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.