Before we go on to deal with the amendments to the Control of Dogs Bill, 1986 — it might be advisable if Senators would listen to me — amendment No. 5 does not arise out of the Committee Stage proceedings and is not appropriate to Report Stage.
Control of Dogs Bill, 1986: Report and Final Stages.
I realise there is a problem under Standing Orders about this Government amendment which arose since the Committee Stage debate but to overcome the difficulty I propose that the House should now agree that when we reach amendment No. 5 the Bill should be recommitted in respect of amendment No. 5 to allow the normal procedure to take place.
Is that agreed?
Perhaps I should explain that by agreeing to the motion to recommit amendment No. 5, the House allows a committee type discussion on the amendment only, that is, Members may speak more than once on this amendment when it is reached.
Basically the Borough of Dún Laoghaire has traditionally exercised the functions which in the case of other boroughs are exercised by their respective county councils. The result is that the writ of Dublin County Council does not, for most services, run in the Dún Laoghaire borough and it would, accordingly, be inappropriate that the county council should be given the task of operating the dog control service there. The effect of the amendment will be that Dún Laoghaire Borough Corporation will be responsible for operating the Act in their functional area. The borough will, of course, form the nucleus of one of the new administrative counties which will emerge from the proposed reorganisation of the Dublin local authorities.
This more or less refers to the Dublin and the Dún Laoghaire areas. Urban councils will not have authority to appoint dog wardens, will they? The scheme will be administered by the county council in that area?
The amendment arises out of representations made by Bord na gCon in relation to the greyhound industry. The export trade in greyhounds is a valuable one. In fact, 7,599 greyhounds with a value of £1.7 million were exported in 1985. As the Bill stands, the purchaser of the dogs for export would, by virtue of section 6, have to license the dogs on the transfer of ownership. This would create an impediment to the trade. The amendment, therefore, will exempt from licensing greyhounds purchased for export within 30 days.
The functional areas of local authorities generally extend to high water mark only. Consequently a local authority wishing to make by-laws for a beach adjoining their area would be unable to do so. Consequently, subsections (6), (7) and (8) of section 17 were inserted to provide the procedure to solve this problem. On reflection and as a result of some discussion the procedure proposed — that of extending the functional area for the purpose of the by-laws by way of a ministerial order — seemed unnecessarily bureaucratic and the amendment provides instead that the extension of the functional area, where desired, will be contained in the by-laws themselves. In other words, the by-laws will not be effective unless they are confirmed by the Minister for the Environment pursuant to section 221 of the Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1878, which by virtue of subsection (4) of the section applies to the by-laws. Therefore, the Minister will have the final say in the matter of by-laws. Consequently a separate ministerial order on the extension of the functional area is not considered necessary. Basically what it means is that if in the areas of a certain county council or borough council, there is a beach that is not under their direct jurisdiction and if nobody else can be made responsible for it, they have the right to make a bylaw to include that beach in their area of jurisdiction.
While subsection (2) of section 30 places in a prosecution for an unlicensed dog the onus of proof on the defendant in relation to three specific matters, it is felt that the subsection is not tight enough to ensure successful prosecution of persons who keep unlicensed dogs. As the section stands it might be found necessary to provide evidence from each of the 33 local authorities involved that the dog was not licensed and this would place an inordinate burden of proof on the prosecution. The amendment provides a different approach by deleting the three specific matters where the onus of proof lies with the defendant and substituting a presumption that the dog requires a licence and that a licence had not issued until the defendant can prove otherwise.
The change relieves the prosecution of the onus of proving that the dog was not licensed and places the entire onus of proof in any defence he might make on the defendant. In other words, it simplifies the whole matter in that one presumes the dog is not licensed and then one puts the onus on the dog owner to prove it is rather than chasing around 33 local authorities. A similar situation, incidentally, exists regarding driving licences where under section 38 of the Road Traffic Act there is a presumption that the defendant does not have a driving licence until he can show that he has.
The House has already decided that the Bill is to be recommitted in respect of amendment No. 5. This means Senators may speak more than once but in doing so should confine themselves to the amendment.
I must apologise to the House for being responsible for this mix up. We were rushing to a vote and this is how it occurred. The reappraisal of the provisions of the Bill indicates that section 33 is not necessary in view of existing statutory provisions. For instance the Local Government Act, 1946. Sections 8, 9, 16 and 17 provides that receipts and expenses of a county council and a borough corporation are channelled through a county fund or a municipal fund respectively. A similar provision governs the receipts and expenses of county boroughs. Consequently, the making of regulations by the Minister is superfluous. On the question of moneys accruing to a body which has been delegated the functions of dog control under section 15, such as the expenses of keeping seized dogs under section 11, of on-the-spot fines under section 28 the arrangements made between the local authority and the body exercising the delegated functions will cover financial aspects. Each local authority will be free to negotiate its own terms as a body to which it is delegating functions. In simple language all that means is that a local authority when it is collecting rates and refuse collection payments and that sort of thing channel them into one fund and it is administered as a single fund. It is proposed that this collection of moneys, mostly from dog licensing, will be channelled in the ordinary way through the funds of the local authority.
I will be very brief because we have already gone through this Bill in detail. Without blowing our own trumpets we have done a reasonable job in trying to make the Bill more effective. I should like to thank the Minister for agreeing to some of the suggestions we made and incorporating them in the Bill. I hope the Bill will be put into effect as soon as possible and that it will not be like other Acts that have been put on the Statute Book and never put into effect. I would hate to see that happen to this Bill. If it is enforced properly it is good legislation and it will be a very effective way of collecting the dog licence fees because they have not been collected up to now.
I want to join with Senator Hussey in complimenting the Minister and his advisers on the way they responded to the debates initiated here on Second Stage and Committee Stage of the Bill. The Bill is all the better for the amendments the Minister has agreed to. It is a useful piece of legislation. It can now be operated on the ground in the manner in which we want to have it operated. It is a complex Bill and removes responsibility from the gardaí for the collection of dog licence fees. The money will be channelled into a fund to ensure that proper dog wardens can be provided in each county council area.
The Minister has been very forthcoming in his response to all sides of the House. I want to compliment Senator Hussey. Senator Hourigan, Senator Howard and others on this side of the House on their contributions to the debate on the legislation. I understand agreement has been reached to deal with it fairly quickly in the other House. I hope it can be put into law before the lambing season of 1987 when we hope some of the major beneficial effects of the legislation will be seen. I hope the problems that have been created in the past by unwanted and uncontrolled dogs have been addressed by the Government and by the Houses of the Oireachtas. I want to thank everyone for their participation.
I wish to make a few comments on matters that arose out of our discussions on Committee Stage. Senator Durcan suggested on Committee Stage that the definitions of "Dog licence" and "general dog licence" in section 1 should contain the words "or have in his possession". That would leave the definition reading "a licence entitling a person to keep or have in his possession a dog". I have had another look at the matter and I am happy that the existing phraseology is correct.
The licence entitles a person to keep a dog by virtue of the fact that in section 2 it would be unlawful to keep the dog without a licence. If the Senator's suggestion were adopted, it would seem to be necessary to follow it through with an amendment to section 2 making it unlawful to keep or have in possession a dog without a licence. Such a provision would be rather imprecise. "Keep" certainly includes "have in possession" in the context in which it is used in this Bill, when one looks at subsection (2) of section 2 where the occupier of the premises where the dog is found is deemed to be the keeper. Consequently by using "keep" there is no need to add "have in his possession".
If the Senator is suggesting that "have in his possession" be used as an alternative to "keep", thereby creating an offence of having possession of a dog without a licence, I think we would be creating a monster. In that situation, any temporary possession of an unlicenced dog could make an unwitting offender of the possessor. For instance, if you were to walk out somebody else's dog and the dog was not licensed then you would be in trouble. Literally, if you were left holding an unlicensed dog, you could commit an offence. Therefore the offence, in my view, must be confined to the keeping of a dog, which means more than just having the dog in one's possession. Sections 2 and 6 make use of the word possession, but they do so merely to denote the act of passing possession of the dog from one person to another.
A number of Senators and, indeed, the Advisory Council on animal health, have made pleas for the exemption of dogs owned by the Irish Guide Dogs'Association from the payment of licence fees. These dogs form the nucleus of the stock from which careful selection is made to produce suitable guide dogs. The guide dogs when being used by blind persons, are, of course, exempt from licensing.
The dogs are, I am informed, owned by the Irish Guide Gogs'Association but are kept by various people throughout the country. The keepers are, therefore, liable for the licensing and if an exemption were to be given it would have to be extended to all these people who could not be easily distinguished and who may, indeed, have other dogs. The operation of what is a simple, straightforward licensing scheme would become very complicated. I regret, therefore, that I am unable to accommodate the association, which, I must say, performs a most praiseworthy role in helping the blind.
As promised on Committee Stage, I have had another look at Senator Hussey's suggestion that a lower age limit of 16 years might be considered in relation to exercising greyhounds. As I stated on Committee Stage, an age limit of 16 years was originally included in the Bill for the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act, 1965, but was deleted by Government amendment at the request of Bord na gCon and others. That Bill, incidentally, was sponsored by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and, after a thorough debate in the Seanad, the consensus was that the introduction of special controls over greyhounds by requiring them to be kept on a leash in public places and limiting the maximum number to be exercised in public places by one person to four was as far as the Oireachtas should go in the matter.
The introduction of a lower age limit would highlight the need for an upper age limit and possibly different age limits for men and women, because what is involved essentially is physical strength. The difficulty of ascertaining people's ages also presents a difficulty. On the ground, where these greyhounds are bred and reared, it has been traditional for teenagers to walk the greyhounds after return from school. Invariably the route, or some part of it, would be in a public place. I would leave it to the good sense of the owners to judge their teenagers' capacities. I do not want to introduce something that might not meet general acceptance and I think the 1965 controls, which are merely being repeated in this Bill, judged the matter properly and struck a correct balance between what was being sought and what was acceptable by the industry. The 1965 controls have had widespread acceptance and have been generally successful. For these reasons, I am convinced that we should stick to them.
Senator Hussey raised a point on section 25 relating to the person to deal with in regard to excessive barking of a dog. The Senator suggested that, where the occupier of the premises where the dog is kept and the owner are not one and the same person, the owner should also be notified of the intention to make a complaint to the Court. As promised I have had another look at this. I have consulted with the legal people and I am happy that the existing provision is adequate. If the owner, as well as the occupier, had to be notified a difficulty might arise for the person aggrieved by the excessive barking, if he or she could not ascertain who the owner was or his-her address. Furthermore, if an occupier had dogs from more than one owner, it would be difficult to know which owner's dog was barking. The intention of the section is to provide a simple and effective procedure for an aggrieved party to obtain redress in Court and that, I think, can best be achieved by proceeding against the occupier of the premises in which the offending dog is kept.
In conclusion, I should like very much to compliment my friends here in this House on their helpful contributions to this quite lengthy and very important legislation. I assure the House and I assure Senator Hussey that it will not be allowed to rest here. I am hoping to get it into the Dáil next week perhaps and certainly I hope to have it in ample time for the lambing season.