Incidents of animal cruelty are totally unacceptable and my Department devotes considerable resources to protecting animal welfare and dealing with breaches of animal welfare legislation. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 has modernised the legal framework relating to the welfare of animals. Sections 11 and 12 of the Act 2013, which contain the main principles relating to the welfare of animals and cruelty to animals, provide that a person having an animal in his or her possession or control must safeguard and not threaten the health and welfare of the animal. In addition, it is an offence for a person to cause unnecessary suffering, endanger, neglect or be reckless regarding the health or welfare of any animal.
In order to ensure its effectiveness, the Act provides for increased levels of penalties for offences committed under the Act. For major cases taken on indictment, the maximum penalty has been increased from €100,000 to €250,000, with a maximum custodial sentence of five years imprisonment. Section 58 of the Act also provides that a person convicted of an offence under the Act may be disqualified from keeping, owning or working with an animal. These penalties are in keeping with Irish jurisprudence and I do not envisage changes.
There have been sixty nine successful prosecutions taken nationally since the Act was brought in. A further thirty five prosecution files are currently being processed. In terms of resources devoted to the enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare Act, in addition to staff employed by my own Department and by the local authorities, a number of officers of certain NGO’s have been given Authorised Officer status under the Act and this has facilitated the more effective enforcement of the legislation. Under the Act, Department staff, members of An Garda Síochána and 13 officers of the DSPCA and ISPCA are authorised.
This work is further underpinned by the Animal Welfare Helpline which my Department operates, Lo-call 0761 064408, along with a dedicated email address, AnimalWelfare@agriculture.gov.ie , which facilitates the reporting by members of the public of concerns in regard to the welfare of animals. The animal welfare hotline exists for the reporting of specific incidents relating to animal welfare which come to the attention of members of the public, which they believe are in need of attention. All calls received are treated in confidence and all complaints received are investigated and followed up.
In view of the current systems in place and the onerous detailed regulatory nature of the duties involved, I consider the current arrangements in place are effective.