That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses; and to provide for related matters.
This Bill will amend the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 to introduce a new offence of using wild animals in a circus and also to create an offence of training wild animals for performing or exhibiting in a circus. Our position is for a complete ban of all animals in circuses, domesticated and non-domesticated. There are serious welfare issues with animals such as horses and dogs in travelling circuses. The Bill, however, would only cover wild animals. While I would support amendments to allow that ban to be extended, I am confident the Bill, in its current form, would ensure animal circuses are effectively ended.
It is clear animals such as elephants, lions, zebras, tigers and camels cannot have their complex welfare needs met in a circus. Travelling circuses are stressful places which are completely inadequate and offer substandard conditions for animals. This is backed up by a wealth of evidence from veterinary experts and experts in animal welfare and behaviour around the globe. The evidence shows animals in circuses suffer from long-term psychological and physical problems as a result of being held in such conditions. They are often kept in caged wagons and small enclosures. They are regularly forced to perform unnatural and bizarre acts for them and are denied the space, climate and social interactions that wild animals need.
Transportation of animals is a significant concern. In 2012, the Captive Animals Protection Society carried out a study of animal circuses in Ireland. It showed they tend to spend three days on a site and have next to no rest days. In 2012, Duffy’s circus had 500 performances over 266 days in all 32 counties. The shipping of animals around the country like this, with next to no breaks or rest, is clearly stressful and cruel.
Across the globe, we have seen movements and then bans on the use of wild animals in circuses, pushed along by a progressive shift in attitudes and an active movement to protect and safeguard the welfare and rights of animals. In a 2014 poll, only 28% believed it was acceptable to use wild animals in circuses. Wild animal circuses are now banned in nine EU countries. In the UK, the House of Commons has supported a ban, which has been blocked, however, by a rump of Tory MPs. The devolved institutions in Wales and Scotland have also taken moves towards introducing a ban. In the North, there is a commitment to follow legislation here.
The writing is on the wall for this outdated and cruel practice. Across Europe, animal circuses are becoming a thing of the past. As a result, Ireland is becoming a dumping ground. This Bill would stop this. Currently, over a dozen local authorities have banned animal circuses. While a positive move, it is not enough as it only applies to council-owned land. For example, in South Dublin County Council, there is such a ban, but the Belly Wien circus was able to operate on private lands.
Regulations around animal circuses are completely absent. The previous Minister responsible, Deputy Simon Coveney, said he would prefer a code of practice under existing legislation. However, that is completely inadequate. It would not be an offence to breach a code of practice. One also has to look at the nature of the industry. It is highly mobile and, therefore, difficult to collect evidence of any offences and enforce any regulations. Many circuses are operated by thuggish elements. This was seen graphically with Circus Belly Wien last year when animal rights protesters and even gardaí were assaulted with iron bars. These people would not abide by a code of practice.
Even if they did, regulations and codes of practice are not enough. The practice of having animals in circuses is in and of itself inherently cruel. I agree with groups, such as the ISPCA, Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which have said there needs to be a complete ban. I call on the Government and all political parties to express their support for banning wild animal circuses and to pledge to vote for this Bill on Second Stage. I call on people across the country to contact their Deputies to put pressure on them to support this Bill and to end wild animal circuses.