As the Deputy will be aware, detailed debate was held around the issue of hunting during the passage of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the Dáil voted overwhelmingly to allow the continuation of fox hunting in accordance with an appropriate code of conduct. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 specifically prohibits the hunting of animals which have been released in an injured, mutilated or exhausted condition. Section 25 of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 also allows for the establishment of codes of practice and for the adoption of codes published by other persons for the purposes of providing practical guidance relating to any aspect of the Act, including fox hunting. Voluntary codes of practice have been established by the Hunting Association of Ireland, HAI, which detail the conduct to be adhered to in respect of the hunting of foxes and the treatment of the animal during the hunt. The code prohibits the hunting of foxes where the animal is injured and advocates the humane disposal of a fox when captured. The code also takes into account local concerns and the concerns of the landowners on whose land hunting takes place.
In light of the concerns raised by residents regarding encroachments into residential areas, officials of my Department met the Hunting Association of Ireland to discuss several such incidents. My officials underlined the need for those involved in hunting to take greater action to avoid such incidents. The association committed to avoiding any re-occurrence of incidents such as this. In light of this, it is noteworthy that there do not seem to have been any recent reports of such incidents in the media. The need to strengthen the existing code of practice to avoid such incidents where hounds entered housing estates was discussed. The association undertook to review the existing code of practice.
I am fully committed to promoting good practices that respect the welfare of animals, and my Department devotes considerable resources to protecting animal welfare and in dealing with breaches of animal welfare legislation. Under the Act, on summary conviction, a person can receive a fine of up to €10,000 and, on indictment, €250,000 and-or imprisonment up to five years. There are fixed penalty payments for lesser offences. The Act provides the framework within which the welfare of animals can be safeguarded, and I am hopeful that the substantial and significantly increased levels of penalties for offences of animal cruelty provided for under the Act will act as a deterrent to animal welfare abuses.