That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences )Act 2001 to make specific provision for sentencing for certain offences in relation to pets; and to provide for related matters.
I thank my colleagues Deputies Canney and Verona Murphy for co-signing this Bill.
In the past year, the issue of pet theft has come into sharp focus for many families around the country. Covid lockdowns have seen many welcome new pets into their families, which has caused the price of pets to increase radically in that time. My family has a pet dog called Rua. He is a fantastic dog with a great temperament. He is a cross between a golden retriever and a red setter. We bought him for €50 13 years ago. The same breed of dog is now advertised online for €1,500. There is a radical increase in the price of pets across the country, which is driving a very lucrative market that pet thieves are tapping into. Professional gangs are making big money from this market. Many stories have circulated of thieves marking up concrete outside people's gates with chalk or tying string to gates during the day, and then returning in the cover of darkness to steal these pets. Recently, gardaí found 32 stolen dogs worth more than €150,000 in Baldoyle. It shows that there is a viable market for criminal enterprises. Many of the stolen dogs in that case were pregnant so the criminal gangs made extra profit from the pups. Many pups are sold online and for cash. This makes the Garda investigation even more difficult. There have been many credible reports of stolen pets, quickly put on ferries and brought to Britain where they are sold.
I have conducted a good bit of research into this criminal market in recent years. The figures are incredible. Over the past five years, 1,000 incidents of animal theft have been reported to the Garda, mainly canine, ovine, bovine and equine. They are only the reported thefts. Many families do not report the thefts or think that their pet has simply disappeared so they are not included in the figures. The reported figures are below the reality, which is far higher.
In 2020, the number of reported thefts in the State increased by 60%, despite the restrictions last year. Some 196 instances of animal theft were reported to the Garda, of which only 40 resulted in charges or summonses, and, therefore, for every five instances of animal theft, only one results in a charge. I have no doubt that gardaí are doing the best they can on this but it is time legislators stepped up and ensured legislation reflects the reality for many. I am glad to see the DSPCA and the Dogs Trust, which work with stolen animals daily, support the Aontú Bill and believe that politicians should get behind it so that it is enacted as soon as possible.
The purpose of the Bill is to create a mandatory minimum sentence for theft. The theft of an animal or pet is not the same as the theft of an inanimate object from someone's house. One could steal a phone, laptop or stereo of approximately the same cost as a family pet but the penalty should not be the same because a cat or dog can be a member of the family and be central to the family. When one loses a family pet, one can grieve over it because they are so important. We believe that when people break the law in this area there should be a mandatory minimum sentence of ten months in prison. I urge other Members to get behind the Bill and get it through the Dáil as soon as we can.