Limerick East): I would like to thank all the Senators who have contributed to this debate. I understand that there has been a constructive, helpful debate. I am glad that the House is facilitating me in this matter.
The Bill, as indicated in the opening speech, deals with two main areas of law relating to animals — the law as to civil liability for damage which they cause, and the law as to the impounding of animals. So far as the liability for damage caused by animals is concerned, the Bill proposes two changes in the law. First, it proposes the abolition of the immunity which occupiers of land adjoining the public road have enjoyed in relation to damage caused by their animals straying onto the road. Secondly, it proposes that there should be strict liability for damage which dogs cause in attacks on persons. Senator O'Leary is drawing attention now to this and indicating that there is a divergence in the provision here from what was recommended by the Law Reform Commission. Both proposals, in so far as liability for damage is concerned, are moving in the direction of putting a stronger onus on the owner. In the case of land, the immunity which has existed for a long time is being removed.
In the case of an attack on a person by a dog, while the dog is no longer entitled to one bite the requirement in law to prove vicious propensity in the animal is being removed so that it will now be an offence to bite the first time. The movement is in the same direction. Whether we have gone far enough or not is debatable. It would have made it a very controversial Bill if if we had proposed stricter liability on the owners of property or animals straying from the property. The change which is proposed is reasonable as a first step. That, taken together with the other provisions of the Bill, will go a long way towards solving the problems of wandering animals and horses, in particular, in our cities and towns.
Senator O'Leary is correct. The movement is in one particular direction, and I am sure a successor of mine will come back into the House at a future date, either shortly or in the distant future, and propose stricter liability along the lines of the proposals of the Law Reform Commission. As Senators are aware, changes took place in the law in Northern Ireland and in Britain. Section 2(1) of the Bill is the same formulation of words as used in the British legislation and in the Northern Ireland legislation. That is the change that took place there — removing the immunity. It has got the general support of people who are the victims of injury and also the general support of landowners. Senators are probably aware that I had consultations with the farming organisations when we set about drafting this legislation. The main farming organisations are happy with the proposals in the Bill.
The other area dealt with in the Bill is the provision strengthening the law for impounding in section 4 to section 8 of the Bill. Some individual points were raised in the course of the debate, and I should like to deal with them.
Senator Durcan commented adversely on the drafting of section 2 and referred to the simpler form of drafting in section 4 of the Law Reform Commission's draft Bill. Section 2 of the Bill now before the House is identical with section 8 of the Commission's draft Bill but includes a definition of "fencing" taken from section 2 of the Commission's draft. The wording of section 2 has been very carefully examined, and the draftman is satisfied that it is appropriate to meet the object of the section.
Section 4 of the Law Reform Commission's Bill, to which the Senator referred, proposed that there should be a general principle of strict liability for any damage caused by any animal. As was indicated in the opening speech, it is not proposed to adopt that recommendation.
Senator Durcan also referred to damage caused by animals such as badgers. I should say in this connection that there is no liability in law for damage caused by wild animals not reduced into captivity. Mules will come within the definition of "animal" in section 1 and accordingly the impounding provisions in the Bill will apply to them.
Senator Durcan and Senator Fitzsimons referred to the insurance implications of the Bill. These arise in relation to sections 2 and 3. I agree that it will be desirable for landowners and owners of dogs to insure against the new liability being imposed by these sections. Inquiries have been made from insurance sources but it has not been possible to say what, precisely, the increase in premiums will be. As far as landowners are concerned, it appears that the provisions in the English Animals Act, 1971, which corresponds to section 2 of the Bill, has not given rise to any considerable increase in the premiums for landowners in England and Wales. It is expected that, as far as section 3 is concerned, the increased premium for dog owners will be limited in amount.
The strict liability imposed by the Dogs Act 1906 applies in relation to injury to sheep, in view of the definition of "cattle" in section 7 of the Act. In that section we are accomplishing the change by restating the section from the Dogs Act. While it looks as if it is a significant proportion of the Bill, it is a re-enactment of the existing provisions which makes it look so extensive.
Senator Durcan pointed out that section 8 of the Bill repeals paragraphs (7) and (8) of section 19 of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1851. The Senator inquired as to how the remaining provisions in section 19 of the 1851 Act can stand. The position is that section 19, apart from paragraphs (7) and (8) has already been repealed by the Pounds (Provisions and Maintenance) Act, 1935 so that the effect of section 8 of the Bill will be to complete the repeal of section 19 of the 1851 Act.
Senator Durcan also referred to the provisions of section 20 of the 1851 Act. As was pointed out in my speech, there have been few complaints over the country as a whole about the operation of these provisions in the 1851 Act, relating to the impounding of trespassing animals by private persons. The Senator suggested that the power which section 20 gives to the District Court to order the repair of fences, in certain circumstances, should be strengthened. I consider that a provision of that nature would raise issues which might extend beyond the scope of the present Bill. The objectives of the Bill are limited, and I would be reluctant to accept any amendment of the kind suggested to section 20 of the 1851 Act as this might complicate the achievement of those objectives.
Senator O'Toole suggested that the effect of section 2 would be to shift liability from road users to persons occupying land adjoining the public road. This is not correct. The effect of that section will be to make the law of liability in negligence apply equally to road-users and occupiers of land, with special provision for areas where fencing is not customary.
Senator O'Toole also raised the question of the adequacy of pound accommodation. Inquiries have been made from all local authorities in this connection. The replies indicated that this accommodation, generally is adequate. Section 5 of the Bill makes special provision for any short term inadequacy of public pounds after the Bill comes into effect. The Bill makes no change in the existing law for cases such as those of damage caused by animals where a hunt crosses a farmer's land. As to the manner in which the law of negligence will apply on the coming into effect of Section 2 it will be for the court to decide in each case. It would not be correct to say that section 2 will complicate the law. It will simplify the law by removing the existing anomaly.
Senator O'Leary also referred to this point. The Senator is correct in that it will take an initial number of cases before it will be certain how the courts will view that particular section of the Bill.
Senator Hourigan asked how the Bill will affect persons who have to drive stock across the public road. The Bill will not affect the existing law in such cases. The provision in the Bill which is most nearly relevant is section 2, but that relates only to cases where animals stray on to the road, and not to cases where animals are driven on to the road. Senator Hourigan and other Senators referred to the situation where animals stray across land adjoining the public road from land which does not adjoin it. It will be a matter for the court to decide liability in such cases, but it appears unlikely that the occupier of the land adjoining the public road could be held liable for damage caused in such cases.
Senator Kiely referred to the damage caused by marauding and unlicensed dogs. The Bill does not seek to deal generally with this problem. This problem, and the associated question of dog shelters, is a matter for the Minister for Agriculture, who is now considering a report made by an inter-departmental committee on the subject. The Senator also commented adversely on section 6 of the Bill. It would not be correct to say that this imposes liability for damage caused by stray animals on occupiers of development sites generally. The statutory liability will be imposed only where the local authority has made a designation order in relation to the particular site, and even in such cases the occupier of the site can escape the statutory liability by authorising the Garda and local authorities to remove and impound animals straying on to the site.
Senator Fitzsimons referred to the question of obliging owners to muzzle dogs. Any provision of this kind would be outside the scope of this Bill. This suggestion, as well as the question of licensing dogs, might be appropriate for consideration by the Minister for Agriculture, who is considering the general question of dog control. The Senator referred also to the liability occurred by occupiers where their dogs injure trespassers. The position is that, under the Bill, the ordinary rules of negligence will apply. This is secured by the proposed new section 1 (5) of the Dogs Act 1906, the effect of which is that the occupier will not incur strict liability in such cases.
Senator Fitzsimons also mentioned the question of compensation for damage caused by animals straying on to the public road. This will be a matter for the courts to decide in each individual case. I can assure the Senator that where the owner of the animal is not negligent section 2 will not have the effect of ensuring that damages are to be awarded against him. The Senator also referred to animals trespassing on private property. As far as urban areas are concerned, trespassing by large animals is a comparatively recent phenomenon deriving from the acquisition of such animals by persons who have not got adequate facilities for them. These animals are allowed to wander on public roads and on open spaces and they occasionally enter private gardens. This problem would arise in rural areas to a much more limited extent. In so far as animals wandering on the public roads and in public spaces are concerned, I am confident that the problem will be met by the measures now proposed in the Bill. These should have the effect of considerably reducing the number of intrusions by large animals onto private property. In rural areas, where cases have arisen over the years of livestock straying from one person's land onto another, the position is adequately met by the existing statutory provisions which were probably designed to avoid breaches of the peace that could occur when the occupier of the land trespassed on was allowed to detain the animal.
Senator Burke expressed concern about the adequacy of the impounding facilities and the related financial arrangements. As I have said already, I have made inquiries from local authorities and the general impression is that existing facilities are adequate. However, I will have this aspect of the problem pursued in any instance where it transpires that the facilities are inadequate after the coming into effect of the impounding provisions of the Bill. The general intention is that these impounding provisions should be self financing so far as possible through increased fines, higher pound fees and where necessary the sale of impounded animals. I would also refer Senators to the provision in section 5 of the Bill where in order to meet any short term demands for impounding facilities following the coming into force of the Bill local authorities may arrange for animals to be impounded in private pounds. This would save the necessity for providing permanent impounding facilities that might rarely be used once the legislation has full effect.
I hope I have dealt with the points raised, though necessarily in a general way. I thank the Senators for their contribution and I am sorry I could not be in the House at 2.30 p.m. I had questions in the Dáil at that time.