I propose to take Questions Nos. 166, 172 and 177 together.
The Animal Health and Welfare Act, which I commenced last month, applies to all animals and imposes additional responsibilities on all owners of animals. With regard to the welfare of animals, the Act puts clear obligations on owners regarding the need to look after animals under their care. These relate to feed and drink, shelter and protection from disease, injury, or discomfort. Significant powers are provided to authorised officers to inspect any premises where animals of any species are present. Where offences occur, the Animal Health & Welfare Act 2013 provides for increased penalties, with fines of up to €5,000 on summary conviction and €250,0000 and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years on indictment. It also provides for fixed penalty payments for lesser offenses.
In addition, for the first time the new Animal Health and Welfare Act provides the legal basis to enable the Department require notification of transfer of ownership of horses. Legislation is being prepared to provide for this and will be ready shortly. Regulations on the registration of horse premises, which were introduced in 2012, require an owner/person in charge of any premises on which horses are kept to register the premises with the Department. These regulations are also continued under the new Animal Health and Welfare Act. To date, my Department has 12,000 registered horse premises in its database under the relevant statutory instrument.
My Department continues to work closely with the local authorities, the Gardai Siochana and animal welfare bodies with a view to addressing horse welfare issues generally and where necessary, removing abandoned horses from public lands. In some instances local authorities have assisted with the removal of horses trespassing (without the consent of the farmer) on a farmer’s private lands. Additional funding resources of €3.1m was provided to the local authorities in 2013 to enable them to deal with stray and unwanted horses and this enabled the removal last year of in excess of 4,700 stray or unwanted horses throughout the country.
With regard to horses in the non-thoroughbred horse sector, my Department continues to adopt a pro-active approach in relation to production, husbandry, treatment and general welfare issues. The Department has been working with the Farm Animal Advisory Council (FAWAC) on the these issues and a very informative booklet has been produced by FAWAC on animal welfare guidelines for horses, ponies and donkeys in an effort to promote sound welfare and management practices. In essence, the booklet advises horse owners that they should ensure that horses in their care have, as a minimum, access to proper shelter, a dry lie area to protect against inclement weather and access to good quality pasture and fodder.
In recognition of the assistance provided by animal welfare bodies in protecting horse welfare, I awarded funding of €1.8m in December 2013 to organisations involved in animal care and welfare services throughout the country to support their activities in 2014. Funding was increased and concentrated on those animal welfare organisations involved with horses.