I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran.
Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009: Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 4, line 20, after "pound" to insert "or hunt club".
The logic behind this amendment was debated at length by a number of colleagues from all sides of the House on Second Stage. Commitments were given to the Hunting Association of Ireland regarding an exemption from the regulations and reasons were given at the time. Consultations took place in November 2007 between the Hunting Association of Ireland and officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. After that meeting a commitment was given by the then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. On 9 January 2008 he wrote to the Hunting Association of Ireland stating, "I am very pleased that you will receive the exemption from these regulations that you sought." This was a clear indication that the association and its kennels would be exempt. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, subsequently wrote to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern on 15 February 2008, to which letter I referred in my contribution on Second Stage. It read:
Given that the primary objective of the proposed regulations is to regulate commercial dog breeding and in view of the strict standards which apply to the members of the Hunting Association of Ireland, it is my intention that groups affiliated to the HAI be granted an exemption from the requirements of the regulations.
Numerous other commitments were given to Government Deputies and others that the kennels of the Hunting Association of Ireland and those of its members would be exempt from the requirements of this legislation. However, the Minister has shifted the goalposts and now wants to exempt them from payment of the fee only. It is acknowledged that the kennels run by members of the association are kept to a very high standard and that there are few, if any, complaints regarding how dogs are kept in them. This would include complaints from local authority inspectors or otherwise. The kennels in question are not breeding establishments, rather they are for holding working dogs used in the legal and rural practice of hunting which, as many Senators have argued, has been a well respected tradition in rural Ireland through the ages. It is Fine Gael's view that, where commitments were made in writing to the Hunting Association of Ireland by the Minister, as well as by previous Ministers, it is only fair that these commitments should be honoured. It is unfair that the goalposts seem to have been shifted.
Section 2 of the Bill states:
"dog breeding establishment" means a premises at which bitches are kept, not less than 6 of which are—
(a) more than 4 months old, and
(b) capable of being used for breeding purposes,
but shall not include a local authority dog pound;
We understand it also means "or a hunt club". The definition of "hunt club" as stated in the section is as follows:
"hunt club" means a hunt or game club—
(a) registered with a national hunting association that is a member of—
(i) the Hunting Association of Ireland, or
(ii) the Irish branch of the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the European Union (FACE),
It has been acknowledged not only by departmental officials but also by people involved in animal welfare that these are well respected organisations which run their businesses well and that these dogs are kept to a very high standard. I hope Senators will take into account the genuine commitments given previously. We talk about cynicism in politics; what could be more cynical than giving a commitment in writing and then changing it substantially when the Bill is presented to the House. My amendment proposes to include hunt clubs in the exemption as they are separate entities, not breeding establishments. It is well established that they are run to high standards.
I welcome the Minister of State. I agree with Senator Coffey that we need to know the reason for the change. The letter referred to by the Senator from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, to his Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, states:
Given that the primary objective of the regulations is to regulate commercial dog breeding and, in view of the strict standards which apply to members of the Hunting Association of Ireland, it is my intention that groups affiliated to the HAI be granted an exemption from the requirements of the regulations.
It is clear something has changed since the Minister wrote that letter. In a spirit of transparency and openness, we need to know the reason the Minister has done a complete about-turn on this issue. I ask the Minister of State to address these comments.
I fully support the contents of Senator Coffey's contribution. Like the previous speaker, I also wish to know from the Minister of State the reason his senior colleague has done a complete about-turn. I regret that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, is not present in the House and trust he has other parliamentary duties to attend to. He should be present to defend the stance he has taken. There is great concern, anxiety and fear in rural Ireland and among hunt clubs and associated country sports organisations. By virtue of this section, in particular, the Minister is introducing what I described on Second Stage as a Trojan horse to attack rural sports, hunt clubs in particular. We need assurances from him that this is not his intention.
I refer to the correspondence made available to us by various organisations in recent months. It appears that during a phase of crucial discussions on the renewed programme for Government there was significant political pressure exerted on the Minister by anti-hunt organisations to introduce strict, new laws, in other words, to introduce anti-hunt laws. At that point it appears he did his U-turn on this section of the Bill. As pointed out by previous speakers and during the debate on Second Stage, a number of commitments were given in writing by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that hunt clubs would be fully exempt from the regulations. Something has changed dramatically and we need to know what it is. That is why I am disappointed the Minister is not here. We need him to tell us what are his exact intentions. Why has he made this significant policy change?
I assure the Minister of State I do not want this issue to hinge on the urban-rural divide. Many in urban Ireland, including every provincial town, are interested in country sports. The Minister of State should take on board our concerns about the inclusion of hunt clubs in this legislation. He needs to give us a strong commitment about the future of hunt clubs, hunting, country and rural sports. I do not think I am exaggerating when I suggest these regulations could be the first step on a rocky and tricky road for hunt clubs. They will place a financial, administrative and legislative burden on them. We are talking about clubs which regulate themselves in a laudable, professional and transparent fashion. It is a given that rural organisations, including hunt and coursing clubs, cannot survive if they do not meet the highest standards of animal husbandry, hygiene and animal feeding propriety. They would not exist if they did not look after these matters with near perfection. The Minister's regulations will not cause any animal to be looked after in a better fashion — they are already being looked after as thoroughly and properly as one would demand. The Bill will not make life any better for the animals in a hunt club, but it will impose a major administrative burden on hunt clubs. It will unnecessarily focus the spotlight of the State on organisations which are doing a great deal to maintain and develop the fabric of the interesting jigsaw that is rural life, of which rural organisations are a part.
I understand the Minister of State has to do his job as the spokesman for the senior Minister. I suspect his views on this substantial amendment to the legislation are not very different from my own. As such I look forward to hearing his comments. If the Minister of State wants to send a signal to rural Ireland that he values and treasures its traditions and ethos, he should accept this amendment. If we see such traditions not just as historical but as important for the Ireland of today, we should help them to survive into the future. We should ensure hunting and coursing clubs and other rural organisations such as point-to-point associations remain part of the fabric of rural Ireland. If the Minister of State examines the Second Stage contributions made in this House, he will find that many of his Government colleagues would be happy to make this change. We do not want this legislation to be a Trojan horse, as that would be the beginning of the end for some country sports organisations. We, therefore, need strong commitments from him. We really need him to accept the amendment.
I do not propose to accept the Senator's amendment to the section. The proposed amendment would have the effect of exempting hunt clubs from the regulations and possible inspections. Following consideration of the practical difficulties such an exemption would create for the implementation of the regulations, it is not considered that the exemption would be feasible or justifiable. I reiterate that the hunting association and its affiliated bodies such as the Irish Master of Foxhounds Association have stated dogs bred for hunt packs are kept to the highest standards. Therefore, it is my contention that the Bill will not place an undue burden on hunt clubs. However, I have decided that hunt clubs affiliated to the Hunting Association of Ireland do not have to pay fees for registration. This is provided for in the Bill.
The Minister of State's response to the amendment is amazing. As I said, two Ministers gave a commitment in writing to the Hunting Association of Ireland that the kennels kept by its members would be exempt from the regulations. It beggars belief the Minister of State has said, on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, that the Fine Gael amendment is neither "feasible" nor "justifiable". We wonder why people are cynical about politics. What has happened since November 2007 when representatives of the Hunting Association of Ireland first met officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government? They were given commitments by the then Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, and subsequently from the Minister, Deputy Gormley. What changed the Minister's view? What influenced him and his officials to roll back on a clear and written commitment to a national organisation which represents thousands of members in every county and district of the country involved in a traditional and legal practice? The questions I have asked deserve to be answered. We need to know the reason for the change in the Minister's stance. Such an explanation might convince Senators on this side of the House that there are genuine reasons for his change of view. We have certainly not heard them. All I have heard is that it is neither "feasible" nor "justifiable". I do not agree with either of these arguments.
It is a great pity the Minister of State has come to the House to roll back completely on the commitments Ministers were willing to give to their Government colleagues in writing. I suspect the views of many Fianna Fáil Deputies, Senators and county councillors, not to mention those of people in their own districts and constituencies, are not in accordance with what the Minister of State has said. It is a great pity we are bringing in new laws in this way. It is not right that Bills which are drafted and brought before the Oireachtas can deviate so seriously from commitments previously given to respectable organisations. It is a great pity. The Fine Gael Party will pursue this amendment. The commitments given should be upheld by accepting this important amendment to the Bill.
The role of hunt clubs is clearly defined in the law. Many independent agencies clearly acknowledge that hunting associations keep their kennels and regulate them to a very high standard. Obviously, they would not be in the business if they did not do so — that is a given. We will pursue the amendment in the hope we will receive some support from Fianna Fáil Senators.
I agree with Senator Coffey. I do not think the Minister of State has been well served by his officials. The reasons he has given for not accepting the amendment are not well thought out. He has told us the amendment is neither "feasible" nor "justifiable". We really wanted to see a better explanation. The Labour Party has discussed this issue at some length. While we will not support the Fine Gael amendment, we intend to pursue other amendments on how best to regulate inspections and on the ability of individuals to enter premises and carry out inspections of dogs. We have to ensure those who carry out inspections are completely independent and not concerned about pushing a particular agenda. We will not support the amendment because we do not want to let Fianna Fáil Members off the hook. We want them to come into the Chamber and vote in support of the Government's position in order that it will be clear to everybody that this is a Green Party-led initiative that the vast majority of Fianna Fáil Members do not support but are willing to push through to save their own skins.
The Minister of State's reply spoke volumes. Truthfully, he said absolutely nothing. It is obvious that he read from a script given to him from elsewhere. He did not really answer the two questions posed by the amendment. Why has there been a change of Government policy? There was a Government commitment given in writing to grant a full exemption to hunt clubs. That was not promised down the telephone line, rather it was given in writing. While I appreciate that Governments are entitled to change policy and Ministers are entitled to take a particular slant on legislation, I ask the Minister of State to explain the reason the Minister reversed a commitment given by his predecessors. This Bill, which was first mooted a long time ago, was drafted and prepared under two or three Ministers. In correspondence with hunt clubs these Ministers gave a commitment that such clubs would be fully exempt from the provisions. For this reason, it is not unreasonable of Senators to expect the Minister of State to explain the reason the Minister has changed departmental policy.
I also ask the Minister of State to outline departmental thinking on hunting clubs and sports. The Minister has taken a particular view, influenced by his party political background, on the Ward Union hunt. Every hunt, coursing club and point to point association is concerned that the introduction of the legislation, specifically this section, will be used as a Trojan horse to attack rural sporting organisations. I ask the Minister of State to give a commitment that this is not the case and the Department will maintain a hands off approach to country sporting organisations which have survived for decades and will, I am sure, survive all of us. If he is unwilling to give such a commitment, I ask him to give Members at least the scant consolation that the section will be examined before Report Stage.
The Minister of State did not explain the reason for the policy U-turn on this issue. Was it done at the behest of the Minister, Department, Green Party or campaign groups which, as I read last week, tried to influence the Minister during negotiations on a revised programme for Government? Did these groups write the legislation? Will the Minister of State provide further information?
The case has been well made by my colleagues but one or two issues merit emphasis given the gravity of the problem. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure written commitments are honoured. Failing that, he must explain the rationale for the policy change.
I live beside a hunt known as the Drumlin Hounds in Cootehill. I am familiar with members of the hunt and know the dogs are well fed, cared for in an exemplary fashion and kept in the best possible conditions. Those involved in the hunt have an affection for their animals, are outdoors people and love sport. This is theraison d’être of the club. Animals must be kept in peak condition and optimum living conditions if they are to be suitable for hunting. The suggestion that a hunt would not keep animals in the best of conditions is a non-runner on two levels.
During the Second Stage debate, the Minister stated the purpose of the Bill was to deal with commercial dog breeding farms. None of us supports the abuse carried out in puppy farms. The extension of the provision to hunts is a sad departure from this objective. It is unnecessary, breaches a promise and threatens an aspect of rural life. Why can rural Ireland not have its integrity? Why will a set of values, norms and mores held by certain urban elements be imposed on rural culture and life? Rural people have the right to live as they wish and pursue their traditional pastimes and culture.
Next Friday week, I will attend a hunt ball in the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon in the Minister of State's constituency. I do so every year as the ball is an opportunity to meet a wonderful group of people from the Roscommon hunt who have a passion for what they do and love and care for their animals.
If the Senator were a female, I would offer to accompany him.
A sledge-hammer is being used to crack a nut and it is wrong.
Someone once said that people who are nice to animals will generally be nice to humans, although there have been examples in history of people who lavished affection on animals and withheld it from humanity. Having listened with interest to the various contributions, I note that some of the language used was suggestive of various blood sports. We heard about people trying to get off the hook, for instance, while Senator Hannigan referred to saving skins. We also heard the word "U-turn" used more times than one would see U-turns at the average coursing meeting.
I am not convinced by the arguments made by either side and I say this as someone who is committed to animal welfare. I shall enjoy reminding Senators who express commitment to animal welfare when we have tricky and thorny debates on abortion and other socially sensitive subjects that they should be at least as concerned about human dignity as they are about animal welfare. I try to maintain a consistent position on this issue, one which recognises that human dignity should be at the apex of our consideration but that animal welfare should not be forgotten.
What I find unconvincing is the argument by Opposition Senators that since animals are well looked after by hunt clubs, such clubs should not be submitted to the same standard as dog breeding establishments of the type the legislation proposes to monitor and regulate. If a good standard of animal husbandry and welfare is being maintained, the provisions of the Bill will not be onerous.
I do not subscribe to the slippery slope argument. It is possible to reserve one's position on hunting while supporting the idea that the requirements of the Bill should extend to hunt clubs. That said, I ask the Minister of State to explain the basis of his statement that it would not be feasible to exclude these clubs. I do not follow the logic of his position as such an exclusion would not necessarily create an additional administrative burden. While this may not be what the Minister of State meant, it is incumbent on us to support our arguments by setting out grounds for the positions we hold. I say this as someone who will support the Government's position on this matter, notwithstanding the interesting fact that the Minister appears to have given commitments to the contrary. As the principle of the proposal is good, I will support it.
Commitments, whether written or oral, will not be honoured by the Government. We had such commitments from a number of sources. For example, such a commitment was given in a letter from the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, while the current Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, gave similar commitments. His letter of 9 January stated he was very pleased that the exemption sought to the regulations would be granted. These are not commitments; they are lies, or untruths, if the word "lies" is deemed to be unparliamentary.
They are statements that are no longer operative.
They are not true.
What has caused this change to be made? We are discussing the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill but this is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. That is what is happening with the Green Party.
I asked whether the names and addresses of registered persons would be published by local authorities. I understand they will be published and open to scrutiny by the public. The question I was asked was why should people fear this. They fear it because of past experience of the activities of animal liberation activists who have terrorised people involved in hunting. The Alliance for Animal Rights, animal liberation front for fur action, protested against a furrier shop in Dublin. I will not quote the names of the people involved in the shop but in a document the protesters told them to remember that they knew where they lived, that they would make sure they would not sleep easy in their beds at night because they were watching them and that they would put a stop to their evil trade. That is just one comment and why members of the hunting fraternity who breed dogs are afraid of having their names published. They look after their dogs very well, but they are fearful, rightfully so, given comments such as this and the fact that people have been jailed in the United Kingdom for activities in support of animal liberation and animal rights. One will get rogues everywhere, but the vast majority involved in hunting look after their dogs very well. They sought an exemption because they were worried. They are in fear of what the people mentioned can do and have done in the past. It is possibly the reason Ministers gave an undertaking that they would be exempt from registration. I cannot understand why Fianna Fáil is accepting this tail-wagging exercise by the Green Party. This is a typical example of commitments being given and forgotten in the hunt.
I raised this issue last week but as I was sick, I could not attend the House to discuss it. I feel very strongly about the difference between making money from dog breeding in puppy farms — to use that awful phrase — and breeding dogs for hunting. From my experience in the midlands, those who breed dogs for hunting care for them and breed them only to replace dogs when they pass away or are no longer fit. We have a pet shop in Athlone and I am convinced the dogs bred and cared for by the hunting fraternity are cared for better than any category of dog. The Minister should honour the commitment he made and that made by Deputy Dick Roche to the hunting fraternity. They are not in the business of making money; rather they are in the business of replenishing their stocks for hunting.
This is a glorious opportunity to sow political dissension and my colleagues on this side of the House have exploited it very cleverly. I am sure they are also motivated by principle and while it would be a very pleasant sight for some on this side to see a degree of disagreement between the Green Party — in particular, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley — and Fianna Fáil, that is not what the issue should be about.
With regard to the pet shop issue raised by Senator McFadden, I am delighted to hear there is a pet shop in Athlone and that the animals are well looked after. However, I would translate it into an invitation to the Minister to regulate pet shops also, not in this legislation but it should be——
We do not have dogs in our pet shop.
I thought the Senator said the dogs there were as well looked after——
No, I said the hunting fraternity——
It is a pet shop without dogs.
I am familiar with the hunting fraternity.
What did the pet shop have to do with anything?
We own it.
I see. I am sure animals are well looked after in the shop. Some pet shops do keep dogs. The question of exotic pets and their uncontrolled importation should also be examined.
I have a position on hunting, as I am against blood sports in general. I was interested to hear my colleague, Senator Mullen, drag in the issue of abortion, which seemed a little extraneous.
A passing reference.
It would be like me asking about the welfare of homosexual dogs in these various places. I share elements of his position. I certainly believe there is a hierarchy and that it is appropriate that as a species we look after ourselves. However, we should recognise our close genetic kinship with animals and our responsibilities for them. There is no contradiction whatsoever in my position which is completely consistent of accepting the idea of choice in respect of abortion, another matter for debate.
We can deal with the Senator's failure of logic another time.
I am sure the Senator will attempt to address what he sees as my failure of logic but this is the Upper House of the Oireachtas, not the debating chamber in which, I read inThe Irish Times, he did extraordinarily well as an undergraduate.
I thank the Senator.
There is an argument that hunting is as humane as and as much in concert with the realities of life in the wild for it to occur as a culling mechanism. If it is a choice between the hunt, with its long traditions in the country and so long as it is at least humanely controlled, and the process of gassing, shooting or trapping foxes in a cull when they become regarded as vermin, it is better to go the natural way. My uncle was very keen on hunting. He was an Irishman who lived in England for quite a while. He lived in Rutland, the location of all the great hunts, namely, the Quorn, the Pytchley, the Belvoir and the Cottesmore. A friend of his, a very wealthy man, was master of the Cottesmore hunt. Many poor people on the streets of our cities would be delighted to be treated in the luxurious style in which those hounds were treated. They will look after their animals very well but why would they not? It is perfectly natural. However, it seems to be an argument against themselves. If they are so wonderful, they should be quite happy to submit to this test.
The DSPCA produced an extremely fine set of regulations which I hope will be administered under this legislation. It has requirements on hygiene, spatial requirements per dog and deals with the construction of kennels. However sophisticated and well heeled members of the hunt are, they are not beyond learning something from other aspects of animal welfare. Perhaps a little humility would do them no harm.
I am aware the Minister provided certain assurances in writing. I learned today that the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, did the same a few weeks ago. It is perfectly legitimate for a Minister or a Member to change his or her mind on the basis of the weight of evidence. It would be useful in terms of advancing the debate if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government explained his reasons for reviewing the situation and deciding against honouring his commitment.
With regard to fox hunters being upset by the pamphlets to which Senator Cummins referred, this has been a tradition in Irish life for many years. Seán Ó Faoláin wrote a wonderful story about a group of right-wing, reactionary moralists who objected to a performance in Cork of the Russian ballet. They formed themselves into the sodality of St. Mark and carried placards proclaiming: "Men of St. Mark, we have you marked." All the local dignitaries were terrified to attend the ballet as a result.
An early version of "Down with that kind of thing".
I imagine those involved in fox hunting are made of sterner stuff. All of us have received obnoxious material through the post. My distinguished colleague, Senator Cummins, read out a very unpleasant message and I certainly do not approve of such behaviour. The Animal Liberation Front is basically an English movement which has carried out some horrible and inexcusable terrorist escapades which do no good to the cause of animal rights.
However, it is a marginal element in Irish society and I am not aware that it has done much, other than picketing Barnardo Furriers at the bottom of Grafton Street. I imagine the sort of pamphlet described by Senator Cummins would cause more concern among shop assistants than among the hardy members of the hunt fraternity, many of whom are well known to me. I assure Senators they would give not only a verbal but probably also a physical response. I would consider such pamphlets as aprima facie case for a criminal prosecution for threatening behaviour. The police could therefore become involved. However, I do not think it appropriate to legislate on the basis of the activities of an isolated, tiny and unrepresentative group which is already subject to other areas of the law. I will be supporting the Government on this amendment because the provision as it stands is appropriate.
There is a certain snobbery in saying everybody else should be regulated but we should not because we are independently regulating ourselves. I follow the principle that independent regulation should always apply. I have argued for independent regulation in regard to newspapers, the medical and legal professions and every other area potentially subject to supervisory authority. I accept that most kennels attached to hunts are well maintained, accord a high priority to animal welfare and even come to love their animals but that is not a reason for exempting them.
Chur tú suas do paw, Senator Mullen.
I find myself in almost complete agreement with Senator Norris, who would be advised to examine his conscience.
I think so.
He is substantially correct and his argument on the need for independent regulation was well made. I support his comments in the context of the media because it is a position to which I too strongly adhere.
However, despite what I have said previously, I found Senator Cummins's argument very persuasive. I wonder if avia media could be found. While I have not studied the relevant section in detail, surely it is possible to craft a solution whereby hunt clubs are not exempt for all the reasons expressed by Senator Norris and others while holding open the option of deciding against publication where a reasonable case can be made. The qui timor concept could apply where people fear a certain consequence. It is not a strong argument that we should not worry about a marginal group. Anything that could be a potential source of concern ought to be taken seriously given that the precedent exists for awful behaviour by so-called animal rights activists in other jurisdictions. Surely it is possible for the Government to consider, and hopefully bring before the House on Report Stage, an amendment which allows the Minister to withhold publication of the names of certain bodies while at the same time maintaining the register and requiring the inclusion of hunt clubs. This might allay concerns about the possible misuse of information for intimidation or other purposes.
I ask the Minister of State to consider the issue of making public the registration documents of canine breeders in general. The Bill's provisions as they currently stand will allow the public to check the number of dogs associated with a particular breeder. This is causing concern among breeders that information on their often valuable animals will be publicly available to potential thieves. Perhaps we need to reconsider how we hold this information and whether it should be publicly available. Presumably the Minister, Deputy Gormley, would like people to know where they can buy puppies but it is important that we maintain a degree of confidentiality.
I find it increasingly worrying that I concur with Senator Mullen.
He can move back here if he wishes.
If it arises that somebody feels threatened, it would be useful to know what recourse or protection is open to him or her. Perhaps in unusual circumstances, names could be withheld from the public. However, in terms of dog breeding establishments, I have no difficulty with making full information available because the public should know how many dogs are being kept. Professional dog thieves would in any event be aware of the value of the dogs being bred in an establishment because the breeder would have to advertise them in order to continue in business. They would be able to calculate, after casing the joint, how many dogs are being bred. The purchaser is entitled to similar information.
In case anybody thinks I am red in tooth and claw in terms of hunting, I leave a question mark over fox hunting but disdain most other forms. I consider hare coursing to be a particularly damnable and degrading pursuit and I condemn it outright.
I appreciate my colleagues' comments regarding registration and publication of the names and addresses of breeders involved in Irish hunting. That is all we are asking. We will certainly table an amendment to that effect on Report Stage if the Minister does not provide for an exemption for those involved in the Hunting Association of Ireland so their names and addresses would not be published for the reasons I have outlined. We all know that the reason the commitment was given and then taken away was because of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, bringing in certain people around him prior to the referendum on the Lisbon treaty and telling them that he needed them to vote "Yes" and that in return, this Bill and other Bills would be introduced. That is the reason the commitments were made and why they have now been reneged upon. Let us be foursquare and tell the truth about it. As Senator Norris suggested, let us have it out. Let the Minister come to the House to explain why he changed his mind. We need a bit of honesty rather than pussyfooting around saying it was this, that and the other. That is the reason the commitment was reneged upon. It is not sufficient for people to renege on commitments for that purpose.
On the matter mentioned by Senators Norris and Mullen, I have raised the issue of puppy farms in this House. The identification of dogs will be important. At least one newspaper in Westmeath carried stories about small dogs such as Yorkshire terriers, West Highland terriers and Scotties being stolen and sold at car boot sales. It is important we would eliminate that practice where possible.
I am pleased that most people who breed dogs keep them in humane conditions, but not all do. The people who abuse dog breeding by virtue of the conditions in which they keep their dogs should be worried by the Bill. If the legislation addresses that issue in some shape or form, I welcome it.
Does Senator Cummins wish to comment briefly before the Minister of State replies? We have spent nearly an hour on the amendment. I will allow the Senator to contribute before the Minister of State replies.
I wish to comment briefly in response to Senator Glynn. Six years ago I was the first in this House to raise the issue of puppy farms and the inhumane practices that went on. I was supported by Senator Norris at the time. I will support any legislation that will regulate that area and root out the bad practice.
However, I disagree with the way we are going about our business in this regard.
Members of both Houses and the public in general are aware that the legislation pertains to the welfare of dogs. That is the foundation of the Bill. It is not a question of something that arose lately. Members will be aware that the working group on the Bill sat initially in 2005. There has been a long lead-in to this legislation. It is not a knee-jerk reaction to the Lisbon treaty or anything else. It is a considered piece of legislation.
The change in stance is new.
In his Second Stage speech the Minister explained why the exemption of hunt clubs was not practical for reasons on which he received good advice. It is important that the legislation is effective and that it can be implemented.
I reject the insinuation that this is an attack on rural life or sporting activities. That is totally wrong. It is an inappropriate contribution to make. The amendment relates to whether one registers hunt clubs for the purpose of the Bill. We can talk about the legislation in general later but we are dealing with the amendment in particular. There is no basis to the argument that my non-acceptance of the amendment is an attack on rural life. That is generally accepted.
It is important that when the legislation is enacted it must be effective in its implementation and have the fundamental welfare of dogs at its core. That is what the legislation is about. I accept that all breeding establishments must therefore come within the remit of the legislation for inspection purposes. I know many hunting clubs. They are caring groups. The Roscommon Hunt was mentioned by Senator O'Reilly. It hunts on my family farm. I am not a member although it hunts in my area. Those people do their work well. They work on a voluntary basis to the highest standards. They do not have anything to fear from the legislation.
The Minister of State has not spoken to them, then.
What about the provision of names and addresses?
If the Minister of State spoke to them, they would inform him of their concerns.
The legislation will not place an undue burden on any of the hunt clubs. We should remember what the legislation is about, namely, the care and welfare of dogs. That is the fundamental reason for the legislation.
It is about breeding establishments.
We do not agree with that.
We have spent nearly an hour on this amendment alone.
The Minister of State did not address the publishing of the names and addresses of people involved in hunt club kennels, thus making them public. Other Members asked similar questions. Could we have a response? Is the Minister of State favourably disposed to leaving out the names and addresses of those who operate hunt club kennels, or at least not having them available for public consumption? If he responds favourably to that point we will consider not tabling an amendment on Report Stage. Questions have been posed to the Minister of State but we have had no indication of what he thinks on the issues.
I will be brief as we have given the amendment much time.
We have spent an hour on the amendment.
It is an important amendment in terms of commitments given by Ministers. We are seeking answers as to what or who influenced the change in stance by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
The Hunting Association of Ireland met officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in Wexford in November 2007. There was clear dialogue and consultation at that time. The understanding was that agreement had been reached with the Department's officials. A subsequent commitment was made in writing following the consultation between Ministers, namely, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern. The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, has given the impression that the Hunting Association of Ireland is happy with what has been a shifting of the goalposts at the last minute. We on this side of the House have a legitimate right and entitlement to question the Minister of State on what or who changed the views of the officials or the Minister. That is all we are asking.
Legitimate concerns have been raised by Senator Cummins on recorded criminals in other jurisdictions having influence in areas in which perhaps they should not have had. It is on the record that people are influencing this legislation. Senator Norris suggested they are in the minority. It seems that the minority is influencing legislation and the Minister to a great extent. The record speaks for itself. It is there in writing. That is why we are so exercised and why we have tabled the amendment. We are giving the issue the time it deserves. We deserve to get answers from the Minister and the officials in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on what essentially changed the fundamental agreements that were in place and committed to in writing between the Minister and the Hunting Association of Ireland. That is the fundamental reason I am concerned about it and I will put the amendment.
I would like to clarify that when I spoke about a minority, I was referring to the Animal Liberation Front and not any group lobbying——
It is influencing legislation.
I am not sure whether minorities or majorities were lobbying. I was lobbied by both sides. To a certain extent, I am supporting the Government against my own interest because I have been heavily briefed by opponents of the legislation, including in a rather interesting and intelligent letter from a constituent of mine, a Trinity graduate, who says he is very concerned about the impact that the Green Party is having on Government policy. It is perfectly legitimate for its members to have such an impact as there would not be much point in them being in Government if they did not. It is a measure of a civilised coalition when the parties listen to each other. That does not bother me but my constituent raised some interesting points. He states: "This piece of legislation is attempting to categorise hunt kennels under the same legislation as commercial breeding kennels."
We are on amendment No. 1.
I am well aware of that and this point is directly relevant. He continues:
Hunt kennels are very different, they are run on a not for profit basis, [I am sure the Chair can see now this is directly relevant] any hounds that are given to other clubs nationwide are gifted or drafted to other clubs and no money is exchanged. Similar legislation was put in place in various parts of the UK, including N Ireland, and all registered hunt clubs were exempt from this bill.
I was not aware of this previously and presumably there is a need for a wider explanation to be given in this area. My constituent has illustrated in the final line of this paragraph the reason for the shrill chorus of opposition because he is concerned that the Green Party is attempting to ban hunting through the back door. That is not what is happening, particularly in this Bill, but that is the fear. This fear, rather than any logical resistance to kennels being brought under the legislation, is what is at the back of this. There is an anxiety that this is the wedge in the door, which will lead to the banning of all forms of hunting. There are different views in the House on that but that is a matter for another day. I thought it would be honourable and appropriate to put this informed view by one of my constituents on the record, although that is another vote down the drain because I will vote with the Government.
I declared my interest on Second Stage in that I was a member of the Ward Union Hunt 20 years ago and I have received requests from its members to make a case on their behalf. They make a strong case that the hunting lobby was consulted, including themselves, and they understood they had a commitment from the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, and the current Minister but they now understand they have been let down.
There is concern that names and addresses of members will be published but there is a virulent anti-hunting lobby which has, in the past, behaved in a threatening and unacceptable manner and names should not be published on that basis.
The debate highlights that the Government should reconsider its proposal. Senator Norris is not enthusiastic about hunting but the issue raised by his constituent to which he referred is worthy of consideration. Kennels for hunt hounds were excluded in similar legislation in the UK and Northern Ireland. I can understand why the Government has included rather than excluded them but there is a difference between breeding dogs for hunting, which many may not approve of, and breeding puppies for sale, which is a serious problem, and that is why I support the general theme of the legislation.
There is a need for this legislation but it must go through in a way that is accepted. Anti-hunting legislation is likely to be introduced because the Green Party is determined to do so. Subsidiarity is a European Union concept. However, subsidiarity could be provided for in this legislation because decisions on such issues should be made at local level and individual county councils could make a decision for their area. If the people of Dublin do not want hunting, then there will not be hunting in Dublin. I doubt if there will be anyway but if the people of Meath or Kildare say it is a rural tradition that they would like to maintain, the local authorities can decide to ensure that happens. Hunt clubs should be excluded from the legislation and, therefore, I support the amendment.
The matter raised by a number of Senators was explained by the Minister on Second Stage.
It was not.
He made a long contribution on the matter and he explained the difficulties that would arise in implementing the regulations if there was an exemption. That was done following advice and due consideration.
The Bill is about the welfare of dogs and the amendment deals with hunt clubs. Many issues have been raised that are not related to the amendment. Registers and the use of names and addresses is covered in an amendment to section 8 while the local authority issue is subject of an amendment to section 16. Hunt clubs have nothing to fear from the legislation because, as every Member said, they run their operations in a humane way and they adhere to the highest standards. There will not be a financial imposition on them under the Bill. The issue is implementing the legislation properly and to do so, exemptions such as that being sought would create practical difficulties in the implementation of the regulations. The clubs have nothing to fear because they do their business well. It is a matter of regulation, inspection and the welfare of dogs and we are all agreed on that.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ross, Shane.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carroll, James.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.