I note the major improvements in animal welfare that have taken place in recent years. The Deputy will recall that my colleague and predecessor, Deputy Simon Coveney, brought forward major legislative reform in the form of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, which replaced legislation dating back over 100 years. The Act enshrined the "five freedoms" concept and introduced mandatory standards to provide for positive welfare for animals. I launched myself a new draft strategy on animal welfare in September. The strategy has recently undergone a public consultation process and the responses, which are currently being examined, have been very positive. As the Deputy will be aware, detailed debate was held around the issue of coursing during the passage of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the Dáil voted overwhelmingly to allow the continuation of hare coursing in accordance with the legislation which specifies that the hare must have a reasonable chance of escape. I am fully committed to promoting good practices that respect the welfare of all animals and my Department devotes considerable resources to protect animal welfare and deal with breaches of animal welfare legislation. Under the 2013 Act, a person can receive a fine on summary conviction of up to €10,000 and on conviction on indictment of €250,000 and-or imprisonment up to five years. The Act provides for fixed penalty payments for lesser offences. The Act provides the framework within which the welfare of animals can be safeguarded and I am hopeful that the substantial and significantly increased level of penalties for offences of animal cruelty provided for under the Act will act as a deterrent to animal welfare abuses.
Coursing is regulated under the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 by the Irish Coursing Club, subject to the general control of Bord na gCon. The Irish Coursing Club is committed to maintaining high standards in the sport of coursing and it actively promotes the protection and conservation of the Irish hare. Coursing operates in a highly regulated environment coupled with a comprehensive set of rules directly applied by the club. Hares are sourced under licences from the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht which are issued annually and subject to a total of 26 conditions. These measures include a requirement that a qualified veterinarian attend at all coursing meetings to report on the health of hares, a prohibition on the coursing of hares more than once in the same day, a prohibition on the coursing of sick or pregnant hares and a requirement that hares be released back into the wild during daylight hours.