During my first nine months in office, a number of significant animal welfare related measures have been advanced and delivered upon.
In December 2020, I announced record funding of €3.2 million to animal welfare organisations - an increase of over 10% on 2019. The Programme for Government includes an undertaking to double our funding on animal welfare in line with policy priorities, and I am fully committed to this undertaking.
In February, I launched Ireland’s first dedicated Animal Welfare Strategy 2021-2025. The Strategy is being backed by resources and expertise within the Department, and will involve dialogue and cooperation with other Government Departments and Agencies, with stakeholders and with civil society. Furthermore, I established a dedicated Animal Welfare Division within the Department earlier this year to drive the initiatives outlined in the strategy.
This strategy takes a ‘One Health, One Welfare’ approach, acknowledging and valuing the interconnections and inter-dependencies between human, animal and environmental health, and taking an evidence-led approach to policy making, target-setting, monitoring and evaluation.
The strategy sets out broad principles as to how we will improve animal welfare in Ireland over the coming years. It describes a framework for engagement and collaboration that will direct future activities - benefiting both animals and Irish society. A detailed action plan with specific, measurable indicators is being developed, and the Department will set up a High-Level Monitoring Group which will meet biannually to monitor and report on progress.
A number of initiatives identified in the strategy have been progressed. The draft general scheme of the Prohibition on Fur Farming 2021 legislation was approved by Government at its meeting on 18th June 2021.
The Control of Horses 1996 legislation is under review and the Department continues to support a number of urban horse projects nationwide, bringing education on all aspects of equine welfare to people in disadvantaged areas.
The first Chair of Animal Welfare & Veterinary Ethics at the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine has been appointed, supported by the Department, contributing to scientific leadership at a national level.
The Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council has been re-launched, and a new Advisory Council on Companion Animal Welfare has been established and will convene in the coming weeks.
There is a renewed emphasis on animal based indicators to assess welfare standards. For example, officials are developing indicators to help reduce the prevalence of tail docking in pigs while supporting the development of high welfare outdoor pig and poultry production systems. They are also working with Teagasc to mainstream the ‘One Health, One Welfare’ approach in all relevant research projects, training and education programmes.
The Department is conducting a review of identification and traceability systems with an equine census to be finalised by the end of this year and work has begun on a new system to improve greyhound traceability led by Rásaíocht Con Éireann.
Finally, on live exports, following a suite of new measures introduced in 2020-21, the Department continues to enhance the monitoring of welfare standards for all live animals exported.