When one comes from artistic business straight on to the control of dogs it can create some problems in one's thinking. However, this legislation is important and earlier I was trying to outline how I felt the previous scheme of licensing dogs and collection of dog licences had been a failure simply because it gave the Garda Síochána responsibility for collecting dog licences and the owners of dogs never saw any value whatsoever in a licensing procedure which had no provision for stray dogs and dogs that caused damage to people's property, livestock and children. Humans have also suffered from stray dogs which were out of control. That is why the previous scheme was a failure. Some people — even people on the Animal Health Council — felt there should be no licences for dogs, that there should be no licences for cats, dogs, or any pet animals. To have a scheme which would effectively control stray dogs some system of funding would have to be available. The appropriate ministry to handle this would be the Department of the Environment. Local authorities are aware of the existing voluntary arrangements under the aegis of the ISPCA.
I come from a county which has made its own contribution to this problem. We allocated a capital sum of £40,000 to £50,000 to build a dog shelter. We provided the site for it and we handed over to the ISPCA the running, management and leasing of that premises. We also grant-aided them each year to try to carry out a limited form of dog control and control by wardens. That structure is there. I am glad this Bill is capable of complementing that structure and using it. If county councils feel they are unable to take responsibility for a dog warden system, it can be done in conjunction with the recognised agencies in the area already effectively producing a system of dog control.
There are various items, sections in the Bill with which I want to deal briefly because submissions were made to me by various interested parties. I want to deal with those items rather than quote some of the statistics that I have from working with the Animal Health Council. I want to compliment the Minister's inter-departmental team on their expertise and knowledge in this area and their receptiveness to suggestions from many quarters including the Animal Health Council, the ISPCA and all the people involved in the whole area of dog management, ownership and control.
I come from a family directly involved in the industry. They have reservations that some sections in this Bill could be so interpreted or implemented to the letter of the law, so to speak, as to make the continuing ownership of dogs — and I mean responsible ownership of dogs — extremely difficult in rural areas in particular and, indeed, also in urban areas, when we consider sections that control the level of barking, whereby it is possible for one neighbour to take another neighbour to court about the level of noise or barking. I heard a complaint and I requested the planning officer to investigate it. He had to put a recording machine in the kennel to decide if there was a level of barking which justified the complaint. In regard to new regulations for the housing of dogs I want some clarification from the Minister in his reply and I will be dealing with this subject on the various sections. I want to ensure that no area of doubt will be left in the minds of people involved in this industry as to what we are about. No member of the public involved in the dog business — breeding, racing, canine clubs, the ISPCA or any other such responsible body — had any word to say against the concept of controlling unwanted dogs which create widespread havoc throughout the country, nobody objected to that concept. The Minister referred to the farming organisations. They have been in the forefront in the General Council of County Committees of Agriculture, for years in trying to make the various Departments get their act together at last and grapple with this problem of uncontrolled dogs.
Let me deal with the problems that might arise with the local authority who will be the employer of the warden and will also be the statutory, planning office which will require the warden to inspect premises. At the moment there are many kennel premises of a very high standard. Generally people in that ownership bracket want to ensure that some of these dogs which are extremely valuable would be kept in the most hygienic and satisfactory housing possible with the funds available to them. A planning authority should take into account the differences in dog sizes, dog weights and dog breeds. Here the Bill talks about numbers. It talks about a number over five dogs. Anyone with six or seven dogs will be required by law to have a certain standard of accommodation for them. If we have five Irish wolfhounds and we have six chihuahuas or Pekingese, where do the numbers come into play then? The accommodation needed for labradors or greyhounds or Irish wolfhounds would be so much greater than for small pet dogs which are now very popular such as York-shire terriers and other such breeds. They represent a big export industry, one we must ensure is not interfered with in any way. The number of dogs might mean nothing to a planning authority. I think it will be imperative for the Minister when he is making regulations bringing some of these sections into force to have regard for the differences involved in dog sizes and pedigree. I also join with Senator Hussey in his very important point that when local authorities employ dog wardens they will have to be confident and trained to understand dogs, know how to handle dogs and take care of dogs. One of the submissions that has come through to us from the ISPCA is that there should never be a Bill initiated in the House that would be anti-dog. Nobody wants any level of cruelty to follow the detention of dogs or the seizing of dogs by wardens. Dogs must be handled with due care. Just because some owners have abandoned and ignored and left them to their own devices as regards feeding and so on, just because dogs are strays, they need to be treated as humanely as possible. It is imperative that wardens have the competence and expertise to do that.
I am suggesting that local authorities be requested and directed by the Minister to initiate a training programme for people who will be employed. I can think of nobody better to be involved in that training than the ISPCA. The ISPCA, to their eternal credit, have been involved in this whole area of care of dogs, injured dogs and unwanted dogs, down through the years with no recompense from anybody with the exception of some local authorities, such as my own local authority, who have given them small grants to do the very important work they have been doing.
Training of the wardens will be vital. Reservations have been expressed to me by people who are involved with canine clubs about the right of a warden to enter on to property and seize a dog which, in his opinion, is a stray dog. Concern is being expressed by canine club members who hold and own the most expensive dogs. They do not want wardens who would not have a proper knowledge to go in and take dogs from them just because it might not be possible at that moment to produce a licence or if there was any doubt about a licence. They do not want a warden to go in, take away a very important pure-bred animal and lock it away in a dog warden's shelter for five or six days and have it mix with animals that may have all sorts of infection when infection is so important in the case of pure-bred dogs and the showing of dogs. It is important that there be a level of competence in dog wardens. I hope they would have regard for private property and would use this power of entry on to private property with caution.
Everybody accepts that the Garda Síochána with a search warrant have certain rights to enter into property in the interests of the public good but one would question the total power of a dog warden to enter on to property, particularly if in his opinion a dog was a stray dog, when it might have been that a child had opened the gate and allowed the dog on to the road accidentally. They must have some balance in their attitude towards what is a genuine stray dog, one that should be taken off the road, and dogs which are pedigree and quite valuable.
There are some other sections in the Bill which have created concern in the minds of people who are experts in this field. Although I have relatives who are considered experts I certainly am not an expert. I would like to try to make sure the legislation is operable and will take account of the comments we will make on the various sections. People of a certain age are here precluded from owning dogs. It would not be possible for anybody under the age of 16 under section 4 to have a dog licence. In the area of pedigree show dogs there are sections involving junior handling competitions in which ten year olds and upwards have competed not alone in Ireland but internationally and successfully. One of the delights of these young people is the fact that they own the dog. I presume that by ownership a licence is required and that in certain categories one should have regard to people younger than the age of majority, the age of 16, and that it would be possible for the Minister to exempt certain categories which might include——