(Limerick West): Perhaps the Minister of State would outline what is involved in section 2 (2) concerning general dog licences?
Control of Dogs Bill, 1986: Committee and Final Stages.
I am conscious of the time at our disposal. In the case of a general dog licence if, as quite a number of breeders do, a person keeps a large number of dogs, perhaps 40 to 50, he is given the option of taking out a general dog licence which he can buy for £100. There is some confusion in peoples' minds in that some think that if they have five dogs over the number, they have to take out a general dog licence. That is not true. They can take out £95 worth of single licences and if they go over number of 20 dogs they can take out a general dog licence.
Is the Minister satisfied with paragraph (c) in respect of the transfer of "possession of a dog pursuant to a change of ownership to any other person unless the other person is the holder of a dog licence for that dog or a general dog licence." That seems to place the onus and responsibility on the person selling the dog of ensuring that the buyer is in possession of a dog licence. Is this fair?
That is the kernel of the Bill. We have had long discussions with various groups of people on that aspect. Basically, it is one of the few ways that we have at our disposal of ensuring that people take out dog licences. In other words, if you are selling a dog to somebody and give the details of the dog, the buyer then takes out a dog licence and you transfer the dog.
The Minister will appreciate that we all accept that if one has a dog that dog should be licensed. My concern is that one is placing the onus on the person selling the dog rather than on the person purchasing the dog. This will affect breeders in a very significant way.
I had a discussion yesterday with the Deputy on that point. In fairness, the Kennel Club of Ireland and various groups of breeders whom I have met welcome this legislation. If the breeders themselves, who have offered to cooperate with this legislation cannot operate that small discipline, what hope have we with the general public? That is the point that I have to keep on making.
(Limerick West): During the debate on Second Stage of the Bill, I raised a question with regard to the issuing of licences from local authorities. I mentioned in particular then that I thought the current system under which dog licences can be purchased at post offices, of which there are many throughout the country, should be continued. At this stage I should like to hear what arrangements the Minister proposes should be made under this heading. Up to now the post office is the only place at which a dog licence can be purchased. If licences were available only from local authorities or at their area offices in the counties, access of the general public to these places would be very limited. I am a little concerned that the current system may not be continued by local authorities. What guarantee can the Minister give that his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, will continue to use the post offices for the purchase of dog licences and what arrangements has he made or does he intend to make with An Post to ensure that this practice will be continued?
I appreciate the reservations of Deputy Noonan. While some local authorities feel that they may have the necessary structures to collect dog licences, because of representations from Deputy Noonan on Second Stage, the Department of the Environment are at present in consultation with An Post regarding his request. It is generally felt that, whatever about a small urban area or a borough council, in rural areas the post office has been the obvious place to pick up a licence.
(Limerick West): I emphatically want to know what guarantee has the House that the Minister for the Environment will insist that local authorities utilise the existing outlets for the purchase of dog licences. This is not included in the Bill. In the event of the negotiations between the Department of the Environment and An Post breaking down, what hope have the general public of purchasing licences in post offices? We all wish this Bill to be successful and that the legislation can be put into effect very quickly. If there is not easy access for the purchase of dog licences that will make the operation of the legislation difficult and the revenue from the purchase of licences would not be as great as it is at the moment. The Minister has mentioned, and I agree with him, that an insignificant number of dogs are licensed. We want to ensure that as many as possible are licensed. I am not too happy as yet that the post offices will be availed of.
Most of us have been involved in local authorities and the purpose of local authorities will be to ensure that the legislation works effectively and efficiently. The general consensus is that An Post would be the obvious people to issue licences. Some urban local authorities feel that they have the necessary structures to do this themselves but the Deputy must also bear in mind that dog wardens will be active in ensuring that people license their dogs.
(Limerick West): They will not be dispensing licences.
No, but they will be actively involved in ensuring that people have licences.
(Limerick West): So, all the Minister of State can do is give a commitment to the House that he will endeavour, through his colleague the Minister for the Environment, to ensure that post offices will be availed of for this purpose?
(Limerick West): And he will follow that up positively?
Why has the Minister put an age limit of 16 years into the legislation? He must remember that the young lad who won the Greyhound Derby this year was only 15 years of age. Surely there should be some clause that there could be a guardian for a young person? Parents have the habit of giving the gift of a dog to their children.
Bord na gCon raised that point but there is a distinction between the ownership of a dog and the person who has a licence for a dog. A ten year old may own a dog, may show it or even take it abroad but the parents of the ten year old will hold the licence in respect of the dog.
(Limerick West): Could the Minister outline his intentions in regard to exemptions from holding a licence, what organisations or persons will be involved?
Those exempted will be dog wardens who are taking a dog to a pound or kennel, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a garda who has seized the dog and, of course, blind people. A dog under the age of four months is also exempt. Bord na gCon and the Kennel Club were anxious to include that provision because dogs are still with their mothers at that stage and many sales take place then.
An inspector from the Department of Agriculture who seizes a dog suspected of rabies would also be exempt. We also gave a special exemption in regard to a dog imported to the State for a period not exceeding 30 days to allow shows to take place here and in the UK. A greyhound which is purchased and exported from the State within 30 days is also exempt.
As a number of persons and societies are not required to have a licence under this section, would the Minister be so kind as to extend the categories? I note that the blind are included but the generally disabled and the deaf are not. It has also been represented to me that a very strong case could be made to exempt old age pensioners as we know how important dogs are to them as companions and also for protection. It is already recognised by the State that the old age pensioner if entitled to certain perks such as a free electricity allowance, free television licence, free telephone rental, free travel and so on.
We looked at this matter and we had a long debate in the Seanad on that point. However, they tried this in other parts of the EC and it was very complicated and lent itself to abuse. This system will be operated by local authorities and they might like to give a reduction in the fee to old age pensioners some time in the future. The licence fee of £5 is staying at that rate for the moment.
Will the local authorities have power to exempt or to reduce a licence fee?
Yes, with the permission of the Minister.
I should like to remind Deputies that I must bring proceedings on this Bill to a conclusion at 11.30 a.m.
(Limerick West): I welcome this section because, heretofore, a licence purchased at any time of the year expired at the end of that year. I am very glad that the duration of the licence will be 12 months from the time of purchase.
(Limerick West): Will the Minister for the Environment make a regulation under the Bill to increase or decrease the licence fee?
Yes, the Minister for the Environment will be responsible.
Will the collection of the licences be the responsibility of local authorities.
We discussed that already this morning. It is expected that the licence will be available in local post offices as usual. The important change is that you will have to have a licence before you are allowed to take possession of a dog.
Will the money go to the Exchequer or will it be collected by local authorities?
Moneys collected will go to local authorities.
Could the Bill stipulate that local authorities who do not have facilities for handling dogs should have them provided out of this funding? After all, many local authorities did not avail of the grants provided for kennels and so on for stray dogs.
It is expected that this grant aid will continue, at least for some time, to allow local authorities to provide pounds, kennels and so on.
Would the Minister agree there should be a stipulation in the Bill that local authorities should use funding to provide facilities in areas which need them?
That is provided for in section 15.
(Limerick West): Subsection (2) states that one person can lead only four greyhounds together. Why does this apply specifically to greyhounds?
This is a draconian section. Surely the Minister is aware that when there is frost and snow owners will have to bring their dogs to a public strand to gallop them? Perhaps the Minister would give a better definition of a public place. The Listowel Urban District Council have passed a special by-law enabling urban greyhound owners to gallop their dogs in the town park before 6 a.m. Is the Minister, by this measure, denying those urban greyhound owners, who do not own an inch of land, the right to exercise their dogs on the strand or in a public place where the local authority allow it? I am very concerned about this.
I, too, am a little concerned about section 10 as regards a public place. Greyhounds race on tracks which are public places and under the definition in this Bill coursing fields could be called public places. Maybe there is some way of getting around this, but I doubt it. Section 10 (2) reads:
A person shall not lead or cause or permit to be led by any one person more than four greyhounds at a time in any public place.
I can understand that because I had greyhounds for a number of years and it would be very difficult to manage four greyhounds at one time.
(Limerick West): It depends on the person.
He would have to be a very strong person. For instance, if a cat crosses a street and one person is minding four dogs and they get excited, it will be very difficult to manage them. No one individual could hold four excited dogs. This happened in Limerick city where dogs literally destroyed a child and there was terrible trouble there. It is not physically possible for one person to control four greyhounds at one time when they get excited.
(Limerick West): I bow to the Deputy's superior knowledge.
I repeat that this Bill must be brought to a conclusion at 11.30 a.m.
A public place is defined in the Act and a beach is a public place. It was always illegal to course in a public place. With regard to the fears that places like Clounanna were public places, the part where the dogs course is not open to the public and, therefore, it is not a public place. It was decided after consultation with representatives of Bord na gCon that four dogs was the maximum number and we are happy with that. The big difficulty with greyhounds is that they hunt by sight. Even at an unusual time it could happen that a small animal would be on the beach and this could lead to serious problems.
Will the local authority have any say in determining what is a public place?
Is the Minister saying that from now on greyhound owners who do not have an inch of land cannot gallop their dogs on the strand?
That has been the case all the time.
It has not.
Of course it has. That is the law as it stands. In the past, anyone who was coursing on the beach did so illegally.
The Minister must be aware that certain local authorities have designated certain times for these gallops to take place. Listowel Urban District Council passed a by-law that greyhounds can be galloped in the town park before 6 a.m. Is the Minister now taking that civil right from those greyhound owners?
If public property is involved, local authorities may not pass these by-laws.
I appreciate the phrase "stray dogs" has a very wide interpretation, but I am concerned about unauthorised people living in small residential areas who let their dogs run loose. Elderly people are afraid to walk the roads because of the activities of these dogs, and that is a very mild way of putting it. Does this Bill compel these people to exercise proper control over their dogs?
Yes. These people are like everybody else. We are not concerned with whether they own the house they occupy, they will have to keep their dogs under effectual control. I will now distinguish between effectual and effective control. Recently an almost tragic accident occurred and was mentioned on radio when somebody was attacked by a dog that was on a leash. This means the dog was under effective control but it was not under effectual control; in other words, it was able to do damage.
I want to get this clear. Is the Minister saying that the gardaí will now have the authority to deal with this problem? Up to now, irrespective of the size of the problem, big or small, if residents phoned the gardaí they were told the garda had no powers in this area whatsoever. Can I take it from what the Minister says that they will have the necessary powers to deal with these problems now? It is a sad day when elderly people cannot freely move about without fear of being attacked by dogs.
I am not only saying that, but I am adding that from now on it will be the dog wardens job to ensure that these people are protected.
I notice under this section that a dog warden or a garda may seize and detain a stray dog if it appears to him to be a stray dog. The word "appears" is rather weak and indicates that a stray dog can be picked up on doubtful grounds. I would prefer a much stronger term. The dog warden or garda should have very good grounds before he seizes the dog, he should make inquiries and be satisfied that it is a stray dog, and not a dog which has strayed outside the garden gate.
That is the point. If the dog is in a public place and causing a nuisance it can be picked up in future. We are not concerned about what happens in the garden but if a dog is in a public place and causing a nuisance it can be picked up.
Is that not covered in subsection (4)? This subsection reads:
Whenever a stray dog is seized or detained pursuant to this section by a dog warden or a member of the Garda Síochána, the local authority or, as the case may be, the Superintendent of the Garda Síochána shall give notice to the owner or other person in charge of the dog,...
I believe this subsection covers the point raised by the Deputy.
A person can get his dog back, but will have to pay expenses.
Subsection (1) reads:
Any person, other than a dog warden or a member of the Garda Síochána, who finds and takes possession of a stray dog shall, forthwith—
(a) return the dog to its owner, or
(b) deliver the dog to a dog warden,
That is a slight contradiction of what was said earlier. Do I take it then that if an individual sees a stray dog he must either return the dog to the owner or deliver it to the dog warden?
It is not a contradiction. If, for instance, somebody knows the dog and knows the owner of the dog he has a right, under the Bill, to hand the dog back to the owner and tell him that he found the dog straying. He can deliver the dog to the dog warden or he can even detain the dog and give notice in writing, as is stated in the Bill.
I have raised this matter in the House on many occasions. This is a question of dogs worrying sheep and the losses to sheep farmers. This section will not help the sheep farmers on the hills in County Dublin, the area which I represent. I appreciate the manner in which the Ceann Comhairle allowed me to raise this matter in the House on many occasions. Local farmers get together to protect their flocks of sheep. If they come across stray dogs, according to the Bill, they must return the dog either to the owner or to the dog warden.
A sheep farmer can also shoot the dog if he believes the dog is about to worry his sheep. That matter will be raised in another section.
I appreciate that but then it will appear in the local papers. I hope there will be a section to cater for that.
There will be.
There are sweeping powers contained in subsection (2). The dog warden, in exercising a power of entry into any premises under this Act, may bring with him into such premises——
What section is this?
We are on section 13.
I am sorry. I thought it was section 16.
On section 13 can I ask——
I have passed from section 13.
That was very fast.
It is a matter for the House how they spend the next seven minutes.
Section 13 is the teeth of the Bill.
The Deputy is entitled to make a point on it.
In section 13 sweeping powers have been given to the dog wardens. I will give a supposition to the Minister. If at the final of the Derby in Shelbourne Park two dogs are going into the park and one of them decides to empty himself at the nearest pole and if the dog warden says that dog committed an offence and the owner tells him to hump off, has the dog warden power to take that dog from the owner and to prevent the dog from running in that race?
No. That is a separate matter and one we steered clear of in this Bill. If a dog causes that sort of nuisance on footpaths and so on it will be up to the various local authorities to make the decision on the matter. In other countries if a dog discharges on the footpath the person in charge of the dog has to clean up after the dog. There is absolutely no question of a dog warden seizing a dog under these circumstances. The only time a dog warden can seize a dog is if the dog is not kept under effectual control, that means from the point of view of doing damage.
Is the Minister assuring the House that if a local authority abuses that privilege he has the power to take appropriate measures to put an end to it?
Yes. Furthermore, the local councillors will have an opportunity to monitor the performance of the dog wardens.
(Limerick West): This section deals with local authorities in particular and details of local authorities, which I agree with. I outlined on Second Stage that under this Bill the local authority will make use of the very wide and necessary powers given under the Bill to enable the long overdue control on dogs to be properly imposed. I hope this will happen. On Second Stage I spoke about the need to review the progress made by the various local authorities. I mentioned the possibility of an annual report. My idea in suggesting an annual report was that it would enable local authorities at regular times to report to the Minister, in this case the Minister for the Environment, and through him to the Minister for Agriculture about progress being made under this Bill. Perhaps more frequent reports may be needed from local authorities, especially in the early period after the Bill is enacted. I would like to know if the Minister has thought over my suggestion as to how he might see this request being met.
We have drafted our own recommendations for the Minister for the Environment along the lines suggested by Deputy Noonan. We suggest that some small committee of the local authorities would meet regularly and keep the Minister fully informed with regard to the progress being made so that not only would there be an annual report from all areas but there would also be regular bulletins on the general performance of the Bill.
Will the Minister advert to the sweeping powers contained in this section in respect of entry onto premises, the bringing in a of equipment——
What section is the Deputy referring to?
Are we not on section 16?
We are on section 15.
Is there a time scale imposed on the local authorities in so far as these provisions are concerned? For example, must they be brought in this year and, if not, what can the Minister do to ensure that local authorities will provide these facilities?
The Minister for the Environment will bring this Act into force by order. It is presumed that a reasonable time will be given to the various local authorities.
Within a year?
Quite a number of local authorities are already operating under the Bill or at least in a way that is related to the Bill. It is hoped that most local authories will move quickly. I hope in time for the lambing season.
I hope the Minister will impress on local authorities the need for a general interpretation of the Bill all over the country so that it will not operate in one county or under one local authority only. It is very important that it be monitored very closely in the first year or so. I hope the local authorities will recognise the very valuable work of the ISPCA and that they will co-operate with them when this Bill comes into operation.
(Limerick West): Is each local authority obliged under this legislation to appoint a dog warden?
I was referring to the sweeping powers contained in this section of entry into premises by a garda or a warden and bringing with them such other persons and equipment as they consider necessary. The garda may also arrest without warrant under this section. Are these not sweeping powers? It is extremely worrying.
Up to now a dog warden or a member of the Garda, even though they knew that a dog had worried sheep or had done damage, were not allowed to go into a premises. Under this Bill a dog warden or a member of the Garda Síochána may come onto a premises but not into a dwellinghouse and may pick up a stray dog.
And arrest without warrant.
It is now 11.30 a.m. and in accordance with an Order of the House made this morning I put the following question: "That the Bill is hereby agreed to in Committee and is reported to the House; and Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."