I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to introduce the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021, which is draft legislation to prohibit fur farming in Ireland, to the House. The final version of the Bill, as drafted by the Office of the Attorney General, was approved by the Government at its meeting on 19 October 2021. The Government also authorised the Minister to introduce the Bill into the Dáil or Seanad for debate. The general scheme of the Bill was previously approved by the Government and it has been through pre-legislative scrutiny in the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine.
The programme for Government 2020 includes a commitment to bring forward legislation that prohibits fur farming in the State. While fur farming was once legal and socially acceptable in most countries, there is now a broad consensus among veterinary and other scientific experts that certain animals should not be farmed for their fur or skin because of serious animal welfare concerns that cannot be mitigated. There are also increasing societal concerns in this regard.
There are three active farms in the State that breed and rear mink for the purposes of pelting for the fur industry. The statutory prohibition on fur farming will, in particular, impact these three farms which are currently operating a lawful business. For this reason, the draft legislation makes provision for a scheme of compensation that my Department will make available to the three farm businesses affected by the prohibition. The Bill also introduces other miscellaneous amendments to the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013.
The provisions of the Bill that govern the nature of the compensation scheme that can be provided for ensure that mink farming operators are to be compensated for losses and costs directly resulting from the prohibition on fur farming in Ireland. The Bill sets out criteria upon which compensation for income loss, non-income loss and certain costs will be payable. The types of costs that will be covered by any compensation scheme made under the legislation will include redundancy payments to employees, certain professional fees, mink disposal and clean-up costs, and the costs involved in the demolition of mink buildings. It should be noted that the specific details regarding the methodology for calculating the compensation payable in respect of income and non-income losses and costs incurred are to be provided for in regulations made by the Minister rather than being set in the primary legislation.
Provisions have also been inserted into the Bill that will allow the Minister to authorise advance compensation payments to affected farmers in respect of any particular income loss, non-income loss or type of cost which can subsequently be offset against any compensation amount to be made.
The Bill provides for the appointment of an assessor whose function shall be to examine an application for compensation submitted and to determine the amount of compensation payable. The Bill provides that an assessor may require information or documents from an applicant and applicants are obligated to assist and co-operate with the assessor in this respect.
The Bill makes provision for appeal to the High Court. In addition, the Bill provides that the decision of an assessor can be appealed by the Minister. The Bill provides procedures for the payment of compensation and includes express provision authorising the Minister to offset any advance payments that may have previously been made.
The Bill makes it an offence to engage in fur farming and provides for appropriate penalties. It also provides for a procedure for the disposal of fur-producing animals lawfully seized following commencement of the prohibition on fur farming.
The legislation also includes some technical amendments to the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and a repeal of the Milk (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1979, which is no longer required and is not being replaced.
I now wish to deal with the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 is the definitions section for the purposes of this legislation. It contains one definition only, which is that the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 is defined as the "Act of 2013".
In section 2, we have an amendment to the definition of an "animal product" set out in section 2 of the 2013 Act. The new definition of "animal product" will include "wool, skin, fur or feathers derived from an animal".
Section 3 is an amendment of section 39 of Act of 2013. Section 39 provides gardaí with a power of arrest without warrant for certain animal health and welfare offences.
Section 71B contains the prohibition on fur and skin farming and creates a new criminal offence of engaging in fur or skin farming in contravention of the section.
Section 71C provides for a procedure to be followed for the disposal of specified animals that have been seized by authorised officers on the basis they are being kept for the value of their fur or skin in contravention of the prohibition. The Minister shall, as soon as practicable after the seizure and detention, apply to a District Court for an order authorising the disposal. A notice is required to be served on the person before an application to the court is made.
Section 71D sets out the overarching principles that will govern the compensation payable to existing fur farming enterprises that will be forced to cease their businesses as a direct consequence of the prohibition. Compensation will be payable for income losses, non-income losses and costs incurred as a direct result. The amount of compensation for each affected fur farming business is to be determined by an independent assessor to be appointed by the Minister. The Bill contains principles and policies that authorise the Minister to make regulations to specify the income and non-income losses and other costs in respect of which compensation is payable and the basis of valuation for assessing income and non-income losses, and to provide for financial limits to apply to certain compensation payments where appropriate. Regulations will also provide compensation for the costs involved in disposing of breeding mink, demolition and clean-up costs, payments required to be made to redundant workers, and certain professional fees incurred in the preparation of applicants' claim forms and in the making of representations to my Department relating to the development of this legislation. Finally, regulations can also be made to provide for a number of administrative matters, including advance payments to claimants prior to any final determination of their compensation entitlements under the Bill, the appointment of an assessor, the form and content of applications for compensation, information required to be furnished by applicants and any other matters that are incidental supplemental and consequential thereto.
Section 71E provides for the appointment of an assessor to determine the amount of compensation that will be payable to an applicant. The person so appointed must possess an appropriate level of skill, knowledge and qualifications to perform this important function. The assessor shall be independent and shall be paid fees and expenses as determined by the Minister and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
Section 71G provides the assessor with a power to require further information or documentation from an applicant if the assessor considers that it is reasonably necessary to have that additional information. The assessor may issue a notice in writing requiring an applicant to provide further information or documents or to verify such information or documents within a defined period for response. Where the information or documents are in the power, possession or procurement of a third party, the applicant shall make every reasonable effort to obtain that information or those documents.
Section 71H provides a direction to an assessor on how to proceed in the event of a failure of an applicant to co-operate. Where there is a failure to provide documentation, information or assistance to an assessor, the Bill will allow him or her to determine the application in a manner that has regard to the fact the information or documentation submitted or requested was incomplete or that assistance required was not forthcoming. In such circumstances an assessor may draw any adverse inferences he or she considers appropriate, albeit only in the most extreme of cases he or she would make a determination that the applicant is not entitled to compensation.
In the circumstances, this legislation will provide an effective right of appeal against an assessor's compensation determination should any party to it consider it necessary to challenge same.
Section 71K relates to the High Court appeal option. It directs that where the High Court decides to set aside the determination and remit it, the Minister shall assign an assessor to consider the application and the assessor shall have regard to the stated reasons of the court.
Section 71L relates to payment of compensation. The Minister shall pay the assessor's determination as soon as practicable. Where an appeal has been made, the Minister shall pay after the date on which the determination under appeal ceases to be under appeal. If the High Court has made an order, the Minister shall pay the compensation in accordance with the order as soon as practicable.
Section 7 is an amendment of Schedule 3 to Act of 2013 in which the Department seeks to license marts by way of secondary legislation for the purposes of ensuring the health and welfare of the animals present in the mart. To this end, a new mart-specific paragraph 40A is inserted into Schedule 3 to the 2013 Act and a minor consequential amendment is made to existing paragraph 40.
Section 8 is repeal of certain legislation. The Bill provides for the repeal of the Milk (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1979. This Act is no longer required and will not be replaced.
Section 9 is the Short Title, collective citation, construction and commencement. The section cites this Act as the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021. It provides that the Animal Health and Welfare Acts 2013 and 2019 and this Act shall be construed as one Act, as the Animal Health and Welfare Acts 2013 to 2021. It also contains a commencement provision which will authorise me to choose the date on which the provisions of this legislation will come into operation.
I have presented a detailed view of the provisions of the Bill. The legislation will prohibit fur farming in Ireland. There is now a broad consensus among veterinary and other scientific experts that certain animals should not be farmed for their fur or skin because of serious animal welfare concerns that cannot be mitigated. There are also increasing serious societal concerns in this regard. The legislation provides for a fair and reasonable scheme of compensation that my Department will make available to the three farm businesses affected by the prohibition which are currently operating legitimate businesses and to all of the necessary standards and for whom this move is very significant indeed. I commend the Bill to the Dáil.