“That Seanad Éireann:
- Ireland has signed and ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes (‘the Convention’);
- the European Union has been promoting animal welfare for over forty years, gradually improving the welfare standards in respect of animals kept for farming purposes;
- the Government has reaffirmed its commitment to promoting the welfare of all animals in the Animal Welfare Strategy for Ireland 2021-2025 (‘the Strategy’);
- that animals are entitled to the widely acknowledged following ‘five freedoms’, which are reflected in the Convention:
i) freedom from hunger and thirst;
ii) freedom from discomfort;
iii) freedom from pain, injury and disease;
iv) freedom to express normal behaviour; and
v) freedom from fear and distress;
- the positive contribution to date on the part of this Government in devising and publishing the Strategy; in creating a stand-alone Animal Welfare Division within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; and in providing for a doubling of funding for animal welfare organisations;
- the recognition by all European Union Member States in Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, together with the acknowledgement in the Strategy that animals are sentient beings who can perceive their environment and experience sensations such as pain and suffering or pleasure and comfort;
- the commitment by all European Union Member States in Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals;
- the commitment by the European Commission in its Farm to Fork Strategy to revise the European Union’s animal welfare legislation by the end of 2023, in order to align it with the latest available scientific evidence, broaden its scope, facilitate greater enforcement, and ultimately ensure a higher level of animal welfare;
- the commitments made in respect of animal welfare in the Programme for Government: ‘Our Shared Future’;
calls on the Government and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to:
- continue to work with the European Commission and with Ireland’s fellow European Union Member States to uphold the Convention and Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; and to expedite the revision of the European Union’s animal welfare legislation;
- legislate for a minimum requirement that all shipments carrying live animal exports to third countries carry a veterinarian on board, and to take immediate steps to vigorously pursue value-enhancing market avenues as an alternative to live exports;
- commence all sections of the Animal Health and Welfare and Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2022, such that the prohibition on fur farming as provided for under that Act takes effect;
- consider section 12(9) of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act, 2001 (as amended), and adopt a position as to whether the strategic plan submitted to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine by Bord na gCon in accordance with that Act is deficient and/or whether reasonable progress on the implementation of that plan has been made, such that instalments otherwise payable to Bord na gCon should be withheld;
- take immediate steps to uphold the provisions of Council Directive 2008/120/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs, in particular those provisions relating to the practices of tail-docking and reduction of corner teeth;
- review the sentencing regime under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 as a matter of priority;
- regulate the breeding, ownership, sale, or supply of exotic pet species;
- allocate increased resources to the enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare (Sale or Supply of Pet Animals) Regulations 2019;
- engage constructively with Seanad Éireann in considering the provisions of the Animal Health and Welfare (Dogs) Bill 2022.”
I welcome the French ambassador and his wife to the Seanad for Bastille Day. I look forward to joining them for celebrations in their residency later and I thank them for joining us.
It is my great pleasure to table a motion on animal welfare. Unfortunately, animal welfare does not get the time it deserves in the Houses and the Green Party wants to make sure that we address a couple of urgent issues before the summer recess. I am delighted that the motion is being seconded by my Fianna Fáil colleague, Senator Murphy.
I will lay out precisely what the motion is about as there is quite a lot in it. The Green Party went into the programme for Government negotiations with a lot of requests regarding animal welfare. While we achieved a great deal, it is fair to say that we wish we had gotten other measures over the line. Regardless of whichever party we had gone into programme for Government negotiations with, it was going to be a challenge having read all the manifestos of the individual parties.
I am delighted that the Green Party has a Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, will speak later and I know she will push for everything she can for animal welfare. There was a doubling of funding for the organisations involved in the area. I speak to representatives of these organisations all the time, as does the Minister of State, and we try to bring to the table issues concerning them whenever we can.
This motion addresses a significant number of those concerns in four key areas, namely, live exports, greyhound racing funding, exotic pets and the welfare of dogs. I expect Senator Boylan will speak on the last of those. The motion expresses support for her Bill and we would love to see it progressed. We will do what we can to make it happen.
I have spoken many times in this House about live exports. It is not an issue on which we have had agreement from most parties. It is Green Party policy to ban all live exports outside of the EU on the grounds that animals are sentient beings. They are put on ships, sometimes for days and even for up to two weeks, particularly when there are storms, as I have outlined previously in the House. Trips within the EU are very short but there are still problems in this regard. A Green Party researcher told me yesterday that when she went on holiday with her children, there were four container loads of animals on the ship. Most people do not realise there are no vets on those ships and no requirement to have a vet on board. In the case of very young, unweaned calves, they may be on a ship for nearly two weeks when going to Libya, for example, with no access to any kind of medical care whatsoever. Many die on board and those who survive go to systems of slaughter that would not be considered humane by people in this country. They are slaughtered in locations with different kinds of legislative environments from ours. We cannot control that.
This is primarily the reason the Green Party does not want to see these animals going on long journeys. If we ensured, at the very least, they had enough water, food and access to even the minimal standards of medical care, we could stand over the practice. It is just not possible to stand over it at the moment when there is no legal requirement to have a vet on board. During the Covid crisis, many of the export companies said they could not do that because we were in the middle of the pandemic. We are not in the middle of a pandemic now and perhaps those companies should not have been exporting animals during a pandemic in the first place. Part of the motion calls for a requirement to have vets on board every ship on which live animals are being transported. I know there is no legislative basis for this but I ask that the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, bring forward such legislation. I believe everybody in this Chamber would support it. They might not support a ban on live exports but I know they would support care for animals. It is something with which Irish people concern themselves.
I will outline some of the figures relating to live exports. In 2020, nearly 492,000 pigs and a total of 265,000 cattle were exported from this country. In 2022 to date, halfway through the year, 206,000 cattle have been exported. We are on our way to a bumper year for live exports. It is incumbent on the export companies, this House and the Dáil to put the legislation in place to ensure this vast number of animals are cared for properly during their journey overseas. The majority of exported animals are pigs, to which there is specific reference in the motion. In the case of cattle, most of the exported animals are very young, unweaned calves. I have spent a lot of time on farms. Anybody who has heard the crying of a baby calf when it is being taken from its mother knows it is very distressing. The animal welfare group within the Green Party, which is incredibly active, does substantial work and engages regularly with the Minister, reports that the crying of calves being transported can be heard from the dock. It is incredibly distressing.
Many people say the greyhound racing industry in this country is on its knees. It is on its knees because people no longer want to attend the events. As far as I am aware, none of the staff at the Galway track works full-time. One or two of them may be full-time but, in general, there is a really small job opportunity within the industry. The claim is often made in this Chamber that the industry bring jobs to rural Ireland. It really does not, other than a few part-time jobs. We have record employment numbers in this country. This is not the time to be saying we should put the jobs of some 30 people who could avail of another job opportunity ahead of the welfare of these animals. There have been numerous exposés regarding the treatment of greyhounds in this country. As we have pointed out repeatedly, approximately 6,000 dogs have gone missing in Ireland. They are born, found not to be suitable for racing and then they just go missing. Apart from that, approximately 6,000 dogs are exported from Ireland, predominantly to the UK.
The cost of rearing those animals is taken up by the State, at nearly €5,000 per dog. The breeders, when they sell the animals, pocket the profit, which is approximately €1,000 per animal. Farmers throughout the country would love to have the cost of rearing their animals covered by the State and to be able to pocket the money for selling them overseas. This cannot continue. All of that funding is coming from the State. The way our legislation is set up is such that every time we increase funding to horse racing, which does need to be done, we also increase funding to the greyhound industry. It is an 80:20 split. In the middle of the pandemic, we had to support the dogs and horses who were, in effect, in the care of the State, given we are supporting the industries financially. We had to increase the amount of money going to them, with the same 80:20 split reflected in the budget. That was really upsetting for me as Green Party member. It was upsetting to have it laid out in front of us that this is how funding is being distributed.
One positive development was the introduction in 2016 of a requirement that both industries prepare a strategic plan and make reasonable efforts to implement it. The Minister has powers to withhold moneys if the plans are considered deficient or if reasonable progress on their implementation has not been made. Some of our members and others involved in animal welfare legislation have brought to light that the industries are not sticking to the plans. There are legislative grounds to withhold moneys in those circumstances. We are calling for an examination of the plans and whether the industries are sticking to them. It is not for me to say whether they are, but there is a reasonable amount of evidence at this stage that they are not. We ask that, following the strategic plan examination, the Minister would then make a decision as to whether it is appropriate to give over that money.
We in the Green Party would love to see an end to any public finance being given to the greyhound industry, especially given the evidence to which I referred. I do not think any other party in this House agrees entirely with leaving aside all funding, but we must deal with the reality of where we are politically. This is a very good step and an important part of the motion. Many people have said we need to take on a racing-centric breeding model. It is hard for me to argue on that point when I do not support greyhound racing in the first place.
However, if we actually took on that kind of model, we would put the welfare of these animals first.
This motion calls on the Minister to regulate the breeding, ownership, sale and supply of exotic pets. It is taken directly from the programme for Government. We do not know how many, where or what species of exotic pets are in Ireland. Northern Ireland has legislation in this area and it would be welcome if there was consistency across the island. We tend to say that we would love to see some of our legislation regarding the environment adopted in the North of Ireland, particularly after Brexit where we have real concerns. In this particular instance, however, we would love to see what they have in the North of Ireland adopted here. It just shows that the public want this and are really crying out for support for animals in Ireland. Therefore, not having any of this data or information about these exotic pets means there are animal welfare issues. Wild animals are often caged and kept in unknown conditions, and when exotic animals escape, there is a public health issue.
Crucially, when it comes to biodiversity, the first motion we ever brought to the Seanad when we had four Green Party Senators elected was with regard to biodiversity. So much debate is lacking that real proper discussion about biodiversity. We have seen that these exotic species wreak havoc on our local natural environments. They are very hard to deal with from a public purse point of view but also when it comes to really restoring biodiversity and our native species.
Many Senators will remember my outbursts here a few months ago with regard to fur farming and the Animal Health and Welfare and Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which was aimed at ending mink farming on this island. I was frustrated at the lack of progress of that Bill. It was adjourned many times but I was delighted to see it pass. Indeed, the Minister of State had her own really important work in relation to small-scale forestry on farmlands across the country. Upon looking into it, however, and I believe the Minister of State is aware of it and this is crucially important for us, that legislation has not been commenced. It passed through both Houses but it has not been commenced. That is why it was critical to have this done before the recess. We need to have it commenced. I do not care what is going on in the background, really. There are three farmers who invested heavily in it but they have known for two decades that this industry does not have a future. That Bill, which is now the Act to which we all agreed, needs to be commenced in order that we can get on with the business of compensating those farmers and the small number of workers and, critically, ending fur farming, which has been shown not to be humane in any way, shape or form and not to be in the public interest. It has been banned in other parts of the world. Ireland is lagging behind. I thought the job was done. We got the Act done but now it is time to commence that Act. I will end there. I have taken a considerable amount of time because I feel very passionately about this issue. I look forward to hearing from my Government colleague who will be seconding this motion today. I know he supports animal welfare.