisance and have no natural predictor. It comes back to abandonment.

I refer to enforcement. The Bill states that officers are allowed to enter a premises at all reasonable times to inspect animal products and feeds. While this seems to be acceptable there is no time line. If I had animal feed in a shed five years ago, is it reasonable to expect that this shed should be inspected today?

When I used to deliver straw many farms kept feed products, such as calf nuts and dog nuts, in people's homes. We need to mindful of this.

Section 38(1)(b) provides that enforcement officers may "examine an animal, animal product, animal feed, equipment, machinery or other thing". What does "other thing" entail? It is possible that the paragraph is poorly worded but it is important that we are definitive in our legislation. Section 38(8) allows officers to move any equipment. We need to be clear about the timeframe is involved because we do not want to allow books or equipment to be removed for too long. Section 38(7) allows authorised officers to use reasonable force if necessary. This might be a step too far because if an officer cannot do his or her job we have a highly trained and competent police force that can gain access if required. Giving this power to an officer who may not have received proper security training and does not understand what reasonable force involves might produce undesirable consequences. As a farmer who owns livestock, I would be disappointed to hear an officer announce that he thinks he is almost James Bond. However, I am reassured by the Minister's opening statement that NGO staff will only be employed in limited circumstances.

I congratulate the Minister for his proactive approach to agriculture and his hands-on, knowledge-based methodology. Animal health and welfare is highly important and while I have outlined some of the difficulties arising on the fringes of the legislation, they are not insurmountable obstacles. The fundamental basis of the Bill is sound and if we want to produce top quality milk and beef we cannot ignore welfare issues. The Bill will also address unpopular and illegal practices such as dog fighting and puts legislative requirements on pet owners who in some rare cases may have mistreated animals under their control. The vast majority of animals raised for commercial production are maintained at the highest standards and are well cared for. This is a vital component of our international reputation and the protections that the Bill offers in this regard are most welcome.

I welcome the Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012, which updates existing legislation and creates a new onus on owners to protect their animals' welfare. The Bill's dual focus on animal health and welfare will copper-fasten advances in how we treat animals and counter the threat of epidemics devastating our livestock. Much of the Bill was inherited by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, from the previous Fianna Fáil Government and I am glad that he has continued to make progress on it. I support the consensual cross-party approach that he has taken to amendments tabled by Fianna Fáil in the Seanad and I am sure he will continue in that spirit as the Bill progresses through this House.

The Bill must not make it impossible for farmers to operate. The crux of the issue will be the impact it has on farms across the country. I am sure that the Minister, as someone who comes from farming stock himself, has held meetings with the IFA, the ICMSA and other farming organisations prior to introducing the Bill to the House. Farmers in my county have expressed concerns about the appointment of inspectors, changes in compensation arrangements, ramped up codes of practice, levies and other practical issues that they may face in this legislation. These issues must be clarified and addressed by the Minister in order to ensure that the Bill has a positive long-term impact for farmers and the animals we are obliged to protect.

Their Bill's overall emphasis on creating a strong framework for enhanced animal welfare underpins a long tradition of farmers caring for their animals. Farmers in general show a caring attitude towards animals and, indeed, often treat them like children. Whether in snow, rain or frost, farmers generally do a good job in caring for their animals. The foot and mouth outbreak several years ago demonstrated beyond doubt the concerns that farmers have for their products and communities. They went beyond the bounds of reasonable effort to protect their farms and animals. The focus on ramped up powers to prevent, control and eradicate animal diseases will help to secure the agri-food industry from the damage that disease can do. Speakers on all sides of the House have stressed the importance of the food industry to this country. The Minister is progressing the Harvest 2020 project as the way forward for the industry. Over the summer months I have read a number of articles by experts who argued this is one of the ways we can develop the economy and get out of our current financial situation.

However, farmers are critical of the prices they are currently getting for the food they produce in a clean and green environment, particularly from the multinationals. Today there have been protests in Portlaoise and it is time that the multinationals wake up to the fact that farmers are producing food to the highest standards but because of the cost factors that are now built into production they need to achieve a decent price.

The introduction of a positive duty to ensure the health and safety of animals and the tightening of the law regarding outright animal cruelty are important innovations which we in this House must support. The concept of pre-emptive action is a significant departure from the existing reactive nature of the legislation. Preventing cruelty before it occurs rather than responding to wanton cruelty after the fact is a major step forward for animal welfare. The current constraints that prevent authorised officers from taking action to prevent the infliction of harm on an animal has shackled their capacity to uphold animal welfare. This Bill allows for a substantial expansion of powers in order to permit pre-emptive interventions. Officers will be able to take actions such as removing animals or requiring an order to secure veterinary help. Too often in the past owners have neglected to deal with animals suffering from diseases or did not call the vet because they believed it was too expensive to do so.

The Protection of Animals Act 1911 is the basic framework for animal welfare in Ireland but it is time for a change because the Act reflects its era and now has limited application and scope. Changing values about how we treat animals and the development of scientific understanding of animals over the past century underlines the need for the sweeping changes introduced in this Bill. The concept of cruelty has certainly expanded since the original 1911 Act and these changes need to be reflected in legislation. The Bill provides powers to ensure that those guilty of intentional harm, neglect or recklessness towards an animal are liable for payment of subsequent necessary veterinary care. Additional powers long sought by the courts have been provided in order to prevent negligent individuals from owning an animal if found guilty of an offence under the Bill. Too often farmers and animal owners who were found guilty of negligence were allowed to continue to farm and own animals. These powers are strong and sweeping but I hope they will be used sparingly.

Dogfighting was banned in this country in 1911. Yet, the barbaric practice continues, particularly among organised criminal gangs and in the Border counties. We see occasional television programmes or media reports about dog fighting and dog fighting rings. Some of these rings have been broken up by the Garda but much remains to be done to strengthen the Garda in acting against this type of crime. The expansion of the law into ancillary activity related to illegal fighting will ensure gardaí have the capacity to charge those engaged in dog fighting at any point. I welcome the efforts to ensure the organisers of these events cannot evade criminal responsibility for their actions by claiming they were simply spectators. It is important that members of the public who are aware of such dog fighting operations report them to the gardaí and to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and help to put an end to this barbaric practice which has gone on for far too long.

The tightening of the law on the abandonment of animals by ensuring that responsibility remains with the owner, specifying abandonment as an offence and detailing responsibilities towards the animal and for adequate provision of care under the scope of cruelty, is a welcome measure towards the tackling of abandonment.

In my county, huge damage is done every year to the sheep industry by marauding dogs that are not under anyone's control. More often than not, when sheep are attacked, killed, maimed and seriously damaged, no one seems to own the dog or dogs responsible. It is of grave concern to farmers when sheep are damaged or killed. Last year, some farmers in Wexford lost up to 30, 40 or 50 sheep to marauding dogs. It is important that some type of legislation be introduced to deal with this problem. I hope the Bill will deal with this area. Uncontrolled and unlicensed dogs are a major concern to farmers, who often have no way of knowing who owns the dogs that have damaged their sheep. I ask the Minister to take serious note of this issue.

Farm organisations have expressed some concerns about the Bill, but I am sure the Minister has met with these organisations and that he will continue to liaise with them to iron out any difficulties they have in this area.

I welcome the fact the Minister has brought the Bill before the House. It is a step in the right direction and can only do good, both for the farming community and with regard to the control of dogs and other animals that need to be brought under control.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this substantial legislation and I commend the Minister and members of the previous Government for setting about amending ancient out-of-date legislation and bringing responsibility for all animals, other than those that live in the wild, under a single piece of legislation. The Protection of Animals Acts and the Diseases of Animals Acts are at least 45 years old. Welfare and disease issues have moved on considerably since then so there is no doubt about the need for the Bill.

The Minister engaged in a long discussion with the Seanad and has committed to do the same in this House and to make the Bill as practical and as useful as possible.

Deputy Browne referred to dog control. If animal welfare is to cover animals that are subject to predatory behaviour by other animals, domestic or wild, it should follow that the owner or the person responsible for the predatory animal will be guilty of an offence. Deputy Browne spoke of cases in Wexford. A huge issue in the national parkland on the Wicklow uplands which, I accept, is not directly under the control of the Minister, is that of dogs being unleashed to roam out of sight on the hills and to do untold damage. Landowners cannot leave their holdings during the summer, particularly at weekends. When they confront those in charge of these dogs they often meet hostility or denial of ownership. There are enough locations, including forestry land, where domestic animals can be exercised, within guidelines, and where they would not be a worry to sheep and farm animals. Sheep, in particular are vulnerable to attack. They panic and run into water or areas where they can be seriously damaged or killed. This problem needs to be considered in the spirit of the Bill.

The vast majority of animals that will be subject to this legislation are kept in the care of farmers. It should be acknowledged that farmers, throughout history, have been good caretakers of animals. It is in both their nature and their economic interest. In the vast majority of cases, people who look after animals do not abuse them.

The Minister mentioned that some people who allow animals to be cruelly treated have personal problems of their own and do not have the wherewithal to treat animals well. If and when such people are brought to court these circumstances should be taken into consideration.

Some farm organisations have expressed concern as to who will be responsible for supervising, monitoring and enforcing the legislation. The Bill gives the Minister the right to delegate this role. This needs to be done carefully. As in all situations, people of extreme views and who are not objective should be kept away from positions of power, enforcement or judgment. It could be said that one man's meat is another man's poison. For some people, the Bill will not go far enough. They have another agenda. No person who is dissatisfied with the thrust of the Bill or with its final objectives should be given responsibility for its enforcement or supervision.

The Minister referred to people involved in animal fighting, particularly dog fighting. The easiest way to enforce the Bill is to ensure that all cases of blatant abuse are highlighted and given a high profile and that the punishment fits the crime. That is the best preventative. People who, heretofore, had the option of saying they were only in attendance at such an event will no longer be allowed that excuse. Anyone who attends an animal fight will be culpable. That is the message that needs to go out. Baiting is a blood sport of the worst type. It thrives on the abuse of an animal and is totally different from other animal sports that are much better controlled and monitored.

The Bill is the Animal Health and Welfare Bill.

With new exotic diseases and more frequent movement, there must be proper monitoring. At one time, the only contagious diseases that threatened us were foot and mouth and rabies in dogs. Our island status protected us from most contagious diseases. There are now some diseases that are airborne or carried by birds so we must ensure all diseases are covered and those who should notify the authorities but do not are held to account.

The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine met yesterday. I am the Chairman of the committee and we agreed that we would set aside as much times as is necessary to go through the Bill and amendments to it at the Minister's convenience. The Minister gave a lot of time to the Seanad so we are prepared to give as much time on Committee Stage to ensure the Bill enjoys all-party support, if possible. This should be similar to the children's referendum. No one has said it is not necessary. We are all agreed on that and that is a good starting point.

I look forward to the Bill coming before the committee and to engaging with the Minister. Opposition Senators at yesterday's meeting described how the Minister took on board all suggestions and that the Bill came out of the Seanad in much better shape than when it went into it. We hope the same will be the case when it comes out of the committee. This process has been years in the making. I was one of those anxious to get the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill enacted but I figured at the time we should have the two Bills together in order that they dovetailed. I appreciate this Bill is much more complex but I hope it ties in with the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill and other animal welfare legislation when it is passed.

I welcome this Bill and commend the Minister on his proactive stance in this area. There have been five years of consultations so the Bill is welcome.

I want to focus on the authorised officers section. In his contribution, the Minister outlined the automatic authorisation of customs officers and gardaí, with potential for veterinary surgeons to act in that fashion. The possible involvement of NGOs was also mentioned and I would like to focus on the involvement of the ISPCA, a reputable organisation that deals primarily with domestic animals and horses. It will see 3,000 cases this year alone, primarily involving domestic animals, with farm animals making up less than 1% of cases. That shows how far animal welfare has come in the last 20 years, when statistics showed 70% of ISPCA work was spent on farm visits. Given the system of departmental inspections now in place, better farm practice and a general improvement in animal welfare on farms, that number has declined dramatically.

It is important that reputable non-governmental organisations, NGOs, are involved, and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, has a proud track record of preventing cruelty. It assists pet owners and demonstrates to them how to treat animals. We have, however, a resources issue. It is ridiculous that an ISPCA inspector who is called out to a housing estate where there has been a report of a malnourished dog must wait for a garda to confirm the report and authorise the ISPCA inspector to remove the animal.

This raises the question of resource allocation. If a garda must make a decision between responding to the report of a crime or calling out to confirm a case of animal cruelty, which will he prioritise? What consideration is there for the animal's welfare? If a dog is severely malnourished, the important thing to do is to get the situation sorted as soon as possible and to remove the dog. There are two problems: a resources issue and consideration of animal welfare. If we put animal welfare at the forefront of the legislation, efficiencies and dealing with the situation will be the priority. It is also important to allow ISPCA inspectors a degree of responsibility and authorisation.

I have spoken to the Minister about this before. Some in the farming community fear the inspection regime will be too wide but if we look at the track record of the ISPCA and its practical involvement in domestic animal welfare, we can see a commonsense approach. I heard of a recent example where an ISPCA inspector was called out for a kitten that had cat flu, which required the ISPCA officer to inform the Garda. Three gardaí arrived to check for themselves that the kitten had cat flu. This madness can be addressed in a common-sense way to ensure the ISPCA inspector, who would know when a kitten has cat flu, can intervene at that point. This is potentially a win-win situation and in these straitened times of cutbacks and fewer gardaí, we must look at their prioritising involvement in such situations.

I have concentrated on one aspect and I will not go any further into the issue of cross-Border co-operation. The Minister knows my thoughts on that and he has worked proactively with his counterpart in the North. From a veterinary inspection point of view, there are win-win scenarios in North-South co-operation, so I welcome the Minister's intervention with his northern counterpart and wish him continued success in that. There are financial benefits to such practical co-operation.

I commend the Minister on putting animals at the centre of this Bill on a day when the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has put children at the heart of the Constitution. When we are talking about animals, we must make them the priority.

If there are means available to us to make it more effective with the animal's welfare in mind such as through intervention, there is a practical solution with respect to authorising inspectors to arrive at commonsense solutions.

It must have been a wild Donegal cat if it took three gardaí and an NGO to deal with it, although I have known some cats in Donegal.

I commend the Minister and the Department on producing this legislation and I commend the previous Government for initiating the work on it. I acknowledge the Minister's commitment to animal welfare and I have no doubt the legislation will be improved as it goes through the different Stages in the House.

It is important legislation, which attempts to bring previous legislation that sets out the requirements to ensure the health and well-being of animals into line and it is important that through the Bill the health and welfare of animals are inextricably linked. Farmers and pet owners know that the better the welfare of the animal, the greater the chance that it will remain disease free. It is almost a mantra that agriculture, food and fisheries contributes €8.9 billion to the economy annually. In 2011, milk output was worth €2.67 billion; beef output, €1.8 billion; pig output, €395 million; and sheep output, €180 million. Clearly, this would not be the case if there were doubts about the standard of animal health and welfare in this State. We have worked to ensure domestic agricultural and food products enjoy a lofty reputation throughout the world. Access to foreign markets such as China is of significant benefit to the economy and this has great potential to deliver more in the future. Many of the countries we trade with are attracted to Irish agriculture because of its high standard of disease-free animals and produce and it is important to maintain these standards.

The main legislation in operation in this area is the Cruelty to Animals Act 1911 and the Diseases of Animals Act 1966, both of which have been amended extensively through the years. It was clear that there were gaps and overlaps in them and it was equally clear that a new Bill would have to be introduced to modernise and standardise the legislation in this area. It is complex and it took a long time to do this but it was necessary work. The purpose of the legislation is twofold. It should make it easy for the owners of animals to understand what is intended in the legislation and it should provide for a system of monitoring and enforcement to ensure the provisions are adhered to by those who own or manage animals. Legislation can increase or reduce bureaucracy and the intention should be to limit it as much as possible by creating clear objectives about what needs to be done to maintain our high standards of animal health and welfare and to do the right thing by animals.

I will ask the Minister to re-examine aspects of the legislation which relate to issues we have raised in the House previously. Questions remain about the compensation that will be provided to farmers under the legislation. Part 6 states, "The Minister may pay" compensation to farmers whose animals have to be disposed due to disease. This needs to be clarified. Farmers whose animals have contracted disease through no fault of their own must be awarded compensation for the loss of their stock because this is in the national interest as well as the in the interest of the farmer and his community. Farmers who have lost their animals due to disease need to be provided with the supports to aid them to return to farming as easily, quickly and safely as possible. In a climate of rural decline, it is essential that as many farmers as possible are involved in the industry and the Government must help to ensure that those whose animals have been affected by disease are adequately compensated. We must always think of the value of the industry to the economy.

I also have concerns about the powers of inspection of authorised officers. The law should apply equally to all, including farmers. The powers outlined in the legislation are somewhat vague and need to be clarified. I would not want the powers of inspection privatised and those involved in the inspection process absolved of accountability. Safeguards are, therefore, needed. It is important to strike a balance between the need to have an effective process of inspection and the need to ensure farmers’ rights are not trampled on. I acknowledge it is not the Minister's intention to trample on anybody's rights but perhaps a little clarity is needed regarding some provisions.

It is also necessary to differentiate between farm animals and pets. Both categories of animal deserve the highest standard of health and welfare regulation but it would be unwise to ignore fundamental differences between them. This legislation probably needs to do more to explain or develop the differences between farm animals and pets. This has caused confusion amongst many in the farming community. The Minister must clarify these subtleties in this legislation in order that it is clear to everyone what it means for farmers and pet owners.

A few notable exemptions need to be dealt with either in this or another Bill. I have raised some previously in the House and at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The issue of fur farms is not mentioned in the legislation. There has been a great deal of reportage about cruel and unhealthy conditions for animals on these farms and this needs to be addressed.

Moreover, as I have noted several times previously, I am unsure whether the legislation before Members protects adequately the welfare and health of racehorses. Having examined the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill published last year and having considered the need for the protection of the health and welfare of racehorses, I do not discern the same level of detail or enforcement levels in this Bill as I did in the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill. Consequently, this is another area Members must consider.

Overall, this legislation is both welcome and necessary and it is the task of all Members to try to make it as good as it possibly can be. I accept the Minister's statement that the Bill will be debated fully and he will take on board suggestions. I am sorry I will not be attending the select committee to talk through many of the proposed changes but the Minister may rest assured that I will liaise closely with my party colleague, Deputy Martin Ferris, to ensure continuity in our respective presentations. I thank the Minister.

I thank Deputy Colreavy.

Debate adjourned.