Private Members' Business. - Control of Horses Bill, 1996: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. This welcome Bill addresses many of the anomalies in the procedures for dealing with horses in urban areas. The problem of wandering horses in Dublin has been growing in recent years, and there is a similar problem in Limerick, Cork and other urban areas. For whatever reason, we have not put in place measures to deal with horses similar to those for dealing with dogs. For example, there is no registration or licensing system for horses and it is not possible to monitor their care, ownership etc. in urban areas. As a result there has been a proliferation of horses in these areas. Some of them are wild while others are left by their owners to wander on the streets and feed in green areas in estates. This is a widespread problem in areas such as Ballyfermot, Finglas and Tallaght. We have heard horrific stories about people who have been injured by wandering horses and about horses which have been seriously mulilated or killed. Only yesterday there was a report in the newspaper about a horse tied to a tree which went around in circles until the rope eventually strangled him. Unfortunately, such incidents are becoming more common. The number of wandering horses has increased to such an extent that they dominate the quality of life in housing estates. When this happens it is time to deal with the problem effectively. Families living in estates where wandering horses are a problem want to see regulations in this area.

The 1985 Animals Act attempted to deal with animals which were inadvertently let loose in urban areas and made provision for the establishment of pounds. However, this legislation did not have many teeth and it has not dealt effectively with the problem. Last year £40,000 was spent in maintaining and operating the Dublin Corporation pound in Churchtown. A total of 151 horses were impounded during the year but there was no adequate means of identification, no penalty could be imposed for the damage done etc. This is an indication of how difficult it is to deal with the problem effectively.

The Bill sets out a comprehensive set of procedures for dealing with the problem and proposes the establishment of a statutory body and the introduction of penalties. It is necessary for the problem to be dealt with on a statutory basis and to put in place a service for owners, many of whom are young, so that they can care for their horses properly. Consideration must also be given to the Smithfield fair in Dublin. Obviously the legislation will not cover all these areas and the other services will have a role to play in this respect.

The Bill reflects the commitment in the programme for Government to introduce legislation on the control of horses, particularly in urban areas. It provides for a licencing, identification and registration system and a ban on the sale of horses to minors. These are important provisions as many youngsters pool their money and buy horses independently of adults. By enshrining the adult dimension in the legislation there will be the necessary element of control and responsibility. The Bill also deals with the disposal and seizure of horses and the attachment of criminal liability for injury caused by them. These issues can be dealt with in more detail on Committee Stage.

If the 1985 Animals Act had been effective we probably would not be here today discussing the legislation. However, that Act did not deal specifically with this problem. It is important that responsibility for the implementation of the legislation is delegated to local authorities and the revenue from fines is retained by them. The administration of the procedures will be funded to a considerable extent by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. If we do not provide the necessary facilities, staffing and funding at local authority level, then the legislation will not be properly enforced. A considerable amount of funding will be required to deal with this problem which involves thousands of horses in urban areas. There are many people, set in their ways in terms of horse ownership, trading in horses in urban settings as part of their occupational activities.

The control of horses will involve much administration and a firm attitude to the enforcement of the provisions of this Bill. The yield from fines will be welcomed, as will the funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. There should be a section in each local authority, with the requisite medical and other professional staff, responsible for tackling this problem.

The Garda, who have responsibility for collecting many of the fines stipulated in this Bill, will have to be willing to address the problem constructively and liaise with the relevant local authorities. As legislators very often we enact legislation, sought by the Garda or other sections of the community, but thereafter are frustrated by its lack of enforcement. Unless the provisions of this Bill are enforced from the beginning, with those responsible making every effort to resolve it, this widespread problem will continue.

What can we do to tackle the proliferation of wandering horses in urban areas? We must ask how it came about and why it is getting worse? It appears that involvement with horses has a big influence on the lifestyles and interests of youngsters generally, thousands of whom live in deprived areas, whether it be in Ballymun, Finglas, Ballyfermot, Tallaght or Clondalkin. We owe it to those youngsters to endeavour to replace that interest in some way without necessarily eliminating that involvement with horses.

There is enormous scope for what have been described as corral projects, under which local authorities, vocational education committees, local FÁS and partnership boards would liaise and allocate tracts of land for their establishment. Horses could be made available for youngsters who do not have them. Those young people could be educated on the handling of horses, caring for them, saddling and riding them in addition to being encouraged to compete in gymkhanas. Likewise vocational education committees or FÁS could initiate employment projects. It should be possible to provide training for youngsters on equine care, nourishment and so on and promote a positive approach to the care of animals. If we do not encourage youngsters' involvement in some type of physical activity, whether it is football, boxing or horse-riding, they will become involved in harmful activities, such as drugs which are endemic in many such communities.

The greatest proliferation of wandering horses is in local authority housing estates or high rise complexes where there is a very high level of unemployment and poverty.

We must examine the traditional fair that takes place in Smithfield on the first Sunday of each month. It is not subject to any legal control and members of the travelling community, farmers, youngsters and citizens of rural areas and Dubliners attend to purchase or sell horses. Up to approximately 12 months ago, that fair was badly controlled but, since the involvement of bodies such as Dublin Corporation, the DSPCA, horse owners, the Dublin Horse Council and the Garda — the fair ground has been fenced off and youngsters are not allowed to gallop horses or cause any harm or inconvenience to local residents.

In addition, the new heritage areas rejuvenation programme, HARP, devised by local authorities and subsidised by EU funding, incorporated the Smithfield fair in its long-term projects for the city, an interesting development. It is a tourist attraction, is part of our urban and national culture and I hope it will continue to flourish. While this programme may necessitate the drawing up of additional regulations and by-laws by local authorities it will represent an integral part of our response to the need to control wandering horses.

Occasionally members of the travelling community are blamed for horses wandering around the city. Seldom have I come across horses belonging to the travelling community in areas in which I am involved, certainly not in Ballyfermot although very often members of the travelling community are blamed or used as easy scapegoats. They have a traditional love of horses and I do not want the problem attributed to them. I compliment the Minister on introducing this Bill and look forward to further discussion of its provisions on Committee Stage.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, on introducing this long-promised Bill. People in many urban areas in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and elsewhere will be grateful that at last legislation to control wandering horses is being placed on the Statute Book. I will speak later about its enforcement because, legislation in itself amounts to nothing unless it is enforced.

The Bill prescribes tough medicine for the unsolved problem of wandering horses in urban areas. Its provisions are wide-ranging establishing, as it does, controlled areas where horses cannot be kept without licence. In other areas horses can be kept with licence under certain strict conditions only. Through this Bill an effort is being made to bring order to a problem that has been a source of major grievance to many urban residents for a considerable time.

The Bill provides for disqualification from keeping a horse or obtaining a licence in addition to a provision for banning the sale of horses to minors under 16 years of age. Most important this Bill provides for the seizure, detention and disposal of stray, unlicensed, unidentifiable horses or those causing a nuisance or posing a danger to the public.

Section 42 attaches a criminal liability to the owner, keeper or person in charge who wilfully or recklessly permits horses to pose a danger to any person or property, to cause injury or to damage the property of any person. Provision is also made for powers of enforcement, powers of arrest and the issue of search warrants in certain circumstances.

All these measures are long overdue. I welcome, in particular, the penalties provision. The penalties are substantial providing for a £1,500 fine or six months' imprisonment or both on summary conviction and for fines of up to £10,000 or two years' imprisonment or both on conviction on indictment.

To assist the Garda in the detection process arrangements are being made in the Department to consider the issue of tagging to help with identification. If we cannot identify the owners, we will be hampered in our efforts to pursue a prosecution with a view to sustaining a conviction. I am surprised that the Department has not been able to bring to a conclusion its views on the best form of identification. I know it is considering freeze-branding, tattooing and microchip implanting and maybe a combination of all those measures will be required, but I am disappointed it has not been possible to bring consideration on that matter to a conclusion.

I welcome the crucial power local authorities will be given under the legislation to dispose of horses that have been impounded on one or more occasion. It is important that the right balance is struck between animal welfare rights and the rights of ordinary citizens to public safety. If horses have been impounded on more than one occasion, clearly their owners are not concerned with animal welfare issues. It may well be in the best interests of the horse and the public for that animal to be put down. That may seem a tough measure, but tough measures of that kind will have to be imposed. Sometimes in our society the rights of animals often take precedence over the rights of the public. We need a sense of balance, but at all times public safety must come first.

The enforcement of this legislation will cost money and the Bill proposes that the finance will come from a number of sources. The proceeds from licence fees, fees for inspection of registers, fees for horses impounded and fines imposed on summary conviction will go to local authorities. There is provision for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, in conjunction with the Minister for Finance, to make special grants to local authorities to financially assist them to enforce this legislation.

In all, the Bill provides an elaborate plan to rid us once and for all of the scourge of wandering horses, but it is worth nothing unless the commitments in it and the commitments from statutory authorities with powers to enforce it are fully implemented. There have been many false dawns regarding the implementation of legislation. Many owners who have their horses impounded can promptly pay the fee and have their horses back on the streets very quickly.

We all know of sad cases where children, in particular, have been scarred for life as a result of a kick from a wandering horse. In many parts of my constituency and other parts of Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Galway and Limerick parks and greens are no-go areas. Often local people must make long detours in their localities to catch buses and to avail of public utilities and shopping facilities because they are afraid of wandering horses in open spaces.

An example worth noting is St. Aidan's School in west Tallaght where the trees, hedges and shrubs have been wrecked by wandering horses. Excrement has been found on the paths and school grounds and the staff and principal have all been attacked by them. The school's football pitch has been ruined and will cost £20,000 to resurface. During the past two years the school has had to spend £5,000 landscaping and undoing the work of roaming horses. The staff and principal have asked me why they should have had to deal with that problem and why they and the children should have been endangered by wandering horses.

Members of Raheen Residents' Association, another group in Tallaght, whom the Minister met on one of his recent visits to the area, said at a recent large public meeting that the biggest issue in the area was not crime or unemployment, but wandering horses. It is frightening that for some communities wandering horses was a bigger issues than the serious escalation of crime and the high levels of unemployment. That should put in context the necessity for this legislation. I know that many people and Deputies do not realise how necessary and vital it is. Many people throughout the country wake up in the morning to see their gardens ruined from hoof marks or excrement and a horse in the garden. Those horses do not just destroy gardens and green spaces, they pose a major safety problem for children and many of their owners do not have regard for animal or public safety. Recently residents in a housing estate on the Blessington Road near Saggart pleaded with their politicians to have the green space they demanded fenced off because they could not cope with the wandering horses constantly grazing on it.

Many residents wonder if the State is on their side and while they welcome the publication of the Bill and its speedy passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas, they really only judge a commitment when they see that the tough measures proposed in the Bill being implemented. Serious problems, like the issue of wandering horses, demand radical action. We cannot continue to take a softly, softly approach. Occasional efforts at rounding up and impounding horses will not be enough. We must be prepared to put these animals down if that is the only way of dealing with the public safety issue and the menace they pose to many local communities.

In some parts of Dublin, in particular, a culture has emerged among teenagers who consider that they should have horses to play with and with which to excite their fellow neighbours. That is regrettable because traditionally children, in particular, had a great appreciation of all kinds of animals. That is not always the case, but I know successful programmes were undertaken with children to teach them management skills and respect for and appreciation of animals. That has played a constructive and positive role and I hope such programmes can be encouraged.

It might be better if the pounds were privatised or private security firms took charge of them. Local authority resources are always scarce and there are many demands on them. Local authority officials can often be intimidated by irate owners of those animals. Private security firms may have a greater capacity to enforce this legislation and to deal with the irate owners who may demand the return of their horses.

Our laws are littered with legislation that is not enforced, such as the enforcement provisions on the removal of sand and gravel from the foreshore. Similarly, our litter Acts to prevent indiscriminate dumping of rubbish and, in many respects, the criminal law, is often not enforced. I hope this worthy and important legislation will not simply be a threat rather than enforced. If that were to happen, it would be roundly condemned by the people who have demanded this legislation.

When this Bill was introduced a few weeks ago a considerable number of people from the Tallaght-Clondalkin area were in the public gallery to hear the opening statements. It is not often that constituents contact politicians to come to this House to hear a debate. This legislation is considered so important in certain areas that people demanded to come here because they did not believe it would be introduced.

Wandering horses are generally a problem in working class areas of high unemployment, areas that must deal with high levels of crime, drug pushing and other problems. Those people have enough to cope with and should not have to deal with the extra burden wandering horses cause to their communities. If the House will excuse the pun, the owners of these horses have ridden roughshod over these communities for far too long. People's basic rights and public safety must always be protected. If the penalties are meaningful and if they are imposed, we could by the end of 1997 deal in a substantial way with wandering horses. That is 18 months away, but it will take that long to pass the legislation and put in place the enforcement, tagging and identification process and all the other things that are necessary if this legislation is to be practical and workable. If the Minister were to set himself a target to have this legislation fully in place and the issue of wandering horses dealt with in a meaningful way by the end of 1997, it would be a very welcome and ambitious target.

The pressure to enforce the legislation must come from the Government down, not the other way round. The Minister must ensure there is continuity, consistency and uniformity between local authorities in the enforcement of this legislation. If some local authorities enforce it and others do not, the owners of the horses will take them to the greener pastures where the law is weakest, where it is not being enforced. That happens at the moment in the context of travellers. The record of some local authorities is appalling. As a result, those local authorities that have tended to deal with the problem have had the problem escalated over and over again as the travellers move to areas where they tend to be more favourably treated. The same will apply to wandering horses. I hope that when the Minister is responding this evening he will give an undertaking to ensure that there will be no gaps in the way this legislation is enforced, that right across the country there will be consistency in enforcing the legislation. If we have that commitment, if we have a co-ordinated approach, and if we have a top down commitment to its implementation, its policing and its enforcement, this legislation will play a significant role in dealing with a problem which has been a scourge for 20 years and which has been mounting every year. It is only in the past 18 months to two years that I realised how serious a problem it has become. When one goes to a residents' meeting of 200 to 300 people in a small housing estate in west Tallaght and is told the most serious issue on their large agenda is that of wandering horses because they are worried about their children's safety, their own safety and their property, then one really realises how significant, important and necessary this legislation is.

I wish the Minister and his officials well in implementing it. The Minister has already served a very worthy purpose by bringing it forward. When I first raised the need for this legislation it was not clear which Department had responsibility. No Department wanted to take on the issue. It was wandering legislation, wandering around from Environment to Agriculture, Food and Forestry and any other Department that would take it. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry now has responsibility. The Minister has spearheaded this comprehensive legislation. He deserves all our thanks and congratulations for that. This legislation has resulted from extensive consultation with the affected parties. Because of that it is, on the whole, positive and comprehensive. I am happy to support it. I hope it gets a speedy passage through the Oireachtas, which my party will facilitate.

I welcome this Bill which is not before its time. It deals with a problem which has arisen in urban areas in particular where the keeping of horses in housing estates has become almost part of a new youth culture. This began in the early 1990s. It became fashionable as a result of the screening of some films, one of which, "The Commitments", showed a scene depicting a horse being taken up in a lift at the Bally mun flats. In the film "Into the West" the actor, Gabriel Byrne, played the part of a horse dealer or tangle, and young boys played with horses. This, perhaps, captured the imagination and keeping horses became a fashion.

Previously the keeping of horses was very much a rural pastime. In cities it was only a wealthy person who could afford to purchase a horse, rent a paddock, buy a stable and engage in the sport of keeping horses. That has changed, and throughout our city there are hundreds of horses roaming around in open spaces, in public parks and on waste ground. It is not a pretty sight. One sees horses hobbled or tied up on wast ground in some of the suburbs. Often the condition of these animals does not speak well for their owners. This goes against a trend, because being an animal lover is very much part of human nature.

What has been happening lately is ridiculous and very dangerous. On public open spaces, horses and children do not mix well. There have been countless cases of injury to children. Dublin Corporation is paying out, on average, £20,000 per claim for injuries suffered by people who have been kicked or trampled on, and there is a list of claims pending. Horses also create a problem for private soccer and GAA clubs when animals wander on to the pitch. If somebody is injured the liability is on the owner of the land, not on the owner of the horse. This creates certain financial problems for the clubs. This Bill addresses that problem and makes the owner of the horse liable for what happens to the horse or to anybody who comes into contact with it.

It is frustrating for sports clubs when horses roam through their pitches and make the pitches unplayable so that matches have to be called off. Pitches are often made permanently unplayable. In my constituency many of the pitches in Darndale Park and Belcamp Park were completely unplayable for most of this winter and right up to the present time because of the damage caused by horses' hooves. Horses fouling pitches is also a problem, creating a possible health risk for people who are subsequently injured on the pitch. Horses fouling streets and roads in densely built up areas is a problem too.

Dublin Corporation's parks department has been attempting to deal with this problem in the city by rounding up horses left in public open spaces, but their staff are often physically threatened, verbally abused and prevented from taking horses away. The cost of trying to deal with that has been a financial millstone around the necks of local authorities who are constantly strapped for funds. The new legislation addresses that issue also. It imposes fines and penalties which when collected will become part of the revenue of the local authority, putting it in a position to fund the rounding up of horses and dealing with the problem generally.

A most important aspect of the Bill is the provision for the amendment of the Protection of Animals Act. Animals straying on to roads and motorways have been injured and even killed. A horse was killed on the Malahide Road at the Darndale roundabout the day before Christmas and was lying on the road for several hours before it was possible to have it removed. The owners of the horses must have regard for the safety of the animals. It is now commonplace to see horses looking unfed, not properly shod and being abused. Last week I saw horses which were hobbled being stoned by youths who seemed to think that was fun; the horses were startled and frightened. In winter time horses are left out in the open in all kinds of weather. This causes ill health, and anybody with any basic knowledge of animals knows that in bad weather animals have to be fed and stabled in dry accommodation.

The Bill addresses the question of the requirements of those interested in horsemanship, the need for equine parks, the skills required to look after horses and proposes training schemes to encourage people who have a genuine interest in horses and animals generally to develop the proper skills and knowledge to look after animals and to engage in the pastime with due care to the animals and everybody else.

I look forward to the implementation of the provisions of this Bill. Members have referred to other Acts such as the Control of Dogs Act, 1986, and so on where the implementation of the law has not been all that it should be. We should learn the lesson from that. The implementation of the legislation needs to be monitored and requires the involvement of the local authorities and the Garda Síochána where the animals have to be confiscated. To do this successfully there would have to be a system in every local authority area and in every Garda division involving somebody with responsibility to deal with the problem. We can then look forward to the implementation of the legislation when enacted. People have been waiting patiently for this legislation and can now look forward to being able to walk freely in the parks and children and youths can play safely on the pitches knowing there will be controlled areas for those who want to ride horses.

Sometimes travellers are blamed for the problem caused by wandering horses. In the constituency of Dublin north east there is a number of halting sites and group housing schemes but one rarely, if ever, sees horses around these locations. Animal drawn transport went out with the stagecoach and now travellers use other vehicles. Animals are no longer required as beasts of burden. This is not a traveller problem but a problem caused by young people who are not aware of how to deal with animals, particularly with horses, and rush headlong into buying a horse at the Smithfield market, bringing home and showing it off to friends, allowing them to gallop off on the horse, having no regard for the welfare of the animal or of anybody else who might accidentally come into contact with the animals.

I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan for introducing this Bill. I support it and look forward to its speedy implementation.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Hugh Byrne.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

I am glad the Government has reacted to the Bill published by my colleague Deputy Kenneally dealing with the control and regulation of horses by introducing this Bill. Dogs are not allowed legally to roam in public places but horses which are a source of greater danger to the general public are largely uncontrolled. It is unbelievable that no form of registration or licensing was ever introduced for horses. The Control of Dogs Act, 1986 is working well in County Kerry under a veterinary officer from Kerry County Council who is doing an excellent job and making sure that very few dogs are roaming the countryside.

The problem of uncontrolled horses roaming the countryside has not been put into perspective and we do not realise the extent of the danger, anger and frustration until there is a mishap. We have allowed a very dangerous situation to develop or continue for decades with consequent loss of life. Such incidents were conveniently classified as road accidents and there seemed to be no urgency about dealing with the underlying problem. It occurs mainly in large urban areas in cities but in certain cases it occurs in towns and villages.

My main experience of this problem has been in the urban context. I realise there is a problem also in rural areas. In trying to deal with the problem we must legislate not only for the current difficulty but also to cope with future difficulties and the way some horse owners might try to circumvent the law. It is very important that the regulations should be enforced throughout the entire country and not just in urban areas.

I agree with Deputy Kenneally's proposed system of identification. A tamper proof method must be introduced if at all possible. There is a number of systems of identification such as freeze branding, microchip implant, lip tattoo, hoof tattoo or other methods but the least likely one to be interfered with is the microchip implant. A microchip is implanted during minor surgery and is replaceable only by the same method, which is probably the only system with any chance of success, given the expertise involved. While it may be a paying proposition to insert a temporary replacement in the case of a valuable recehorse, it is a far more remote possibility in the case of a horse that is kept as a pet. The regulations should be enforced for all horses with the exception of thoroughbred racehorses. It should be an offence to keep any horse over the age of six months unless he can be properly identified.

I would like to see the definition of foal in the interpretation section of the Bill altered. It states that a foal is a horse under one year being nursed by a dam or foster dam. It should be specified as six months. A nine or ten month foal could roam free, causing extensive damage. Will the Minister of State look again at this on Committee Stage? We have been able to effect such controls in the case of cows and cattle for the purpose of eradicating disease.

Registration should be carried out by the local authority for the functional area in which the horse is to be kept. There should be restrictions on the type of person who would qualify to own a horse. I envisage that this registration procedure would be operated somewhat along the lines of the present motor vehicle registration whereby the Garda would have easy access to the records to establish the ownership of an impounded horse. As regards the ownership of horses I query whether 16 is too young. Will the Minister look at this on Committee Stage to see if he could see the logic of raising the age to 17 years. This is a very reasonable request. The most important aspect of this legislation is the control of the horses. They should not be allowed to be in any place other than the premises of the owner, the premises of any other person in charge of the horse, the premises of any other person with the consent of the person and the owner or such other person in charge of the horse keeps it under effective control. The application of such criteria would immediately preclude horses from straying on public roads, private property or lands in the control of a local authority. Impounding a horse should be carried out by the local authority in liaison with the Garda Síochána and an ISPCA inspector. These bodies should agree on the most appropriate arrangements. All costs incurred in the removal of a horse to the pound, in the provision of sustenance while in the pound and veterinary fees should be paid before release. This is very important.

Although each local authority is required to provide a horse pound most have failed to do so. From a financial point of view, this would not be feasible. Apart from the financial implications, the main problem is security.

The legislation dealing with the sale of horses also needs to be tightened to ensure the permission of the local authority is required before a horse fair, sale or mart is held, to prohibit the sale of horses to any person under 18 years of age and to ensure the attendance of a veterinary surgeon.

In keeping a horse one should be required to provide sufficient grazing land. There have been instances where horses have been kept in a house or garden. This should be allowed only where the owner can prove that the animal is a workhorse on which he depends for a substantial part of his income. There is a need for regulation in this respect.

Regulations are needed also to ensure horses are exercised in a reasonable and disciplined manner. It is ridiculous to think a horse can be cared for properly on the side of a street. In urban areas one should be required to provide proper quarters to ensure horses are not mistreated.

The owner of an animal will be held liable for any damage or injury caused to a person, motor vehicle or other property in the event of an accident. I am anxious to know from where the resources will come to pay compensation. More often than not the owners of wandering horses are unable to come up with a realistic amount of money and the likelihood of insurance cover is slim. We should consider introducing a scheme of insurance similar to car insurance to provide adequate cover. Innocent pedestrians, cyclists, motorists or householders who suffer serious damage to their home, land or other property should not be at a loss.

From where will the local authorities get the necessary finance to implement the provisions of this Bill? I note that the Minister of State may make grants available but I would like to see the word "may" removed and the word "shall" substituted.

I am glad that the making of by-laws will be a reserved function of members of local authorities. I am glad also that the powers of the Garda Síochána will be greatly strengthened as they will now be able to carry out searches without a warrant in certain instances.

This legislation and any by-laws, regulations and licensing systems arising should be put in place at the earliest possible opportunity. I look forward to the Minister of State implementing its principal provisions.

I welcome the Bill which is long overdue. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, on its introduction. I also compliment and congratulate my colleague, Deputy Kenneally, for prompting this action.

This Bill is pro rather than anti-horse. Unlike some of my more illustrious colleagues in my constituency, I am not a horsey person. Horses have given us so much joy. Children take great pleasure in feeding, cleaning, trekking, hunting and racing them. They are of tremendous importance to the economy.

This Bill seeks to exercise control over the percentage of horses which for one reason or another are owned — I am kind in saying this — by people who care little for them or about the way they are treated. We have a tremendous opportunity to do something about this problem. Laws are often made as little more than a public relations exercise. I am aware of the Minister of State's conviction but we should ensure this is not a wasted effort by doing what my colleagues and Government backbenchers have suggested, to take animals off the road.

There is a major problem in urban areas. I fully admit this but, as the Minister of State is aware, there is also a problem in rural areas. The horse is a sensitive animal and, unlike bovine animals when loose on the roadside, will react to the slightest sound. This has to be taken into account in considering this Bill.

It is essential that horses are kept under control. As we are all aware, deaths have been caused by wandering horses in urban and rural areas when they suddenly crossed the road in front of oncoming traffic or were unseen at night.

In 1970 on my way home from the All Ireland final when Cork beat Wexford — things will be different this year — I had the misfortune to hit a horse. Luckily, I was not hurt but the four passengers in the car were. There was substantial damage to property and the cost was enormous. Sadly, the horse died having been left on the roadside by its owners who cared little for it. Many people said to me that it could have been worse, that someone could have been killed. Many people have been killed and that is why it is essential for us to ensure that horses are now allowed to roam freely on roadways.

We all agree that the only control is that horses are impounded. The only question is who will impound them when they are found wandering on the side of the road. Gardaí do not think it is their job. The local authorities think it is up to the Garda. At end of the day, nobody does it. In instances in my county where the horses were impounded a group of people broke into the pound with sledgehammers on the night the horses were impounded.

If impounding is to be one of the solutions to the problem, we must have a pound that is policed and which cannot be broken into, otherwise this legislation is not worth anything. We have to take account of the fact that we are talking about people who have made a career of circumventing the law. There is little point in continuing to take a soft attitude but if we do otherwise, people will say that we are right wing and that we must allow for cultural development. Cultural development seems to be a very popular phrase these days. Either we are interested in the protection of humans, property and animals, or we are not. It is time to say where we stand. I agree with Deputy Kenneally's request for a national pound. It must have walls as strong as those of Fort Knox and it must be policed so that when horses are impounded the only way to get them out is to pay dearly for them. If that principle were applied in this Bill we would have gone a long way towards winning the battle.

We know of horses being maintained in housing estates in rural areas and in Dublin. We know of people who bring their horses upstairs in their houses. It is hard to credit that it is possible but it is happening. The following day or night that horse is put into someone's field or into a local authority land bank without permission and if there is any attempt by locals to remove the horse, they are intimidated. The soft option for people is to pretend they never saw it happen.

Wexford, like most other counties, is becoming more environmentally conscious. We intend to plant one million trees between 1990 and 2000 and we are well on the way to doing so. We have planted trees in our open spaces and they are becoming more mature as the years pass. However, horses are now tied to the trees, pulling them out of the ground and nothing has been done about this yet. This is why I say that we must hit these people hard while we have the opportunity.

We do not know how many horses are wandering. It may be 10 per cent of the horse population, it may be more. We have to take on the people who allow this to happen. The Government should build a pound which cannot be penetrated by sledgehammers or diggers because, as I said, these people make careers out of circumventing the law. Fines must be such that when they are taken from the pound, owners will be discouraged from allowing horses to wander again. Identification has been mentioned and I agree with my colleague in this regard. Unless identification is tamper proof, a method will be found to change it. I do not know how the Minister is to do it, but we have an opportunity now and this Bill should succeed, whatever the cost.

What is to be the qualification for the ownership of horses? Let us make it stiff. Let us say that a person must own or show certification of land before he or she can own a horse. We should not take the soft option of allowing owners to say they will buy hay for the horse because we know that will not work. If that is allowed, these people will turn their horses into the first field they see, irrespective of who owns it, what is in it or what damage might be caused. Intimidation will keep the owner very quiet.

We built a house in County Wexford recently for a person who later admitted in court that he owned £250,000 worth of horseflesh. It may sound like an unbelievable statistic but this is where the whole situation has gone wrong. The man had no land. He had £250,000 worth of horseflesh and to add insult to injury we built a house for him. Let this not be a public relations exercise. Now that we have the chance, put a law in place that will prevent horses from wandering.

I welcome this Bill which is long overdue. It has been called for time and again on the Order of Business. Part of the disappointment at its delay was because it was felt the Bill was ready many years ago, given that the Minister for Social Welfare, who at the time was a member of The Workers' Party, had prepared a Bill which aimed to do much of what this Bill tries to achieve. It was a puzzle as to why there was such a delay.

I understand there was some question between the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Department of the Environment as to who would pick up the tab. I am glad the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry seems to be in a position to prosecute the Bill. This question essentially needs to be dealt with in the wider context of the horse industry and it is important that horses in urban and rural areas should be subject to the same controls. All horses should be given the consideration and conditions which they require for their welfare. However, I understand the different arguments.

I have some limited experience in the area of horses. This would not be adequate to give me sufficient information so I have sought information from others. When I was a principal teacher in Balbriggan we had some travelling families in the school who owned horses. I know the issue being addressed in this debate is very much an urban problem which does not relate to travellers in the main. However, my experience there gave me some insight into the beneficial aspects of ownership of horses. Those I met who owned horses really knew how to look after their horses. I knew that from the condition of their horse and the way they talked about them, as well as the way they made their horses available on sports days. The horses were a source of pride for their owners and the horses seemed to be extremely happy.

However, all is not so well in other cases, as the Minister knows. The situation has been getting worse as time goes on. Over 65 horses have been put down since Christmas. This number is much higher than in any other year. Large numbers of horses have been found in very distressing circumstances. This Bill is long overdue and there was a great deal of suffering while it was delayed. Its remit is the control of urban horses and it must be addressed as a priority. Yet it fails to confront a fundamental cause of the urban horse problem, that of over breeding. The Bill should have looked at various ways of discouraging the breeding of horses rather than at ways of controlling them, as the old adage states: prevention is better than cure. This omission is startling.

There is some hope given that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has taken charge of the Bill as it has expertise at its disposal in encouraging breeding of livestock. I assume that same technology can be used where necessary to discourage breeding horses in circumstances where it would lead to further suffering.

The scope of the Bill is too narrow and must, therefore, be seen as a missed opportunity to deal with the horse problem in a wider context. A better starting point would have been to name the Bill The Control and Protection of Horses Bill. While the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, is a proper legislative tool for the protection of animals there was an opportunity in the formulation of this Bill to embrace the needs for the horses' protection from society and not simply the other way round. We have heard a great many people talk about how dangerous horses are, the damage they can do and the nuisance they cause. It is important to remember also that horses are extremely vulnerable to predatory human beings who consider they are no more than toys to be taunted and cruelly treated. Perhaps the Minister will accept that the title should reflect that principle, that it is not simply a control of horses Bill but a control and protection of horses Bill. The same happened when the waste Bill was introduced. At first reading it was difficult to understand whether it was simply a Bill to deal with the waste created or if it had any other role. The name was changed and various parts of the Bill expanded to take account of the new principle enshrined in the name, the Waste Management Act. The Minister has an opportunity to follow suit in expanding the title of this Bill to include the word "protection".

The Bill fails to look beyond the straying urban horse to the much wider use of horses in society, particularly for entertainment purposes. For example, what happens to many of the racing horses whose racing career is over, thoroughbreds who were never fast enough to run in competitive races, the hundreds of show horses whose career is finished and the thousands of horses whose employment in riding schools throughout the country has been terminated? The Minister may say that information is not available to him but the Bill allows for licensing, identification and, I hope, electronic taggins of a type that cannot be tampered with and various other more sophisticated means, where the law has been broken, to ensure that the history of horses, in the same way as the history of animals in the BSE crisis, can be measured. That is important and will not only ensure the law is complied with but will provide the Minister with information on what happens in the lifespan of many of the horses here which come to public notice only when they are winning races, performing competitively or at the high point of their career. This is similar to greyhound racing where many people are unaware of what happens the grey-hound after the competitive life of many of these animals is finished. The information needs to be assimilated so that policy can be driven as a result of having all the information. Much of the policy in this Bill was brought about through pressure from people who are experiencing problems as a result of horses rather than as a consequence of genuine concern for the lives of horses, although I am sure that was a factor.

Many of the horses traded through the markets and fairs can end up in Straffan slaughter house, neglected in a field, on a boat to the Continent where they will be slaughtered for human consumption, traded on the streets of Dublin or in countrywide horse fairs.

The most alarming aspect of the Bill is the wide-ranging power it confers on "authorised persons"? Will the Minister elaborate on whom he intends to call an "authorised person"? It seems the Bill confers powers on people who are not a member of the Garda Síochána, or other legitimate persons, to hold such power which include entering premises and, if necessary, the use of reasonable force — which is a subjective term — without being accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána. We have already heard how Garda protection is needed in many situations where inspectors from local authorities have gone to investigate horses being cruelly treated or where conditions were unsuitable for horses to be housed or located. If Garda supervision is needed in those cases it is fanciful to talk about "authorised persons" being able to act in a forthright manner and yet not need to be accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána. We need to bear in mind the circumstances in which many of these visits are carried out and experience shows we need to involve the Garda Síochána more often than not.

While the Green Party has no problem with the principle of forced entry to prevent any animal being injured or maltreated, it is surely not in the interests of civil liberty and natural justice to confer these powers on an individual or organisation other than those directly authorised to carry out such duties by and on behalf of the State — the Garda Síochána and the Army. Garda protection has been critical in many of the cases where inspectors have been sent out.

The Minister needs to take expedient action because the Bill will not be in operation before the end of summer. Because of the deteriorating conditions in which horses are held and the higher than ever mortality rate in the Dublin urban region, it is important that horses are not subjected to cruelty directly as a result of maltreatment, attacks, taunting and torture, ridden when they are too young and other forms of abuse. They are also subject to cruel treatment as a result of complete ignorance and neglect. If we have a hot summer many horses will suffer due to inadequate grazing and water facilities and during the winter months many of them do not have proper shelter. I understand there are between 2,000 and 3,000 horses in the Dublin area, I do not have information for the rest of the country. A horse needs approximately one acre of grass on which to graze during the summer months. Many horses in Dublin graze along the roadside and do not have adequate water or shelter.

Could the Minister assist local authorities in, for example, operating a water vehicle to provide water for horses? Such a vehicle is used to provide water for human consumption when supplies run short or are interrupted. It might be necessary to have members of the Garda present when distributing such water because when a person tries to help, but is seen to interfere, violent scenes can erupt.

I urge the Minister to enact the legislation as soon as possible, to accept that the Bill is long overdue and that many horses in the city and other urban areas live in unacceptable conditions. While acknowledging that the Department of the Environment is the usual custodian of local authorities, as the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has custody of this Bill it should make direct contact with local authorities to ensure this matter is dealt with effectively. Some local communities in the Dublin area have set up horse clubs where young people interested in owning horses are taught about their needs and the responsibility of owning a horse. I hope they are also dissuaded from buying a horse when it is obvious they would not fulfil that responsibility. Those communities have taken the lead in this regard because they were too long waiting for the Government to do so. Local authorities also want better training facilities for horse owners in their areas.

The Bill will fill an enormous vacuum. There are fairly strict regulations governing dog ownership, but the responsibility of owning a sensitive large animal such as a horse is much more onerous. It is about time this legislation was introduced and I hope my views will be considered before Committee Stage.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. While I agree a Bill of this nature should have been introduced years ago, I disagree with Deputies who accused the Government of being negligent and delaying the introduction of the Bill. A commitment to introduce such a Bill was given in the programme, A Government of Renewal, and approximately one year ago I was entrusted with the responsibility of introducing a Bill. The two officials present tonight and I engaged in a wide process of consultation and formed a consultative group. We consulted with every interest group that contacted the Department and groups that did not contact us. Rather than engaging in delaying tactics, we were always under pressure to introduce a Bill. We did not produce a Bill before the Dublin West by-election merely to win votes. We waited until we believed we had all the necessary information.

Neither did we. This Bill was a long time coming.

The Deputy's Bill was not around before his party left office. We have produced a comprehensive Bill and I am prepared to consider amendments on Committee Stage. I accepted some of the proposals put forward when the matter was discussed in special committee. We have not been negligent in introducing the Bill. I acknowledge the efforts of Deputies De Rossa and Kenneally in introducing their Bills, which were similar. This one is different and was almost ready for publication when Deputy Kenneally introduced his Bill. Both the earlier Bills served as useful guidelines in drafting this one. I hope I do not have to clarify that matter again.

I thank Members for their positive and constructive contributions to the discussion on this Bill on Second Stage. Their various views and comments have been a generous source of ideas and I intend to reflect on them in preparation for Committee Stage. However, some of the ideas are problematic and I would like to clarify my position on them.

Before dealing with the substantive issues raised by Members, I thank Deputies Kenneally and Browne for drawing attention to an apparent contradiction between section 28, which gives the Minister powers in relation to the identification of horses — as recommended by the Select Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy — and the explanation of section 43 in the explanatory and financial memorandum, which confers such powers on the local authorities. There is no real contradiction here. The position is that the memorandum had been drafted before I went before the select committe on 17 April and it was inadvertently left unamended following the insertion of section 28. Deputies will be glad to know that, in my opening statement on 29 May, I gave an interpretation of section 43 which is compatible with section 28.

It is appropriate to mention at this juncture that, contrary to Deputy Kenneally's observations, I have made a number of changes to the Bill as a result of my appearing informally before the Select Committee. Taking these changes section by section, they are: section 20 (4) giving the Minister rather than the local authority the power to decide the format of the horse licence; section 22 (5) providing for the striking of a licence fee by ministerial regulations rather than local authority by-laws; section 28 empowering the Minister to require that a horse kept in a control area shall be identified or be capable of being identified in such manner or by such means as may be specified in regulations; and the removal of the contradictory subsection of section 43 in relation to local authority powers of horse identification.

The question of support for projects such as the Fettercairn Horse Project has been raised in a number of contributions. While I am generally in agreement with any measures to engage the young people from disadvantaged areas in useful and wholesome activities, I must emphasise that the proposal before the House is for legislation for the control of wandering horses. The Bill is regulatory rather than developmental and is hence an unsuitable vehicle for the furtherance of projects like the Cherry Orchard or Fettercairn Projects. The fact that these projects can be launched and progressed ahead of the Bill is indicative of their separate nature and their suitability for consideration under existing local authority schemes.

I might mention here that the leaders of these projects will have nothing to fear from this legislation if they are in a position to comply with its requirements. As I indicated in the House on 29 May, I recognise horse ownership as part of the traditional fabric of urban life and I have no intention of upsetting that tradition. My objective when the legislation is in place will be to secure reasonable and responsible ownership of horses and good horse management. The projects in question are a commendable step in that direction. It also merits mention here that, far from being discriminated against, the young people in question are the subject of positive discrimination in having horse projects organised for them. I laud local leadership in its endeavours to ensure these young people are not excluded from horse ownership.

It has been suggested that thoroughbred horses should be exempt from the legislation. The implication is that they should be exempt from licensing in a control area. I cannot accept this. The legislation is intended to deal with problems caused by wandering horses in urban areas. Any horse can stray and be liable to cause damage or injury. If the horse needs to be seized for being a source of danger, it is of no consequence that it is a thoroughbred. It is also essential that in introducing this legislation, we act in an even handed manner by ensuring all classes are treated equitably.

The question of a national pound has been raised. I am not opposed in principle to having one secure pound to meet the needs of the country but I would advise against writing it into the legislation as the only solution to the problem. The logistical, transport and indeed welfare difficulties that could arise if we were to rely on a single pound may prove insurmountable and may render the operation of such a pound impracticable. Deputy Kenneally and I are of like mind in recognising that good pound facilities will be needed if this Bill is to work. Accordingly, I am considering the option of setting up a number of regional pounds. I have not decided the number. If Deputies wish to put forward suggestions in this respect, I shall bear them in mind for consideration when the legislation is in place.

Deputy Kenneally inquired about the meaning of section 11 (1). Similar sections are found in other enactments and arise from the fact that we are living in the electronic age. Nowadays information is kept in either conventional written form or in electronic, machine readable forms. The conventional written form includes books and other records of this kind. The machine readable forms include computer discs, audio tapes and compact discs. The intention in section 11 (1) is to ensure the machine readable forms are capable of being converted into conventional records so as to give the person in the street access to a document which can be read without needing a computer or other electronic means.

Deputy Gregory wished to know what help and financial assistance the Government gives to the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I regret my Department does not operate a scheme of funding to provide financial assistance to bodies such as the DSPCA. I am glad, however, to report that — as already indicated in the Official Report of 16 April — the Minister made a once-off grant of £50,000 to the society last year to enable it to meet its immediate needs.

The issue of criminal liability for injury or damage caused by horses, as dealt with in section 42, has been raised in the context of a query as to how compensation for the victims of wandering horses will be sourced. Compensation does not arise. A person guilty of an offence under section 42 is liable only to fines or imprisonment, that is, a maximum of £1,500 or six months imprisonment or both on summary conviction, and a maximum of £10,000 or two years imprisonment or both on conviction on indictment. Deputies will appreciate that section 42 provides for hefty penalties but it does not, and cannot, deal with compensation.

It had been my original intention to provide that the owner of a horse which causes damage or injury would be subject to civil liability leading to compensation. I have decided, however, that this legislation should not deal with compensation. Deputies will wish to be aware that section 42, which has been inserted in lieu of a provision on civil liability, does not undermine a person's access to a remedy under the general rules of tort.

I have given consideration to providing for a scheme of insurance against damage or injury caused by horses. On detailed examination, however, I am now convinced that such provision may prove inoperable as insurance companies may not wish to embark on such business. It came to my attention during the examination that there are insurance provisions in other legislation which have proved inoperable because the insurance companies were not prepared to get involved. There is also the point that the Minister could be placed in an invidious position if this legislation confers on him a responsibility for the implementation of insurance provisions which, despite his best efforts, he cannot implement.

I take this opportunity to clarify one aspect of the Bill. Members seem to believe seizure of horses will be possible only by court action under section 8. However, section 36 empowers the local authority or the Garda Síochána to seize and detain a horse at their own discretion for a variety of reasons, including straying, causing a nuisance or posing a danger. Section 8 does not displace section 36; these are complementary provisions. Section 8 becomes active only on the commission of an offence under the legislation and where the local authority considers forfeiture of the horse desirable. Section 36 will be the central provision in ridding our urban areas of uncontrolled horses. On some remarks made by Deputies this evening, Deputy Shortall referred to corrals, which I too mentioned. She also referred to the appointment of horse wardens. Local authorities have general powers to appoint officers, including wardens. The only requirement under this Bill is that they be authorised persons.

Deputy Smith suggested putting identification under the mane. As I said on 29 May, I have arranged for officials to examine the general issue of identification. The Deputy referred to regional pounds. I have already addressed that matter. He also referred to the opening of a slaughter plant in the north-east, but that does not arise in this Bill.

Deputy Noel Ahern raised an interesting point. He was concerned that local authorities may not co-operate and that horses may travel over the border from a co-operating local authority area to a non-co-operating area. That matter is addressed in the Bill. There may be a case for ministerial power to enforce the declaration of control areas.

I thank Deputy Harney for her positive contribution and support for the Bill. She referred to the issue of identification. That is a topic for detailed examination only when the Bill is in place. Parties have strong views on the various types of identification, and they must be consulted. I have arranged for my officials to investigate the general issue of identification. Local authorities must also be consulted about this matter.

Deputy O'Leary raised the question of the definition of a foal. The definition in the Bill was inserted following expert advice made available to the Department. I am, however, prepared to reconsider the definition to see whether six months is more appropriate than one year as a maximum age for a foal. A technical point should be borne in mind in this regard, that is whether an identifiable mark can be applied to a foal as young as six months.

Deputy O'Leary also raised the question of minors and referred to 16 as the age at which a person may possess a horse. I have given some thought to this issue and, on finding that people in their late teens are legally entitled to engage in a variety of activities such as marriage, driving a motor vehicle, voting and joining the Army, felt that midteenage years would be the most appropriate for this Bill. I was also mindful that UK legislation on animals sets down an age of 16 years. Taking all these considerations into account I decided to opt for the age in question. I am sure it will be further referred to on Committee Stage.

Deputy Hugh Byrne made a number of interesting points. As regards car accidents, I share the Deputy's concern about fatalities and serious injuries caused by horses. I referred to this matter in my opening speech. The problem of uncontrolled horses could give rise to horrendous carnage on our roads, particularly on the new by-passes and dual carriageways being constructed around our cities and towns.

Deputy Byrne also raised the question of stray horses. When drafting this Bill I issued a circular to local authorities on this matter. Countrywide there are 3,000 such horses, 1,000 of which are in the greater Dublin area, with an estimated 600 in the South Dublin County Council area. The stray horse population is a minor percentage of the general horse population. Despite their relatively modest numbers, however, they are a major problem in urban areas. The urban horse population must be subject to control in the interests of the safety of life and limb.

Deputy Sargent referred to control of breeding. I expect that when this Bill takes effect the urban horse population will be reduced to manageable numbers and that in turn will control breeding. It has been recognised that urban horse ownership is a perfectly legitimate pursuit and, therefore, breeding must also be recognised as an acceptable aspect of ownership.

Deputy Sargent referred to the protection of horses. It is unnecessary to provide detailed welfare provisions in this Bill. Instead I decided the penalty provisions of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, should undergo a major recasting to include penalties for conviction on indictment. Section 45 provides that the maximum penalties under section 1 (1) of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, will be as follows: on summary conviction, a fine of £1,500 or six months imprisonment, or both and on conviction on indictment, a fine of £10,000 or two years imprisonment, or both. This provision seeks to address a limitation of the existing section 1 (1) in that it contains only minor penalties on summary conviction.

The table accompanying section 45 shows section 1 (1) of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, following insertion of the new penalties. The Deputy will find the provisions of the table to be a strong defence of the horse. The new provision is sufficient to deal with cases of cruelty to all animals, including horses. In proposing this new deterrent against acts of cruelty and in restating by table the relevant provisions of the 1911 Act I am reminding horse owners and users that any act of cruelty against horses will not be countenanced. I believe that will be effective.

I thank Members who contributed usefully and constructively to the debate. It is clear there is a general welcome for the legislation and there is understandable frustration at the delay in bringing legislation of this kind before the House. I have responded with all possible speed to the undertaking in the Programme for Government to introduce legislation to control wandering horses in urban areas. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.