Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 10 May 1994

Vol. 442 No. 5

Protection of Animals Regulations: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:

Protection of Animals Act, 1911 (Section 1) (Variation of Fines) Regulations, 1994, copies of which Regulations in draft were laid before Dáil Éireann on 6th April, 1994.

There has been a good deal of publicity in recent times about cruelty to animals and I find it perturbing. In recent months particularly, I have been extremely concerned about reports of serious abuse and ill-treatment of animals. Such practices as badger baiting, or the "blooding" of greyhounds with hares, rabbits or any other such defenceless animals, have no place in civilised society. As I have previously made clear, I totally condemn such activities and would encourage anyone with any evidence of such practices to report the matter to the Garda.

I should point out that the Garda Síochána is responsible for the enforcement of the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965, which govern the welfare of all animals, domestic or wild. This legislation makes provision for fines and prison sentences on conviction of cruelty. The court is also empowered to deprive an owner who has been convicted of cruelty of any animal in relation to which the offence was committed. My Department works and will continue to work with the Garda authorities in dealing with offences of this nature. There is a good working relationship between the Garda and the Department staff involved.

The subject of hare coursing has generated considerable debate in the past year or so. This arose from the ineluctable fact that certain elements of coursing were unacceptable and that reforms were needed. Following detailed consideration of the issues the Government decided that coursing should not be banned but that much tighter controls should be introduced to eliminate the "kill" which was seen as the most unacceptable aspect of the sport. Last December the Greyhound Industry (Amendment) Act, 1993 was passed into law. This includes a provision enabling the Minister to make regulations requiring the muzzling of greyhounds at coursing and the veterinary supervision of hares. The monitoring committee which I established last year is in the process of reviewing developments to date and I will consider whether regulations are needed when the review is completed. The measures I referred to have already been implemented by the Irish Coursing Club on a voluntary basis.

It is an offence under the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965, to cause cruelty, or for the owner to permit cruelty to be caused to any animal, domestic or wild. Persons guilty of an offence of cruelty within the meaning of the Acts are liable on summary conviction in respect of a first or second offence to a fine not exceeding £500, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or both, and in respect of a third or subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding £500, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.

Section 20 of the Control of Dogs Act, 1986 empowers the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to vary by regulations the maximum amount of the fine referred to above. Where such regulations are proposed to be made, a draft of the regulations must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulations must not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each House.

In view of the recent serious incidents to which I have already referred, I am proposing to double the fine for the offence of cruelty to animals from £500 to £1,000. The fine of £1,000 is the normal maximum for summary conviction and therefore is the highest figure that can be stipulated under this legislation. The increase is deemed necessary in the light of recent media reports of serious abuse and ill-treatment of animals, including the "blooding" of greyhounds with live rabbits and other small animals, badger baiting etc. These highly-publicised incidents have been widely condemned and have led to numerous calls for tougher measures against offenders. The increase in the fine will act as a greater deterrent against this type of cruel activity.

Following the highly publicised incidents early this year I acted swiftly and promised immediate changes in the fines for the offence of cruelty to animals. Today I am fulfilling that promise and it shows that I am prepared to make the maximum use of the powers available to me. I emphasised at that time also that my position on blooding was clear — I condemned that activity and said that it had no place in the greyhound industry. I wish to reiterate this position now. I know that it is shared on all sides of the House and that this motion will be welcomed and supported by all sides.

The Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 was amended last year and more comprehensive amendments are planned. In this process it is my intention to examine the possibility of strengthening the powers of Bord na gCon to deal with anyone in the industry who is found to have carried out the practice of blooding.

It is appropriate at this juncture to focus briefly on animal welfare in general. In recent years animal welfare has assumed a higher profile, not alone in this country but also at EU level where new rules on various aspects of animal protection have been introduced. The increasing public concern about cruelty to animals is part of a general recognition of the need to adopt a sensitive and caring attitude to and treatment of the animal world. There is a strong commitment to animal welfare in this country. This is eloquently borne out by the fact that, in the design of schemes under the National Development Plan, 1994-99 as mentioned in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work, priority will be given to assisting farmers, particularly those in the lower income and resource categories, in complying with the new EU Directives on, inter alia, animal welfare.

It also merits mention that Ireland along with other EU member states is party to Council of Europe Conventions on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, on the slaughter of animals and on the transport of animals. Arising from the conventions, the EU Commission has produced a number of proposals some of which are now the subject of EU Directives on animal welfare. Additionally, there are two further Council of Europe Conventions which my Department is examining with a view to Ireland's accession to them, namely, the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Pet Animals and the Protocol of Amendment to the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes. It is hoped to take decisions on their signature and ratification after full consideration of all the issues involved.

Recent incidents have shown that animal cruelty can occur and it is essential that appropriate penalties for acts of cruelty be in place. I believe the majority of people agree with this approach and am confident that the House will be of like mind and will approve the draft regulations now before it.

It is normal practice for Ministers to circulate their scripts. The Minister assured us he would circulate it but it is regrettable that I had not seen it before I made my contribution. I support the purpose for which we are here this afternoon, namely, to increase the fines under the regulations procedure of the 1911 Act as amended by the 1965 Act. I am delighted that a higher profile is being given to animal welfare in many arenas, not least to domestic animals. I welcome the increased consideration for farmed animals to bring the position into line with the general concern for domestic and wild animals in this area.

I wish to refer to five different groups and to express my concern about a relatively new development, the increasing cruelty perceived on the farm because of overstocking, perhaps encouraged by EU premiums and subsidies. I am particularly concerned about cruelty cases concerning sheep and cattle because of the adverse weather conditions during the winter. Apart from those which were out-wintered dying from natural causes because of the bad weather, thousands have died because of lack of fodder and proper welfare consideration. There is concern about the encouragement to keep more stock than perhaps a farmer can handle in terms of good husbandry because of the establishment of quotas and the need to keep quota numbers up to draw down premiums for X number of animals. That has contributed to a serious deterioration in the welfare of animals in some areas. The Minister should indicate what plans the Government has to ensure that benefit or compensatory payments from Europe will not be paid to farmers at the expense of a decline in the standard of animal welfare. That has been a serious problem in certain counties.

In regard to many of the cases publicised, many of the farmers were not mentally or physically able to look after the animals properly. Many were aged and not able to cope with the bad winter, herd their animals properly and bring sufficient fodder to them and others, for different reasons, were not able to cope with the problems they faced. The public and natural justice demand that people who have a responsibility to look after domestic, farmyard or exotic animals should be licensed to do so, including those who intend to farm livestock. The issuing of a herd or flock number should indicate that a farmer is mentally and physically suitable to farm livestock. The licensing system in terms of farmyard animals could be made through the system of allocating herd or flock numbers. Many farmers who, through no fault of their own because of mental or physical deterioration, cannot look after animals should not have them. We must be strict about this and I would like to hear the Minister's views.

There have been ongoing difficulties for many years in different areas in respect of horses. Live export of horses was a contentious matter in the 1950s and 1960s and legislation was introduced to curb and control the position. It was never fully implemented as it was legal to export horses to the UK, but live exports to the Continent were curbed. Given the EU Directive on equidae in transit, there are at least the structures of a system and regulations under which animals can be exported. We should do everything to encourage the humane slaughter of animals at the point nearest production. There should be facilities and commercial rewards should be available to those who must humanely slaughter animals. All animals, including ourselves, come to the end of their useful life. Instead of letting them starve in a field and die a slow death through neglect or old age and in pain, their humane slaughter, particularly those which have given an excellent service should be encouraged. We should reconsider the financial viability of those who provide an abattoir or slaughter service and ensure it is commercially advantageous for those who wish to dispose of animals humanely in this country to do so and to ensure the issue of exporting does not arise. Much work was done in this area by the former committee on Secondary Legislation of the European Economic Community who compiled report No. 5 on the inter-Community trade in equidae and the general protection of animals during transport. I commend the committee on its detailed investigation and the submissions it took from a broad variety of views in compiling that report.

The urban horse is a particular problem and has been referred to several times. The DSPCA produced a Bill, introduced by Deputy De Rossa, before a general election. I do not agree fully with the detail of the Bill but I support its broad statement that urgent action is needed to deal with the problem of the urban horse and its abuse. This problem is not confined to Dublin, some of the other big cities have similar difficulties. It is not acceptable that ten year olds can purchase a two year old, unbroken horse for which they have neither adequate housing nor feed at Smithfield market — held monthly — and ride off into the night. The best chance that horse has will be the long mile if there is a good grass lawn in the middle of a housing estate. Those horses are kept in back gardens and kitchens. Last week a donkey, purchased in Smithfield, brought in the lift up a high rise flat in Dublin and deposited on the balcony was rescued. We know the dimensions of such a balcony but a donkey was expected to survive. Immediate regulation is required to deal with the mistreatment, downright cruelty and neglect of the urban horse, particularly the indiscriminate sale of horses to people who are patently not qualified to care for them. The Minister should indicate what plans the Government has to introduce some law and order in this area for the sake of the animals and of the human population in urban areas. It has gone on for far too long, yet no effort is made to regulate it. It could be controlled by way of a general licensing provision on the ownership of animals. Such a measure should be considered. Dogs must be licensed and there are strict regulations on owning dogs. These regulations are not enforced very well, but in theory the State has made an effort to put some structure on the ownership of dogs. However, people in high rise flats and estates around the city can do what they like with a horse or donkey and apparently the Garda are powerless to do much about this problem. There are no structures under which it can be controlled.

Since the demise of Bord na gCapall riding establishments have not been subject to any licensing structure. Will the Minister outline his plans to resolve that matter? Most riding establishments are extremely reputable and have very high standards of husbandry for the horses in their care. They will not get custom unless their animals are properly cared for. The public will not accept abuse of animals generally. However, there are some riding establishments — the names may be provided to the Minister — where animals are in a poor state of health, are not fed or worm dosed and are not properly shod. Those availing of the facilities in these establishments are allowed, without wearing a hard helmet, to take an animal onto the public road. Difficulties arise with public liability, occupier's liability and insurance generally. It amazes me that establishments are allowed to operate without regulation. Those who run reputable establishments would welcome a proper licensing system to deal with the few who are abusing animals and not looking after their welfare.

I wish to raise the question of what are called exotics. Recent radio reports informed us of animals and a reptile being kept in a back garden in County Limerick. These are bears, tigers and a cobra. There are more restrictions on dogs in this country than on elephants, cheetahs and tigers. In theory, I can bring an elephant home and put it in my garage, without requiring a licence, but if I do not muzzle my hound I can be prosecuted by the State. It makes no sense.

The elephant will not bite you.

You would not know what the elephant would do. There is much concern among the general public about this matter. State regulation of this area is chaotic. The Minister referred briefly to the three EU directives, but as I did not have his speech I could not note the directives to which he was referring. I think one dealt with what I call exotics, for want of another name. Will the Minister further explain what he plans to do to regulate exotic pets? I am not saying they should be barred. Many people are qualified to look after them, feed them and generally handle them, but the vast majority of the public are not so qualified. Exotic pets become a craze for a while, but when people become tired or afraid of them they release them. Usually that means the misfortunate animals die because they were not bred to survive in our climate. Apart from the abuse of the animal, this could result in a dangerous accident.

A recent case in Dublin was brought to my attention where on the ground floor of a rather attractive pet shop all looked well, but when an electrician or plumber was called to a difficulty on the second and third floors he found rooms of dead and dying exotic birds. Obviously they contracted a disease, the pet shop owner could not manage them and any bird that was not likely to survive was thrown into one of these rooms. That matter is being investigated by the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There is no law to allow access by inspectors to such a building.

The recent successful prosecutions for badger baiting are welcome. We were all extremely disturbed by the portrayal in the media here and abroad of such barbarous behaviour, which still occurs. The same applies to the blooding of greyhounds. I do not think that matter has taken its course through law, but I assume it will. This area is a minefield. While the increase in fines is welcome, there are only a few Acts dealing with this area, the two Protection of Animals Acts, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1926, and the Control of Dogs Act. Huge areas of animal welfare are not controlled by the State. I would like to know the Minister's intentions in this regard and whether, by increasing fines, he believes he has done enough to protect animals from human beings who, through ignorance or malice, abuse them.

I make a plea to the Minister on behalf of animal welfare societies who, through their own funds and voluntary fund raising, are carrying out what is the State's responsibility. We welcome voluntary support of State activities, but when the State depends entirely on the voluntary sector we must question its negligence. The Irish Horse Protection League has done excellent work, as has the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and all other SPCAs. I ask the Minister to take a personal interest in the financial crisis of the DSPCA — the details will be available through the Department. In 1993 the income of that society was £79,000 and expenditure was £232,000, an operating loss of £153,000. This voluntary body, which looks after animal welfare on behalf of the 1.1 million citizens of Dublin city and county, receives no State aid.

Section 33 of the Control of Dogs Act empowers the Minister for the Environment to make grants towards the expense of a local authority or any person concerned with the provision of homes or shelters for stray or unwanted dogs or with the welfare of dogs. That is a specific area, but the society's brief extends far beyond dogs. It was recently involved in a court case about excessive cruelty to mares and foals found starving during the winter. We can all give examples of such incidents. I ask the Minister to put pressure on the Minister for Finance and the Government to provide a once-off grant of £50,000 for the DSPCA to enable it to replace its ambulance, horse box and pick-up van for stray dogs and cats — there is a huge problem with feral cats and unwanted dogs in our big cities. The Minister should provide £50,000 to replace the society's vehicles and to ensure the continuation of this voluntary organisation which does for our animals what the State should at least be helping it to do, if not doing so itself.

I also ask the Minister to provide for an annual subvention towards current running costs of the DSPCA in order to ensure its existence beyond the next two years. If the society continues to incur operating costs of the level it incurred last year, it will last only two more years. We cannot do without the DSPCA and the societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the country. Certainly the animals whose welfare they protect cannot do without them. The provision of a once-off sum of £50,000 to replace worn out vehicles would ensure the DSPCA does not have to liquidate further assets, thereby jeopardising its long term existence. It should receive an annual subvention to do the work for which many of us in this House would like the State to take some responsibility.

I will give an example of a case we should all be ashamed of, an example of lack of regulation in this area. In recent weeks a pick-up truck with a small trailer was discovered on board the ferry from Rosslare to Le Havre which contained 12 donkeys packed head to tail and in the truck itself there were three more donkeys. Ostensibly these animals were being exported as pets for children in Switzerland. However, according to the welfare organisations who pursued them through France and into Germany, they ended up being slaughtered, and not humanely. If we allow such animal abuse and lack control over what happens, we must seriously examine our structures. Raising the fines from £500 to £1,000 is not enough.

All this short debate allows us to do is give the Minister an indication of how concerned some of us are about the lack of controls in our animal welfare legislation. I touched on a few areas but we could all give more examples. Could we have a more comprehensive debate about this soon? Will the Minister, when concluding, indicate the Government's plans to right the many wrongs and put in place the necessary legislation so that we can be proud of our statutory legislation on animal welfare?

I express my thanks to and admiration of the Minister for producing these regulations. However, as the previous speaker said, there is a bigger problem facing us. I too would like to see this matter addressed in a more organised fashion in the future.

I wish to make a number of points of a general nature which, I hope, will put these regulations in context. We cannot look on the entire sporting industry in isolation; we must view our traditional sports with a certain tolerance and understanding. We have a rich history of achievement in sport whether it be in the horse racing or greyhound racing arena and our reputation as a sporting nation is recognised worldwide. Any new legislation or regulations which affect the horse and greyhound industries therefore, must be debated fully, openly and with honesty. As legislators we must be conscious of different views and, although there are arguments both for and against change, we have the final say on the form of any future legislation. In that context we must explore the wide range of regulations being advanced and take account of how any changes will affect the future prospects of our horse racing and dog racing industries.

The history of horse racing and greyhound racing is linked with the social development of our country. Horse racing has often been described as the sport of kings, but Ireland is unique in that a love of the race track cuts right across a wide social spectrum resulting in a unique social cohesion which is beneficial for society as a whole. On the other hand, greyhound racing has always been fully supported by the ordinary working man who saw it as both a sport and a social occasion where commerce and chance stood side by side in an atmosphere of excitement and drama. The breeding of greyhounds and horses has become a highly profitable exercise with record sums being earned from the export of promising dogs and horses to countries where the reputation of Ireland as a sporting land is acknowledged.

As with all other areas of human endeavour, there are traditions and accepted ways of doing things. There is the natural law of the hunter and the hunted which has stood the test of time and is as much a part of the natural world as are the trees, the plants and the air we breathe. Animal and man are close; their story is one of interdependence and mutual trust where horses shared the workload in years gone by and the dog was man's best friend.

However, we cannot legislate for the dark side of human behaviour. In these more enlightened days we seem to be regressing to a fearsome and frightening savagery, seemingly born out of the frustration inherent in modern living. The more our society advances in terms of prosperity and technology the more we as humans seek to hark back to a medieval and barbaric cruelty. We only have to look around us to see the signs of this frightening and disturbing social phenomenon — the distressing cases of child abuse, the rise in violent crime, the attacks on the elderly and the ill, the upsurge in crimes against women, the new threat of AIDS and the depressing acceptance of a drugs culture in some of our major urban centres.

We can all point to causes and cures but there is no easy solution. The same dilemma applies to our treatment of animals because, to an even greater degree, our dogs and horses suffer more, they are defenceless because of the lack of a social or moral code to rein in their abusers.

We must ask ourselves why men display an appalling cruelty to animals. It is no secret that in some urban areas animals are used as a means of making money through organised dog fights. In any major town on a Sunday morning there is a dog fight going on at a secret location. In rural areas it is no different; badger baiting events are organised. These fights are tightly organised with the utmost security to prevent the Garda or concerned citizens taking action. The organisers of these barbaric exhibitions are men who have no morals and a history of being involved in what I will call shady activities. Dog fighting or badger baiting are not easy to stamp out. In other cultures animal fighting is accepted but here, with our concern for the welfare of animals, it is a cruel and demeaning activity arranged for profit and the perverted pleasure of twisted people. I welcome tough legislation which will tackle such activities.

There are other instances of abuse of innocent animals. Every day horses and donkeys are terrified by a range of cruel activities, from competitive street racing to sulky driving in isolated areas. We all know of cases of unfortunate animals being abused nearly to death so that the only option is for staff from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to put the abused animal down and end its misery and suffering. That such dreadful abuse can exist alongside our concern and care for animals is astonishing.

I pay tribute to the ISPCA whose officials and staff have done a magnificent job of education and promotion over the past few years to bring home the extent of animal abuse in our society. However, I wish to outline the distinction between the dreadful and shocking abuse of animals which is planned and arranged by people for private gain and sporting activity which is one of our traditional cultural milestones. As a sporting nation we have a natural understanding of the rules of nature. We must differentiate between the rules of nature and the exploitation of nature. Not for a minute would I tolerate cruel or savage treatment of defenceless animals.

However, I acknowledge that in the greyhound industry there are times when the rules of the natural world take over. It should be noted that recent legislation passed by this House has improved hare coursing. We must take on board the views of people in the industry and balance their deep concerns with the enlightened approach now demanded of legislators by the public. No one in this House will stand over cruel treatment of animals. However, we must remember that the greyhound industry is an important element of many local economies and rigid regulations imposed on the industry because of recent bad publicity may be an over-reaction on the part of the Minister.

It is easy to highlight the negative aspects of an industry; the media are always anxious to make their so-called exposés as sensational as possible. We must bear that in mind and not rush into making impossible demands on an industry with considerable potential. Now is the time for rational debate, not headline grabbing. We must debate these proposed regulations in a considered and serious manner to ensure that the rights of animals and the industry are protected.

I have touched on the areas in which new legislation is sadly lacking, such as, arranged dog fights for private gain and the abuse of animals in street racing by gangs of youths. The Minister knows that the law is lacking but he cannot act solely in the interests of one section; he must have an over-view of the whole. That is what I have tried to provide. I urge him to take account in his proposals of the views of the greyhound owners and breeders and acknowledge their deep concerns.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Sargent and De Rossa.

Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

From what has been said so far in the debate — and there would appear to be agreement on this side of the House — it seem clear that what is required are not the minor regulations before us today but a complete updating of legislation for the protection of animals, much of which is totally outdated. Many instances have already been referred to, I do not intend to repeat them but I join Deputy Doyle in asking the Minister if he has any plans to update the legislation for the protection of animals and the timescale for this. I intend to refer later to one specific case where this type of legislation is clearly required. I support also Deputy Doyle's call for a grant of £50,000 for the DSPCA to provide for the necessary equipment to which she referred. Perhaps the Minister could refer to this also in his reply.

I also support Deputy Doyle's concern for exported live animals, horses or cattle, which travel long distances in horrific conditions. If we do not take action on these issues, Europe will force and embarrass us into taking action. I believe that is already happening.

I wish to refer briefly to what the Minister said earlier about the sensitive and caring attitude which he is seeking. A Government that legislates to terrorise a timid animal, the hare, for so-called sport cannot consider itself to be caring simply because it enacts legislation to eliminate the result of that sport, the kill, while allowing the extreme cruelty involved in terrorising an animal. We cannot terrorise animals, under our legislation, unless we exempt specific instances. The Dáil has exempted coursing.

I accept the Minister's point that there is a strong commitment to animal welfare among the vast majority of people here. There is not, however, a strong commitment on the part of the Government to the welfare of animals and, unfortunately, a small minority of people, both urban and rural, treat animals with extreme cruelty.

On 12 January a programme was transmitted by the BBC depicting horrific scenes involving the use of live rabbits in the blooding of greyhounds. On 18 January a programme on Channel 4 depicted sadistic scenes involving badgers which shocked most people here. The Minister was perturbed by the publicity surrounding this programme; I am sure he meant to say that he was perturbed by the cruelty depicted in the programme, not the publicity. On 19 January regulations were issued increasing the fines for such offences from £500 to £1,000. That is derisory, inadequate and pathetic in view of the cruelty involved and the highly organised manner in which such cruelty was carried out. In one instance, huge profits were involved and in the other there was an example of what has become known as "cruelty tourism", where people were invited here to engage in this activity. Our good name was disgraced by the transmission of these television programmes. Where was RTE when these activities were taking place?

Those people involved in the blooding of greyhounds have not yet come before the courts, although I understand that seven people will be brought before the court in Cashel next week. I trust that case will proceed more speedily than a similar case last year against one of our premier greyhound trainers which has not yet concluded. For obvious reasons I do not intend to comment on either of the cases that have not yet come before the courts. The blooding of greyhounds is widespread and I hope that those found guilty will be subjected to the full rigours of the law.

I wish to refer to the badger baiting case because those involved have already been convicted. The fines and penalties imposed were completely inadequate, and I refer specifically to the legislation before us today. Having been convicted of a whole litany of crimes against badgers and a fox, a fine of £1,000, a suspended sentence and £939 in costs was the sum total of the penalties in that case. Some of the people involved were English and it is instructive to consider what might have been the fate of those people under British law. Under the UK Protection of Badgers Act, 1992, the maximum fine is £5,000 and-or six months imprisonment for each offence. Digging for a badger, damaging a sett, causing a dog to enter a sett, disturbing a badger in its sett and injuring or killing a badger all carry a maximum fine of £5,000.

The recent case involving Mr. Thomas Parr related to four separate badger baiting digs. If the time was available to me I would quote from The Leinster Express, which gave a detailed account of each of the expeditions to the sets where horrific cruelty and sadistic brutality was inflicted on defenceless animals, including a fox, which has little or no protection here. Reading that article one could count a minimum of 12 separate offences committed in the digging of four separate badger sets of which this individual was convicted. If he had come before a British court, a total fine of approximately £50,000 might have been imposed for all the offences in which he was involved, in addition to six months imprisonment. I am grateful to the British League Against Cruel Sports for that information and analysis of the legislation enforced in Britain, which is having an effect there.

This case involved a highly organised badger baiting operation which involved the destruction of four setts, the inflicting of severe injuries on several badgers, the killing of at least one badger and the torture and killing of a fox, in addition to injuries to one of the dogs. This cruelty resulted in the imposition of a fine of £1,000. The dogs involved in this case were left with the defendant. The article in The Leinster Express stated: “Judge Smithwick said he wouldn't make an order prohibiting the defendant from keeping dogs as it appeared the defendant's dogs were well cared for and in view of his undertaking that he would not take part in any similar activities in the future”. It is disheartening for the many organisations who work on a voluntary basis for animal welfare to see that outcome to such a major case.

The offence of the blooding of greyhounds carries a maximum fine of £5,000 for each offence, in addition to six months imprisonment. Will the Minister say if he intends to update legislation on animal welfare and look at similar legislation in other countries because we can learn from them? I regret I do not have more time but, as Deputy Doyle suggested, hopefully we will be given an opportunity to have a comprehensive debate on this important subject.

I am delighted that a slightly more serious view is being taken of crimes against animals. The Declaration on Human Rights was drawn up in Europe 200 years ago. It is about time we considered broadening that circle of ethics as the rights of animals and humans are part of the same continuum. Today we saw moving reports from South Africa where the white people took a leap forward in recognising all people as equal. Those involved in the anti-apartheid movement, which I supported, are concerned about abuses against people and animals. Concern for common justice makes people speak out against injustice whether perpetrated against humans or animals. Spurious claims are made that people who are concerned about animals are less concerned about humans. That is nonsense. To strive for the rights of animals is to strive for an egalitarian, stable and healthier world.

The debate on the rights of animals has allowed legislators to engage in double speak and rhetoric. Coursing springs to mind. We have laws which forbid us to be cruel to animals. The Protection of Animals Act forbids people being cruel by beating, kicking, overdriving, torturing, infuriating or terrifying any animal. When this Act was passed a fine of £25 would have been a few months' salary; it would have been a larger sum than the £1,000 fine proposed by the Minister today. Yet the exemption is clear. Nothing in this section shall render illegal coursing or hunting of any captive animal unless such animal is liberated in an injured, mutilated or exhausted condition. Since 1911 we have considered that is the way to behave. That is hypocritical.

The Minister denounced blooding, and rightly so. I am sure he realises that many people involved in coursing consider blooding as fundamental to their brand of coursing, contending that, as they are instrinsically linked, it would be logical to ban coursing too. The EU regulations, which the Minister applauded, allow enormous suffering through the live export trade. We still do not have a time limit, although many animal organisations recommended a limit of eight hours. Factory farming continues at an enormous rate. We still have battery hens and overstocking.

We must deal with badger baiting. The Department has attributed an inordinate amount of blame to what the Minister would call in terms of coursing, a defenceless animal. There is less of a problem with bovine tuberculosis in Northern Ireland; yet they did not persecute the badger and they have blamed it for all their ills. They looked at farming practices and the transportation of the animals. We must not encourage badger baiting.

Democratic Left introduced a Bill on horses which has not been debated. Why was this matter not debated? Why did the Government not take a position on it? The provision of the Treaty of Rome on sentient animals has been disregarded. We must examine the export area to ensure abuses do not occur. The industry of battery hens must be phased out. Will animal welfare be included in the revised condition for organic farming?

When is the Minister to reply?

The debate must end at 6.34 p.m. It depends on whether other Deputies offer.

As Deputy McGahon and I are present I thought we might share the 20 minutes between us if that is agreeable.

It is unusual but acceptable.

I appreciate the Chair's latitude. Two issues need to be raised. The Minister thought it appropriate to bring forward a regulation to increase the fines for cruelty. I do not criticise him for doing so but it should have been done in the context of dealing with the wider aspects of cruelty to animals. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was concerned about exotic pets over which there are no controls. It is reported that there is a man in Limerick who has in his garden three Siberian tigers, one black bear and two baboons. It is extraordinary that local authorities and gardaí can do nothing about this problem. It is also extraordinary that a person can order such animals in a pet shop. There is no restriction on a pet shop selling such animals or on anyone buying them. The Minister should address urgently the sale of potentially dangerous creatures such as pythons, tarantulus, etc, by pet shops. We should not wait until there is a tragedy of some kind either for the animals or some unfortunate child or elderly person who may be terrorised or hurt.

Reference has been made to the Control of Horses Bill I introduced in 1989. I do not claim any credit for the declaration next day by the then Taoiseach that a general election would be held. I do not think it was my Bill which convinced him to do this. I subsequently reintroduced that Bill in 1990. It has not proved possible to have the Bill debated in the House, and I propose to reintroduce it. It deals with a very serious issue in urban areas, that is, the hundreds, if not thousands, of non-thoroughbred horses which are bought and sold every week. The horse market in Smithfield is held every second Sunday and approximately 50 donkeys and 200 horses were on sale last time. There does not seem to be any restriction on the people who can buy horses in terms of their age or capacity to look after the animal, feed it and provide sufficient space in which it can exercise.

I am not saying that my Bill was perfect but it sought to address these issues. The Minister might be able to produce a better Bill and I would be happy if he introduced a Bill based on the ideas I put forward. Such a Bill would have to address the following issues: the setting up of a scheme for the identification and registration of non-thoroughbred horses, the putting in place of a procedure under which the owner of any premises on which a horse is found would be made responsible for that animal and the establishment of procedures for the transfer of horses to another and making the owner responsible for ensuring that a horse does not wander. When I refer to horses I am also referring to donkeys. Wandering horses pose a serious problem for motorists and pedestrians, particularly in urban areas. In parts of my constituency people are afraid to leave their houses because of the large number of horses wandering around the open green spaces in their estates.

Any Bill must also provide greatly increased power and resources for the Garda and local authorities to deal with this problem. Not every Garda station has available to it a horse box or a sufficiently large vehicle in which it can remove the half dozen horses which may be found wandering around housing estates. Obviously the keeping of animals in domestic gardens or houses, as has happened in some cases, needs to be outlawed. I am not arguing for the outlawing of the Smithfield horse market, but that market must be properly controlled. For example, vets should be present to ensure that horses are properly treated and cannot be sold if they are not in fit condition. Local authorities should also be given power to make by-laws on these matters. I proposed in my Bill a fine of £1,000 for the ill-treatment of horses and donkeys. I am pleased that the Minister's regulation will increase the fine of £500 in the 1911 Act to £1,000. While I welcome this progress, it is not sufficient.

On the question of wandering horses and the sale of horses to young people, I have long argued that control of non-thoroughbred horses and donkeys should not be done in such a way as to preclude young people from having access to horses, riding them, caring for them and learning how to handle them. Some years ago, as a member of Dublin Corporation, I proposed a scheme for the Finglas area under which stables would be provided on corporation ground where young people could keep their horses and vets would be hired to train young people on the care of horses etc. That scheme did not get anywhere because the corporation said it did not have adequate land or money to buy extra land, hire vets, build the stables, etc. The setting up of such a scheme, even on an experimental basis, would be very valuable. Horses, whether they are thoroughbred or non-thoroughbred, do nothing for me.

They do nothing for me either.

Unlike the Deputy's colleague from Wexford who not only seems to have a penchant for horses but also seems to have a penchant for elephants, I have always been afraid of horses. Nevertheless, most young children like horses and they should not be deprived of the pleasure of looking after them simply because their parents do not have the money to send them to riding school. A project along the lines I suggested would give children the pleasure of looking after non-thoroughbreds and donkeys and would go a long way towards helping young people avoid the many other pitfalls in society.

We need legislation urgently to deal with exotic animals and non-thoroughbred, wandering horses, particularly in urban areas. There should also be adequate funding for projects in working class areas so that children can be given access to horses and learn how to care for them.

I propose to share my time with Deputy Finucane.

There are nine minutes remaining.

I was surprised to hear Deputy De Rossa say that he did not particularly like horses.

I did not say I did not like them; I said they did not do anything for me.

The horse is a most noble animal but I could not attribute that quality to some of the people who ride them. I agree with Deputy De Rossa that the Smithfield market and the conditions in which horses are traded there is a reflection on this city and indication of the low priority we give to animals, perhaps the fact that we are an agricultural country has led to that attitude.

My particular concern is the obnoxious "sport" of hare coursing and, even more contemptible, fox hunting, to which I referred in a recent debate in this House. I know the Minister expressed outrage and horror at the revelations of a recent BBC programme which lifted the very thin veil off the disgusting sport of hare blooding, not so much of coursing. Despite denials to the contrary, anybody who knows anything about dog racing will be aware of the practice of blooding. That programme showed horrendous images which I think the Minister acknowledged. Thousands of people, including gardaí in different areas have known about that practice but turned a blind eye to it over many years. They, the clergy and politicians all knew it was taking place.

Hares are killed at every coursing meeting — that does not constitute the real problem — hundreds of hares are killed at private trials and at trials in general, when hares and rabbits have their legs tied behind their backs to ensure that the dog gets the taste of blood. I know what I am talking about as I confessed here that in my youth, for a short period, I also engaged in coursing activities. I was so sickened by the sights I turned away from that activity and have not engaged in it for the past 30 years. The problem is not comprised so much of the numbers of hares killed at public meetings but those killed in fields and back yards, sometimes cats being resorted to if a hare is not available. In every county haremen earn their living from netting hares and providing them for trainers. I hope that anyone charged with involvement in the awful scenes we witnessed in that television programme will feel the full rigour of the law. I hope that, within the lifetime of this Dáil, the Minister will introduce meaningful legislation to ensure that that activity is curtailed. However, as long as dog racing continues, it will never be stamped out. It is an obnoxious sport, one that does this country no credit in the eyes of civilised people.

The Minister should also examine the equally odious sport of fox hunting when a pack of 40 or 50 hounds tear a fox, no bigger than a small dog, limb by limb, leading to an even more horrific death than that experienced by the hare. In a civilised society there should be no room for hare coursing. Other sports equally unacceptable are badger baiting, cock fighting, dog fighting to the death, which occurs in certain Borders areas, and otter hunting, all savage and extremely cruel practices. Certainly it is no "sport" for the unfortunate victims.

We must raise the nation's consciousness to the ill treatment of animals and alert the Department to the turning of the blind eye to the ill treatment and suffering of many of these helpless little creatures. That will not be easily done and will not take place within the Minister's term of office. Nonetheless, the Minister should spearhead a revolt against unacceptable practices perpetrated in the course of those so-called sports. In addition the Garda should be mobilised and involved in this exercise. We pass more legislation in this Chamber than in most other National Assemblies in Europe but we are not so good at monitoring its provisions. The Garda should be deployed in stamping out these awful practices.

As Deputy De Rossa said there is no legislation to protect these animals. He referred to the mini zoo which is located three miles from my home about which I know there has been much concern locally because, over a period, tigers, baboons and more recently a black bear have been accommodated there. Local people do not want to complain to neighbours but have done so to me as their public representative. It is only when you engage in research into this matter that you fully realise the inadequacy of legislation. Dog licences are a very effective mechanism for raising revenue and exercising control in that area yet Government Departments in general are helpless when it comes to other animals in that one can import a tiger, lion or other such dangerous animal for a circus, zoo or other purpose. Local authorities can only examine such practices from the planning point of view.

Wandering horses also cause problems. There was a recent fatality in my area when an unfortunate motorist crashed into a horse wandering in the darkness, resulting in the deaths of both. It is virtually impossible to trace the owner of such a horse.

Although I encourage the integration and rehabilitation of travellers, it makes me very despondent that, having being integrated, they sometimes fail to realise that they also have obligations to that community. Often they tend to bring horses into housing estates creating quite a nuisance. Travellers must acknowledge their obligations to society, just as society must acknowledge their obligations to the travelling community. Some control must be exerted over this practice because in many small towns now these horses are used by children and adults for what is called "sulky" racing or even riding through the town's main streets. There is need for tightening up such practices as in the case of dogs.

This debate was most constructive, reflecting many people's concerns for animal welfare. It covered a wider area than that meant to be dealt with by the particular statutory instruments before the House. When practices came to light earlier this year which were totally and utterly unacceptable I examined the statutory provisions available and this was the only means by which I could do something quickly. I embarked on this statutory instrument immediately.

A distinction has to be made between coursing and blooding. Blooding has always been a crime, while coursing is a legal activity.

How many were charged with that crime during the past century?

If the statutory instruments before the House come into force it will mean that on the first or second offence someone who is convicted can be fined up to £1,000 or sentenced to three months imprisonment or both. In my view those are stiff penalties. The important word is conviction. We can have all the sentences and penalties we wish but if it is not possible to bring people before the courts and convict them they serve no purpose. I appeal to any Member of this House or the public at large who knows of any cases of transgression of the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965, to make the information available to the Garda. We all accept that random acts of cruelty are difficult to detect. We now have some evidence of organised cruel and brutal activities. People of goodwill, particularly those who hold responsible positions in society, have an obligation to come forward and assist in convictions being obtained.

This general debate has been useful and I wish to deal with some of the points which arose. Both Deputy Doyle and Deputy De Rossa referred to the problem of urban horses. That was a matter that concerned me before coming into this office and I have spent some time researching and seeking a way of dealing with it. There are two aspects to this problem, one is the animal welfare aspect and the other is the danger these horses can cause in urban areas. They appear to congregate in the less well-off areas of our cities and towns. Deputy De Rossa referred to the need for some form of registration. It is particularly difficult to put an identification mark on a horse which cannot be removed by some means. People can be ingenious when it comes to removing such marks. I am optimistic that there may be a method, by means of an electronic device, which would make for a permanent mark.

How do we deal with a large number of loose horses in an area? The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has no involvement as such; it is a matter for the local authorities and the Garda. However, I accept it is a matter that needs to be addressed and I am trying to arrive at a proposal that will allow for this unacceptable position to be properly regulated.

Deputy De Rossa referred to the difficulty of not having sufficient horse boxes. With a co-ordinated type swoop that difficulty can be dealt with. There is also the difficulty of the pound. Individuals can be intimidated when people come to reclaim their animals. Some local authorities take horses from their own functional area to another functional area because they consider this a more effective way of regulating the scene. There could be some merit in examining the question of a secure national pound where animals would be released only when the fines and costs were paid to a local authority and the relevant documentation presented. This is not an easy matter to deal with.

Wild animals come under the Wildlife Act, involving another Department. The matter of exotic animals was raised by a number of Deputies. We do not have legislation in relation to dangerous animals. If animals are mistreated the regulations being discussed can be implemented. I can assure Deputies that the problem is under active scrutiny in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Deputy Doyle referred to the overstocking of sheep. There have been recent successful prosecutions for acts of cruelty to sheep and adequate statutory powers are already available under existing legislation to deal with cruelty to all species, domestic and wild animals. Anyone aware of acts of cruelty has an obligation to come forward with information to enable successful prosecutions. The penalties provided for in existing legislation are adequate and are a sufficient deterrent. Our problem is with actual conviction.

Deputy Doyle referred to the trailer donkeys. I assure Deputies it is not the policy of the Department to issue export documentation for horses which are being exported for slaughter. The creation of the Single Market has resulted in the free movement of animals and goods throughout the EU. I am aware of the donkeys to which Deputy Doyle referred. The manner of their leaving this country is not countenanced by my Department. In this issue there are constraints against involvement by the Irish authorities for jurisdictional reasons. The problem came to light when the animals, which were in the possession of a non-national, were outside the country. This incident is the subject of examination in my Department.

Deputy Gregory referred to the need to update the Protection of Animals Act. As I have already said, the existing Acts, provide for a wide range of offences of cruelty against animals. If these are operated we have the mechanism to regulate the situation. The role of the Legislature is to determine the maximum and minimum penalties but it is the judge who imposes the penalty on the day.

Deputy De Rossa referred to training programmes for children, particularly in less well off areas——

The debate must conclude on this motion in three minutes.

As a former teacher I am very supportive of that suggestion but the body that should develop it is another question. When I was young I had a pet; it is a marvellous education for young people to have to look after a pet, it is part of rural life. One of the calumnies on rural people in the context of coursing is that they are cruel. I do not accept that. Greyhound owners and those involved in coursing take great care of their greyhounds.

Not of the hare.

I will come back to that point. I can give instances: in an urban area I know a person in receipt of social welfare keeps greyhounds and the animals are better fed than he. As Deputy Clohessy said, rural sports are an important part of our culture.

It is easy to be blasé about coursing but a great deal was achieved in the last coursing season in terms of eliminating the kill and reducing the level of suffering to animals. It runs in the face of the facts to say differently. There were 4,936 muzzled courses last year; 45 hares were killed, 220 hares were struck, of which 25 had to be put down due to injuries. That is amazing progress on the position heretofore.

What about blooding?

As I said earlier, blooding is a separate issue; it has always been illegal.

How many convictions were there?

On a point of information, is it proposed to introduce legislation to deal with the problem of roaming horses in urban areas?

I cannot promise legislation in this area because responsibility is spread over a number of Departments. I will try to find a method of identifying horses and registering them so that stray horses can be matched to their owners. That is a start to gaining control over the situation.

There are already regulations dealing with dogs but they are not being enforced.

I commend the regulations to the House.

Question put and agreed to.