The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, will be here until someone else arrives.
Animal Welfare: Motion [Private Members]
I think we should wait for the Minister.
Deputy O'Sullivan wants to wait for the Minister? All right. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is well able-----
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle. I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.
That Dáil Éireann:
— the progress made since the introduction of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013;
— that, despite the progress, there are an increasing number of incidents and reports of animal mistreatment, cruelty and abuse; and
— that this rise in reported incidents of animal cruelty stems from neglect, poor regulations, lack of enforcement of current legislation, inadequate legislation and lack of sanctions for those responsible for these acts of cruelty;
acknowledges the substantial work of individuals, families, animal welfare groups and activists in highlighting these problems; and
— the introduction of a comprehensive system of monitoring conditions in which animals are kept;
— robust regulations to protect animals from abuse, cruel treatment, neglect and poor living conditions;
— those accused of abuse or acts of cruelty to be held accountable for their actions;
— transparency in relation to anti-doping protocols, publishing details of testing and more out-of-competition unannounced testing; and
— a clear message from Government that cruelty to animals is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
I am sharing time. I am taking ten minutes, Deputy Broughan is taking five and Deputy Wallace is taking five.
I begin by acknowledging, applauding and thanking those individuals, families, organisations, communities and activists who continue to work for animal welfare and to expose the cruelty and neglect that goes on with animals in this country. There are positive measures in the Animal Health and Welfare Act but we would not be having this debate tonight if it was working and all its measures were being implemented.
If we look at the facts, the national animal cruelty helpline recorded over 53,000 calls in its first three years with more than 16,500 in the past year, including a range of animal issues from neglect to health issues such as chronic skin conditions, inflammation, untreated illnesses such as cancer, living in appalling conditions with no access to food or water and being found in emaciated conditions. These cases are coming from many counties. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, cares for all animals, including companion, wild and farm animals, and animals used in entertainment, sport and research. It has eight uniformed inspectors to cover 17 counties. How serious are we about animal welfare with only eight inspectors? Eight cannot even cover what is in the legislation. I believe we are paying lip service to animal welfare. However, those inspectors initiated over 70 prosecutions with 30 finalised in court but even though the Animal Health and Welfare Act allows for significant fines and imprisonment, the penalties imposed by the court are all at the lower level of the range and are consequently derisory. That speaks for itself.
To look at particular examples, in a Topical Issue debate last year, I highlighted the matter of the abuse in puppy farms and gave the details about how it was in breach of the existing Dog Breeding Establishments Act. There were no upper limits. Inspections were by appointment with several weeks' notice. When improvement notices were given, the premises were invited to comply. A puppy farm passed by the local authority had multiples of the permitted number of dogs which were living in absolute squalor. County managers are being compelled into initiating enforcement procedures. We do not see any urgency in ensuring improvements are carried out and, in the meantime, the animals continue to live in appalling conditions. A vet in a certain county inspected an unregistered dog breeding establishment, found the dogs in unacceptable conditions and they were seized. He recommended that the owner be prosecuted, which happened, and he was convicted. While that case was pending, the same owner applied for a dog breeding licence and got it because the same vet granted the licence. He could have waited for the outcome.
In another example, an improvement notice was given to a facility. Enforcement was not followed up and the facility took two years to comply, and animals continued to live in appalling conditions. I also highlighted the puppy farm in County Cavan which was the subject of a documentary which showed appalling abuse and because the ISPCA was critical of Cavan County Council, officials there and in Leitrim asked that the ISPCA refrain from directly criticising them. The ISPCA was working to ensure that councils were enforcing the Dog Breeding Establishments Act and applying existing guidelines.
Another council had licensed a breeder for 300 dogs despite the fact the breeder did not have appropriate facilities or planning permission. Surely the local authorities, Department, vets and the Veterinary Council of Ireland should be on the same page as the ISPCA when it comes to animal welfare. The reply of the Minister of State, Deputy English, that night was, "that the scope of the existing guidelines needs to be enhanced as they are quite benign and represent a minimal standard that is probably no longer acceptable, particularly in view of recent issues that have arisen regarding some of the establishments", so a review of guidelines for dog breeding establishments would begin. In reply to a parliamentary question from Deputy Clare Daly and me last June, the Minister of State, Deputy English, said that the public consultation process closed on 1 February 2017 and that he expected the findings in June 2017 and that they would be considered without delay. This is October. Where are those findings?
I hope that when the guidelines come out, the next issue will be completely covered, which is the disposal of dog waste. There are at least 73 registered puppy farms, so at least 30,000 dogs being produced yearly. That is a lot of dog waste. Dog waste is linked with a number of diseases and is a serious threat to the environment, to health and to livestock if it is not properly disposed of. The Food Safety Authority has various rules and guidelines about untreated organic material, agricultural farms and agricultural land but it needs to consider dog breeding establishments too. A very detailed submission on this has been placed with An Bord Pleanála on a particular planning application for a particular puppy farm which had already been permitted by the local authority so the local authority is obviously not paying much attention to the health issues of dog waste and EU directives on the matter.
There is a total contradiction with hares in that the hare is protected under the Wildlife Act but the Act also allows hare coursing which we know is terrorising one animal with another. It is unnecessary cruelty, from the netting process, the transportation of hares, handling of hares, keeping them herded and the practice of blooding. Then we have coursing trials which are not monitored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, though it attended a recent coursing trial and found that the coursing club planned to hold between 130 and 150 trials using 64 hares. The hares are only supposed to be coursed once a day and are then released, so the maths do not add up.
I would prefer to see an end to live hare coursing because there is an alternative, but in the meanwhile there is a need for coursing trials to be monitored. The National Parks and Wildlife Service should be informed of the location, dates and times and if it does not have enough personnel to monitor trials, they should be banned. We believe there is a strong lobby pressing the Minister to drop the condition that a hare would only be coursed once a day. Condition 20 of the licence to net hares is not being complied with, namely, that each surviving hare is earmarked with a non-toxic dye because we are reliably informed that a certain hare trapper goes to the release site to capture hares that have just been released and then goes around selling these hares to coursing clubs. Another hare trapper keeps a supply of hares at his establishment to sell on to coursing clubs which might be short of hares.
Another contradiction is that greyhound owners, including those opposed to coursing, have to register with the Irish Coursing Club if they want their greyhounds to take part in track racing. The Irish Coursing Club is over 90% financed by registration fees but the majority of greyhounds do not take part in coursing and the greyhound industry and greyhound welfare could use some of that funding. Greyhounds can live for up to 14 years, yet the lifespan for Irish greyhounds is three to four years. Thousands are put to sleep yearly including at race tracks where injuries are sometimes not treated. We have cases of greyhounds being dumped with their ears burned to remove markings which could identify the owner. There is the recently highlighted case of doping and a bizarre explanation from a trainer-owner of how cocaine could be found in a dog. I could provide a list of prohibited substances that have been found in random sampling of greyhounds in the past two years and a list of trainers of those dogs who have continued training. More out of competition testing is needed, as is full publication of the test and, if a class A positive is found, the Irish Greyhound Board should inform the Garda and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine since it is a State-funded industry.
Over the last year, campaign groups, individuals and the media have highlighted the fate of Irish greyhounds being exported to countries with poor or no animal welfare standards. Our greyhounds adapt well as family pets but when they are of no use here they are exported to horrific circumstances and cruel deaths to be used in the dog meat trade, as live bait in fights between wild animals in so-called zoos in places such as China, Pakistan, India and South America. They are also being exported through European countries and the US. If we are serious about animal welfare, we have to ban the export of all greyhounds to any country other than the UK with the exception of rescued greyhounds from established, reputable centres in Ireland going to reputable adoption groups abroad. We need more accurate and up-to-date traceability of all Irish-born greyhounds from birth to death.
The general live exports of farm animals involve long journeys, overcrowded conditions, deprivation of food and water, inadequate ventilation and rough handling. They are going to countries with immensely cruel slaughter practices. Evidence is available for all of this. We know that fox hunting continues. I accepted a petition this morning from a gentleman who had collected more than 10,000 signatures of people opposed to fox hunting. Whatever chance a fox might have in a hunt, it has no chance whatsoever in the cruel, barbaric practice of the digging out of foxes. Fur farming continues, albeit on a much smaller scale now but it is estimated that over 200,000 mink are killed in the remaining three fur farms in Ireland. I am glad that we have an amendment here on animals in circuses, which I will also support because we know that there are animals in circuses which are completely unsuitable for those animals.
We are still waiting on the roll-out of the vaccine which would eliminate the very cruel way badgers are treated. At the recent Ballinasloe Horse Fair, despite reduced numbers of attendees and animals there, the ISPCA was as busy as ever. Three ponies, three donkeys and ten dogs were removed. It goes on and on.
The legislation is worthless unless it is implemented and it is not being implemented. I do not know whether that is through indifference, ignorance or disinterest, allied with a lack of the adequate resources and personnel to ensure implementation.
I am delighted to have a brief opportunity to speak on this important motion brought forward by my colleagues, Deputies O'Sullivan and Daly, and the other members of the Independents 4 Change technical group. I commend my colleagues on this motion.
While there has been some tiny progress on animal welfare since the 2013 Act, there are still increasing reports of animal cruelty, loopholes in regulation and insufficient monitoring and enforcement across the spectrum of animal care. As Deputy O'Sullivan stated, the Minister told the House this time last year that there had only been 13 successful prosecutions under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 in one year and that there were 38 prosecution files being processed at that time. These numbers seem incredibly low, given the many millions of animals reared each year. At present, there are 12 million domestic farm animals in the Republic alone.
On 21 March this year, I introduced the Welfare of Greyhounds (Amendment) Bill 2017. A few hours ago, I asked the Minister whether he could incorporate this Bill into the Bill on the greyhound sector and I found his reply a little disappointing. All we were seeking to do in the Bill was to control the export of greyhounds, to provide for publication of the white list to which the export of greyhounds under licence would be permissible, and to make it an offence to export a greyhound to a country that is not included in the white list.
Over recent years, the welfare of the dogs being exported, and racing and retired greyhounds has become a major campaign issue. Irish greyhounds were exported to Macau, China, to race in the famous Yat Yeun Canidrome. The public is very upset at reports of this and that dogs are raced to death and then end up somewhere in the food chain. The response from the Government and the greyhound board regarding the export of Irish dogs to countries with appalling or no animal welfare standards has so far been useless. While the white list that we proposed in the Welfare of Greyhounds (Amendment) Bill 2017 cannot provide for the selling on from other jurisdictions, it would give Ireland the opportunity to be a leader in this area. I listened carefully to campaigners who want the export of greyhounds beyond these islands stopped completely.
I also welcome contacts with Ms Nessa Childers MEP to discuss the work of the European Parliament animal welfare intergroup this autumn and the possibility that the European Parliament can establish standards across the current 28 European Union member states.
The Greyhound Rescue Association claims that there are approximately 38 greyhounds being put down monthly and traceability issues also remain because greyhounds are not microchipped from birth. The Greyhound Rescue Association claims that up to 10,000 of our wonderful Irish greyhounds could be unaccounted for each year.
Earlier in the year, as I mentioned this afternoon, broadcaster Sharon Ní Bheoláin and "Prime Time" aired the famous programme "Gone to the Dogs", which put the spotlight on doping and the poor regulation generally in the greyhound sector in Ireland. The Minister stated earlier that this is an area about which he has concerns. Perhaps the Minister of State might respond comprehensively on that in his response.
Animal welfare extends not only to our greyhounds but to all our animals. In keeping with the theme of racing animals for profit, I echo the comments of Deputy O'Sullivan in regard to coursing hares. Just last week, I asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to report on the monitoring of coursing trials around the country, whether breaches of trial rules had taken place in the last number of years and what the repercussions are for breach of the coursing clubs' trials rule. The Minister stated that hare course meetings are monitored as resources allow by conservation rangers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service of her Department. The Minister went on to state that due to a lack of resources, no monitoring whatsoever took place in 2015-16. My colleague also mentioned the abuse of a range of other beautiful animals, such as the mink.
Perhaps we need to look into the future and change the structure of agriculture, which has developed into an industrial system. When I was a child, we reared pigs, cattle and sheep on a different, much more sustainable system. This incredible industrial process, which currently produces 33% of our carbon emissions and involves the transporting of live animals with considerable cruelty to those animals, is something that we have to start moving away from. We have a wonderful land. We have the resources to practice a much more sustainable type of agriculture as well. I think we should move towards that.
I welcome Deputy O'Sullivan's Bill. The Deputy is not asking too much. What it amounts to is Deputy O'Sullivan thinks it is wrong that we tolerate cruelty to animals. The truth is that the vast majority of Irish people do not agree with any kind of cruelty to animals but we are probably not doing enough to address it where it does happen.
The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, which came into force in 2014, marked a significant step forward in animal welfare in Ireland. The then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, was certainly praised for his efforts, his openness to amendment, and general patience. A lot of work went into it. At the time, the Minister was criticised for the failure to deal with animal cruelty around hare coursing, digging out foxes, the use of traps, badger culling and fur farms, which Deputy O'Sullivan has already highlighted.
The legislation empowered authorised officers to enter property, examine animals, and even to seize animals or other evidence when appropriate. It enabled authorised officers to deal with issues far more effectively than previously. However, significant problems still exist with the enforcement of the legislation. As Deputy O'Sullivan stated at the time, the proof of the pudding will be in the implementation of codes of practice and the resources provided. We need to see enforcement of the animal welfare laws. If necessary, if this is what it takes, there will have to be more severe punishment from the courts for those convicted of cruelty to animals.
Lack of enforcement is a problem. The ISPCA argued that penalties imposed have not been particularly high and do not serve as a deterrent, and that generally speaking, penalties imposed have been at the lower end of the scale. Enforcement of many aspects of the legislation is dependent on ISPCA inspectors. They have a team of eight uniformed inspectors, who currently cover 17 counties - half of the country is not covered. In 2016, following a submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the committee recommended that given the ISPCA's service agreement with the Minister, the society should be given more funding to allow recruitment of enough inspectors to cover the whole of the country. This has not yet to happen.
Similarly, the National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers go to hare coursing events and report on them, but as Deputy O'Sullivan pointed out, there is no monitoring of coursing trials which are organised prior to official hare coursing events to test the performance of the greyhounds and there are live hares used at these events. Animal welfare sanctuary volunteers and managers repeatedly state the legislation has simply not been acted upon. As to the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010, the ISPCA has stated that there is a lack of enforcement, guidelines are not being met and there is widespread non-compliance. Animal shelters throughout the country are overworked and underfunded, and are exasperated with the Government's failure to deal with mandatory microchipping.
Deputy O'Sullivan also referred to greyhounds, an issue we have raised here over recent years, especially on the abuse of drugs. Sadly, it is the bigger players that are involved in it. There have been some improvements made but a lot more work still has to be done for us to clean up the sector.
I do not have a lot of time. I will touch on a protest last week against the export of live cattle. I managed a bit of notoriety among the farming sector for even attending it.
Most people actually acknowledge that the travel time on the ships is too long and that it is not natural. We are sending cattle outside of the EU where EU rules, in terms how the cattle are dealt with or killed, do not apply. Is the Government doing anything about this? Surely, even from an economic point of view, we should be processing more animals at home and should stop the export of live cattle. That said, I do understand part of the problem. I know that a lot of the cattle that go abroad come from the dairy herd. Dairy farmers are using Holstein bulls to try to produce heifers for dairy and they end up with a whole lot of bulls that are not attractive to the meat industry here. Has consideration been given, as an alternative, to targeting cows that will produce Holstein heifers for milk through artificial insemination and using the likes of Red Aberdeen Angus bulls with the rest of the herd so that we would actually have a good beef product at the other side? Obviously, there would be a little bit of work involved in that but it is something the Government should consider.
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"notes that this Government does not tolerate any instances of animal cruelty;
acknowledges the significant progress made in updating animal welfare legislation in recent years, in particular with the introduction of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 which updated and modernised over one hundred years of previous legislation in this area;
notes the increased penalties set out in the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 in respect of animal welfare offences;
acknowledges the extensive system of welfare checks that are systematically carried out on farms and other locations each year;
notes the role of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s Animal Welfare Helpline in assisting the public’s reporting of instances of animal neglect;
— the important role played by animal welfare charities; and
— that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s contribution to animal welfare charities (in excess of €2.4 million paid in 2016) plays an important role in protecting animal welfare;
— the extended national animal welfare inspection capability through service agreements between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and certain non governmental organisations whereby appropriately trained staff are assigned additional powers of inspection under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013; and
— the increased transparency and success in prosecutions taken in respect of animal welfare offences since the introduction of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, with 34 successful prosecutions having been taken by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine head office under the Act and an additional 26 are currently ongoing, and additional prosecutions are taken at a regional level by An Garda Síochána (sometimes in conjunction with the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), local authorities and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine regional offices;
acknowledges the strict approval process that exists for livestock vessels transporting live animals from Ireland;
notes the extensive review of procedures for regulatory control of greyhound racing by Bord na gCon (Irish Greyhound Board), including the development of new intelligence led testing that has now resulted in the Greyhound Industry Bill 2017, which has gone through the pre-legislative stage and will be prioritised for speedy passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas this session; and
recognises the significant progress made to date by Bord na gCon (Irish Greyhound Board) in the area of anti-doping, through its establishment of a scientific committee to implement the highest standards of deterrence against the minority of individuals who seek to gain advantage by cheating in the sport and its significant investment in laboratory equipment."
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter of animal welfare in the House. First, I wish to emphasise the Government's commitment to animal welfare and to reiterate that this Government does not tolerate any instance of animal cruelty. There is no doubt that there is greater engagement than ever by the public at large with issues relating to animal welfare. This public interest has been given concrete expression in the Animal Health and Welfare Act which was adopted by the Oireachtas following extensive and positive debate. The Act provides a modern and robust framework for dealing with issues relating to animal welfare. I want to focus tonight on the significant progress that has been made in recent years in the area of the welfare of animals. In particular, I am very glad that the Private Member's motion acknowledges the progress that the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 has brought about. That Act updated and replaced approximately 40 items of primary legislation in the area of animal welfare and health back over 100 years. The Act changed the basis upon which animal owners must treat their animals. It enshrined the principles of the five freedoms for animals, namely freedom: from hunger and thirst, from discomfort; from pain, injury and disease; to exhibit natural behaviour; and from fear and distress. These requirements are a fundamental shift in the way that this issue is dealt with under the Irish legal system. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 is designed to allow intervention in a much wider range of cases than previously possible. As a result, minor cases can be tackled before they escalate and the Act is a vehicle to encourage and educate animal keepers. In the past, the Protection of Animals Act 1911 was the only recourse available and could only be used where significant suffering had occurred. This new approach means that we will be tackling problems while they are relatively minor, making the risk of escalation much lower.
Enforcement is a complex issue and one which needs to be examined in detail. This is another progressive aspect of the Act, in that it does not just focus on prosecution, which is only appropriate in cases where there have been serious welfare issues that can be clearly demonstrated to the courts. The new enforcement approach reflects the need to intervene as early as possible in animal welfare situations. The Act provides for animal health and welfare notices to be issued by authorised officers. This means that minor situations can be addressed at an early stage and that encouragement, guidance and best practice are introduced rather than just punishment. In terms of actual prosecutions, 35 cases have been successfully prosecuted in recent years, with a further 26 in various stages of preparation with a view to prosecution. Furthermore, the Act contains provisions that where an individual is convicted of serious animal welfare offences the courts may ban them from keeping animals, or indeed restrict the numbers of animal they may keep. In some cases, welfare issues are due less to innate cruelty than to the animal owners' capacity to care for their animals being overwhelmed. This provision therefore allows for cases where an individual’s mental well-being is best protected by allowing them to continue to keep a few animals.
The provisions of the Act are enforced by authorised officers of my Department, An Garda Síochána, Customs and Excise, the ISPCA and the DSPCA. This co-operation with other organisations has been a major departure under the Act and the arrangement has been working well. Individual officers of the Turf Club and Bord na gCon have also been authorised under the Act. I would like to express my thanks to these bodies for their valuable contribution to animal welfare. The Animal Health and Welfare Act has been very well received both upon enactment and as it has been rolled out and implemented. All of the major animal welfare NGOs and stakeholders have seen it as a major progressive improvement in the area. In addition, the Act sets out clear legally enforceable parameters relating to activities such as hunting and coursing which must occur in a lawful fashion that avoids wilful or unnecessary cruelty.
The actions taken by my Department to protect animal welfare go beyond legislation, however, notwithstanding how progressive and flexible that legislation may be. The Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council, for example, is a multi-stakeholder group that meets on a national and regional basis and includes representatives of farmers, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and animal welfare organisations. This advisory council has been very successful, in the context of its regional forum, in acting as an early warning system. Similarly, where natural and weather events have led to problems in certain locations, my Department has acted quickly and effectively to bring emergency supplies of feed to particular premises where feed has been an issue. Since 2011, over €11 million has been provided in ex gratia payments, reaching approximately 140 animal welfare organisations throughout the country annually.
Monitoring of animal welfare has been raised in this debate. Such monitoring occurs on a number of levels and forums. On the farm side, cross-compliance inspections by my Department flag up welfare issues and departmental veterinary staff carry out regular inspections. In the context of monitoring, the increased awareness of animal welfare means that the issue is something that can be raised whenever it occurs and this has been facilitated, in particular, by the animal welfare help line my Department has had in place for some years now. This help line, at lo-call 0761 064408, along with a dedicated email address, AnimalWelfare@agricufture.gov.ie, facilitates the reporting by members of the public of any suspicion of poor animal welfare or animal cruelty taking place whether within the realm of a farming situation, a sporting or recreational activity or indeed, in a public place or urban setting. All calls received are treated in confidence and are followed up by authorised officers. Similarly, a variety of people are involved with animals, all of whom are aware of welfare issues and who can flag them up, as and when they arise. Officers of my Department, officers of the ISPCA and the DSPCA, local authority vets, dog wardens in dog pounds, members of the public and animal welfare NGOs all play a role.
I will be bringing forward a new greyhound industry Bill in the autumn which addresses the governance of Bord na gCon, strengthens regulatory controls in the industry, modernises sanctions and improves integrity with a view to building a reputation for exceptional regulation in the sector. The draft general scheme of the Bill has already progressed through the pre-legislative scrutiny phase and a memorandum will go to Government in the coming weeks requesting approval to publish the updated general scheme and to submit it to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel for drafting. There is a great deal of agreement on this issue. Animal welfare is an important issue. There have been huge improvements in the legislative and non-legislative regime that have brought about a change in attitudes in this country. The few individuals who do neglect and abuse animals find themselves more likely to be punished than ever before, which is as it should be. Equally, education, understanding and awareness continue to improve and raise standards of animal welfare in this country. In view of the many positive developments taking place in the area of animal welfare, I commend the Government's amendment to the House.
I welcome the motion tabled by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and the Independents 4 Change and we support many of the points in it. We are putting forward an amendment, however, which reads:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
— the robust regulatory framework in place under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, which ensures the highest standards in animal welfare are maintained and a strict sanctioning regime for offenders;
— how the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 gives authorised officer status to employees of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Turf Club to carry out welfare related duties;
— that the European Communities (Animal Transport and Control Post) Regulations 2006 established a vehicle inspections system nationwide on all forms of animal transport to ensure the protection of animals in transit, strict standards for animal handling, hygiene arrangements, feeding and rest periods;
— that detailed inspections are obligatory before approval is granted to ships transporting animals, with current Irish regulations relating to the approval of livestock transport ships set at a higher level than what applies in many other European Union countries;
— how all live animals being traded from the State must have a veterinary health certificate from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine confirming disease free status and notifying each animal movement via the European Commission’s Trade Control and Expert System;
— the significant co-operation between Ireland and Northern Ireland in animal health and welfare with the highly important All Island Animal Health and Welfare Strategy being delivered in both jurisdictions as agreed by the North South Ministerial Council;
— that cruelty to animals is unacceptable and should not be tolerated; and
— the substantial work of individuals, families, animal welfare groups and activists in highlighting animal welfare issues; and
— on the Government and relevant authorities to ensure that the current animal welfare protection regulations are robustly enforced and that any offences which occur are promptly investigated and the full sanctioning powers applied;
— for adequate animal welfare funding by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to organisations who directly deliver animal care and welfare services; and
— on the Government to ensure that the All Island Animal Health and Welfare Strategy is protected in upcoming Brexit negotiations to guarantee the continued operation of a unified animal health and welfare approach on this island.”
This amendment deals with the most important thing that needs to happen, which is enforcement and ensuring that standards for the welfare of animals are prioritised at Government level. Resources need to be in place to ensure the regulatory system works, there are no instances of animal cruelty and that welfare is paramount.
The motion outlines the progress that has been made since the introduction of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and states that public policy needs to be directed towards ensuring all possible measures are taken to protect the welfare of animals. The motion also calls for the introduction of a comprehensive system for monitoring the conditions in which animals are kept, and seeks robust regulations to protect animals from abuse, cruel treatment, neglect and poor living conditions. Our key point is that a very strong and robust regulatory framework is in place as a result of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, which ensures high standards in animal welfare and that strict sanctioning is in place for offenders.
It is important that the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 gives authorised officer status to employees of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, DSPCA, and the Turf Club, to carry out welfare related duties. The motion also calls for funding to be put in place to back all this up in order that we can see real progress in the monitoring of animal welfare and ensure there is no place for cruelty. Where there are instances of cruelty we, as a State, need to be equipped to respond to it properly, to root it out and to bring the power of the law to bear on those who abuse it.
My party was involved in the first draft of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and, in previous Governments, Fianna Fáil introduced the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010 and the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010, but since the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 was introduced, 34 successful prosecutions have been taken by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and I understand an additional 26 are ongoing, with further prosecutions being taken at regional level by the Garda Síochána. There are inadequacies in the back-up and support available to ensure these measures are fully implemented.
Everybody in this House and the vast majority across the board have great care and respect for animals. Animals play a very significant part in the lives of those who keep them as pets. I am my party's agriculture spokesperson and I engage with the farming community. I see at first hand the care and respect the farming community has for animals. It is crucial we have robust structures in place to ensure reports on those who do not respect animals or who oversee or inflict cruelty on them are acted on immediately. There need to be proper resources in order that the officers who oversee the legislation have a strong awareness of instances of abuse and can act immediately. We need an increase in spending from the Department to resource the agencies which enforce this legislation. It is not enough to have a dozen officers covering most of the country. The local authorities and veterinary sections are under significant pressure, and the Department needs to address this and ramp up its support.
Before the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, there was a disparate set of regulations and laws around this area and it was important that it was all brought together in legislation which was clear and could be properly enforced. The introduction of fines was welcome and is proving to help streamline the system. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 introduced a standard maximum fine of €5,000 and, on major indictment, fines ranging from €100,000 to €250,000. They were welcome introductions to the oversight system. The Bill also ensured animal health and cruelty issues were brought together when, previously, they had been separate issues.
My colleague has gone through the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and we stress the need for greater resources to enforce the legislation. The welfare of animals is paramount for everybody involved in the agricultural sector. I am a farmer and farmers pride themselves on the way their animals are cared for. The standards in which animals are kept in this country are extremely high, though there are always a few exceptions. The majority of our dairy and beef farmers are in quality assurance schemes at the moment which have strict welfare regulations embroidered into them. Those regulations have to be adhered to if farmers are to have access to the market. In the dairy sector, 100% of farmers are in quality assurance and the percentage in the beef sector is also extremely high.
In the bovine sector there is sometimes cruelty to animals but I was on the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council at its inception and we set up a liaison group with the ISPCA in order that the farming organisations could monitor these cases. Invariably, they were caused by psychiatric or mental issues with the herdowner. Whether a combination of bad weather or financial circumstances caused their mental stress, things got on top of them and they were not able to cater properly for their animals. Thankfully, there is now a structure in place which can deal with that. The stock on such farms can be greatly reduced and when he consistently fails to adhere to proper welfare standards, a herdowner can be prohibited from keeping animals on his holding. This ensures that, in the minority of cases where animals are held in poor conditions, the situation is rectified.
There has been a lot of focus on live exports and our shipping regulations.
Strange bedfellows come together at times. Commercial interests here have tried to put barriers in the way of life exports for a number of years. I compliment the Minister, since taking up office, on opening up extra markets for live exports, which is essential for the economic viability of our beef sector.
The regulatory standards under which our animals are exported are at the highest possible level. They are even above what the EU requires. The welfare of animals transported in ships is second to none. I note a parliamentary question was tabled today in which the level of mortality on those shipments is questioned. I can assure that Deputy that the economic margin for those exporters is tight. If for no other reason than economics, they will ensure the animals arrive at their destination in very good condition. To have people question the way our live exports operate is just not on. We find it frustrating at times to get ships registered for exporting our animals. It is a very slow process and probably rightly so. When those ships are passed for the transport of cattle for export, the standards at which they operate are second to none.
The greyhound Bill was mentioned by a number of speakers. It has gone through the Oireachtas joint committee and has gone to drafting stage. It will tighten up the regulations in the greyhound industry and restore confidence that the regulations that are in place will be properly adhered to. The stricter guidelines that will be put in place will ensure that there will be public confidence in the greyhound industry.
The export of greyhounds was also mentioned and it was stated that their export should be banned to certain countries around the world. Our greyhounds should be exported to countries where welfare standards are correct. That should be taken as a given. People should not make a statement to the effect that the United Kingdom is the only destination that is fit for the export of our greyhounds. That is not correct. Other countries have very stringent welfare regulations with respect to greyhounds. That can be monitored and regulated. The export of greyhounds is commercially essential to the existence of our greyhound industry.
There has been a constant attack on hare coursing. People should recognise that were it not for the habitats that are regulated by the coursing clubs, the hare population in rural Ireland would be under serious threat. Coursing clubs put a great deal of effort into ensuring that a habitat exists for hares. All hare coursing is strictly monitored. People should recognise the role the custodians of the rural countryside play in protecting the hare.
While we welcome the thrust of the motion, as Deputy McConalogue stated, we have tabled an amendment to it. We hope the Government will put more resources in place because the welfare of animals is in all our interests.
I thank Deputy O'Sullivan and her colleagues on bringing forward this motion. I thank Deputies McConalogue and Cahill for sharing their time and giving me this opportunity to speak on it. I am not as well briefed as my two spokespersons on agriculture and I am coming at this issue under a completely different guise, as a person who loves animals. My family and I love animals. I see the wonderful work the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, does in supporting the various Departments and in working with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
We had the Ballinasloe Horse Fair this week, to which Deputy O'Sullivan alluded. That fair gives a fantastic economic boost to the town and the surrounding areas, which is very welcome. However, it is very disturbing when one goes on to Facebook or Twitter and sees disturbed puppies or young dogs that are caged in and being kept in overcrowded conditions. The Minister of State spoke about the principle of the five freedoms for animals, namely, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain and injury, freedom to exhibit natural behaviours and the freedom from fear and distress. That was not the experience of some animals this weekend, although that possibly happens in many places throughout the country. We have a large gathering in the Gallery tonight because a large proportion of our people believe in and live by those principles, just as do the Minister of State and I. It is quite disturbing to see animals in such conditions when one brings one's family to fairs or various events. That is not what we believe in. That is not what we have amended the legislation for and it is not what it is about.
Deputy Wallace spoke about not having enough inspectors or enforcements. We need to see more of that. The ISPCA is seeking that. It wants to help out more and to be more involved. It is the eyes and the ears looking out for the welfare of small animals, for the wee puppies being presented and for the aforementioned old greyhounds and the lurchers.
Deputy Cahill hit the nail on the head. He spoke eloquently about the farmers who work very hard to protect and mind their animals but a segment of society wants to make money out of breeding dogs and their subsequent portrayal in cages is not the way people want to see animals.
I ask the Minister and the Minister of State to free up resources to support the ISPCA, to allocate it more money and to ensure that the people who have the powers can ensure adherence to the regulations. Reference was made to there having been 35 convictions but we are talking in large-scale terms. Deputy O'Sullivan spoke about puppy farms. There is also the cruelty that takes place at fairs or in the trading of animals where one sees animals caged in the back of jeeps or trailers. People do not like that and do not want that. That practice has to end. We call on the Minister and the Minister of State to address that.
I support our amendment moved by Deputy McConalogue which calls "on the Government and relevant authorities to ensure that the current animal welfare protection regulations are robustly enforced and that any offences which occur are promptly investigated and the full sanctioning powers applied". We also call "for adequate animal welfare funding by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to organisations who directly deliver animal care and welfare services". I will mention the Heathlawn animal sanctuary in my area. We also call "on the Government to ensure that the All Island Animal Health and Welfare Strategy is protected in upcoming Brexit negotiations to guarantee the continued operation of a unified animal health and welfare approach on this island". I do not want to repeat myself. I support our amendment to the motion. We have the legislation in place and what is needed is its enforcement at this stage.
I welcome the motion introduced by Deputy O'Sullivan. As outlined by a number of speakers, this motion is about the need to look after the animals both as pets and domestic animals in the farmyards across the country. Much of what is in the motion acknowledges there is legislation in place to deal with this but that it is not being given enough emphasis or resources. Nobody would argue with that. The fact that so few ISPCA inspectors are doing this kind of work is evidence that more resources need to be put into it. Many local authorities have vets that do some of this work. The experience most of us would have is that it varies in different counties according to the level of interest taken in it and the level of emphasis put on it. That could be examined to see how much more that could be strengthened.
The Fianna Fáil amendment to the motion contains a great deal of what is in the motion using perhaps some softer language. I do not understand where it is going but I accept that is fine. The Fine Gael amendment to the motion pretty much says that everything is very good but in fairness to Deputy O'Sullivan and her colleagues who put forward this motion, their view and that of the vast majority of our people is that things are not perfect, that there are issues and that they need to be dealt with.
The third amendment, which was tabled by Solidarity-People Before Profit, includes a reference to travelling animals in circuses. We support this amendment. It is clear that whatever argument there was 100 years ago for bringing exotic animals around for interested people to see is long gone, and it probably never existed. However, nowadays there is every opportunity for people to see these animals in a more natural habitat, in a zoo or on their television screens rather than having to see them in cages in circuses. We will, therefore, support that amendment.
On cattle and farm cruelty, living in County Leitrim, which is predominantly an agricultural area, my experience was that over many years there were instances of cruelty in farmyards where a person may have had too much stock on the land and was not able to keep the animals. In fairness, it sometimes involved elderly farmers who kept the stock and did not sell their cattle and, as others said, they could have had mental health issues. In many cases, however, it was down to not having the correct set-up. In recent years, there have been many improvements in the housing of cattle, which have helped things greatly. I do not think, therefore, that it is as big an issue as it was in the past. That said, it still needs to be dealt with and appropriate measures need to be put in place.
When I was growing up at home, we always had a dog and he was always the first to welcome us home. It did not matter what state we came home in, be it good humour or bad, the dog was always in great humour. The tail was wagging and he was happy to see us. That is one of the connections humans have with the canine. We have that connection and everyone recognises and understands it. If that is abused by anyone under any circumstance, all of us are affected by it and worried about it.
The issue of horses was also raised. One of the symptoms of the Celtic tiger throughout the country was people who were doing very well for themselves getting a donkey, a pony or a horse for their children, even if they did not have 10 sq. yd. to put it on. When the bust came, we ended up with the country full of them and many were dumped along the roadside and neglected. There is a lesson to be learned there. If people are going to have animals, they need to have the appropriate means to take care of them. The neglect of horses, such as hoofs not being pared, which we see on Facebook and other social media, is down to individuals who allow it to happen. They need to be dealt with using the full force of the law. One of the problems highlighted in the motion is that in many cases people's experience is that the full force of the law is not used. We need to ensure that additional resources are provided in that regard.
This concerns humans being responsible for what they have control over, and many people take control of animals. It may be in a farm setting and it may be their livelihood. If it is their livelihood, naturally enough it is in their best interests to ensure that the animals progress, thrive and do the best they possibly can. Those are the circumstances of the vast majority of farmers and those engaged in agriculture.
The issue of exporting live cattle to various countries around the world has been raised. We see that going on. When we consider the kind of climate they have grown up in and flourished in here and the climate to which they are going, I accept that there is a point to be made about putting an animal on a boat and sending it to Egypt or some other hot climate and the need for strict regulations. Having said that, one of the reasons most people in the agriculture sector want to see a prosperous live export trade is the monopoly the factories have on the prices farmers get for their beef and cattle. Farmers see exporting their animals as a means to introduce a little scarcity and to increase the price. It is down to the economics of the situation. It is a problem that we need to be able to deal with, and it is a problem that is bigger than just the animal cruelty issue. It concerns other matters also. Everyone agrees that developing more markets for our beef, lamb and other meat products, processing the meat and creating jobs here is a much more appropriate way to deal with this than live exports. The problem is that the factories and the big processors have such a monopoly and stranglehold on the industry. If that was dealt with properly, it would assist greatly in dealing with the issue of live exports. I concur that there are strict regulations and that inspections are carried out. We have heard reports of abuse taking place, however, and those need to be addressed.
I commend the motion. Sinn Féin supports the motion as it stands but we also support the third amendment. We will not support the Government's amendment or that of Fianna Fáil. We accept that the Fianna Fáil amendment is similar, but if we support it, the third amendment which refers to circus animals would fall and that would not be appropriate. In that context, we will support the motion as amended by the third amendment. Great credit is due to Deputy O'Sullivan and those who put forward the motion. It is not trying to rub anyone's nose in it. It is trying to say that there is an issue to be dealt with and the way to deal with it is to put more resources in place to ensure that the health and welfare of animals is looked after efficiently and effectively.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion and commend Deputy O'Sullivan.
The greyhound industry has experienced many problems and much controversy over recent years. I know regulation is coming, which is welcome. The industry, for its own benefit, has to ensure it does things right. Too much has been found out in the last while, which is not good for any industry, and it needs to be sorted out.
Whether it is England or elsewhere, people bring their pets to different countries, even on holiday, and this is about how we look after them. They deserve dignity.
People need to understand the issues surrounding foxes, deer, etc., in different areas. Rural parts of Ireland are managed landscapes. If foxes are not controlled, we will end up with the old fox waggling along a road with the hair nearly gone off him. That is the reality. People might not like to hear it but that is what happens. Do we want to see him killed with a car or dying a slow death? If they get too old, unfortunately that is what ends up happening. We saw the same problems in the deer sector.
Throughout Ireland, as Deputy Kenny rightly pointed out, the dog nearly every night in rural parts of Ireland sleeps under the blankets on the bed. There is more thought won by it than nearly anyone else in the house. That is a true reflection. The minute a person arrives, the dog welcomes him or her. He is the one friend that will come out to see a person when everyone else is in bed. That is how those in rural parts of Ireland live. They treat things with respect and they love their animals. We are brought up in rural parts of Ireland to respect our animals in particular. Perhaps there are not enough people in the ISPCA, etc., and resources need to be invested to ensure that the regulation, which is already there, is working.
There is another thing that people need to understand. It was referred to earlier. Perhaps a farmer has health issues and gets sick. I will tell the House what happens for those who do not understand it. Be it day or night, neighbours come around and help the person, and they look after their animals as well as their own.
That happens in every village around this country and it is great that it does every day of the week.
With live exports, we would want to watch where we are going in all of this as there is a commercial interest in this and other countries. It is well known that in some countries in Europe, other interests are paying people to ensure there are protests against live exports. I can tell Members tonight that if a ship is going from Ireland, there are regulations governing the treatment of animals on it. Sometimes we give out about a ship being held up because of licensing and all of that. In fairness, to say something about the Department, it is doing its job well in that respect. An animal on a boat tonight may be treated better than a person in a hospital accident and emergency department. That is a fact. This minute in any part of rural Ireland, if a person wants a doctor, it would take an hour. If anything is wrong with an animal, a vet would attend in ten to 15 minutes to ensure the animal would be looked after.
Cattle are either slaughtered in Ireland or exported. There are lairage facilities and some people do not understand them. Videos have been sent to me by people who, sadly, do not understand the position. First, the video would be of cattle in some other country not in the European Union as the cattle did not even have tags. Second, they were in a one-man showband in some part of the world we do not know. People need to get the facts on what Ireland does. We have strict regulation in this country and in fairness to the Department, they are enforced fairly well. Ballinasloe Horse Fair was mentioned earlier and people from the Department go around there every day making sure things are done right.
Are we going to go down the road saying that the fish in the bowl that the youngster got for Christmas is a victim of cruelty? What about the bird in the cage in most towns and cities around the country? Does that amount to animal cruelty? We must decide what we are talking about. People need to understand we treat animals as we are taught to when growing up. People in rural parts of Ireland do not just see a horse when they are 20. They may be brought up from a nipper with such animals. They might be brought up with cattle, sheep or whatever, but they are taught to respect them and be kind to them. In some parts of the country I do not like to see small areas in which horses are confined, and in my opinion there is not enough fodder or facilities. In such cases, people cannot give them the same respect as they get in other parts of the country.
Nobody questions that there must be good animal welfare not alone in Ireland but in every country. If I have a car and I sell it to someone in Cork, how can I know what that person will do down the road in a year or two or three? I am not responsible for that person. My way of life is to treat an animal, car or whatever I have with respect while I have it. Ultimately, we must ensure we do everything as well as possible. In fairness to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, although I fight with its staff on many things, with animal welfare around the country in marts, factories and export facilities, it is pretty much on the ball. Those staff do not let much pass. They will ensure things are done right, which is correct.
When cattle are going to a foreign land, it is a long trip, but many people have sailed to America on a boat. There are better facilities on that ship than were available when people travelled years ago, and rightly so. I agree with that. We need to understand the context of what we are doing. Whether we like it or not, farmers must make a living. One cannot keep every animal and look at them for the rest of one's life, petting them in the garden. A farmer would not survive like that. Cattle will clearly be fattened and killed. That is a reality in any walk of life. It is the same with chickens and other animals. By all means we must ensure we have proper regulation and enough people on the ground to enforce it. I agree with that 100%. Nevertheless, we must consider this in a proper context.
I welcome this debate on animal welfare in Ireland, which is very timely. This is one matter in which I have been very involved, along with Deputies such as Deputy O'Sullivan. We have relatively progressive legislation on the Statute Book but despite this we are seeing an increasing number of reports of mistreatment and abuse of animals. It is clear there is a massive gap in resourcing when it comes to enforcement. Organisations such as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals rely on public donations for up to 90% of their funding.
I read the People Before Profit manifesto on animal welfare, which is a really good document, and I will point out three or four elements as I do not have the time to discuss it all. It seeks a full audit of animal welfare issues in Ireland and stricter punishment and serious fines for those who abuse animals for commercial purposes. It seeks promotion of responsible pet ownership through the school curriculum and the introduction of measures requiring all animals but especially pigs and poultry to be provided with adequate space, natural light and opportunities to carry out natural behaviours.
There is one issue I want to speak of tonight that is very close to my heart. It is the matter of horse welfare, particularly in an urban environment. When I was a councillor on South Dublin County Council, I was shocked, to understate it, by the number of horses which were impounded, neglected and destroyed. Over the past ten years, tens of thousands of horses have been destroyed in this country. Over a period of four years South Dublin County Council saw up to 1,000 horses destroyed at the cost of approximately €1 million to the taxpayer. As a person who loves horses and all animals, I was shocked by this wanton neglect and cruelty, particularly in a country where the horse is an esteemed creature. I was taken aback by those figures, which can be depressing. As a councillor I wanted to try to do something about it. Over the years the figures have fluctuated. They have gone down a little but they are still way too high.
The Minister was in Clondalkin in February for the opening of the Clondalkin Equine Club. It gives young horse owners a place to call their own and it is the first social horse project in Ireland where young horse owners can keep their horses in an urban environment. It is a really good project and although it is not perfect by any means, we are trying to promote education and responsibility in equine matters, as well as everything that comes with it. I have seen the worst equine neglect one could imagine but I have also seen the best equine good practice, and this should be promoted through other county councils around the country. It is a good project.
There should be more enforcement to tackle people who neglect horses. Some people should not even own a goldfish, never mind a horse. The majority of people who own horses are responsible and take good care of those animals. There are a small minority of people who are unscrupulous. They are dealers of horses and they do not care about horses, communities that keep horses well or anybody else. Enforcement measures should be taken against them through the police, etc. The Control of Horses Act 1996 is good legislation but it is not enforced.
Who was the last person to be sent to jail for abusing, neglecting or abandoning of a horse, or for dealing in horses? I cannot think of any examples.
The Clondalkin Equine Project is a really good project. There is something amazing about seeing a young person with an animal. I am not a horse owner, but it is great to see a young person bonding with a horse. They get an education from a horse. The project is not perfect by any means, but what was happening before was not acceptable and now at least we are trying to address the issue. The people who run the equine club have gone down to Limerick and around different parts of the country to promote the idea of a social horse project. Orphan horse ownership is not going to be a panacea, but it is better than what is happening at the moment, where horses are impounded by the council and destroyed and the horse owners and taxpayers are losing out.
I attended protests last week about the live exports of farm animals and hare coursing. Hare coursing is bizarre. More than 100 Deputies in this Chamber support hare coursing. I find it bizarre that somebody can get pleasure from chasing a hare around. It is completely alien to me. As long as we live in a society that is profit driven, we will always have cruelty. Industrialised farming is abhorrent, and as long as we live in a profit-driven society, cruelty to animals will exist. People have to speak up for animals. We need a society where animals and human beings try to co-exist without wanton cruelty. Most people are not cruel to their animals. We live in a country that loves animals, but a system is in place where industrialised farming kills animals horribly. We have to try to end it.
I do not want to pick an argument with the previous speaker, but I have to say that there is a group of people who speak up for animals every day of the week, which is our farming community. That is what they do. They do their best by their farms and their animals. They are the custodians of the farms, who inherit the farms themselves and wish to pass them on to the future generations. They do not want to do anything that would be in any way negative or bad for their animals. I compliment the farming community on changing and coming forward so much, with sheds and slurry storage. They are trying to improve their own little corner of the world and are doing a great job.
I have had the pleasure of being in Agriculture House for many years and I am thankful to every single person who works there, in every department. As previous speakers might have said, there are times when we might be arguing about payments being delayed, but overall I thank every person working in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, whether in Dublin or around the rest of the country, because they are doing a good job. I would ask that they try to make sure that payments go out in time because they are badly needed.
I am 100% committed to the future of live exports in this country. The highest standards are being applied, and anybody who thinks that animals are mistreated just because they are being carried abroad live is wrong. They have not been on board these boats or seen the conditions. People try to say that it is something that it is not. These people are in the business of exporting animals for sale. They do not want to lose animals or for animals to be mistreated. The animals are fed, watered, bedded and minded. I want to make that quite clear. We must be fair to our farming community. They are doing their level best to make a living, as if there is something wrong with that. Animals have to be reared to be killed and eaten. They do not jump from a farm on to a plate. It is obvious what has to be done.
The farming community, and I include myself in that, were brought up to make sure that animals were not mistreated and that they were fed, because if anything untoward was done to an animal, we were told that it would turn back on the farmer and that he or she would have bad luck. I estimate that 99% of people care for animals, especially the farmers, and we have to recognise the great efforts that farmers have made. They have built modern, airy sheds with plenty of room for cattle. There is a magnificent outfit in Kilgarvan called the Roughty Valley Co-op. They have the most modern methods of feeding, treating and keeping the pigs. It has to be seen to recognise and appreciate what is going on there. It is a wonderful operation which has been run by a man called Christy Hussey for the past 40 years. We are very proud of it.
I am getting many calls in Kerry concerning the doping of greyhounds in events throughout the country. It is affecting the trade, and I am asking that it be investigated and stopped. It is hurting many people who have lived for greyhounds and look after them very well.
I support the live cattle trade because if we did not have it, the factories would have more of a monopoly. Indeed, they have too much of a stranglehold on the price that farmers are allowed to get for their efforts at the present time.
There is not enough control of mink, foxes, badgers, grey crows, magpies, pine martins, Sika deer and seagulls, which endlessly afflict our domestic animals and ground nesting birds. That has to be addressed, and it should be addressed in this Bill as well.
I also was born and reared on a farm. We had every type of animal one might think of, including cows, pigs, sheep, dogs and hens. Reference has been made tonight to good animal husbandry in 99.9% of farms. Someone referred to mental health issues, and it is possible that on an odd occasion there is cruelty because of different pressures. I have great respect for Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, but I cannot agree with the thrust of this Bill. I have the height of respect for farmers and how they try to do their business, and also for the Minister and his staff.
I again raise the issue of a particular cohort of people and a reply I received from the Minister concerning horses. Tipperary, and indeed Ireland, has a very proud equine industry. I was speaking to the Minister, who confirmed in a parliamentary reply to me that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine had given authorities €4.5 million to deal with the seizure and control of horses in the three year period from 2014 to 2017. It is staggering to see the industrial scale removal, seizure and humane killing of horses that local authorities have been engaged in. During that period, just under 25,000 horses were seized, with 16,971 of them subsequently being euthanised. What is going on? Why are this cohort of people exempt from all the rules? Why are the people present for this motion not concerned about that? It is not farmers doing this. These horses are being raised for sulky racing and everything else, and left for dead on the road, causing health and safety issues for the public.
I know of a case of a horse which lost its foal and which was taken out of Littleton bog and brought to a refuge where it is still being nursed back to health. However, the refuge has now been ordered to give it back to the person who owns it. This is a criminal gang that brought the horse all over the world, from Ireland to England to America and back again. That is the kind of support the volunteers in the animal refuge are getting, with a paltry amount of money from the Department.
I support coursing and the Clonmel coursing festival 100%. The coursing clubs do wonderful work in the habitats to keep up the stocks of healthy hares. People come to protest, cut the wires and let them out of the refuge to be slaughtered by trucks. That speaks for itself. The people who claim they are from animal welfare groups put broken glass on the greyhound tracks to rip up the greyhounds' paws. Is that animal welfare? These people get freedom to speak but a group of women hurt by abortion were not even allowed to speak in hotels around here last week as a result of the actions of protesters. We have very funny thinking about freedom of speech and who we look after and who we do not.
I compliment Deputy O'Sullivan who, like her predecessor, Tony Gregory, has been at the forefront in this State in raising issues of animal health and welfare. I salute her. I also acknowledge those present in the Gallery from a multitude of animal welfare groups throughout the State, many of whom have travelled long distances to be with us tonight. They are, by and large, volunteers who do what they do for no reason other than their love of animals. It is their expertise and experience which says that the regulations and legislation in place are not working despite, perhaps, the best intentions of those who introduced them. I am quite sure they have much better things to be doing with their lives than to be here. However, they are here to say that change is needed and that we are not doing enough.
Man's inhumanity to man is often mirrored in our mistreatment of animals. It is a consequence of a society that commodifies animals for human profit. I was fully expecting somebody to say that there are far more important issues out there and ask why are we wasting our time on this. It is illustrative that nobody did so. This indicates that animal welfare is a serious issue, a fact that everybody acknowledges for a couple of reasons. Cruelty to animals is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in society and extends to a mistreatment of other vulnerable groups. It has also been scientifically demonstrated that those who exploit and show gratuitous and wanton cruelty towards animals often end up displaying similar behaviour towards their fellow human beings. We in Independents 4 Change make no apology for raising animal welfare and animal rights issues and we will continue to do that.
As an animal lover and a vegetarian, I very much welcome Deputy O'Sullivan's motion. When a member of a country council ten years ago, I moved the first motion to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses. It is an awful indictment of the State that this has not been sorted out. This motion is a timely reminder of the cruelty that happens. It is also a very straightforward motion. The intent behind it is to raise the standards of animal welfare and protection in this country, not just for domestic animals but for animals in captivity, in the wild, those bred for sport - even, despicably, for blood sports - those used for experiments or those bred for their fur or their meat. We could be here all night talking about any one aspect of that. There is no end to the cruelty demonstrated but I cannot deal with all of the issues involved.
Let us consider the use of animals in farming and in sport, which, in many ways, could be viewed as legitimate cruelty. People who would be horrified to hear of a gurrier throwing a cat on to a bonfire have no problem with some of the exploitation that goes on in those spheres. I do not say that lightly or to be critical of the people involved but we, as a society, have to step back and consider those issues.
Deputy Fitzmaurice said farmers love their animals. I accept that. Of course farmers love their animals. They are the means to their livelihoods. Did people in Ireland years ago love their children when they sent them to Magdalen laundries because they were pregnant outside marriage or when they slapped them for being bold in school? Society changes and evolves and we have different standards of culture and ways of addressing matters when we learn more. It is not a question of slagging off farmers but we do need to step back and consider how we use animals. I can say it confidently because I am a vegetarian but there is no economic or environmental sense in eating meat. It is interesting that Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, who did not bother to stay, has raised issues about this because he denies climate change. There is no doubt that the number of cattle being raised is a huge contributory factor in the context of climate change and emissions and, as a society, we have to address that.
The case is the same for animals misused in what we call sport. Is it true that horses, when they are gainfully employed in our studs, are treated like royalty? Others said they have a better set up than homeless people. Yes, they do when they are employed productively but when they are not, tough luck. Drug use is part of that issue.
We told the previous Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, that what became the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 was good on paper. We suspected at the time that it would have limitations. Sadly, this has proved to be the case, although the profile of issues of cruelty has been raised. Since the legislation was enacted, we have had several interactions with members of An Garda Síochána who have tried to deal with issues of animal cruelty. In the main, they have responded well but they have not really been given the legislation to equip them to do that effectively.
I would like Deputies to think about what John FitzGerald asked today in a letter to the newspaper. Those who are correctly appalled by stories of animals found dead and starving on the side of the road, cats shot with pellet guns or thrown into fires, dogs found with their ears hacked off and so on also think hare coursing is all right. A hunted fox or a coursed hare feels pain. It does not matter to the animal that the person chasing him has a nice suit and lot of money in his pocket. Is that any different from a death experienced by being thrown on a bonfire in an estate in Dublin? The animals involved do not suffer any less. Without being flippant, I ask Deputies to stand back and consider that double standard. We often hear people express horror at how greyhounds are treated in other countries but we have no problem shipping them abroad. I put it to Deputy Fitzmaurice that if he sells a car to somebody he knows has been guilty of joyriding and killing people, then, as far as I am concerned, he is responsible. The analogy is a good one. By tabling this motion, we wanted to challenge some of those views.
The ISPCA received 16,000 calls last year. That shows how much citizens are engaged in trying to deal with these issues. Only 16 cases were finalised in court and the penalties imposed were ridiculously low. Deputy O'Sullivan dealt with badger culling and so on. I want to deal with badger baiting, which is illegal in this State but which, as we speak here tonight, is happening. It is an absolutely reprehensible, cruel, inhumane activity that involves the invasion of a badger's habitat by trained terriers who drag out the badger. The horror show is usually organised by grown men. I have a picture of one such man here and he is wearing a balaclava and military gear. I would not like to cross him and I am sure our National Parks and Wildlife Services, NPWS, officers, would not like to cross him either.
Generally, they pull out a mother badger that has recently given birth because her instinct is to protect her young and they will get a far better fight out of her as she fights for her life and to protect her cubs. Meanwhile they stand around and place bets on that activity. The "Panorama" programme highlighted what was going on in Ireland, namely, tourism in that type of barbarity, 30 years ago and it is still going on today. There are criminal gangs in the midlands that were arrested for incidents of badger baiting in 2013. In the two years before they were brought to court, those involved managed to polish and bring out an entirely professional operation - on Facebook - tracking badgers by means of a global positioning system, GPS, and a network of betting, and with appalling videos being shown. They came to court in 2015 and received three-month suspended sentences and then went off to hone their badger baiting skills, which they are probably using tonight.
Just looking on Google can give an introduction to their activities. It is a patently illegal activity of which our National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, officers and the Garda are aware and with which they have tried to deal. However, what NPWS officer without a gun or an armoured car will take on some of these thugs? They are not able to deal with that. We need much more support for NPWS officers and for the Garda in dealing with these activities. I do not have time but the fact that some of these dogs are bred to spend their lives participating in these blood sports is the other side of the equation, and that is not to mention puppy farming and all the other barbarity. We will continue to raise these issues. It is clear the legislation is deficient. The efforts of NGOs and people such as those in the Visitors Gallery to highlight these matters is very positive and is something we will try to copy.
I thank Deputy Daly and ask the Minister to respond. While the members of the public in the Visitors Gallery must be very happy with the contributions, I ask them to please remain silent.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I have listened attentively to all the contributions. I commend Deputy O'Sullivan and her colleagues on tabling the motion. As we gather here on the eve of world animal welfare day, and I consider the debate in all its contexts, there is more that unites us than divides us. It is a positive thing. There are probably issues on the extremes on which we will never agree but I will make some points from the perspective of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Anyone who breaks the law in respect of animal welfare issues will find no favour and no place to hide in the context of the Department. We take that position for many reasons. I was interested in Deputy Gino Kenny's contribution, and he made the point that a proper animal welfare system was impossible because our farming system was driven by profit. I ask Deputy Kenny to consider what would be the consequences for animal welfare were our farming system driven by poverty. I suggest they would be far more serious.
We have a regulatory legislative framework to deal with animal welfare abuses. I listened last night to Michael Gove, my counterpart in the UK, who told the Conservative Party conference that it needs to urgently update its animal welfare legislation. My predecessor, Deputy Coveney, did that in 2013 and updated legislation that went back beyond the foundation of the State. We now have regulations and law that are fit for purpose and that cover a combination of my Department, voluntary and charitable bodies working as designated officers under the legislation, as well as local authorities, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Garda Síochána. The law, by and large, is fit for purpose and there have been a substantial number of prosecutions both at a central level by my Department but also along the line locally, by Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine officials, by the Garda and by dedicated officers appointed under the legislation. By and large, we have the regulatory and legislative framework.
Deputy O'Sullivan referred to Ballinasloe and incidents of concern that were apparently highlighted there. The very fact that there are designated officers there, identifying and following up on concerns regarding animal welfare is proof in a way that the legislation is fit for purpose. Does the identification of cases and our prosecuting cases prove that our system is not working or does it prove that we are effective in dealing with these incidents as they arise? That is the challenge. Are we ahead of the game and in control of the matter or are we playing catch-up? I do not state there is any cause for complacency.
I return to the point made by Deputy Gino Kenny. Even only for reasons of commercial self-interest, it is in this country's financial interest to have the highest animal welfare standards. I have the privilege of being the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and I attend trade fairs and missions to promote Ireland as the food island, bearing in mind that not everyone in the places we sell our food is vegetarian, and our food includes meat and dairy products. Increasingly it is taken almost for granted and as a given that we produce safe, traceable, nutritious food, but increasingly in the markets where we want to be, those higher added value markets, we are asked about our animal welfare standards and our sustainability credentials.
This returns to the point made by Deputy Clare Daly, wearing a vegetarian badge of honour, about sustainability and greenhouse gases and cattle rearing systems. It is often not recognised that we are the most carbon-efficient producers of dairy products in the world. If we dismantle our dairy systems on some altar of climate change - and I am not a climate change denier; while we are global leaders in dairy, we need to do more - it will only be displaced by other countries which have a higher carbon footprint. This is equally the case in the beef industry. We are facing challenges in the context of the European Union and beef industry access to our markets from Mercosur countries. We are the fifth most carbon-efficient producer of beef in the European Union and are committed to doing more in this area, but if we sacrifice our industry it will be displaced by countries because we are the largest producer and exporter of beef in the northern hemisphere. It will be displaced by countries that produce it with a far higher carbon footprint. It is 33% of our greenhouse emissions but that is because we do not have the history of heavy industry possessed by other industrialised countries. We are reducing the carbon intensity, which itself is a signal of our commitment.
Ireland has a good record in caring for its animals. Unfortunately, instances of cruelty do occur. There has been significant progress in updating animal welfare legislation, particularly in the introduction of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, which provides for significant custodial sentences, up to five years in certain circumstances, and very substantial fines. That is the toolkit we use. That is for the worst circumstances. In other cases we need to work with people to ensure they address shortcomings but we are taking a significant number of prosecutions, largely due to my predecessor's efforts in improving that legislation.
Enforcement has been enhanced by a provision in the Act that allows some investigative powers to be given to members of NGOs. As I noted, some of those dedicated authorised officers under the legislation were present in Ballinasloe. My Department has been operating an animal welfare hotline since 2012 that facilitates confidential reporting of any suspicion of animal cruelty whether in farming, sport, recreation or domestic situations. I urge members of the public to continue to use it as means of drawing my Department's attention to instances of neglect. We will always follow up on those.
I wish to note the work of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council. It is an independent advisory body to my Department, which identifies potential welfare cases before they arise on farms through its early warning intervention system for animal welfare cases which operates at national and county level and through which my Department has developed a very strong partnership with the IFA and representatives from the various county societies for the protection of animals. I reiterate the comments made by the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, in acknowledging the contribution of the animal welfare charities. The staff and volunteers of these organisations demonstrate commitment, professionalism and dedication in providing care and happy endings to abandoned and cruelly treated animals. Last December I provided €2.46 million to 137 animal welfare organisations and I will make further merited awards to these organisations that do invaluable work.
The total we have given since 2011 is more than €11.26 million. I wish we were in a position to give more because I do acknowledge that very often these charitable organisations which are on the ground are able to do more effectively what the State could probably never replicate, and I salute their commitment and professionalism.
I also acknowledge the work carried out by some welfare bodies, in conjunction with local authorities and with financial support from the Department, to develop facilities for urban and Traveller horse populations. I was out with Deputy Gino Kenny at the project in Clondalkin, and what he failed to mention, which I am sure was an oversight, was the project was funded to the tune of €500,000 by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as a recognition of the role it plays in education by and large, but also in addressing the fitting and rightful recognition of the urban horse in the overall recognition of our equine sector in particular, which has come through a particularly difficult period. I ascribe a lot of the animal welfare issues, and particularly equine welfare, that have arisen in recent years as a consequence of the crash and the poverty rather than the profit associated with it.
A number of other points were raised. In response to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, the greyhound industry has been addressed by the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, and the need to address in a comprehensive fashion the concerns of the punters in terms of integrity in the greyhound racing industry is part of the new legislative framework that we will put in place.
Deputy Martin Kenny spoke about the domestic dog. Deputy Doyle turned to show me his screensaver, which is a picture of his family dog, and by coincidence my screensaver is a picture of my family dog. It sums up in a way the special position of the dog in our affection and animal welfare at the highest level.
They are all Fine Gael dogs. They cannot bark. They are muzzled.
I accept that the puppy farming issue is a stain on that, and it is something on which the Department with responsibility for the environment has been in consultation with us, and there is a commitment to looking at the regulations underpinning it because it is an area in particular where we need additional focus.
I convey my sincere thanks to Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. More unites us in this debate than divides us and I thank her.
I commend Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on presenting this Private Members' motion this evening. I was delighted to sign up to it with the Independents 4 Change. I welcome the NGOs, volunteers and activists in the Gallery. It reflects the interest and concern people have in animal welfare and health.
There is an expression that a society is judged by how it treats, supports and protects its vulnerable. I believe societies should also be judged by how they treat and respect animals who are vulnerable and who are in the care of society. I have serious questions on how the Government has responded to the housing crisis, where we have 3,000 children in hotels and hostels. As an Opposition Deputy, I believe we should also challenge the Government's policy on the Animal Health and Welfare Act. With regard to hare coursing, the 130 coursing trials using only 64 hares, which took place in September, have already been mentioned. This is against the provisions of the Animal Health and Welfare Act. We know of people taking the hares as they are released after coursing and collecting and selling them back in the interests of profit. There are many areas in hare coursing where there are serious problems and people are breaking the provisions of the Animal Health and Welfare Act.
If the Government deems hare coursing worthy of licensing, we maintain it should be consistent and ensure all coursing fixtures are subject to National Parks and Wildlife Service monitoring. Where monitors are not present, coursing clubs have repeatedly shown over the years that they tend to act in breach of the licensing conditions. If the State lacks the manpower or commitment to monitor all these animal baiting events, it should stop licensing them and simply outlaw hare coursing, an option favoured by the majority of people according to opinion polls.
I want to take up the point on animals being exported from Ireland. The Guardian did a very detailed examination of this back in May, which showed evidence of exported animals being cruelly treated from the point of view of welfare. It did not criticise the fact that animals are being exported and how they are exported on the ships. It was about where they ended up, often outside European laws, how they were treated, which was absolutely disgusting, with their throats being slit and their being hung by one leg and slaughtered while alive, and some of the conditions, such as having no water or food and the transport conditions of these animals. What we and people who are concerned about animal welfare want to hear is that there is real transparency, that any country to where animals are exported should be very clear that its animal welfare legislation should be of high quality also, and that wherever the animals are transported to, they should be respected in the same way as they are respected here, even though there is a huge question mark about how we actually use animals.
We have been contacted by the ISPCA, which states it welcomed the Act introduced in 2014, but the punishments for prosecutions are too small and do not serve to create a deterrent to those who are cruel to animals. For cases dealt with by the District Court the fine is up to €5,000 or six months' imprisonment, and in the Circuit Court the fine is up to €250,000 and five years' imprisonment. The 2016 report by the ISPCA gives a few examples of cases that went to court. All the people involved were fined €500 and ordered to pay €750 costs. In only one case was the person disqualified for keeping dogs for two years. What should be done is that anybody prosecuted in the courts for cruelty to animals should be disqualified from keeping animals for at least five years. There should not be a maximum fine of €5,000 but a minimum fine of €4,000 or €5,000 for people who are found to be cruel to animals. Some of the cruelty the ISPCA has dealt with is absolutely horrific, and these people should not be allowed to keep animals in any shape or form over the next period of time. The ISPCA wants more resources and more officers on the ground, and this should be done. If the Minister cannot implement or provide this, it makes a mockery of the legislation. The Minister should deal with this and come back with how he intends to increase the number of officers in the area to deal with the issues.
Ar dtús, aitheantas agus buíochas do gach éinne a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht anocht. I really appreciate all of the contributions made this evening. We cannot dispute the facts and evidence of animal neglect and cruelty because there are gaps in the legislation and because the legislation is not being fully implemented. It does not help that there are three Departments involved in animal issues. It does not help there is no consistency in the way councils apply the Dog Breeding Establishments Act and guidelines and the Animal Health and Welfare Act. For example, a breeder was found to have more than the specified number of dogs. Instead of the council prosecuting him, it just upped the number of dogs he could have. It does not help that there are repeated refusals by certain councils to release inspection records. What also does not help are the levels of secrecy and the difficulties that animal welfare supporters have in getting information, including through freedom of information requests, of inspections that have been carried out by local authorities, which, when they do get it, can be very heavily redacted. If there is nothing to hide, the information should be readily available. It does not help that there are authorities that choose to do nothing when cases of animal neglect and abuse are brought to their attention by individuals and groups, and then those authorities spend their time justifying inaction and they close ranks to protect their own.
We have many responsible hard-working vets, including my own in Fairview, but there appears to be no one to follow up on those vets who are not enforcing the animal welfare legislation. I must ask what the role is of the Veterinary Council of Ireland regarding the statutory obligations of its members. The VCI can undertake investigations if concerns are raised, and it could make the industry substantially better.
I had a look at the amendments. The Fianna Fáil amendment sets out the theory in legislation to ensure highest standards and a strict sanctioning regime for offenders. The Government amendment also mentions increased penalties but this is not happening, as Deputy Joan Collins has just pointed out. We are way behind other countries. The UK, for example, has increased sentences for people convicted of animal cruelty. In the USA, animal cruelty is now a class A felony, with the FBI tracking animal cruelty issues. The Fianna Fáil amendment states all live animals being traded from the State must have a veterinary health certificate when leaving Ireland but one should consider what happens to them en route and on arrival at a destination. There are facts and evidence to prove this. Admittedly, welfare checks are carried out but the reports are not always available, as I said, and we do not see the follow-up. Reference was made to the €2.4 million. It is good to see the Government giving more to animal charities but, in 2017, some €64 million was given to the greyhound and horse industries. It is the animal welfare charities that have to deal with the fallout of unwanted dogs and horses.
The Minister might clarify whether the Cavan puppy farmer who kept whelping bitches and unborn pups in the tiny wooden crates that are illegal under the guidelines is on the working group reviewing the dog breeding establishment guidelines. He might also ask Cavan County Council who was representing it on the working group because it refuses to disclose that information. Could he clarify whether the self-confessed biggest puppy farmer in Europe is still operating even though a closure order was sought because of the appalling conditions in which he was keeping the animals? I understand he is still operating with no planning permission but with the full knowledge of Offaly County Council, which will not issue enforcement proceedings.
If a person is neglected, abused or badly treated, he or she has a voice, but animals do not. Only for the people in the Visitors Gallery and others who cannot be here tonight, and others like them, Ireland's reputation on animal welfare would be much worse. I thank them for their care, passion and commitment to exposing and eliminating animal neglect and cruelty.
The one positive tonight is that we all agree cruelty to animals is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. I take that positive from tonight. It is good to hear Members talk about their love for animals but we cannot just rest there, with words and what is on paper, because there are too many documented cases of animal neglect and outright cruelty. If we have so much in common, we most certainly can make a difference on this matter.
In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 5 October 2017.