Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012: Report and Final Stages
A Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Each amendment must be seconded.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 4 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 11, lines 10 and 11, to delete "necessary" and substitute "reasonable".
We are proposing to delete the word "necessary" and substitute the word "reasonable". We had a lengthy discussion on this issue on Committee Stage and I do not intend to go further into it today. What is the Minister's view?
Is there a seconder for the amendment?
Perhaps I can respond before the seconder arrives. To be helpful on this, we will not accept amendment No. 4. It relates to Part 3 which deals with animal welfare and the duty to protect it. Keeping the terminology "shall take all necessary steps" to prevent cruelty must remain as it is. With regard to amendment No. 1, it is not unreasonable to partially accept what the Senator is saying. We will retain the term "necessary" but add "and reasonable" after it. It would therefore read "take all necessary and reasonable measures". This is about preventing animals from straying, in other words, issues to do with fencing, maintaining order in fields and so forth. There may be instances of extreme weather conditions or if a dog has caused panic in a herd which subsequently knocks down a fence. The phrase, "taking all necessary measures", may be a bit to restrictive so I propose the introduction of the word, "reasonable". In the case of amendment No. 4 we think it should remain as tight and as strong as it is.
Amendment No. 1 falls.
Amendment No. 1 lapsed.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 11, line 19, after "kept" to insert the following:
"having regard to the potential of wind borne spread of disease or of protected or other species of wildlife spreading disease".
Diseases can be spread by wind-borne infections over fences onto land. This amendment was discussed on Committee Stage. I ask for the Minister's view.
I cannot accept this amendment because it is almost an impossible task to prevent straying in the context of wind-borne diseases or the spread of disease by wildlife. I am not convinced it is possible to meet that standard. I understand the reason for the amendment as a measure for control of wind-borne disease spores but asking a farmer or a keeper of animals to take preventative measures such as the containment of animals against straying is probably a step too far.
Amendment No. 2 will fall as it has not been seconded.
We are waiting for someone to attend the Chamber. We were trying to protect the farmer so that he or she would not be held liable in the event that the disease on the land may have come from a wind-borne source. I appreciate that the Minister cannot accept the amendment.
Amendment No. 2 lapsed.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 12, lines 20 and 21, to delete "he or she considers appropriate" and substitute "set out by the Minister".
This amendment deals with the authorised officer who may for the purposes of subsection (3) issue a permit and may attach such terms and conditions to it as he or she considers appropriate. Our amendment proposes to delete the words, "he or she considers appropriate" and substitute, "set out by the Minister". The authorised officer, for the purposes of subsection (3) could issue a permit and may attach such terms and conditions to it as would be set out by the Minister either in the legislation or by regulation. The authorised officer is left with a very wide choice. I ask the Minister to introduce a clearer instruction by way of regulation so that the authorised officer, the farming community and owners of animals would know exactly what issues would be dealt with in the permit. This is the purpose of the amendment.
To be clear, the purpose of this section of the Bill is to allow authorised officers to act quickly to prevent the spread of disease. We want to empower authorised officers to make a decision to issue a permit if appropriate without having to seek sanction from the Minister's office. I understand the Senator's request as being a belt and braces approach to ensure that permits are issued in line with Government policy or regulations but this should be the case anyway because authorised officers will be acting under a code of conduct. I do not wish to reduce the flexibility or timeliness of issuing a permit or a notice in response to a certain situation. I cannot accept the amendment.
Amendment No. 3 falls as there is no seconder.
Amendment No. 3 lapsed.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.
Amendment No. 5 will fall because there is no seconder. Does the Senator wish to discuss the amendment?
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 13, lines 23 and 24, to delete all words from and including "that" in line 23down to and including "suffering" in line 24 and substitute "appropriate to the animal species".
Yes. The amendment deals with the suffering of animals. The reasoning is to have regard to the animal's nature, type, species, breed, development and the environment.
The wording may have been improved already.
The current wording is what we were looking for in this amendment in that there is a recognition of the species.
Yes, the species issue is already catered for in line 19.
I am willing to accept that.
Amendment No. 5 lapsed.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 13, line 35, before "do," where it firstly occurs to insert "intentionally".
This amendment was discussed on Committee Stage. The prohibition on animal cruelty is referred to in the legislation which states that a person shall not do or fail to do anything or cause to permit anything to be done to an animal that causes injury. I ask the Minister to consider this amendment.
My concern with this proposed wording is that it may provide an excuse for neglect. Whether an action is deliberate or by mistake, if it causes unnecessary suffering there needs to be a consequence for such an action. The definition of "unnecessary suffering" is noted in the third line of the paragraph which the Senator proposes to amend. It is defined clearly on page 9 and this definition gives a judge in court an opportunity to make a judgment as to what is unnecessary suffering. We do not want people in defence of their actions to say they did not intend to cause suffering, that the action was not intentional. I do not wish to make light of it. It is difficult enough to be successful in court cases dealing with unnecessary cruelty. I want to have it clear that a person shall not do or fail to do anything that causes injury or unnecessary suffering to an animal.
Amendment No. 6 lapsed.
Amendments Nos. 7, 11 and 14 to 16, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 14, line 7, after "terrified" to insert the following:
"unless accepted as a normal farming activity/method".
Amendments Nos. 7, 11 and 14 to 16, inclusive, relate to normal farming practices. They provide for a distinction in the legislation between the owner of a budgerigar, fish tank, pet dog or cat and what would be described as normal farming practices for productive farming, that is, farmers who would be registered under a herd or flock number. Under the legislation the Minister is proposing to put codes of practice, which are voluntary codes at present, on a statutory footing. The Minister has said he will talk to the farming organisations about that. However, given that he is doing this under the legislation, does he believe that the words "normal farming or agricultural practices" could be included in the legislation? I am not sure if it can be done. Is there a legal issue if that wording was added or would it be acceptable?
We have put a great deal of thought into this since Committee Stage. One of the problems is that there is no definition for normal farm practice. In fact, it changes all the time. Last January, for example, a new set of animal welfare regulations relating to poultry was introduced by the EU, and next January there will be a new set of regulations relating to the pig industry and loose sow housing. There is a set of animal welfare requirements under cross compliance which does and will change from time to time. Therefore, I do not wish to tie our hands. If we insert the phrase "normal or necessary farm practices", we will have to try to define it at the start of the legislation because instantly there would be an issue about what the phrase means. We are trying to deal with it, but we will do so at the end of section 15 when we bring the legislation to the Dáil.
One of the issues farming organisations raised with us was the presentation of bulls at marts, for example, when they are led around by a chain for the purposes of showing or presentation. We are looking at inserting a new subsection (13) at the end of section 15 which would say something to the effect that nothing in subsection (1)(a) or (e) prevents the training of an animal by persons competent to train the animal on the premises where the animal is normally kept provided unnecessary suffering is not thereby caused to the animal, the public does not have access to the place where the training occurs and any activity involved in the training of the animal is not prohibited by animal health and welfare regulations. There was a concern that the breaking in of horses or the training of bulls for presentation at shows and so forth would be considered unreasonable in terms of unnecessary suffering, and trying to clarify that was difficult. We are proposing to insert a wording along those lines when the legislation is in the Dáil. That is about as far as we can go. Otherwise, we will create all sorts of other problems around the definition of acceptable or normal farm practices. To be honest, it would cause a headache that we will not be able to solve about a series of areas.
All these amendments deal with the same issue. We have tried to deal with the specific concern about bulls with a proposed amendment which we are considering introducing in the Dáil. Outside of that, however, we could create more problems than we would solve if we accepted these amendments. Nevertheless, I understand the thinking behind them.
I thank the Minister and acknowledge the thinking he has put into this. The example I gave on Committee Stage was trying to put a bull into a trailer, with the bull being tied or harnessed and getting excited and the farmer trying to keep the bull under control while protecting their own safety. The same situation would occur in a show ring where there are many people around. What the Minister said is practical and we support it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 14, line 21, to delete "or a code of practice".
This refers to the codes of practice relating to productive farming, which I mentioned a few minutes ago. The codes are in place at present on a voluntary basis. The difficulty is that when one speaks to a farmer about codes of practice they will say they have been doing this for years, they were reared on a farm and they know how to produce beef, herds of animals and flocks of sheep or lambs. We will not oppose codes of practice. There must be specific codes of practice, particularly for animals such as donkeys and horses, and I am sure this extends to horses and possibly racehorses, in addition to pets. The fact that there are existing voluntary codes of practice within the productive agricultural sector would suggest that hopefully they would not become more than that, but if the codes of practice are to be put on a statutory footing it would be important that the Minister consult with the farming organisations before doing that. I am sure that is his intention, to try to arrive at some type of generic agreement on it rather than introducing a statutory code and getting farmers' backs up and making them unduly concerned. The inclusion of the codes of practice in the legislation give them a stronger legal footing which would mean that if one is in non-compliance with a code of practice, one would be in breach of the legislation.
Including the term "code of practice" here is to allow a farmer to have a defence if they are accused of doing something that is unnecessarily cruel or whatever. If they can show that their farming practice is consistent with the code of practice that has been agreed, it could be an argument in their defence. Rather than it being a problem, the opposite might well be the case. As I have said repeatedly, before we propose any new codes of practice or conduct regarding animal welfare we will have quite broad consultation. I have consultation on a regular basis with the farming organisations on a series of matters and this would not be any different.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 9, 10, 32 and 33 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 14, line 30, to delete "reasonable grounds" and substitute "evidence".
These amendments seek to substitute "evidence" for "reasonable grounds". I have tabled this amendment again although I accepted what the Minister said on Committee Stage, that the authorised officers need teeth and the wherewithal to be able to go into a premises without the necessity of having evidence. They need the freedom to do that. However, an authorised officer will be appointed by the Minister under the legislation, a local authority or an appointed organisation, which could potentially be an animal health or welfare organisation that has a service level agreement with the Department.
The fear in farming circles is that an inspector could have an issue with one or two farmers and arrive at their farms unduly without evidence, citing reasonable grounds for inspection. While this is not the intention of the legislation, it may be the interpretation of some officers.
I accepted the position of the Minister on Committee Stage but resubmitted the amendment in order to have further discussion. I am not sure whether the Minister will be willing to consider my proposal when he brings the legislation to the Dáil in the autumn, thereby making the distinction again between pets and animals on productive farms. Farmers fear they will receive an undue number of inspections from authorised officers claiming to be acting on reasonable grounds rather than on the basis of evidence. I appreciate that an officer needs to have flexibility in regard to inspections. My amendment may be a little too crude. Is there a compromise that could be reached?
The answer lies in how we choose and train authorised officers and the code of standards by which they operate. Consider the case of somebody using the animal welfare helpline to inform the Department he has seen real evidence of severe cruelty in a house or garden down the road and that he wants an inspector to investigate. As far as I am concerned, this presents reasonable grounds for an inspector to knock on the householder's door, state there has been a complaint and request a discussion, as opposed to having to gather evidence whereby people with cameras would have to take photographs through hedges, for example. That is not what we want, either for animal welfare organisations, concerned citizens or farmers.
Some of the grouped amendments pertain to taking action to prevent disease outbreak. If there are reasonable grounds, but no evidence per se, to suspect a significant disease problem on a farm is being covered up or that bodies are being buried to cover-up acts of cruelty or starvation, based on the report of a farm worker, it ought to be possible to take some action quickly to prevent the spread of disease or extreme cruelty, as in the case of malnutrition. I want our officers to be able to make decisions early to deal with the problem. If they make a mistake, there needs to be a code of practice to deal with it. The decision-making process needs to be structured. Ultimately, it is a question of getting really good authorised officers, maintaining standards and training the officers to behave in a professional way, be it on the farm or other private or commercial property. This is what we will try to do. We would weaken the thrust of the legislation if we required all action to be based on evidence. The problem in the past was that one had to gather evidence before taking action, thus resulting in unnecessary and frustrating delays. If we do give the proposed powers to authorised officers, it is important that they operate according to a pretty strict code of standards.
I agree with the Minister's statement that the crux of the matter pertains to how authorised officers fulfil their duties. It is a question of their appointment. From my interpretation of the legislation, there are three ways in which an authorised officer can be appointed, namely, through the Minister, through the local authority structure or through a welfare organisation. Which organisations does the Minister have in mind? One could end up having authorised officers appointed all over the place by different organisations, such as local authorities and welfare organisations. I would much prefer to see authorised officers appointed only by the Minister or Department. Those who know something about agriculture and who are dealing with it daily are in the Department. I propose that there be departmental or ministerial appointment rather than local authority autonomy in the appointment of authorised officers. The fear is that the local authorities, given the financial constraints they are under, may use appointment as a money-raising exercise rather than a means of ensuring animal welfare.
That is a fair point. I envisage that, from an agricultural perspective, there will not be any change to existing practice. Departmental veterinarians who understand farming and agricultural practice will be involved. Veterinarians have varying levels of experience and qualifications. If one is to carry out a farm inspection, one needs to understand how farming, livestock management and husbandry work, and one must have an understanding of all the associated regulations.
I would like to see veterinary nurses having a role with regard to animal cruelty outside the farm setting. Legislation was finalised this year giving more recognition to the qualifications of veterinary nurses. The standards applying to that category have been improved in recent years. There is an opportunity to include some veterinary nurses. In limited circumstances, we should consider service agreements with organisations that have a proven track record in animal welfare, including the ISPCA and, perhaps, the Dogs Trust. We would need to sit down with these organisations and be absolutely satisfied that the kinds of people who will become authorised officers will have the necessary experience, qualifications and judgment to make consistent decisions, as opposed to decisions driven by ideology or what may be very well-meaning views.
Ultimately, we must operate according to a code of standards consistent with the legislation we are now passing. We require very consistent application of the law by all the authorised officers. There are many very qualified and experienced staff already inspecting, acting upon and reporting on animal welfare cases. It would be a waste to ignore the skill set of many of the experienced staff and not to have them as authorised officers working with us. I assure the Senator I will be quite cautious in putting in place the service level agreements. It is important that we do not undermine the credibility of authorised officers generally by employing one or two people who will give the whole service a name it does not deserve. A balance must be struck but I assure the Senator I am very sensitive to it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 10 to 16, inclusive, not moved.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 23, lines 12 and 13, to delete "acting as such" and substitute ", competentknackery personnel".
This concerns the humane destruction of animals. Section 23 indicates that an authorised officer or veterinary practitioner should carry out this action, setting out when it should be done if an animal is fatally or severely injured, where it would prevent the animal from further suffering. We are raising the issue because of cost, as knackery personnel could be given the scope to do the act.
Section 23(2) states, "If an authorised officer, a veterinary practitioner acting as such or a person specified in animal health and welfare regulations", and knackery personnel are professionals. They deal with the issue on a daily basis and they could be allowed to put down an animal and put it out of its suffering if an animal is fatally injured. In west Connemara or west Donegal there may be very few vets on the ground. If an animal became injured on a farm, a vet could be on the other side of the county and it could take him or her half a day to return. An animal could be suffering unnecessarily in that time.
It is important to clarify a few issues. This section was the subject of quite a bit of discussion on Second Stage. Section 23(1) covers the concern that has been outlined and expressed to me by farming organisations, whereby if farmers cannot get a vet or cannot afford a vet, if it is a fairly straightforward case of an animal breaking a leg and suffering, and it is possible to get somebody from a knackery quickly who is more than competent in putting an animal down, it should be facilitated. That is covered by "Subject to this section, a person shall not kill a protected animal or cause or permit another person to kill a protected animal, unless the person killing the animal is competent to kill it in accordance with animal health and welfare regulations (if any) and does so in such manner as to inflict as little suffering as possible in the circumstances". That includes knackery personnel as they are competent in such action.
Subsection (2) includes the clause "he or she may, without having to seek the consent of its owner or the person in control of it, kill the animal or cause the animal to be killed or destroyed in such manner as to inflict as little suffering as possible". That concerns somebody who can make a decision to put down an animal without even talking to the owner or a person in charge. In those circumstances we have indicated that an authorised officer, a veterinary practitioner acting as such or a person specified in animal health and welfare regulations with an opinion that an animal can be put down can do so.
In other words, if somebody rings a vet saying there has been an accident on the road and a car has crashed into a bullock, with the animal lying on the road very badly injured, in much pain, and nobody can find the owner, the vet can put down the animal. In essence, he or she can make the judgment call. We have not specifically named knackery personnel as part of that list because it is a different category involving an authorised officer or vet. We have the capacity to be able to put in knackery personnel as part of the animal welfare regulations at a later stage if we wish to do so.
The main concern here is for farmers who have to put down an animal and do not want to have to go through the expense of calling a vet if it is a fairly straightforward procedure, as they can get somebody from the knackery yard to do it. Alternatively, farmers can do it themselves if they are competent. That is allowed for in the first subsection. We may have confused matters and although I know what the Senator is proposing, we are dealing with a separate issue, and people do not have a problem with it.
Would the owner of an abattoir be covered under section 23(1) or 23(2)? It would probably be section 23(1).
I do not see why they would not. That is a case of humane destruction of an animal. The Bill applies to all cases and not just the farmyard. Such action may be required at a show, in an abattoir or a person's back yard. There is no distinction made between farming and non-farming activity.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 23, line 36, after "injured" to insert "or diseased".
I will not press the amendment but I understand the Minister will consider this matter again. The various paragraphs in the section refer to "severely injured or diseased" animals but subsection (4) refers only to animals which are "injured" and there is no reference to an animal that is diseased. This is a concern about consistency throughout the section. I understand the Minister has a view and although we will withdraw the amendment, the Minister might suggest a compromise.
I second the amendment but I am agreeable to what has been outlined. We had discussions with the officials and there may be a compromise on the issue.
I can see what the Senators are saying. The subsection states: "Nothing in this section prevents the occasional killing by or on behalf of the owner of an individual protected animal that is injured." There is a distinction between that and the subject of 23(2)(b), whereby, essentially, a person comes across an animal that is in a particularly bad way, either injured or diseased and dying. The person would be putting the animal out of suffering. Subsection (4) is essentially about occasional killing or making a decision to put down an animal.
I do not want to allow a farmer to put down a diseased animal to try to hide the fact that there may be a disease outbreak in the herd. If a farmer had an animal with BSE and did not want to declare it, he or she might put it down and bury it. A farmer would be able to put down such an animal and bury it if it broke its leg, and that would be perfectly consistent with regulations. However, it would not be consistent with regulations to put down an animal that had a disease. The issue is trying to make a distinction between an injured animal that is dying and an animal that has a disease. We do not want to put in place a charter for farmers to hide the fact that there is a disease outbreak in a herd. That is the distinction between the two paragraphs.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 26, to delete lines 3 to 26.
Both of these amendments relate to the animal health levies. What is being looked at here are additional charges on farmers, which is not welcome in the industry. Without going into any great detail, will the Minister outline what levies are to be anticipated and what the additional costs would be? These costs could potentially be set by regulations. The Minister will know, particularly in the current climate, that farmers are finding it exceptionally difficult to survive. In my county and along the west of Ireland many animals are housed inside because the land is so wet. Perhaps the land is better in the east and in Cork but in the north west from where Senator Comiskey and I come and in Cavan from where Senator Wilson comes it is very wet and the animals are in.
I believe the rainfall has been higher in Cork than in Donegal.
Perhaps, for a change. The purpose of tabling these amendments relates to costs. I am very concerned about a possible increase in costs for farmers as a result of animal health levies being introduced. I am not sure what the costs will be, but according to section 26 they will include milk received for processing and animals slaughtered in an establishment registered or approved, or acquired to be registered or approved, for the purposes of an act adopted by an institution of the European Union. I assume this means slaughter houses in the State. It also includes live exports. Charges on farmers already exist but the animal health levy is a new departure. What will the increased cost be and how will it be borne out? In the Minister's view how will it affect farmers?
The sections are a reflection of the existing legislation, which is the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act 1979. It gives the Minister or any future Minister the power to introduce a new levy should he or she deem it appropriate in new areas in animal health and disease control. It also puts in place a number of requirements to be met by the Minister before he or she can do so. Where a Minister proposes to make regulations under this section a draft of the regulations should be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and the regulations shall not be made until the resolution approving the draft has been passed by each House. It is also clear that any Minister who wants to introduce a new regulation to introduce a new levy will have to do so with the industry as otherwise a series of non-compliance issues will arise.
Consider the process with regard to introducing a financing mechanism for the new dairy quality assurance scheme we intend to introduce over the next 12 to 18 months. A huge amount of consultation has taken place with all of the stakeholders, including processors, the Irish Dairy Board, the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society and farming organisations. There is no question of this legislation when it is enacted resulting in increased costs for farmers. It will give a Minister power at a future point in time to introduce a new levy under certain conditions and he or she will have to go through the necessary consultation to do so, certainly from a political point of view.
Section 26 is about the levy itself and section 28, which Senator O'Domhnaill also proposes to delete, is about the mechanism for payment and its implementation. Quite frankly I think we would be mad not to give a Minister the power to introduce new levies if it was deemed appropriate to do so at some stage in the future. To give an example, at present I am being asked to introduce a pig levy to fund research into pig breeding and efficiency in pig farming by Teagasc. The industry is asking me to do this. We must have the power to be able to introduce a statutory levy and a legal mechanism to do so. This does not mean I will try to ask farmers to pay a lot more. However, the mechanism must be there legally to allow me do so if it makes sense. Sometimes the industry will not be overly happy about it but it may be necessary. In other instances the industry may ask for it because it wants to see money being collected to be spent on developing new markets, quality control, disease control or research. There must be some law and structure on the introduction of a statutory levy, and this is updated in the Bill given everything else that we are doing. Politically if one wants to be unhelpful one can paint this as the Minister threatening to introduce a set of levies but most of us know it would be political suicide to do so without a consultation process. It is not how the industry works in Ireland. It is in other countries but not here. We are putting in place a legal framework for future decisions that would be justified and laid before the Houses for comment and approval before they are introduced.
Senator Ó Domhnaill, in the interests of being helpful.
Absolutely. I listened carefully to the Minister and I do not for one minute dispute what he said. However, when any Minister of the day, even one from my party in the future, decides to introduce a levy and, after signing a regulation, lays it before the Houses of the Oireachtas and seeks the approval of the Dáil and Seanad, the Members on the Government side will have to support the Minister. I did not table any amendments to section 27 which states that a person shall not export an animal live from the State unless before export he or she pays the amount of outstanding animal health levy payable to the Minister. I do not suggest that over the next 18 months or two years the Minister will do this, but his successors in the following years may decide on the basis of this legislation to blame a previous Minister and state he or she was afforded the function of tabling animal health levies under the legislation.
The legislation is in place already. We are merely updating it.
It is different. The Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act 1979 did not place obligations with regard to the exportation of cattle as I understand it. Is it possible to get clarification on this? Perhaps this is the case. I would like clarification on the exact fees in place at present and what are the anticipated increases.
There are no anticipated increases because we do not propose an increase. We propose a legal framework to allow a Minister to make a decision in the area if he or she wishes to with regard to a disease levy. To be clear, the receipts for 2011 for the bovine disease levy and compensation amounted to €5.67 million. On-farm market valuation compensation for 2011 amounted to €13.781 million and add-on compensation schemes for 2011 amounted to €2.873 million. I need to check with regard to the figures for compensation but I would say it is compensation for farmers with disease outbreaks.
A levy scheme is in place at present. We have levies in factories with regard to the contribution to the work of Bord Bia for the meat industry. There is also a series of levies in the dairy industry. This is not a new concept. The 1979 Act covers the issue raised by Senator Ó Domhnaill with regard to bovine slaughter and bovine export. I would not like to mislead people. This legislation modernises the 1979 Act and gives powers to the Minister to be able to introduce additional levies around animal health if he or she wants to do so. The idea that we would not give a Minister the power to do that would be extraordinary. It is a political call for a Minister to make that decision but to prevent a Minister from having the flexibility to introduce levies as a way to prevent levies from being introduced at some stage in the future goes against what we all stand for, which is to try to give the political system the power to be able to make decisions, as appropriate.
I do not want to press the amendment but I am not reassured. I know what the Minister is saying and the clarification was helpful but it is a question of additional charges. I will not press the amendment but I will have another look at it and get my colleague in the Dáil to table an amendment because I know time is against us. I would be very concerned that if additional charges were imposed on farmers, it would create difficulties. I am not suggesting charges will come in by way of this legislation but a Minister, some time in the future, will have the power to use his or her discretion by way of regulation. That is where the difficulty lies. I will not press the amendment. We will hold our counsel and re-word the amendment so that it can be tabled in the Dáil.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 20 not moved.
Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 28, line 26, to delete "identified" and substitute "possible to identify".
This amendment relates to the destruction and disposal of animals. It proposes to delete the word "identified" and substitute the words "possible to identify". The section would then read that it is not possible to identify the animal in accordance with animal health and welfare regulations. Amendment No. 22 proposes to delete the words "is not accompanied by" and substitute the words "it is not possible to provide". That relates to the records.
I do not propose to accept these amendments. I do not know why the Senator is introducing this unnecessary level of doubt. If an animal cannot be identified, then the Minister should have the power to destroy it rather than have the terminology proposed that if it is not possible to identify an animal, then the Minister may have the power. One would have to have a discussion and argument about whether it is possible to identify the animal, which could involve taking DNA samples and blood tests and trying trace an animal back to where it may have come from in a previous herd.
What we are talking about here is the smuggling of animals and animals which have had the tags taken out of their ears, in some cases deliberately while in others, not deliberately. We have to be able to respond to the potential spread of disease if we do not know where an animal has come from and we cannot identity the owner rather than have to go through a rigmarole of trying to establish whether it is possible to identify the animal. The Minister should be able to make a call on this.
I to some extent understand what the Senator is saying, that there should be an onus to establish whether it is possible to identify an animal. In case there is a concern here, this will not be a case of the Minister putting down a sheep in Sligo which has had the tag pulled out of its ear in a hedge and where nobody can identify it. There needs to be a reason for these things.
Section 30 states that the Minister may direct that an animal be killed or that a carcass, animal product, animal feed or other thing be destroyed or disposed of where, in the opinion of the Minister, it is affected with a disease or a disease agent or it may be or is suspected of being affected with a disease or a disease agent. This is about trying to stop the spread of disease in the case of an outbreak primarily. If an animal is wandering down the road and nobody knows who owns it, we need to be able to destroy it, if that is appropriate. The certainty in the language currently is much better than what is proposed.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 22 not moved.
Amendment No. 23 has been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue. Amendment No. 24 is also out of order.
Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.
Amendments Nos. 25 to 28, inclusive, and amendment No. 30 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 29, line 46, to delete "one or more persons as valuers" and substitute "a panel of valuers".
This amendment relates to the panel of valuers. We had a lengthy enough discussion on the independence of the valuation panel on Committee Stage. We spoke about the need to give the applicant or the farmer the opportunity to select his or her own valuer from a wide and varied list from the Department rather than a list of two or three valuers. I recall vividly the Minister's response. I am not sure if it is an area which could be looked at. The Minister suggested some tweaking at the time, so I am not sure if there is anything he can do.
We are trying to put in place a wording to reflect the conversation we had and to try to get the balance right between putting in place a fair system of valuation and assessment, which does not take a long time and ensures people get paid, but which is not a situation where the farmer chooses his or her valuer. In the vast majority of cases, I am sure there would be no problem with that but we do not want to leave anybody open to the accusation that he or she is choosing a friend to value his or her animals. Rather than trying to deal with these amendments one by one, I propose that we look at changing the section more fundamentally. I have a proposed wording which is not perfect but explains what we are at. It states that the Minister may, by regulation under this section, provide for the manner in which a valuer or an arbitrator is chosen to act in a particular case whether by lot, by agreement, by the applicant or by the Minister, or by another method the Minister may prescribe in a regulation; the time limits within which a valuation or part valuation process is to be completed; the consequences of failure to comply with the time limit provided for the regulations; and such incidental supplementary and consequential provisions as appear to the Minister to be necessary for the purposes of regulation.
In other words, we are trying not to put a hard and fast structure in place. What is proposed in the Bill is that the Minister chooses the panel of valuers and the person from the panel who values. If there is an appeal, the Minister chooses the appeals officers and if it goes to arbitration, the Minister also chooses the arbitration officer. There was a sense that farmers may feel hard done by if an officer or a valuer who is chosen happens to be somebody with whom they have a difficulty. It may be more appropriate to deal with it under regulation than in hard and fast law. We are looking at that with an open mind before the Bill comes to the Dáil.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 26 to 28, inclusive, not moved.
Amendment No. 29 is out of order.
Amendments Nos. 29 to 33, inclusive, not moved.
Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 39, line 42, to delete "District Court" and substitute "Minister".
My amendment is on animal health and welfare notices and appeals and refers to section 42(2)(b) where an appeal notice can be lodged with the District Court. The other Senators and I suggest that it can be made to the Minister instead of availing of the legal process. We discussed the matter the other day. We all know that the courts are jammed because so many people are taking cases, for example, against insurance companies. If one talks to anyone in the legal profession they will say the same. I do not have a legal background but we all know that the courts are clogged up.
Making a provision where people must lodge their appeal with the District Court means they must deal with a logjam and a financial burden. We propose, under sections 43(1) and 42(2)(b), that appeals should be lodged with the office of the Minister. The other day we suggested that an independent appeals office could be established to deal with them but perhaps that would impose an unnecessary cost on the State. For example, the social welfare appeals office is in free fall which is shameful because there are 35,000 appeals in its system. I do not suggest that the same will happen in this instance. If the criteria for a genuine case was laid down then a person could interpret that information and present his or her written appeal to the Minister’s office where he or she could then make a determination. We all hope that the Minister’s office would not be left with thousands of appeals. Obviously one or two of the Minister’s officials would have to lead the section. My suggestion is sensible and would also give the Minister an independent oversight when dealing with the legislation.
I am not sure how the Minister views my suggestion. An appeals unit in the Department is important and I am reluctant to support a District Court process because of its cost and heavy workload.
Following the debate on Committee Stage I have educated myself on the system. On the last occasion I talked about the theory behind it but I had not realised that existing compliance notices are given to farmers by authorised officers in order to keep cases out of the courts. The whole point of a welfare notice, or a compliance notice as they are currently called, is to keep people out of the courts and solve problems without imposing fines in a heavy handed manner. At present farmers in receipt of a compliance notice can lodge an appeal with the District Court if they feel they have been unfairly treated. There are only three or four appeals per year so the number involved is small.
I propose to extend the provision beyond farms. From a farmer's point of view the system will stay the same and compliance notices will become welfare notices when it is a welfare issue. There are other issues around compliance that are not welfare related. The idea of setting up a separate appeals body in my Department, even in my office, would mean that a second person would have to carry out an inspection and talk to farmers. Every time a welfare notice is issued an appeal will be lodged in the majority of cases. It will be almost on a routine basis. If there is no cost incurred then people will automatically lodge an appeal when they feel slightly hard done by and the work involved will be doubled just for the same outcome. The social welfare appeals system makes it so easy for people to lodge an appeal that they automatically avail of the option and is one of the reasons that the system is clogged. Therefore, a large number of appeals are lodged leading to the system being clogged. This creates a large amount of work and reassessment often for the same outcome. I am anxious for that not to happen in this instance.
The best way to deal with appeals is through a code of conduct adhered to by my Department's authorised officers. It would outline their behaviour and how they should interact with farmers or anyone else that they must issue welfare notices to. If people object strongly then it would start a conversation that would involve, potentially, a more senior district vet. For example, if there was a real uncertainty about a welfare notice being fair, or resulted in questioning and protest, our authorised officers could try to reflect that in their behaviour or seek a second opinion. To put in place a free formal appeals process that does not involve the District Court will mean that somebody somewhere, whether that is in my office, a local authority office or anywhere else, will have to reassess the entire case and start all over again. A welfare notice is a short and sharp intervention. I liken it to giving someone a yellow card and a warning. It tells people that they should not do something, the corrections that must be made, that if they are carried out the notice will be forgotten but, if not, court proceedings will follow. The idea of having a free appeals system would mean that people would shut their door in the face of an authorised officer and say that they will appeal the notice whatever it states.
In most cases I would support a quick appeals process but creating one here would generate a lot of extra work for ourselves and undermine a welfare notice where its aim is to talk to somebody and correct animal welfare issues through discussion. I have changed my mind on the issue having examined the compliance notice system and I am comfortable in my belief that we do not need a separate appeals system. It would generate more delays and a lot more work. If people feel hard done by then the authorised officers will reflect that in their own behaviour and perhaps seek a second opinion. If there is a real disagreement then a person can resort to the District Court.
I thank the Minister for his explanation. As I said the other week, the Department of Social Protection is probably a bad example. Unfortunately, genuine applicants are being refused, even cancer patients. In Donegal the other week I discovered that a cancer patient had been refused a disability allowance even though he is dying and is in St. Luke's Hospital. He lodged an appeal but that will take six months. Sadly, he may not be alive to hear the result of his appeal. There is a difficulty with the case and it is not something that happened overnight.
The thinking behind my amendment was that a District Court appeal may be beneficial but there are lots of negatives too. Many people will apply and there are only seven days to lodge an appeal on receipt of a welfare notice. Let us bear in mind that people will also apply for free legal aid. The notices cover farm animals and domestic pets. Some of these people will apply for free legal aid and unemployed people with animals may qualify for same. Such measures will cost the State a lot more because people will lodge appeals when they know that they can receive free legal aid. People have only seven days to lodge an appeal and the District Court hearing will involve a wait of between six to nine months. It takes that length of time for an appeal to be heard in the northern District Court circuit. People will use that delay as a defence in the meantime and that will also delay justice. A simple, pragmatic straightforward appeals system operated by the Minister's office with results given within three or four weeks would mean a much faster process and cost a lot less to the Exchequer. It might cost the Department more but overall it would cost a lot less. The judge is already employed and staff are present. The court will be sitting but will deal with additional cases. The vast majority of farmers are in compliance because they want to produce the best quality stock they can. The Bill has been extended to cover a multitude of pets and other animals, and rightly so. In the past week a donkey was abused whose owner claims was not abused, but that person would be potentially eligible for free legal aid and could take a case in the District Court. The legal costs would add up and I am afraid of adding to legal expenses. I will not put my amendment to a vote, but I ask the Minister to reflect and take another look at this matter.
Let us be clear. If somebody appeals this decision to the Minister's office, in all likelihood we will have the same result if there is consistency. They will appeal the decision to the District Court. One could have a similar case to that outlined by the Senator, a difficult individual who should not be minding animals abusing a donkey. An authorised officer may go in and issue a notice, outlining the need to change behaviour, and stating the person will be taken to court if the behaviour does not change. In some cases, an authorised officer may confiscate the animal if he thinks the person or persons are not capable of changing their behaviour. There have been cases of people with a mental illness who are not capable of minding animals. One can issue welfare notices, but the behaviour will not change. Authorised officers must be able to act and seize animals in those circumstances. What we are discussing is whether the Minister must put in place a secondary round of assessment that is linked to his office and is accessed free of charge. This would necessitate the Minister sending an official to places such as Caherciveen or up to Donegal to investigate what an authorised officer has been trained to inspect and make a judgment on. It would be more practical to be able to discuss with an authorised officer how to deal with a case where people feel they are hard done by and perhaps get a second opinion locally before confirming the welfare notice. Ultimately the likelihood of the Department overturning a decision from an authorised officer is low. A person who feels he has been treated unfairly after making the second appeal will go to court. It is unlikely that a person who is abusing animals will want to go to court. That is the reason that we have so few appeals on the current compliance notices. Farmers are delighted to take the compliance notice and implement it because they want the issue to go away.
A person would want to feel really hard done by to go to court. I do not think an appeal system to the Minister will solve that, but we will create a significant headache and potential lobbying of the Minister on individual welfare incidents on farms or in commercial settings. This would create an unnecessary layer of work and undermine the work of our authorised officers. Where there is a strong protest or objection from a person who has been the subject of an inspection and welfare notice by an authorised officer, that can be dealt with through the code of conduct for authorised officers. I think an official appeal mechanism that is free of charge will just delay justice.
Is the Senator pressing the amendment?
Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 35 has already been discussed with amendment No. 34. Is the Senator pressing the amendment?
Yes. I move amendment No. 35:
In page 41, lines 46 and 47, to delete all words from and including "judge" in line 46 down to and including "district" in line 47 and substitute "Minister".
Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 36 not moved.
Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 have been ruled out of order.
Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 not moved.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."
I thank Senators for their interaction and co-operation. This is a major Bill, with some complex elements. The debate in the Seanad has exposed some weaknesses which I think we will improve on in the Dáil. It was very worthwhile to introduce it in the Seanad and we have had good interaction on a series of issues. I hope that my response to them was satisfactory.
I thank my officials — Mark Winkelmann, Dermot Murphy and John Moloney — who are the architects of this legislation. They have done a really good job. I look forward to bringing it to the Dáil. I may return to the Seanad to discuss the changes made in the Dáil. I hope to have the legislation finalised before the end of the year.
Go raibh maith agat. I compliment the Minister on the manner in which he has dealt with the amendments we tabled. We approached all Stages of the debate in a constructive and engaging manner, bearing in mind that this is a very important Bill to protect pets and animals on the farm and in the home.
I commend the Minister and his officials Mark Winkelmann, Dermot Murphy and John Moloney on the work they have done on the Bill. The Minister has shown a willingness to accept amendments where he saw fit to do so. A number of issues remain to be teased out in the other House. The general thrust of the Bill is important for the country as a whole. We have seen evidence of the abuse of animals and the devastation caused by the negligence of individuals. It is important to put animal welfare on a statutory footing. It is also important that the welfare organisations that protect animals have a role.
We really appreciate that the Minister was willing to discuss all the amendments and accept our viewpoints.
I thank the Ministers and his officials. We had almost nine hours of debate on this. Coming from a farming background, I know that in 99.9% of cases farm animals and pets are very well looked after but we must legislate for the cases where they are not.
I thank the Minister. We will miss the almost-weekly instalments of the Animal Health and Welfare Bill, which has become almost a fixture in the Seanad in the last while, but a very valuable one.
We are grateful to the Minister for bringing the Bill to the Seanad first. It has been a fine example not just of how the Seanad can operate, but also of how the legislative process can be very a co-operative, open and transparent business. The Minister has co-operated with all of us and we have tried to raise as many issues as possible with him. His officials have been very much a public part of that process which is very welcome because often there is a feeling that officials are hidden. We do not see the work they do or the effort they put in to the development of legislation and so we are particularly grateful to them. I commend the Minister on his efforts and his personal commitment to this Bill as well as on his command of the brief.
Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 3.20 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.