The planning of the conference is still in the early stages but at this point I can say that it will focus on many of the changes being made to the animal welfare regime, including those introduced by the new Animal Health & Welfare Act 2013. The issue of animal welfare is broad and the welfare of horses will undoubtedly be one of the topics discussed.
With regard to animal welfare, my Department devotes considerable resources to this area and, in particular, to the welfare of horses. My Department paid some €3m to the Local Authorities under the Control of Horses Act in 2013 to enable them to deal with stray and unwanted horses. This enabled the Local Authorities to remove almost 4,000 stray or unwanted horses last year and thereby resolve a number of serious horse welfare situations. A further significant number of horses have been removed since the beginning of the year.
In addition, in December 2013, I announced funding of €1.8m to 136 organisations involved in animal care and welfare services throughout the country to support their activities in 2014. The level of funding being provided to these organisations was increased for the third year in a row, reflecting the importance I attach to their work. The increased funding was concentrated on those organisations involved in horse welfare, to ensure sufficient resources are available to enable them cater for any difficulties arising in the area of horse welfare during 2014 and to assist them in complying with new legislation on equine identification and equine premises registration.
I should emphasise that responsibility for the welfare of horses rests primarily with their owners and that the level of penalties to be imposed for breaches of animal welfare has been significantly increased under the new Animal Health and Welfare Act. My Department is working closely with the local authorities, the Gardaí and animal welfare bodies with a view to ensuring compliance with animal welfare legislation and addressing horse welfare issues generally and, where necessary, removing stray or unwanted horses.