Officials from my Department recently met with members of the local authority control of horses working group to discuss this matter. There is a general consensus that the current approach continues to reduce problems regarding wandering horses despite the persistence of a small number of irresponsible horse owners. Overall, the Control of Horses Act 1996, which provides powers to local authorities to deal with stray and abandoned horses, has worked well over the past 20 or so years.
The number of horses being seized nationally continues to decline from 4,923 in 2014 to 1,603 in 2017 and 806 to date in 2018. This reduction is reflective of a number of factors, including initiatives being progressed by my Department in the animal welfare area as well as the active enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the EU equine identification regulations. In tandem with the work of the local authorities under the Control of Horses Act, officials of my Department have been directly involved in a number of horse seizures and have initiated prosecutions under the Animal Health and Welfare Act.
Horse exports have increased substantially in recent years helping to bring about a much greater balance between supply and demand. In addition, animal welfare charities have been re-homing an increasing number of horses abroad. The increased emphasis on re-homing of horses is being assisted greatly through my Department's funding to animal welfare organisations. A total of €2.56 million has been paid to 111 organisations to assist their work in animal welfare in 2018. A number of these organisations are actively involved in rescuing and re-homing neglected horses.
My Department also provides funding to local authorities to support the development of urban-Traveller horse projects in their respective areas. To date, funding of €1,004,447 has been drawn down across several local authorities, including a contribution of €534,024 to South Dublin County Council towards the development of the Clondalkin Equine Club. Funding has also been provided for projects and actions in Kildare, Kilkenny, Longford, Limerick, Leitrim, Cork, Meath, Offaly and Wicklow. These projects focus on education and they create awareness about compliance with animal welfare regulations thereby contributing to the reduction in the numbers of straying horses. My Department continues to stress that it is the responsibility of individuals to ensure the welfare of horses in their ownership and-or care and to ensure that when they no longer have a need for the animal, they are disposed of in an appropriate and responsible way.
The matter of employing "horse wardens" is an issue for the local authorities to consider. Local authorities are legally entitled to appoint authorised officers under the Control of Horses Act and the Animal Health and Welfare Act. In their consideration of the need for additional authorised officers, account would no doubt be taken on the overall improvements that have taken place in respect of the stray horse issues in recent years, the particular circumstances in their local area and indeed the excellent work of animal welfare charities.