I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, back to the House. This item was to be taken at 12.45 p.m. It is not actually going to adjourn at 2 p.m. if not previously concluded. It will keep going on until we dispose of it. That is the apparent-----
Greyhound Racing Bill 2018: Committee Stage (Resumed)
Are we taking Report Stage at the same time?
No, we will finish Committee Stage today as opposed to adjourning debate at 2 p.m. if we have not finished. The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 will be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 and will adjourn at 5 p.m. if not previously concluded.
We are dealing with section 26. Amendment No. 7 was being discussed. Senator Ruane was in possession. We now have a couple of extra amendments. In addition to amendments Nos. 7 to 16, inclusive, we now have 10a and 13a, all of which are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I thank the Minister of State for being back in the Seanad today and also for making himself available to discuss the Bill yesterday. It was useful and I hope it will help us move through the Bill more quickly today. As I was mid-speech when we reported progress the last time, I am not going to repeat what I said. I will just finish commenting on the amendments from the point at which I was stopped. We were discussing amendments Nos. 7 to 16, inclusive, and I had dealt with those as far as No. 15.
Amendment No. 16 inserts a criminal penalty for those who break regulations issued in the interests of the welfare of racing greyhounds under section 29. A criminal penalty is retained for cases where regulations under section 26, which relates to the artificial insemination of greyhounds, are broken. Someone who violates the health and welfare regulations, however, is only subject to a racing penalty. We seek to strengthen this section of the Bill by giving real teeth to the regulations and to make the Bill more uniform.
Amendments Nos. 7 to 16, inclusive, taken together are intended to strengthen and work with the provisions of the Bill as written and as they relate to the welfare of greyhounds. They are intended to be constructive and I hope the Minister of State will give them serious consideration.
If Senator Ruane wishes to speak on amendments Nos. 10a or 13a, she should do so now.
I welcome the Minister of State back again. I support the amendment, which I think is important. There were a number of grouped amendments but I refer to amendment No. 7, which impels the board to ensure that this issue is dealt with rather than allowing it to deal with the issue casually or selectively. The reputational damage of the drugs issue in the greyhound industry has gone worldwide. It has been written about as far away as Australia and the US. It needs to be tidied up. That is why I support this amendment. The board has an obligation to bring the highest levels of integrity back into the Irish greyhound industry. Its reputation has been tarnished with all sorts of issues around drugs. There are other issues but the drugs issue in particular has tarnished the industry's reputation.
This is a wonderful industry. There are many people who have dogs, who breed dogs and who race dogs but, unfortunately, the introduction of drugs into the sport has created an elite tier within the greyhound industry. This means that the prize money is very often beyond the reach of the ordinary owners and breeders. That may or may not be true, but it is certainly the perception among grassroots owners and breeders. While that perception remains, there will be no incentive for people to stay in the industry or for new or young people to enter into the sector. That needs to be dealt with and that is why I support the amendment. We are all on the one page here. We are trying to strengthen and protect the industry and to make sure that its integrity is improved. Making sure that this legislation is as strong as possible only helps that. That is what Senator Ruane is trying to do here and that is why I support it.
I thank Senators Ruane and Ó Domhnaill for the amendments. I hope it was helpful to have time outside of the Chamber to discuss some of the concerns.
I propose to address amendments Nos. 7 to 16, inclusive, together. With regard to amendments Nos. 7 to 10, inclusive, 11 to 13, inclusive, and 15, I am opposed in principle to compelling Rásaíocht Con Éireann to make regulations. The provisions set out here are enabling provisions, not all of which may be required to be made at this time. By necessity this is an exhaustive list of the principles and policies for which Rásaíocht Con Éireann may wish to regulate. It was never intended that Rásaíocht Con Éireann would necessarily make regulations in respect of all of these provisions in the immediate future, but rather that these provisions would future-proof the legislation so that, should it become necessary or desirable to regulate those matters in future, Rásaíocht Con Éireann would have the power to do so. Different policy considerations may arise with regard to whether such legislation is necessary or desirable in the future. In particular, regulations would also have to be examined to determine their compatibility with other domestic and European law. The discretionary nature of the regulation-making power is essential to ensure there is no conflict with other legislation. For these reasons it would clearly not be appropriate to impose an obligation on Rásaíocht Con Éireann to make regulations in respect of all of the matters set out in the Bill.
With particular reference to the proposed section 29(1)(e), which makes provision for the health and welfare of racing greyhounds that have been retired by the owner, we discussed the issue of retirement provisions with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. The advice received was that the term "retirement" was subjective and that it would not be possible therefore to regulate or enforce this provision. The point was made that the difference between a retired greyhound and a greyhound that is not racing at present is unclear. This matter can best be dealt with through the addition of specific guidelines on retirement in the board's existing code of practice for the welfare of greyhounds.
Amendment No. 10a obliges the owner, breeder and trainer of a greyhound to provide details of the keeper of a greyhound to the board. The previous wording only obliged the owner to provide this information. The purpose of this amendment is to enhance traceability further. I am addressing the purpose of amendment No. 14 through an amendment of my own, No. 13a. I believe my amendment addresses Senator Ruane's concerns. The new wording makes it clear that the owner, breeder or trainer of a racing greyhound must comply with regulations made by the board for the protection of the health and welfare of the greyhound and requires that the owner, breeder or trainer inform the board of the measures being taken.
With regard to amendment No. 16, animal health and welfare is governed by the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. This Act imposes criminal penalties for breaches of animal welfare requirements. The purpose of section 29 of this Bill is to provide for Rásaíocht Con Éireann to regulate welfare in accordance with its own system of administrative sanctions in the limited and specific circumstances in which it may be appropriate to do so, having regard to the extensive powers already granted to the Minister and his authorised officers under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. Such regulations will accordingly require careful consideration. When examining the draft legislation it is very easy to lose sight of the bigger picture while involved in the detail of the Bill. It is important to recall that the rules established under the 2013 Act apply to greyhounds as well as other animals. Thus the prohibition on causing unnecessary suffering to an animal applies to greyhounds, as does the requirement not to be neglectful or to disregard recklessly the health or welfare of a greyhound. As I have stated, the 2013 Act imposes criminal penalties for breaches of animal welfare requirements.
Transforming the provisions of the Bill into criminal provisions would conflict with the 2013 Act and remove the ability of the board to impose administrative sanctions in an efficient and timely manner in accordance with its own legislation.
I am happy to accept amendment No. 13a which fixes the grammatical error I sought to correct with amendment No. 14 in my name. I thank the Minister of State for engaging on the matter.
I wish to discuss a couple of other issues. I completely accept and understand the idea that a racing sanction is an appropriate response in the case of someone who breaks the regulations that protect the health and welfare of greyhounds. I would have been happy to pull back on amendment No. 16 but not on the basis that might still in place in the context of the health and welfare of animals. Section 29 deals with the health and welfare of greyhounds. The section is much shorter than the others and does not impose an unfair regulatory burden on the Irish Greyhound Board. Amendments Nos. 11 to 13, inclusive, simply seek to raise the obligations of the board and strengthen the animal welfare provisions. I do not see the board as having any real teeth in terms of sanctions when obligations related to animal health and welfare are deemed to be optional in using the word "may". As to whether the provision is included in the other Acts - section 29 deals with the health and welfare of greyhounds - inserting the word "may" means that one can choose to meet the requirements stipulated in the Bill. To provide for the imposition of race sanctions on such grounds one would have to strengthen the legislation by inserting the word "shall" in order that a person would be obliged to meet the requirement of the health and welfare regulations stipulated in the Bill. Other than that there is not much the board can do in terms of the imposition of race sanctions.
Section 26 deals with the artificial insemination of greyhounds, while section 28 provides for the establishment of a traceability database for greyhounds. I accept that the regulatory powers given to the board in sections 26 and 28 are intended to enable it to provide an exhaustive list that will give it discretion and flexibility in terms of where it can and should regulate. I do not see it as being the same in the case of section 29. The use of the word "may" dilutes the legislation. Therefore, I am unwilling to back down in my call for the replacement of the word "may" with "shall" as the provision relates to the health and welfare of greyhounds.
I beg the Acting Chairman's pardon, but I got the amendments mixed up. I referred to the drugs issue, but I should have referred to artificial insemination, the subject of section 26. The matter relates to these amendments, particularly amendment No. 7.
The Senator can speak again.
Yes. I will table a number of additional amendments on Report Stage to deal with the artificial insemination of greyhounds.
The Irish Greyhound Board received a legal opinion from Mr. Ross Aylward, senior counsel, on 27 February 2013. His legal opinion was sought on the use of frozen semen in the sector. It reads as follows:
There is no escaping the need to apply the two year death limit in my view. To fail to do so is only to perpetuate an already existing problem. In essence the bord finds itself where it does. The damage has been done in that the two year limit has not been complied with. Nothing can be done now, in terms of turning back the clock on the issue (one cannot go back retrospectively). However the bord can now seek to ensure that the AI regulations are complied with.
New regulations were subsequently introduced in 2014, under the stewardship of the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney. It meant that the two-year death limit was no longer applied retrospectively. Let me outline the current system. The Irish Greyhound Board approves a number of licences which it issues to studkeepers who provide an artificial insemination service for greyhounds. The two-year death limit means that no frozen semen from a dog that is dead can be used. If the board had implemented the regulations, as it should have done because it was the law, there would be no greyhound racing on any track today bred with the semen of a dog which was dead. What is actually happening is that board is continuing to flout its own regulations which conveys a misconception and creates a two tier playing field in the sector.
The current chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts on 18 May 2017 when a member of the committee, Deputy Connolly, asked him why it had not complied with its own regulations. He confirmed that she was correct and had to admit that it was not complying with them. Nothing has changed since. Compliance with the regulations is one of the key recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine in its report. In fact, it recommended that the issue be addressed immediately.
As far back as 14 July 2015, the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, state in reply to a parliamentary question tabled for a written reply:
Following that consultation and with my consent, as is required under section 39 of the 1958 Act, the Artificial Insemination of Greyhounds (Amendment) Regulations 2014 were introduced by BnG and came into effect on 1 November 2014, thus removing the two-year time limit on the use of semen for artificial insemination following the death of a stud dog. These regulations did not have retrospective effect.
The reply means that no dog should be racing today, the mother of which received semen from a dog that had died many years prior to that date, but, unfortunately, that is not the case. I have been told that last Saturday night dogs raced in stadiums under the jurisdiction of the Irish Greyhound Board, in respect of which the regulations had been flouted. How can that be considered to be a level playing field? Such a situation is unacceptable, which is why Senator Ruane's amendment is so important. This week I wrote to the board asking it to explain the matter. I understand the board has issued licences to five studs that provide frozen semen, for which individuals pay anything between €700 and €7,000. Recently, a greyhound by the name of Trade Official participated in a race.
The dog is not here.
Frozen semen from the father of that dog dates back to 1992.
That dog is dead; therefore, the regulations have been flouted.
How can anyone have confidence in an organisation that flouts its own regulations? The five licensed operators are turning themselves into multimillionaires by creating a cartel within the sector. There is no level playing field, but we do not have to recreate the moon to deal with this issue. All we have to do is replicate what is occurring in the horse racing sector which does not use frozen semen. The frozen semen being used deters ordinary, hardworking people who may have a number of dogs from staying in or getting back into the sector because they do not have the financial means of those who can avail of frozen semen from top dogs that are dead.
There are allegations, some of which were outlined by a whistleblower to a former Minister at the Department in 2013, including that a lot of drug money is involved in the sector. That is very serious and I question the integrity of the entire sector. I call on the Minister to either accept the amendment or reflect on it before Report Stage because it is an issue which I believe, based on information I am not at liberty to disclose today, will blow up badly. Some of the information I have obtained is private and I have to ensure the authenticity and truthfulness of other bits of it, but if what I am hearing is correct, we will be dealing with a huge problem, with operators sitting on piles of frozen semen worth millions of euro and holding up implementation of this rule. Why is the Irish Greyhound Board sitting on the matter and why are its directors not dealing with it? I suggest it has to do with money and vested interests. If that is the case, it is disgraceful and needs to be addressed.
I am not sure if the Minister has the information today on the licensing regime, the licences being given out or why the regulations continue to be flouted, but does he agree with me that there is a need to address this issue to protect the interests of the taxpayer, the State, the Department and everyone concerned? We need to make sure the industry will not run aground in the next few years. The answer may be a replication of what the horse racing and thoroughbred sector does in the area of artificial insemination, particularly in the use of frozen semen. I encourage the Minister to seek a legal opinion on the matter. The issue needs to be addressed because we cannot allow a cartel to operate within the sector which is heavily funded with moneys from the Minister's Department by way of the betting tax.
I thank the Minister for his work on the Bill and meeting me and colleagues on an individual basis to discuss it. It is very much appreciated that he has reached out to us in that way. I wanted to express my thoughts in the light of the information brought to my attention and my fears about the integrity of the industry, given the infiltration of money from questionable sources which continue to dominate the industry, creating a huge problem for regular greyhound owners who want to compete in it. The only way to deal with the issue is to ensure this legislation is watertight. Therefore, we should not rush it. I commend Senator Ruane on her efforts. Legislation is often rushed through without being scrutinised properly, but as changing the word "may" to "shall" could have a huge impact, I hope the amendment will be accepted.
I will speak briefly to amendment No. 15 which seeks to place responsibility on the Irish Greyhound Board to develop and publish industry-wide guidelines on how dogs should be dealt with by their owners when retired from racing. As the Minister suggested the possibility of including it elsewhere, perhaps in guidelines, he might get back to me to explain what he means. There was some confusion on the question of what is retirement. Perhaps we might look at how it is defined before Report Stage. There must be a difference between a dog which is not racing and one which has officially been retired from racing; therefore, it should not be difficult to define. Perhaps they could be seen as having been retired when they no longer have a licence to race or when the owner sees no future in racing for them because of age or an injury. There has to be some way by which we can look at what retirement means in order that we can include amendment No. 15 in the legislation as a preventive measure to ensure people will think about what they are going to do with their dogs when they are retired. The legislation is strong on this issue, but it would be useful to define what is meant.
I am happy to co-sign the amendments. On traceability and registration, the substitution of the word "shall" is important because we cannot have an industry in which such things "may" be introduced. Section 28(2) also contains the word "may" where I believe "shall" should be used. I reserve the right, therefore, to introduce an amendment on Report Stage to copperfasten that provision, particularly if we do not see progress in the use of the word "shall" in subsection (1). It is important that there be transparency, traceability and accountability in this area.
I wish to speak to section 29 which deals with the welfare of racing greyhounds and the amendments proposed to it. I urge the Minister to engage on what are very reasoned amendments. The State simply could not stand over a situation where there was no provision or guidelines on ensuring the health and welfare of racing greyhounds. Persons involved in greyhound racing are only required to provide information for the purposes of the administration of the industry or protecting the health and welfare of a racing greyhound. We have talked about the use of the word "shall" instead of "may", but the use of the word "or" is worse. I understand the amendment in that regard is being accepted.
I also want to speak to amendment No. 15 which would ensure provision was made for protecting the health and welfare of racing greyhounds which have been retired by their owner. My colleague has spoken about how we determine what retirement is, but I argue that it is not crucial to determine what it is. The key point is that responsibility rests with an owner during the lifetime of a greyhound. The amendment states the health and welfare of the racing greyhound are the responsibility of the owner in the time in which he or she owns the greyhound.
That is important because it is not the case that greyhounds can seek other employment. As the Minister of State said, they may well continue to give monetary benefit as breeding stock, but we must not have a situation where greyhounds are no longer of any concern and do not need to be attended to when they are no longer working. We should not mire ourselves in the technicalities, but rather ensure we have phrasing that is clear. While I do not like to use such blunt terms as those used in trade, we can look to the EU guidance on life-cycle planning and costing. I do not like to think of greyhounds as a product because they are fellow creatures, but life-cycle planning is now recognised as a key aspect of all industries. It is important that those who wish to ensure they are dealing with participants in the greyhound industry who have ethical practices can be assured that this ethical practice extends beyond the working lifetime of a dog. I would like the Minister of State to indicate that he will work with us to ensure the welfare of the animals is given due regard and guidance is provided for when they are no longer racing or working. This is a humane and appropriate thing to do in animal welfare terms and it sends an important signal. Importantly, it also ensures that those in the industry who engage in good practice and make provision for greyhounds when they are no longer racing are not punished. There is a cost to maintaining welfare. It is important that this is recognised and rewarded rather than giving those who cut corners and compromise the health and welfare of dogs an unfair advantage.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and Senators. To clarify the position for Senator Higgins, I have dealt with amendment No. 14. I note that, as currently drafted, section 29 states: "The Board, after consultation with the Minister, may make regulations for the health and welfare of racing greyhounds in relation to the following". I tried to explain that the word "may" is used specifically for greyhounds. This is additional to provisions in other legislation, particularly the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011. The risk of making this mandatory is that it may conflict with other legislation. As I stated, regulations would also have to be examined to determine their compatibility with other domestic and European law. The discretionary nature of regulation making powers is essential to ensure there is no conflict with other legislation. This is an extra layer of protection for animals that are racing.
With regard to the retirement of animals, I note that the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 deals with all animals. Whether they are racing, retired, injured or have diseases, all animals are covered. The Bill specifically mentions injured or sick animals - the word "disease" is used - on the presumption that these animals may race again. They are, therefore, covered. I have suggested that we add to the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 the board's specific welfare guidelines with regard to animals that are no longer racing. The Act already includes an extensive list of guidelines, which the board issued to owners and carers of greyhounds. There are several Acts and codes of practice that govern this area.
With regard to artificial insemination, I know some amendments will probably be moved on Report Stage. I note that the erstwhile regulations on frozen semen were repealed, for reasons we will not get into today because I am not fully clear on all of the facts. A complete blanket ban on frozen semen without codes of practice or regulation might be unwise from the point of view of genetic improvement. There may be areas of concern and I agree that this area needs to be carefully policed and monitored to ensure full transparency and accountability. While we can look at that issue, section 26(1)(m) already makes provision for control or prohibition of the use of frozen semen from deceased animals.
I believe Senator Ruane asked a question on amendment No. 16.
I asked a question on amendment No. 15, which concerns retirement.
I addressed that issue. To return to section 29, we should be wary in this regard because these provisions provide an extra layer of protection for racing animals that is intended to bolster rather than conflict with existing legislation. That is the important point. Sanctions can be applied under these provisions, as opposed to taking action through the criminal law, as provided for in other legislation. By having it this way, we can apply sanctions without conflicting with existing law. This can be done immediately and efficiently, whereas taking the criminal law route can be laborious and not as effective in the short term.
I appreciate the Minister of State's engagement. In regard to section 29, I suggest that there are other ways. In this House we often deal with legislation which intersects with or is layered on top of other legislation. There is still scope to use the word "shall" in section 29, for example, by amending the wording to "shall make appropriate regulation". That might be a way to do it. I acknowledge that the regulations should not contradict other existing legislation, but that is part of the task of making legislation rather than a reason to make regulation optional. We can establish that we should make regulation, and it does not in any way endanger other measures. The process of making those regulations should seek to accommodate and recognise other intersecting legislation. With respect, I suggest that the Minister of State's argument relates to how regulations are made rather than the question of whether they should be made. Perhaps the way to accommodate the concerns raised by the Minister of State would be to insert the phrase "such as appropriate" in the context of the regulations as this might allow sufficient scope to be flexible.
It is not adequate to deal with the question of retired dogs through the existing legislation. Consider the provision and planning made for any one of us who is working. The arrangements we have with our employers for our retirement are made during the period when we are working. It is important that provision for retirement is built into the planning of the working period. To simply say that a dog that is no longer working takes on some other capacity, like a pet, and is dealt with under general animal welfare regulation is much weaker. As the Minister of State stated, pursuing such matter through the criminal courts is extremely laborious and unlikely. It is very important that the animals at the core of the greyhound industry are given protection in its business planning. This legislation effectively relates to the planning and administration of the industry and concerns the dogs when they are working. As I mentioned, life-cycle planning and thinking is now a core requirement of all industries. It is completely reasonable for the board, which sets regulations for the industry, to also set regulations on making provision for the retirement of the animals that are at its heart.
This is the appropriate place, with the protection of those significant sanctions, for this rather than simply moving greyhounds into the wider pool of general animal welfare legislation. Perhaps the Minister of State could review this between Committee and Report Stages and see if there is a form of words that would allow for the health and welfare - or even the planning for the health and welfare - of greyhounds in retirement to be included in this Bill?
I welcome Deputy Michael Harty and his group. They are very welcome. It is always nice to see Members from the other House visiting us. We all wish them well and hope they enjoy their day. I call Senator Ruane.
I am still not sold on the reasons for not being able to accept "shall" in section 29. On the other legislation, am I right in saying that is where criminal sanctions would set in? Is it grounded in criminal sanctions? This is about the board. It is stated that "the board, after consultation with the Minister, may make regulations". If the board does not make the regulations, what is the point of having this section here at all? It should state that "the board, after consultation with the Minister, shall make regulations". How is the board given any power to issue racing sanctions when the welfare issues are being made optional?
The Minister of State stated that welfare and other legislation exists. That means that if somebody broke any regulation that exists in other legislation, such as that protecting the health and welfare of a racing greyhound, he or she would then automatically be dealt with criminally. Unless the board is given power by stating that it "shall" make the regulations, it does not have any power in this section to give racing sanctions. Any breaking of regulations would automatically fall under criminal grounds because the Minister of State is stating that it is picked up in the other legislation. It therefore weakens the board. The board will only be strengthened if it can make and create the regulations. It must be able to hold people accountable under the regulations and issue racing sanctions so any infractions do not have to be escalated criminally. These things must be able to be dealt with at board level.
As it stands, however, if I was to break any of these rules, as somebody who raced greyhounds, I would refer to this legislation and point out that it states that the board "may" make regulations. I would then ask what are the regulations and where they are. I would also point out that there is nothing stating I have to adhere to the regulations. The Minister of State is weakening the legislation and the board's ability to keep it at a racing sanction level by not introducing "shall". I do not see the rationale.
I know these are sincerely held views and I hope Senator Ruane can accept we are trying to make this legislation work. That is the bottom line. This is for racing greyhounds so that there can be sanctions in the same way as with breaches in other areas. We have gone through this list of breaches, whether on traceability or anything else. Sections 26, 27 and 28 deal extensively with the various aspects such as administrative substances, artificial insemination, traceability and database transfer. We are being consistent here and ensuring any regulations made can achieve the desired effect by being consistent with existing legislation. I do not know that it is relevant. The aim of this section of the Bill is to impose racing sanctions.
These regulations need to be compatible and state that they are health and welfare regulations for racing animals. We need to be able to apply sanctions consistent with breaches of other legislation where a different sort of penalty applies. The board may not end up having to apply regulations in every aspect of the exhaustive list that we dealt with earlier. It may or may not be necessary but it has to be compatible. We have come to an impasse here. On retired animals, it is important to point out this deals with racing animals. Retired animals may no longer be in the possession of the owner or trainer that was racing them. They are, however, certainly still protected under animal health and welfare legislation, the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and the code of guidelines administrated by the Irish Greyhound Board, or Rásaíocht Con Éireann if this legislation is passed.
As I referred to earlier, I hope we will have an opportunity to look at this again between now and Report Stage. I hear what the Minister of State is saying about the importance of things being compatible with and in appropriate relationship with other legislation. This issue appears throughout the Bill. In a spirit of constructive engagement, I suggest that where the word "shall" appears, for example in "the board shall make regulations" and in the various places already suggested, we add "appropriate" so that it reads the "board shall make appropriate regulations". I may suggest this on Report Stage. I refer to a definition of "appropriate regulations" which also stated such regulations must be consistent with other indicated legislation. At the moment it is either that there will or will not be regulation. That is the issue I am trying to get to.
I recognise the concerns that there cannot be contradiction with other provisions already there. They need to be complimentary. Perhaps a definition of "appropriate regulation" which copperfastened that would allow us to move forward to a position of stating "shall". That would ensure we do not have a situation where the board simply chooses not to make regulations in all of these areas and much of the Bill effectively becomes redundant.
The important thing is that this Bill is designed to introduce something that can work. If we want it to work, regulations will have to come into existence so the sanctions can come into existence. I want to make sure that engine of momentum is in the Bill and followed through. I refer to moving towards the word using the word "shall" but with an important caveat in respect of what is appropriate regulation. That may address the concerns raised by the Minister of State. Perhaps we could look at that. I reserve the right to introduce amendments to that effect on Report Stage.
The Minister of State mentioned that greyhounds may no longer be in the possession of their owners or trainers. That is one of the concerns we have. I refer to where dogs that have served in this industry are sometimes abandoned, have moved out of the industry and are left in dire situations. I refer to the phrasing here in respect of making provision for the retirement of greyhounds. The retirement provisions for greyhounds should known so that people in the greyhound racing industry can operate in good faith and with good practice. They should also be known to somebody wishing to sell a dog. People may not maintain possession of a dog for their lifetime but it would be appropriate and good practice for them to make appropriate provision for its retirement. That might be wording we could look at and I reserve the right to bring that in on Report Stage.
We have probably exhausted debate on these amendments unless the Minister of State has anything else to say?
If we look at section 29(2) it states: "A person who contravenes a regulation made under this section, and which is stated in the regulations to be a racing sanction provision, commits a sanction breach of the Racing code and is liable to a racing sanction." It is important to point out that this carries a lower burden of proof than an offence under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. I also refer to my own amendment, which is an attempt to tidy up what was poorly phrased.
There are requirements in paragraphs (a) and (b), as outlined in the amendment, that I think will be agreed, for measures to be taken by the owner, breeder or trainer of a racing greyhound to protect the health and welfare of the greyhound and to inform the board of measures taken in respect of a greyhound to comply with the requirements of regulations made under this section. It is assumed there that regulations will be made. I take the Senator's point about using a word such as "appropriate", but the "may" allows discretion to make sure that the regulations are compatible and that they do not impose a higher burden of proof for a sanction breach as opposed to a criminal breach, if that makes sense.
I have to stick to this. In making our amendment I have tried to address the fundamental issue, and when it is read with section 29(2), I am sure the Senator can grasp the dilemma that we are in insofar as we are trying to make sure that we can apply a sanction without having to prove it to the degree that we would have to prove a criminal offence, if that makes sense.
Amendments Nos. 8a to 8e, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Amendments Nos. 8a, 8c and 8e are to correct errors of a typographical or technical nature in particular. Amendment 8e corrects the original wording which suggested that the control committee had discretion in deciding the period during which a greyhound may not race following an adverse analytical finding and subsequent clear test. In fact, the period is decided by the board based on the recommendations of the scientific advisory committee for a particular substance type. The restriction on racing applies automatically following an adverse analytical finding and subsequent clear test where the substance is deemed still to have a residual performance effect.
On Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment No. 8b on zero tolerance for class A drugs, studies show that it is an unfortunate feature of modern society that drugs are now considered an environmental contaminant. The sensitivity of testing is such that were a sample to be taken from a banknote in our pockets, we would all fail to meet the zero tolerance limit being advocated by the Senator. An academic study carried out at Dublin City University found that every banknote tested was contaminated by traces of cocaine.
Environmental contamination of dogs can occur unintentionally and will be detected. Modern analytical equipment has the ability to reach ever lower levels of detection which is currently in the trillionth of a gram. At these levels, metabolites are considered irrelevant to the dog's performance by sports regulatory bodies. In recognition of the fact that humans can also be unintentionally contaminated, the tolerance for driving a car in Ireland is currently set at 10 mg/ml for cocaine in blood plasma and its metabolite is 15 mg/ml. In these circumstances it would not be best practice to accept this amendment.
On amendment No. 8d on the mandatory four-month disqualification period following the detection of a class A drug, the Bill already disqualifies a dog from racing until it passes a negative test and allows the board to set down further periods, based on the recommendations of the scientific advisory committee, where a greyhound may not race as it is deemed still to be affected by the residual performance effect following the negative test. This is a fair and balanced approach, based on scientific advice.
Additionally, the Bill establishes a statutorily independent sanctioning regime through the establishment of the independent control committee in primary legislation, the expansion of the appeals committee role and the introduction of the District Court into the process. It places a strong emphasis on fair procedures in the conduct of investigation by the board regarding possible breaches of racing regulations and the conduct of hearings by the control committee in suspected breaches.
To act outside of this regime by dispensing with due process would not be appropriate. The Bill sets down administrative sanctions that may be applied by the independent control committee and the appeal committee, with disqualification orders now being issued by these committees rather than the board. The proposed amendment to set down a mandatory disqualification period with no scientific basis in primary legislation would not reflect best practice.
I want to speak to my amendments Nos. 8b and 8d. I touched on the issue of drugs in the greyhound racing sector earlier and the nature of these amendments is to try to strengthen the integrity of this sector because it has been marred with drug abuses. The abuse of drugs in greyhound racing is either to make the dog go faster or to slow it down, but it has other unintended consequences for the welfare of the dog. To feed dogs cocaine, Viagra and amphetamines is disgraceful. I assure the House that the dogs do not go to the corner of the street and pick up these drugs themselves. Those responsible need to be dealt with on a more serious basis by the governing authority in this jurisdiction and I am not sure that is happening at the moment.
To give one example on many, there is a greyhound owner and breeder by the name of John McGee who received a lifetime ban in the UK but continues to be allowed to race in Ireland every week. That is unacceptable and I cannot understand for the life of me-----
The Senator should not-----
It is a matter of public record anyway.
That may be so, but he is not in a position to defend himself here so the Senator should not mention his name.
I accept that but I am quoting from a newspaper article.
That is fine. The Senator can address it generally but I ask the Senator to restrain from naming the individual.
I accept that.
That gentleman is not the only one. As I said the other day, numerous people travel across the water, fill their dogs with drugs, race them on tracks in the United Kingdom, following which they are banned for perhaps six months, a year or a lifetime, as in the case I mentioned, yet, the following week or perhaps before the end of it, they are racing the same dogs on a track in Ireland. That is crazy. It does not work that way in athletics or any other sport. This year I raced at the world athletics championships in Spain and was drug tested after the race. If I had tested positive, I would have received a lifetime ban handed down by the IAAF and never been able to race again. How was a greyhound that had been banned across the water able to race in Ireland by the end of the same week? It is unacceptable. That is why I am talking about zero tolerance.
I accept that the Minister of State has come here with a script from his officials that states the residue of drugs can be found on bank notes. I did not see many greyhounds walking or running down the street with a €50 note in the last while, which is all I will say on that issue.
I checked with those involved in other jurisdictions and what they do is very interesting. In Ireland we will have a threshold, which the Minister of State has outlined. However, the system does not work in that way in other jurisdictions where greyhounds are tested. This should have been made known by the Irish Greyhound Board to all concerned. It should be following best international practice in drug testing. There should be collaboration with every other jurisdiction where dogs are raced to find a unified international standard benchmark. That has not happened and I call for it to happen.
I took it upon myself to contact a laboratory director in Australia and received an email in response this week. I was inquiring about prohibited substances, in particular, morphine which is given to dogs here. Imagine giving morphine to a greyhound which is already suffering because it is injured to get it around the track. That is cruel. It is extreme cruelty, but it is happening right, left and centre in Ireland, although, of course, it is disregarded by the authorities. Mr. David Batty is the laboratory director of Racing Analytical Services in Victoria, Australia. In his email he thanks me for my inquiry and states: "An official morphine threshold does not exist in the Australian greyhound rules". If that is the case, why would we try to introduce such a threshold in Ireland? Morphine is given to suffering cancer patients. Why would it be given to a dog to allow it to get around the track? I cannot understand it. I will provide the Minister of State with a copy of the email for his review. Without reading the rest of it, the point is that there is no drugs threshold whatsoever in Australia. It has internal laborabory thresholds, but they are minimal in order to cover what the Minister of State mentioned about airborne substance threats. The only thresholds are for naturally occurring substances in the tissues or organisms of the greyhound, that is, substances such as testosterone, ethanol, cobalt, arsenic and so on. In short, there is no threshold for class A drugs.
It is worth reminding Members what I am looking for. Class A drugs include opium, heroin, ecstasy, crack, cocaine, LSD, magic mushrooms and amphetamines, or speed. We are creating legislation with thresholds for these drugs in greyhounds. I cannot get my head around this. I checked the legislative position in the United Kingdom. Again, there is zero tolerance of these substances, whereas we are trying to introduce, or continue with, a tolerance level. If that were to happen in any other sport such as Gaelic football, soccer or athletics, what grey area would be created for athletes, viewers, spectators and those betting at home? It would not send the right message. The right message is not being sent in this case either. A grey area is being created.
There is a two-tier greyhound industry because of the use of frozen semen and also drugs. There are numerous examples and articles have been written all over the world about greyhounds that won prize money here. It was found that they had been banned for drug use and that the trainer had run them again the following week. Anyone who gives heroin or another class A drug to a greyhound has no place in the sport and should receive a lifetime ban. We should be adopting the strict rules that are applied in the United Kingdom. It is as simple as that. Where there are grey areas, the lines become blurred. That is what has happened and why the reputational damage caused is so extreme. At least if there was zero tolerance, it would be much easier for the control committee and create clarity. It would also create clarity in the laboratory, as well as protecting the welfare of greyhounds. It is an animal welfare issue, about which animal welfare groups have contacted me. I know that Senators Higgins and Ruane have raised concerns in that regard. It is a key concern. Anyone who stuffs amphetamines, Viagra or cocaine into a greyhound knows that it is cruel, yet that is what happening carte blanche in every stadium throughout the country. That is the purpose of my amendments and why I am requesting that there be zero tolerance.
Under amendment No. 8d, where someone is found to have been giving a prohibited substance to a greyhound, there would be a minimum ban of four months. Otherwise, there could be a negative result within the four month period and the greyhound could be racing again. There has to be a minimum period. It is to try to bring clarity to the drugs issue and deal with it once and for all. Despite its best efforts, the Irish Greyhound Board has been found to be incapable of dealing with it. It has been ongoing for far too long and needs to be dealt with.
As I outlined, there are two reasons drugs are given to greyhounds, the first of which is to make them go faster, while the second is to make them go slower. Ultimately, it has to do with betting in the industry because when there is insider knowledge and one knows that a dog will run fast or slow, the odds are predictable. It is very wrong, but it happens all the time. Drugs are not necessarily being given to a dog for it to win.
It might be for the dog to finish last but it is causing the dog the same harm, so there is no level playing field and this needs to be addressed.
I hope the Minister will look at this zero tolerance issue because I am not willing to stand down on it. It is wrong on every level, from the welfare of the animals to the spectators who pay or those who do not go but may decide to bet on greyhounds at home online. If we look at the trajectory of figures over the past ten years since 2007, punters are not going to greyhound stadiums because they believe the races are fixed and the dogs are full of drugs. That is the perception that exists, and while that perception remains unchallenged and unaddressed, we have a major issue. The industry is on the way to the bottom and the only reason it is being maintained at the moment is because of the subvention from the betting tax. If that was not there, the industry would not be there, but it is wrong to provide that subvention and then have this drugs issue. The close links to criminal cartels here in Dublin can only be severed by dealing with the artificial insemination issue and the drugs issue.
I ask the Minister of State to stand tough. I know I am probably getting a backlash from standing up and saying this but we have to do it because I care about the industry. I have never placed €1 on a dog. I have no financial interest in a dog or in dog breeding whatsoever but I believe it is the right thing to do. I come from a small farm in west Donegal and I believe that animals should be treated humanely and the way that greyhounds are being treated is not humane, so for that reason alone, if for no other reason, we should deal with the drugs issue.
It has been outlined that there are serious animal welfare concerns in respect of the use of drugs in the industry, apart from the distorting of the industry and the other effects that my colleague has outlined.
I indicate my support for amendment No. 8d in particular. In section 27(3), I am concerned that at the moment it sets out that:
Where a sample from a greyhound is found to have present—
(a) a prohibited or controlled substance, or
(b) a substance for which a maximum residue limit has been set and that limit has been exceeded,
under regulations made under this section, that greyhound shall be disqualified from racing and trialling—
(i) until such time as it passes a subsequent test with negative results.
There is a concern that we want to ensure that there is sanction. It is not simply a matter that a dog that has been shown to be affected and should not be racing while the effects of the substance can still be taking effect. It is also a matter that there needs to be a clear indication and punishment and a negative incentive against the use of such substances.
That is why I strongly support amendment No. 8d, which suggests that in the cases where controlled or prohibited substances are present, that should amount to a ban from racing for a minimum period of four months and until a negative test is carried out. I recognise that there is some difference between section 27(3)(a) and (3)(b). Section 27(3)(a) refers to prohibited or controlled substances and (3)(b) refers to substances that have a residue limit that may have been exceeded because that may be a legal substance with a higher residue presence. It may be that they need to be separated, but for the moment I certainly support Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment.
I also note that I reserve the right to put forward an amendment to clarify that we need to have very particular, strict and punitive bans in respect of prohibited and controlled substances where they are to be found. That needs to be stricter because we are not just looking to see that these substances do not distort racing on a particular day but also to ensure that such a practice is actively discouraged within the industry because, if it is not, it will impact the industry and, most importantly, the animals. It is grotesque intentionally to subject animals to prohibited or controlled substances that nobody would give to a pet or put into anyone's body.
On Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendments, the proposals for strict zero tolerance and a four-month minimum ban are rooted in the legislation as drafted. The applicable clause is based on scientific data and evidence. I accept what the Senator said about Australia and their laboratory levels but our equipment is so sophisticated now that it can detect levels that are minuscule and metabolites are considered to be irrelevant to a dog's performance by sports regulatory bodies. Levels can be so minuscule that they are not applicable. The contention is that levels must be practically applicable.
On the four-month limit, the sanctions allow for an automatic ban the minute an animal is determined to have failed a test. Further sanctions can be applied. First, there is a sanction to determine whether there is any residual effect. If an animal is found to have a substance in its body, it is automatically banned. If that substance is at such a level that the residual effect will not be gone from the animal for two, three, four or six months, the ban can and should continue for that period. There is a control committee and an appeals committee which will determine the level of sanction. There is also the provision across the board in racing and coursing for a disqualification order and an exclusion order. People can be banned from attending either racing or coursing meetings, so it is quite extensive. That is provided for within the powers of the control committee and the appeals committee. The control committee views the results and makes a determination, and the appeals committee can consider it again if it is brought before it.
Senator Higgins was more or less reiterating Senator Ó Domhnaill's points about the levels of sanctions. We are trying to keep this simple and effective by having an automatic ban upon failing a test and using the best scientific evidence we can avail of to determine if there are any residual effects that would influence the dog's performance, either to speed it up or slow it down as Senator Ó Domhnaill said. That is what the science and the equipment are there for and that is what the control committee and the appeals committee are there to determine.
I thank the Minister of State. I understand where he is coming from but I do not necessarily agree with it. Both of these amendments are under section 27, which concerns the administration of substances to greyhounds, where it says that: "The Board may, after consultation with the Minister, make regulations for the control restriction, prohibition or administration of substances".
I do not have the confidence in the board at the moment to deal with this issue effectively based on its past performance. Maybe under the stewardship of the new chairman and the new CEO that will change, but to date its performance has been shocking in this matter to say the least.
That is why we should make a distinction. Class A drugs should be subject to zero tolerance. We are not talking about class B or C drugs. I have made a distinction around class A drugs. I would be willing to work with the Minister of State between now and Report Stage if he felt that was useful with a view to strengthening the provisions. Otherwise I will have to press amendment No. 8b today. In respect of amendment No. 8d, is there an alternative agreeable solution? The other example that was mentioned today was tuberculosis in cattle. If a test was positive, there would be two further tests and if they were negative the cattle would be allowed to be sold. Is that a way of dealing with this? There would have to be two negative tests after a positive test for the greyhound. I am just trying to strengthen this issue.
The Minister of State might outline what exactly happens at the moment and why dogs that test positive one week are allowed to race the following week. That appears to be happening but I do not know how. They can test positive in one stadium and then race again. Another question I cannot understand is around the testing regime. The dog is tested and the results are sent to the laboratory which, I understand, is located downstairs in the same premises as the Irish Greyhound Board in Limerick. The laboratory results are then given, I presume, to the head of regulation in the Irish Greyhound Board, before they go on to the control committee. Effectively, the head of regulation deals with all the samples that come back.
If the Minister of State does not have the answer to my question today, maybe he or his officials could get back to me. Of the tests that were carried out in the laboratory in Limerick, were all of the positive results sent to the control committee? Did any of them accidentally fall between desks somewhere between the laboratory and the control committee? The only way we could find that out would be to add up the numbers for those that left the laboratory and those that arrived with the control committee. The Minister of State will not have that information today but I would be grateful if it could be made available over the next week or so.
That is the second amendment. It is about trying to strengthen the provisions. If the Minister of State has a suggestion I am willing to accept it but I think there should be a minimum ban. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport took on a minimum ban recently which people criticised but people now know it is there. They should know it in this case as well. Trainers and breeders should know that if their dog tests positive, they and the dog will be out for a minimum of four months. I think that is reasonable and do not see why there would be any issue. If it were to take six or eight months for a negative test result to come back, the dog would not race for that period anyway. This is a minimum period of four months to try to cut out the situation where a dog that tests positive can miraculously have a negative test within ten days and be racing again. There is no disincentive for drug abuse there. These provisions aim to create a stronger disincentive for abusing drugs in the sector.
I am going to speak briefly in support of Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment. A zero tolerance approach makes sense. I do not know why people would be allowed to race dogs again if they were caught giving the dog any amount of cocaine. Four months is not enough but I understand why we are putting in restrictions rather than completely banning people. There is an incentive to dope dogs if we do not have zero tolerance.
As someone who has worked in the drugs sector for long enough, I know every trick in the book of people trying to get drugs out of their system before they have to give their weekly urine sample. Cocaine takes two to four days. A dog could be doped with cocaine and the drug would be gone from its system within two to four days. A person could increase the activity of the dog to allow it get the drug out of its system much quicker. If an individual has taken cocaine for three, four or five days in a row it can often take up to a week or 14 days at the most. I doubt it is very different for a dog. If a dog can have cocaine out of its system within two or three days, that negative test can come back straight away. It can come back after running the dog around for a whole day so the drug works itself out of the dog's system. If there is not zero tolerance, we will continue to have dogs being given cocaine because it is too easy to get away with it.
As it stands at the moment, Bord na gCon has a scientific advisory committee that advises on thresholds. The equipment it has is very sophisticated. As far as I am aware, it has decided to publish every result, every positive finding, no matter how minuscule. Once that finding is published, it is determined to be a positive. Scientific data is used to determine whether the levels contained in the sample would have any effect, good or bad, on the animal's performance. On Senator Ruane's point, there are environmental contaminants that are unavoidable and that will show up with sophisticated testing but that do not have any actual material effect. Such contaminants could be on money notes, on the Senator's handkerchief or anything. That was the test that was done by Dublin City University.
It is our aim to be practical and there is no scientific data or backup that says four months is mandatory. The amendment speaks more to a message rather than science; I accept that. It is to be a message to everyone that there is a minimum of four months. However, we are trying to base this primarily on scientific data. There could be a far greater ban. There are further sanctions for repeat offenders. This is within the remit of the control committee and the appeals committee. That is the purpose of separating out the body that applies the sanction, taking that power away from the board and giving it to the control and appeal committees. That is then seen to be at arm's length from the board itself, while it makes the regulation. It is the same principle as when the Government makes regulations for the likes of the banking sector but does not apply the rules. That is the purpose behind it. It is trying to be science based and is trying to allow for environmental contamination that will occur. It is on the basis of scientific knowledge determining what levels have a material impact. If there is any material impact on the dog's performance, that is not tolerable and is sanctioned. That is the key message.
The Minister of State has largely answered the question I was going to ask. I was going to ask if there was any reason to propose that cocaine is a naturally occurring element in small amounts within a dog's blood anyway.
He answered by saying that these are small amounts of contaminant found from things like bank notes and so forth. This is very interesting because it shows how very widespread the taking of cocaine is in this country, if dogs are contaminated by bank notes. It made me wonder, somewhat whimsically, whether it might it be a good idea to have two races. One for dogs who are on drugs and one for dogs who are not on drugs. It would be fascinating to see dogs whizzing around at 50 miles an hour with sparks coming out of their backsides. It could be new sport: drug doggies.
On being scientific and having environmental factors in contamination, the whole idea of cocaine being on notes has been around for a long time. It has been found on toilets and in suitcases. If my brother used a suitcase last week and he had cocaine in it and I take it the next week and there is no cocaine in it, it will show up if there has been contamination. That is human. We deal in notes. We deal in suitcases and all these things. The dogs are not going into the local shop with the fiver that has been used to snort cocaine to buy something with it-----
That will be the next thing.
-----for the residue to show up. Why are we using human objects to explain why dogs have been contaminated? I do not understand how this works. I can understand it in the case of humans.
My second amendment does not take away the discretion from the control committee. What I am suggesting is that there would be a minimum period of four months. The dog could not race after two or three days, as outlined by Senator Ruane, in that the dog could run around the track, the stuff could be sweat out of the system and the dog tests negative. This is wrong. We need a minimum period to ensure that what Senator Ruane says does not happen. That is absolutely essential.
My other amendment on zero tolerance is backed up by a cross-party committee document, and the Indecon report. This committee, which the Minister of State chaired, stated in recommendation No. 13:
The Committee recommends that a zero tolerance policy is vital on the issue of prohibited substances in greyhound racing. Therefore, a stringent adherence to best practice international standards is highly recommended to protect and develop the industry for future generations as highlighted in the Morris Report and must be expedited.
On international standards, I mentioned Australia, which has a zero tolerance approach. The UK also has a zero tolerance approach, as set out in rule 217 of rules of greyhound racing of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain. Zero tolerance and best international standards are absolutely essential. There can be no place for any level of class A drugs in greyhound racing in Ireland. If that were to happen, it would breathe new life transparency into the sector. It may well play a role in removing some of the criminal elements that have become intertwined with the sector. It is essential that is introduced and it can be reviewed after 12 months if so required. I will press that amendment if necessary.
If the Senator presses it, I will second it.
The Senator referenced international best practice. Even by his own admission in respect of the Australian model, he said zero tolerance is not zero levels. The inference is that zero tolerance is zero tolerance of the infringement. Zero levels is slightly different. I believe we are on the same page here. We both want zero tolerance.
I refer to Senator Ruane's analogy. Dogs and animals interact with humans all of the time. Dogs brush off people's clothes when they are walking them, they put head collars on them and a thing on them. The human may not know they are contaminated. It is an airborne environmental issue. We have all sorts of airborne residues in our environment all the time.
I have had to fence off badger setts so that my cattle cannot get into where they tear out the soil because the spores in the soil can cause TB, which the Senator mentioned. There is cross-contamination and there are vectors, carriers and so forth. I will not go into that today but that analogy was used and it is the same thing. We may have zero tolerance, but zero levels are not practical or applicable. We are trying to establish no tolerance for levels that are above the tolerable level.
The Minister of State mentioned a "thing". What kind of a "thing"?
Did I? I am not sure.
The Minister of State said people put a "thing" on the dog.
A muzzle. I could not get the word.
"Thing" is such a lovely word, it covers everything. It is a kind of portmanteau word.
I move amendment No. 8b:
In page 26, line 24, to delete “residue limits for” and substitute “strict zero tolerance limits for all class A”.
I am moving the amendment because one has to have zero tolerance to have transparency. Thresholds and grey areas do not work and do not represent best international practice. We are trying to clean up a sector here and this is a way of doing it. I am sorry but I have to press the amendment.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Devine, Máire.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Nash, Gerald.
- Norris, David.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Ruane, Lynn.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Conway, Martin.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Lawlor, Anthony.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Richmond, Neale.
I move amendment No. 8d.
In page 27, line 39, to delete “until” and substitute “for a minimum period of 4 months and until”.
Under Standing Order 62(3)(b) I request that the division be taken again other than by electronic means.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Devine, Máire.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- McDowell, Michael.
- Nash, Gerald.
- Norris, David.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Ruane, Lynn.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Conway, Martin.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Lawlor, Anthony.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 28, line 8, to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 28, line 9, after “to” to insert “each of”.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 29, line 2, after “Board” to insert “shall”.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 29, line 2, to delete “may”.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 29, line 3, after “to” to insert “each of”.
I will withdraw the amendment with the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.
Amendment No. 14 in the names of Senators Ruane, Black, Grace O'Sullivan and Higgins cannot be moved.
The amendment is a variation of amendment No. 13a, so we are happy with that.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 29, line 14, to delete “injury.” and substitute the following:
“(e) making provision for the health and welfare of a racing greyhound that has been retired by the owner.”.”.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 29, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
“(1) A person who contravenes a regulation made under this section commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a class A fine.”.
On section 30, I have a question about the licences or permits approval. While this section deals with definitions, my query is on the number of licences or permits issued for artificial insemination, AI, units, in terms of the way they are issued and regulated. Does the Minister of State have any information on that?
Section 31 goes into further detail but section 30 is basically concerned with the ability to grant, refuse or revoke a licence and nothing more than that. It is related to the overarching principle while the specifics are dealt with in other sections, including sections 26 and 31. Is that okay?
Okay, that is fine.
On a point of order, has the Leas-Chathaoirleach skipped amendments Nos. 8e and 10a in the first group?
Amendment No. 8e-----
I moved that one.
----- and 10a?
They were both agreed. I moved the Government one myself.
I move amendment No. 16a:
In page 30, line 10, after “approval.” to insert the following:
“Where the compliance issue relates to use of class A prohibited substances, the board shall suspend the licence, permit or approval for a minimum period of not less than 3 months.”.
Section 33 deals with the revocation or suspension of licences, permits or approvals and relates to my earlier question. It states: "Where the holder of a licence, permit or approval fails to comply with a condition attached to it, the Board may suspend for such time as it thinks fit or revoke the licence, permit or approval." I propose to insert after the word "approval" an additional provision whereby if the compliance issue relates to the use of class A prohibited drugs identified under statute, such as cocaine and speed, the board "shall", rather than "may" suspend the licence for a minimum of three months.
I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's view on this amendment. I tabled it in the face of the damage being done to the industry by drug abuse. While only small numbers of people are involved, they cast a dark shadow over the entire greyhound industry. It is a wonderful industry with wonderful people but, unfortunately, a small number of trainers are infusing dogs with drugs and they should be dealt with harshly. While I could have suggested a much longer suspension period, I believe that three months is reasonable. There may be a need to make a distinction between other substances and class A drugs in the legislation and I would be happy to work with the Minister of State to come up with an alternative wording on Report Stage, if necessary. There is no place in greyhound racing for those who abuse drugs and feed drugs to dogs. I hope the Minister of State is willing to accept this amendment or to come up with an alternative wording on Report Stage that achieves the same objective.
Section 33 deals with the revocation or suspension of licences, permits or approvals. The amendment relates to a breach of racing regulations specific to the use of controlled or prohibited substances. Such sanction breaches are the domain of the control committee and appeal committee, not the board. Revocations and suspensions by the board relate to administrative matters including, for example, the non-payment of licence fees or similar licence conditions. The amendment, therefore, is not relevant to this section. In that context, I ask the Senator to reconsider his intention to press the amendment.
I am happy to consider rewording the amendment and resubmitting it on Report Stage, presumably under section 26 or the section that deals with prohibited substances, section 27. I am happy to proceed on that basis.
Amendments Nos. 16b and 16c are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 16b:
In page 38, line 1, to delete "may serve not more than 2 consecutive terms" and substitute "shall not serve more than 1 term and shall be replaced immediately to ensure no vacancy arises".
These amendments relate to the racing control committee. Amendment No. 16b relates to the length of the term served by members of the committee. The Bill provides that membership of the control committee will be for a period of four years per term. Under section 44(9), a member of the control committee may serve not more than two consecutive terms but I propose that members should not serve more than one term. The two consecutive terms' provision means that a board member could be a member of the control committee for up to eight years, which is a long period, particularly given the importance of the control committee in dealing with the drugs problem in the sport. It would be better to have a greater turnover of people on the control committee. I do not suggest that people should be turned over more frequently but that there should be fresh opinions coming to the committee. Eight years is a lengthy period for anyone to serve on what is a sub-committee of the Irish Greyhound Board. I propose that members only serve one four-year term, which is still a substantial period.
Amendment No. 16c deals with conflicts of interest in the context of membership of the control committee. The Bill provides that a member of the control committee "shall disclose any potential conflict of interest". My amendment provides that members, including the chairperson "shall possess no conflict of interest whatsoever (to include family ties or involvement with greyhounds in any way) in order to exercise clear objectivity and independence". The control committee is concerned with the testing of greyhounds for prohibited substances and with test results that come back from the laboratories. My amendment seeks to provide reassurance to the outside world and to the sector that the control committee is independent, impartial and transparent and that its members do not have any conflicts of interest or linkages in respect of greyhounds.
I do not say it is the case, but, for instance, if a member or the chairperson of the control committee was to have dogs trained by a trainer and if they tested positive for drugs, that would leave the member or the chairperson with a conflict of interest, as he or she would not be impartial and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise. I fully respect the fact that it is hard to get people to serve on committees and that many people have links to whatever interest is involved. That may well be the case, but if we are to properly deal with drug use in this sport, we cannot have people making decisions in cases with which they are linked in any way. That would be akin to an athlete testing positive for drugs and having a brother, sister or other family member on the adjudication committee of the sport concerned or at the World Anti-Doping Agency. Would that be allowed? Of course, it would not. Why should it be allowed here? There is no rationale to allow it to happen. That is from where my amendment is coming. If we are to clean up the sport, it is essential that we get right the foundations, of which this is another element.
I am willing to work with the Minister of State on this issue before Report Stage, but the measure is essential because we cannot have grey areas. I do not suggest, for example, that one of the control committee members or the chairperson is compromised. I am sure they do an excellent job, but I know for a fact that some members of the control committee have dogs who are racing and trained by trainers with questionable pasts in terms of drug use. How can they be at arm's length from the decision-making process? How can they provide for independent, objective scrutiny or decision-making? They really cannot do so because their decision-making is clouded, despite their best intentions. The legislation must be crystal clear. I suggest we must go down this road if we want to have a fresh wind in the sector and help everybody involved in it. This is not about attacking anybody; rather, it is about helping everyone and a sector which this year is in receipt of more than €300,000 per week from the betting fund. That is an awful lot of money going to the industry; therefore, we must make sure we get the absolute minimum requirements right. There cannot be grey areas. Any other sector or sport would not allow that to happen and greyhound racing should not be any different.
I will speak to the two amendments separately. I will deal first with amendment No. 16b which concerns the maximum number of terms a member of the control committee can serve. It is standard practice and in compliance with the code of governance for control committee members to serve two terms. In the pre-legislative scrutiny process the joint committee recognised that it might be difficult to find sufficient people with the right skill set willing to participate in the control committee. For that reason, it did not question the fact that they would serve two terms. In fact, it suggested going further. It advised that the three-year term, as proposed at the time the general scheme was being discussed, should be revised upwards to four years. The legislation reflects that suggestion. In the circumstances it is not intended to accept the amendment.
In relation to amendment No. 16c and the issue of a conflict of interest, section 12 deals comprehensively with the disclosure of interests, including family ties, as referred to by the Senator. The principles behind the section are standard across similar legislation. Limiting the issue of conflict of interests to this section, as proposed, would undermine the all-embracing corporate governance procedures outlined in section 12, but we may have a solution to which I mentioned to the Senator.
I thank the Minister of State for his response and engagement. Corporate governance would be strengthened, rather than weakened, in accepting the amendment. Corporate governance in State boards is something on which the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has done a lot of excellent work, in conjunction with the Institute of Public Administration and others. While the control committee is not a State board, it is a sub-committee that is dealing with the eradication of drugs in the sport and involved in the making of adjudication decisions on the validity or otherwise of laboratory results. It needs absolute independence from the sector as otherwise there will be a grey area. I am not sure how that issue can be addressed. The Minister of State has indicated that he will look at the matter and I am willing to await the outcome of his deliberations. If that is the case, I will withdraw the amendment and resubmit it on Report Stage. In the meantime perhaps we might work on a wording. I am not sure whether the Minister of State is willing to come as far as might be acceptable to me, but in a spirit of co-operation I am willing to try.
I know that the Minister of State's heart is in the right place. He is bringing forward the legislation at a very important time. It is excellent and will strengthen the sector. My objective is to make it better. This area needs an independent evaluation mechanism. I am not casting aspersions on anyone involved in the control committee - neither the chairperson nor any member - but I am raising serious questions. I would be conflicted if I was chairman of the control committee and had a greyhound that was racing and that was being trained by a trainer who previously had dogs that had tested positive for drugs and if I was expected to make decisions on other dogs tested for drugs and with the same trainer. It does not make sense, but that is what is happening and if we allow it to continue, the legislation will rubber-stamp it. I am willing to meet the Minister of State halfway to find a solution.
I gather the Minister of State is not willing to concede on the four-year term. Could we reach a compromise to allow me not to press the amendment? Eight years is a long time for someone to be a member of the control committee. It also precludes more people from getting involved in such a committee. Let us take as an example someone who becomes involved in the control committee who is independent of the greyhound industry but who, or a family member, might develop an interest in owning a greyhound. He or she might not want to serve on the control committee for a period greater than four years because he or she might want to buy a greyhound but cannot do so as he or she would no longer be independent. Therefore, it might be better to shorten the term as it might improve the position in finding candidates. Could the term be made shorter, for example, three years instead of four? Would that be an alternative solution?
I should have corrected the point when the Senator said the control committee was a sub-committee. It is not; it is an independent committee, as is the appeals committee. It is proposed that a panel of eight will constitute the control committee. A hearing will require the presence of the chairperson or vice chairperson, plus two members. Anyone with a conflict of interest will have to declare it. Section 12 outlines the procedure in great detail. An extensive list is outlined. I think we can include something in the wording that will reference section 12, for the purposes of clarity, to ensure everyone will know that it is the section 12 rules that pertain.
From the point of view of the control committee being independent and objective, it will be comprised of a panel of eight members, but a hearing will require only a chair or vice chair plus two members. There is also an appeals committee.
With regard to the term, the draft pre-legislative scrutiny material referenced three years. The joint committee in its deliberations reached the conclusion that getting a panel of interested people would be a challenge and for this year the term should be four years. It is not obligatory for members to serve two terms and people can retire. It is important there is a continuous flow of people onto the board such that we do not have to replace the entire membership of the board on completion of its term. There is more work to be on the establishment of the board that is not appropriate to primary legislation. It is likely these issues will be addressed in the terms of reference.
On amendment No. 16c, it may be possible to draw its phraseology into section 12. In regard to the term, we are providing in legislation that a person "may", not "must", serve. I ask Senators to bear this in mind.
Amendments Nos. 17 to 19, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 48, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
"Export of greyhounds
56. (1) It shall be an offence for a person within the State to export, attempt to export or assist another person within the State in the export or attempted export, of a greyhound to a country which is not included in the white list prepared by the Minister in accordance with subsection (2).
(2) The Minister shall publish a white list of countries which meet minimum standards with regard to the welfare of greyhounds and to which the licensed export of greyhounds from the State shall be permissible.
(3) When preparing the white list under subsection (2), the Minister shall have regard to each of the following:
(a) the past record of the relevant country in relation to the welfare protections for greyhounds and the welfare of animals more generally;
(b) the existence in the relevant country of enforceable welfare protections for greyhounds which are equivalent to the protections available in the State;
(c) the monitoring and enforcement in the relevant country of the welfare protections in paragraph (b); and
(d) the standards of care and management to which the greyhounds are likely to be subjected to in the relevant country.
(4) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to a class A fine.".
These amendments relate to the export of Irish greyhounds to countries with records of the mistreatment and abuse of greyhounds, and an attempt to restrict, ban and-or regulate these exports. They are the most substantial changes we are proposing to the Bill.
I thank Dogs Trust Ireland for its help in drafting these amendments, Deputy Broughan, whose 2017 Private Members' Bill, the Welfare of Greyhounds (Amendment) Bill influenced their drafting, as well as Senator Black and her office for their work in bringing them to the floor of the House today.
While Ireland may have strong legal and statutory protections for greyhounds and animal welfare more generally, this is not the case in many countries around the world. Greyhound racing has a long and proud tradition in Ireland and we have a responsibility to protect the welfare of Irish greyhounds around the world to the same standard as they are treated here. It is an unfortunate reality that we are exporting greyhounds to countries where they are being mistreated, abused and subjected to treatment that would be wholly contrary to Irish law if it were to take place on this island. In its submission to the pre-legislative scrutiny process on this legislation, Dogs Trust Ireland pointed to international destinations for Irish greyhound exports such as Macau in China where high-profile welfare cases have hit the media and where horrendous records of animal cruelty have been recorded. It noted that dogs have been thrown into boiling water, horrifically mistreated during their racing careers and even skinned and sold as food in Macau markets. I welcome that particular airlines have refused to fly dogs to such countries but this is but a piecemeal effort where we need statutory control.
Dogs Trust Ireland has evidence that dog exports from Ireland to countries with terrible records, such as China, Pakistan and Argentina, are on the rise. We need to act. These amendments are tabled in the spirit of protecting these animals and placing responsibility on the Irish State for the health, welfare and lives of Irish greyhounds. Amendment No. 17 would effectively make it an offence to export greyhounds to countries such as these and would save Irish greyhounds from this cruel and degrading treatment. The section would empower the Minister to publish a white list of countries with animal welfare protections equivalent to Ireland. The export of greyhounds from Ireland to countries on the white list would be legal and it would be illegal to export to countries not included on that list.
Amendment No. 18 relates to the secondary export of greyhounds. If we were to include amendment No. 17 in the Bill, the effective statutory ban on exports to countries with terrible animal welfare practices would have a significant loophole in that an exporter could simply export to a country on the white list for the purposes of exporting to a country not on that list. Amendment No. 18 would close off this loophole and ban the secondary export of greyhounds.
Amendment No. 19 is a compromise option and simply seeks to improve the data available in this area. It would require the Minister to publish an annual report to be laid before the Oireachtas, containing the numbers of greyhounds exported in the previous year, to which countries they were exported, and a summary of the standards of greyhound welfare in those countries. It would allow for the sector to be brought within the data collection responsibilities of the Department and give the Department a role in analysing the animal welfare standards in the countries to which Ireland is exporting dogs. If dogs are being exported to countries which mistreat animals, we need to know that.
I am sure the Minister of State will agree with the sentiment of what we are trying to achieve, but he may say that these restrictions may not be compatible with EU trade law. Under Articles 34 and 35 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU, trade rules are generally common across all EU member states. On this basis, individual member states cannot unilaterally introduce quantitative restrictions on trade. Article 36 of TFEU, however, expressly provides for exceptions as long as they can be justified on grounds of public morality, public policy or public security; or the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants. The language of Article 36 is important. It accepts the general principle of free trade but recognises that there are some exceptional circumstances in which a derogation might be necessary. Importantly, it explicitly includes the protection of the health and life of animals as relevant circumstances and grounds for restriction. In this case, this is one of the relatively rare situations where the State would have a strong case to make for an Article 36 exemption because of the very real threat to the life of greyhounds. This is well substantiated in the research from Dogs Trust Ireland and other organisations.
The State would also have to justify whether this restriction is proportional and if there was some other, less onerous way to achieve the goal of protecting the life of these animals. Again, we have a strong case to make here. We cannot, and would not want to, police what happens in other jurisdictions. Once an animal leaves Ireland, we can track its location but we cannot meaningfully protect it. Therefore, one of the only plausible policy options open to us is to ensure that we do not directly facilitate their exportation to places where there is a reasonable expectation that their health and life would be endangered.
I understand that the Minister of State would not want to preside over a situation where Irish greyhounds are being exported to countries where they are being mistreated, maimed and harmed. I appreciate he may have concerns regarding these amendments but I urge him to consider them seriously as additions to the Bill. These cases are horrific, sad, downright wrong and unfair on the animals. We can safeguard these dogs with these amendments. I urge the Minister of State to take them on board.
I come from a background and in greyhounds, which have been in my family all my life. I have seen dramatic changes in the ways greyhounds are exported from Ireland. For the past four to five years, they must be microchipped, have a passport and receive injections for rabies and various illnesses before export. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine also has to give a passport which is permission for the dog to be exported. I agree that nobody wants to see any greyhound go to China or Macau. In all the years I have been in the greyhound industry, I have seen very few greyhounds sent to Macau and China. When the issue is brought up there is uproar because the standard of treatment of greyhounds in those countries is terrible.
We have come a long way and done much for the health and safety of greyhounds. Of the greyhounds born in this country, 80% go across the water and 80% of the greyhounds that race in England are Irish-bred. They all have to get microchips, passports and injections from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I agree with the Senator that we have to tighten up the law further afield. I have no doubt there are animals that slip through the net but the number has decreased in recent years because of the draconian requirements to get microchips, injections and passports. A local vet must also check the welfare of the dog in the 24 hours before it is exported. The vet checks its earmarking and makes sure the dog is healthy to travel before signing off on its export.
I commend Senator Ruane on this very important amendment. We compliment ourselves in this country that we treat animals well. We do so up to a point but not beyond a certain point. Cases of animal cruelty are brought to public attention from time to time and Ireland is Europe's number one country for puppy farming, which is an obscene business. Supposing we were perfect, which we are not, it would not be sufficient for us to be perfect in this country. We would also have to ensure, as Senator Ruane's amendments propose to do, that the countries to which these animals are exported also have high standards, which they do not. The point that has been caught by these amendments is that there can be a second country referring to another country. We can say we ban exports to one country but then we export them to a second country and that country exports them to these malignant regimes.
The treatment of animals in the Orient is horrendous. Senator Ruane mentioned that dogs are skinned but she left out was that they are often skinned alive, as are cats. I have seen video footage of cats having the skin taken off their flesh while they were alive and heard the poor unfortunate animals screaming from the agony they were put through.
I strongly support these amendments. Senator Ruane is 100% justified in saying that Article 36 provides adequate justification because what could be clearer than that we are dealing with the welfare of animals? Does anybody suggest they enjoy being skinned alive? It would be a very funny thing if they did. I strongly support Senator Ruane's amendments and I honour her for putting them down.
I support the proposed new section and amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 19, which propose the drawing up of register of countries that have met acceptable standards in greyhound welfare. If this type of approach was taken to trading in other goods, we would be better at protecting human rights. Amendment No. 18 proposes to make it an offence to export a greyhound to a country on the white list with full knowledge that it will be subsequently exported to a country that is not on the white list. I support that proposal.
The use of microchipping, to which a previous speaker alluded, would simplify the process of producing an annual report, as provided for in amendment No. 19. It would not be especially onerous to produce such a report given that most of the data have already been gathered. I hope the Minister of State can accept that Article 36 is robust enough to allow this country to make its own trading laws in this area.
I support Senator Ruane's amendments. They come from an animal welfare perspective and many of them fulfil the criteria of animal welfare. This is an opportunity to improve the welfare of greyhounds, particularly greyhounds that are exported to countries with very poor track records in the manner in which they treat dogs or other animals. I was particularly taken by amendment No. 19, which makes the excellent proposal to have an annual report and produce a league table of the countries to which we export greyhounds.
We will come to that one shortly.
Amendment No. 19 is in the group we are discussing. The proposal is an excellent idea and I hope it can be incorporated into the legislation. We should be concerned about the manner in which we treat all pets and animals. If we are sending greyhounds to countries with poor track records, we should be concerned about it. We should also be concerned about the manner in which we treat greyhounds here. We have talked about that today. We are discussing a new section 56 dealing with the eligibility of registered greyhounds to race. We must include in the legislation more stringent controls over animal welfare and abuse of greyhounds. Senator Ruane is right to propose these amendments and I sincerely hope the Minister of State will look favourably on them. I will raise some specific points on the section when we conclude our discussion on the amendments.
We should all remember that a greyhound makes an excellent family pet. When greyhounds come to the end of their racing cycle, they have to be rehomed. We have heard horror stories of greyhounds being killed because, in the view of those who race them, they are not fit for racing. That is terrible. There is an organisation within the control of the Irish Greyhound Board. I am not sure of the name but I think it is the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust. It is an excellent way of rehoming greyhounds that have fulfilled their racing obligations. There are charitable organisations doing exactly the same work. I have read stories about members of the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust flying to Canada with Irish greyhounds to try to get them rehomed. Many people here who are looking for family pets do not even know greyhounds are available to be taken as family pets.
Should a campaign not be established by the Irish Greyhound Board in respect of rehoming greyhounds that have been retired? I assure the House that while Canada is a great place, it costs a lot of money to bring a greyhound there. It eats into the budget. There are many in Ireland, especially children, who would love a greyhound as a family pet. Maybe that should be considered. We cannot do it in the legislation. Would it not be a wonderful campaign to have up and running for Christmas? There are children looking for pets and there are retired greyhounds that we could rehome in family homes in Ireland. It would be a wonderful news story. I cannot understand why this was not done before. I am aware that some of the charities are doing it but I am not sure whether the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust has done it. Perhaps it is something the trust should consider. How many of the hundreds of greyhounds that reach the end of their racing careers each year are rehomed in Ireland? Is it more lucrative to export them? I do not know the answer but am just posing the question. I support the amendment.
If amendments Nos. 17 and 18 are not acceptable to the Department, amendment No. 19 offers a fantastic compromise. I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. The amendment would strengthen the Minister’s hand and improve animal welfare. We brought animal welfare legislation through the Houses not too long ago but unfortunately the standards set out in that legislation are not being complied with in respect of racing greyhounds. I am not sure why that happens. We have heard stories today about greyhounds being fed everything from cocaine to Viagra.
Senator Norris probably knows more about that.
I certainly do. I am having some now.
The Senator is having some now. Dogs are being fed all these substances. How many of the cases ended up on the desks of An Garda?
If they had Viagra, they would not end up on the desk; they would end up on something else.
That is a separate matter. It is an ecumenical matter.
It would not be ecumenical. There is nothing religious about it at all; it is all about sex.
That is not relevant to this debate.
Joking aside, I am interested to know how many cases have ended up with An Garda Síochána. If class A drugs are being fed to greyhounds, surely the Garda should be involved. If the force is not involved, why is that the case?
The Minister does not have direct control of the governance of the Irish Greyhound Board. The board is answerable to the Minister. I would appreciate answers to some of the questions, if not today perhaps in writing over the coming days. I would be quite happy to wait. There is no urgency. I would certainly like answers to some of the questions before Report Stage, which I presume will be next week.
I will try to stick with the dogs issue.
It might be advisable.
I shall discuss amendments Nos. 17 to 19, inclusive, together. The aim of the Senators proposing the amendments is commendable and understandable. They are concerned with the welfare of greyhounds. Even if it were legally possible to ban the export of greyhounds to certain countries, I would not be convinced that the amendments proposed would have the effect desired by the Senators. The amendments would be unworkable and impossible to enforce. The reality is that the United Kingdom is where the majority of greyhounds are exported to. It is not for the Department to police whether greyhounds sent to the UK or any other country are subsequently sent on to another country.
I am not here to defend any other country’s record on animal welfare but we must be clear that, setting aside the unworkability of the amendments, any legislation banning the exportation of greyhounds to certain countries would face significant legal difficulties. The Department examined this issue. We sought and obtained legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General on the Private Members’ Bill introduced by Deputy Tommy Broughan, which proposed measures similar to those we are discussing now. The advice from the Attorney General was that the Bill was incompatible with domestic and European law. Despite our differences on the amendments proposed, we share the aim of protecting the welfare of animals. The Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 obliges Bord na gCon to publish a code of practice for the welfare of greyhounds. The primary objective of the code is to set standards and clearly define what is expected of all individuals engaged in the care and management of registered greyhounds. The board proposes to expand the existing code to include provisions regarding best practice when exporting greyhounds. We referred earlier to the issue of retired greyhounds in this context.
In the context of reporting on the exportation of greyhounds, it is not currently possible to retrieve the information being requested. The TRACES system used to record the exportation of canines does not differentiate between greyhounds and other dogs, no more than it distinguishes between breeds of cattle or horses, so it is not possible, therefore, to report on greyhounds exported to other countries.
Let me respond to Senator Ó Domhnaill on the issue of retirement. The Irish Retired Greyhound Trust has helped to rehome over 5,300 racing greyhounds since 2008, with 853 rehomed between January and October of this year. A further 58 are on the list for rehoming between now and the end of the year. These greyhounds will be rehomed as pets in homes in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy, the Czech Republic and Belgium. The Irish Greyhound Board contributed over €100,000 to the Retired Greyhound Trust in 2017. The main source of funding for the trust continues to come from greyhound racing owners through a 2% reduction in all winners’ prize money. This funding is matched by the Irish Greyhound Board. The Department continues to lend its support through the provision of free passports to retired greyhounds when they are to be rehomed abroad. The trust also provides financial assistance to private rehoming agencies in Limerick, Clare, Tipperary, Kerry and Belfast.
I mentioned earlier the question of the Irish attitude towards animals. By and large, it is more or less all right. What about those who knowingly export greyhounds to the countries in question? They are skunks if ever I came across them. I do not accept what the Minister of State says. I do not accept that it is unworkable to institute these amendments. The Minister of State talked about legal difficulties. The legal difficulties have been adequately exploded by Senator Ruane. Article 36 makes a clear exception for the health and welfare of animals. What greater health and welfare conditions could one have?
With regard to the keeping of statistics, we are notoriously bad in this country. The Minister of State said it is impossible to do what is proposed because we do not differentiate between different types of dogs. Perhaps because of the particularities of the greyhound industry, we should start instituting a regime whereby greyhounds are set aside. They are a particular type of dog that attracts a particular a particular type of difficulty. Therefore, the required statistics should be kept. Ireland is not good at keeping statistics. We should do better.
We have come a long way in the past three or four years with the microchipping of dogs and passports. We must be very careful, however, not to impose additional expenses on breeders of greyhounds. A little microchip that goes into a dog’s back costs 50 cent or €1 at most. When one goes to the control steward and asks him to microchip a dog, it might cost €25.
If there are eight dogs in a litter, it costs €200. I fear that breeders or people rearing greyhounds might school the greyhounds at an early stage, find out if they are any good, and if they are no good, get rid of them completely under the radar without them being microchipped or anything being done with them. We need to be very careful about the expense to be placed on breeders to do all this. A grant system or something else should be put in place to help them so that they will go through the procedures. I have seen the changes over the past four or five years on passporting and microchipping.
As a taxpayer, the Senator can include me out of the greyhound benevolent society.
What has happened is fantastic. I know there is a lot more to do, but what we are doing is positive and going in the right direction.
We are not suggesting policing the other countries. It is impossible to police the exporting from another country. Our amendment places the onus on the person exporting from here. If we obtain knowledge that that dog has been sent to a secondary country to reach its destination, the person here would be here would be held responsible if they knew that the dog was going through Britain or another European country en route to another country with lower standards. We are not necessarily looking to police what happens when it goes to another country. However, the person here should know the country to which they are sending the dog.
Senator Norris is right that there is no harm in updating how we collect data on dogs. He mentioned puppy farms as well. Dogs are a particular category of animal and we should look for a greater breakdown on dogs. In particular, greyhounds are a separate category because of racing. We may need to create a system to collect the data we know. I believe 85% of dogs currently go to the UK, which is great. How do we know that figure, if we cannot give the breakdown for greyhounds because those data are only collected as canine? How do we have those figures in the first place?
I accept the Minister of State is bound by the advice of the Attorney General and that may preclude him from accepting amendments Nos. 17 and 18. However, the only body that can make a definitive judgment on the compatibility or workability of what we are proposing is the European Court of Justice. Whether this violates Articles 34 and 35 of the EU treaty and whether it would be allowable under Article 36 is not for the Attorney General to determine. It would be determined by whether we would be willing to expand our political efforts in Ireland by seeking an EU derogation to protect the lives, health and well-being of greyhounds. I urge the Minister of State to consider whether this is an issue on which we are willing to take a stand for animal welfare and put the Department's efforts into making what would admittedly be a bold move, but one that we could stand over on the European or international stage as Ireland would become a leader in protecting the welfare of greyhounds domestically and internationally.
I accept this may not be a decision the Minister of State can make today. I ask him to consider amendment No. 19 as a compromise. That would have no material impact on the export of greyhounds but would give the Department a data collection role in the area. It would increase transparency and accountability by helping the Department, Members of the Oireachtas and the public know how many of our greyhounds are being exported, where they are going and how they are being treated when they get there.
In our meeting yesterday, the Minister of State expressed some concerns over the phrasing of the amendment and whether such a report would be better delivered to an Oireachtas joint committee rather than to the Houses. I am happy to review the issue before Report Stage. I urge the Minister of State to give this serious consideration. We should show that as a country we care about the animal at all stages of its life. Having clear accurate data on where it goes when it leaves our country shows that we actually care about the greyhound and that we do not merely care about the function it serves on the racetrack.
I would ask the Minister of State and his officials to have a discussion on amendment No. 19. That would serve a greater purpose than just being transparent. If those data existed, even if they are in the minority of 15% or 20% that go outside those European countries, people would be less likely to send them to those countries if they knew these data were published and transparent. It might in itself serve as a deterrent from sending animals to countries that do not have good welfare standards.
The number of dogs going to the UK is extrapolated from the number of Irish greyhounds registered with Bord na gCon that subsequently show up as registered in the UK. We can get an update on the figure. I am told it is a good bit higher than 85%.
On the animals rehomed in the countries I outlined, because the Department issues a passport, it can correlate with the first registration so that it knows they are greyhounds. I have no objection to giving the report. However, the tracing system that is used across a number of different areas does not provide us with the ability to distinguish between breeds. Canines, cats and horses are all categorised under their species. We are able to get the good data on greyhounds through another channel. That is because they subsequently show up as registered in the Greyhound Board of Great Britain.
Senator Ó Domhnaill asked about the welfare of greyhounds. In 2017, Bord na gCon carried out 477 kennel inspections, undertook 48 welfare investigations and issued 48 sanctions. Bord na gCon prosecutions under the Animal Health and Welfare Act resulted in 43 fixed payment notices and three District Court fines.
We can track the registration of the greyhounds between here and the UK. Dogs are given passports before they are exported. Through the passport, could we not identify the countries they are travelling to? There must be some purpose for that passport being accounted for in the country in which it arrives. There must be some available data through the passport. Does something show up on a system in another country that a dog passport has been checked on arrival there? How does that work?
Those data are not stored on the microchip. The microchip obviously stays with the animal. There are also ear markings.
We can get up-to-date figures from Bord na gCon as to whether it is 80%, 85% 90% or whatever. We can then get the percentage that are rehomed. We are then left with a small cohort. What we are left with then is the total of number of canines exported and where they were exported to. The purpose of registration and traceability is to try to track animals through their life and beyond racing or whatever. Through the various provisions in this legislation on traceability, health and welfare, we are trying to ensure that, through the animal's life, its owners and minders are subject to scrutiny so that they are mindful that they have a duty of care.
At least 90% of animal keepers love their animals.
That is the nature of it. It is often said we spend 80% of our time here dealing with the 10%. That is not just the case in this House; some school teachers have had the same experience. If we were able to extrapolate from the data further, we would not have any problem with including them. I am just giving the Senator the facts. Following our discussions yesterday, we investigated the matter and this is what we found. It is the response we received and, to be honest, it surprised us somewhat.
Perhaps the Minister of State might update the procedures.
To come back in on what Senator Ruane said about passports, it is not really the same as a passport for a human being. It includes information on ear markings, the colour of the dog and so on. When a vet gives a dog injections, including for rabies, that is written in the passport which is passed on, but it is the microchip that really holds the secret to it all.
It is astonishing that they are not checked and registered in the country in which they arrive.
They are checked.
Then there should be a record.
There is. That is how we know that 85% were exported to England.
They were subsequently registered there.
The problem arises when they move further afield.
The passport should still be registered in the third country.
It is called a passport, but it does not really serve the same purpose as a passport for a human being, as we understand it. It does not contain much more than what is on the microchip. Really, it is just more bureaucracy.
Is Senator Ruane pressing amendment No. 17.
I will withdraw it but reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 48, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
“Secondary export of greyhounds
56. (1) It shall be an offence for a person within the State to export, attempt to export, or assist another person in the export, or attempted export of a greyhound to a country included in the white list published in accordance with section 56(2)# for the purpose of subsequently transferring such a greyhound to a country not so included.
(2) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to a class A fine.”.
I will also withdraw this amendment but, again, reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 48, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
“Reporting on export of greyhounds
56. (1) The Minister shall produce and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report following the end of each calendar year which will include:
(a) the number of greyhounds exported from the State in the preceding 12 months;
(b) a list of every country to which greyhounds have been exported from the State in the preceding 12 months; and
(c) a summary of the standards with regard to the welfare of greyhounds in every country listed in paragraph (b) in as recent a time period as is practicable.
(2) In preparing the report under subsection (1), the Minister shall have regard to each of the following:
(a) the past record of the relevant country in relation to the welfare protections for greyhounds and the welfare of animals more generally;
(b) the existence in the relevant country of enforceable welfare protections for greyhounds which are equivalent to the protections available in the State;
(c) the monitoring and enforcement in the relevant country of the welfare protections in paragraph (b); and
(d) the standards of care and management to which the greyhounds are likely to be subjected to in the relevant country.”.
I withdraw the amendment but, again, reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.
Section 56 concerns the eligibility to race of registered greyhounds. It refers to registration in the Irish greyhound stud book, the holder of which I understand is the Irish Coursing Club. We have the Irish Greyhound Board and the Irish Coursing Club and every time I ask a question about artificial insemination, one seems to blame the other, which is regrettable. I wonder if an efficiency saving could be made by amalgamating the two bodies because they more or less seem to do the same thing. I understand the Irish Coursing Club has a chief executive officer, whose only job is to keep the stud book and oversee two tracks in the North.
The main point I want to make concerns the eligibility to race of greyhounds listed in the Irish stud book. I am concerned about greyhounds that are racing illegally on Irish tracks every week in contravention of the 2014 regulations introduced by Bord na gCon. There is no compliance with the regulations which centre on the issue of artificial insemination or the use of frozen semen. This issue has not been dealt with, despite the fact that the Irish Greyhound Board and the Department received legal advice from the barrister Mr. Ross Aylward in February 2013 to the effect that it was illegal to continue to use frozen semen from dogs that were long dead and insert it into bitches. That is still happening. A cartel is operating within the sector and the issue is not being addressed. Section 56 provides us with an opportunity to deal with it. Is there a willingness within the Department to deal with it once and for all and make sure the 2014 regulations will be upheld? The regulations were introduced following consultation, had the consent of the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and were made under section 39 of the 1958 Greyhound Act. The amended artificial insemination of greyhounds regulations were introduced by Bord na gCon in 2014 and came into effect on 1 November of that year. They removed the two year limit on the use of semen for the purposes of artificial insemination following the death of a stud dog, but they did not have retrospective effect.
At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on 20 October 2015 I had the opportunity to question a member of the board of Bord na gCon, Mr. Colm Gaynor, on the dogs that continued to race illegally. He said the following: "Those dogs have not been brought back into compliance. That is the legal problem. The dogs before 1 November cannot now be brought back into legal compliance, as the Senator puts it, but to be definite, they are registered and are on the stud book." If they are registered and on the stud book, that means that they are on it illegally. That cannot be allowed to continue. This problem is causing friction in the sector and placing enormous obstacles in the way of ordinary people who want to breed and train greyhounds. They cannot compete because the AI issue is just a financial minefield.
Let us say Senator Norris wants to have his greyhound inseminated. He must bring the dog to one of five licensed centres in the country and collect it after it has been inseminated with semen which has been kept in cold storage. I mentioned the case of a dog sired by a dog by the name of Trade Official that had been born in 1992, or 26 years ago.
The old dog-----
Indeed, the old dog for the hard road. That dog is dead. As the normal lifespan of a dog is much less than 26 years, presumably, the semen was frozen, but it continues to be used today. That is wrong. Is the Minister of State willing to deal with the issue? I hope to have an opportunity to introduce an amendment on Report Stage.
There is a cartel operating within the industry. As I understand it, one centre in the North is flaunting the fact that it has in cold storage and available for use €5 million worth of AI seed from male greyhounds. How can the ordinary punter deal with this? Most owners and breeders cannot afford the AI fees which range from €2,000 to €7,000 to have a dog sired.
Therefore, they are being left helpless because this is continuing despite the fact the regulation is there and the Irish Greyhound Board chooses not to implement it. I do not understand why it is not being implemented. Surely if Bord na gCon introduced a regulation in 2014, it should be implemented. Perhaps it is beyond the scope of the Minister of State's remit but how can it be dealt with? What is the Department's view on dealing with the issue once and for all? It is a massive bone of contention. It is really unfair. There is no equity in the issue of AI. It is grossly unfair to have a cartel in the sector. It is very wrong and it needs to be dealt with. I am not sure exactly how. One way would be to ban frozen semen altogether. That would be the simple way to deal with it. I am not sure whether the Minister would be open to that at this stage.
On a point of information before I call Senator Butler, the particular dog the Senator referred to would be approximately 154 in dog years so I doubt it is running around the track.
Is that right? I thank the Acting Chairman for enlightening me.
There are two different groups in the greyhound world. We have the Irish Coursing Club and the Irish Greyhound Board. In the 1980s and 1990s, if people wanted to register their names as owners or if they wanted to register a greyhound they had to be a member of the Irish Coursing Club and have a membership card. This is how it ended up with the registration of litters and this has continued. I see where the Senator is coming from.
On the frozen semen issue, it was rescinded by the board in 2014. I see greyhounds in England every day of the week. I saw a 2017 Pacific Mile pup run the other night and win in Nottingham but he has been dead since the mid-1990s. Top Honcho dogs run every so often and he is also dead since the 1990s.
Did Senator Butler get the name of the vet? We could all be treated by him.
Senator Butler, without interruption.
Senator Norris would last forever. There are minuses and pluses with these centres but the plus side is that much of the frozen semen coming in has made it cheaper in certain cases to get dogs of the likes of Top Honcho and Australian dogs such Frightful Flash. In certain centres the frozen semen was a quarter of the price when the stud dog was alive. It has made it cheaper for the ordinary Joe Soap to get fashionable dog so not everybody in the game would be in favour of banning frozen semen. When we were rearing we never used it. We always liked to see the natural mating go ahead in front of us. It was rescinded in 2014 and it is no longer illegal. I see these dogs running every day of the week on British and Irish tracks. Nothing illegal is being done respect of these dogs that have been dead for 20 years, with frozen semen being used and new progeny running on the tracks.
Does the Minister of State have anything further to add on this?
While I was listening to the debate, and I profess no knowledge of the subject matter, I was looking at the property supplement in The Irish Times today and as dogs are being mentioned by name I want to say there is a particular dog called Otto whose owners are selling their house in Rathgar for €1.45 million and one of the features of the house in leafy Dublin 6 is that there is a special shower for the dog.
Is it hot or cold?
That falls very neatly under section 62.
I do not intend to move the amendment at this time.
When is it proposed to take Report Stage?
Is that agreed? Agreed.