Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Ceisteanna (47)

Maureen O'Sullivan


47. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the outstanding issues relating to licences for the operation of horse-drawn carriages in Dublin. [39765/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

This question relates to outstanding issues regarding licences for the operation of horse-drawn carriages in Dublin.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I know that she is very much acquainted with the issues relating to it but, for the consideration of the House, I would like to provide some background information.

In February 2011, Dublin City Council, DCC, took over responsibility for the licensing of horse-drawn carriage operators and drivers from the Garda Carriage Office.  This was achieved through by-laws enacted under Part 19 of the Local Government Act 2001. The latter provides a general power to a local authority to make by-laws in relation to its own property or services or to regulate matters of local concern.  It is under this Act that local authorities can choose, using by-laws, to regulate horse-drawn carriages that operate for hire or reward within their functional areas.  These by-laws allow relevant local authorities to set their own rules and stipulations to govern such operations.

In 2018, DCC became aware that - specifically in the context of Dublin - this legal basis for making such by-laws could be uncertain.  Local authorities may not make by-laws for purposes provided for elsewhere in legislation and the Dublin Carriage Acts 1853 to 1855 had previously vested the power to regulate horse-drawn carriages in Dublin with the Dublin Metropolitan Police Commissioners, the predecessor of An Garda Síochána.

My Department examined this issue and, following legal advice, is now of the view that the Dublin Carriage Acts 1853 to 1855 remain in force and preclude DCC from enacting the relevant be-laws.

Having given this matter careful consideration, I formed the view that the operation of horse-drawn carriages for hire or reward is best regulated by local authorities.  I understand that DCC first became aware of the present legal issues during a routine review of the by-laws that considered, inter alia, whether there was need to strengthen measures to safeguard the welfare of horses used to draw carriages.

Animal welfare issues are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.  The Control of Horses Act 1996 allows local authorities to introduce by-laws designating certain areas as control areas for horses. DCC has designated its administrative boundaries as such a control area under its Control of Horses Bye-Laws 2014. These by-laws require horses to be licensed and set minimum standards for the keeping of horses within the control area.

Regulations for horse-drawn carriages for hire or reward should be aligned with any horse welfare obligations imposed by local authorities. Accordingly, I am of the view that horse-drawn carriages for hire and reward should be regulated by local authorities.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

As I mentioned earlier, legal advice provided to my Department suggests that a simple repeal of the Victorian legislation alone may not be sufficient to enable DCC to enact by-laws for horse-drawn carriages.  On foot of receipt of that advice, my Department is now working with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to identify how best to empower DCC to regulate this matter in Dublin, just as other local authorities elsewhere regulate it.

This shows what happens to an issue when responsibility for it falls between several different authorities. A terrible difficulty has arisen within that gap. Tourists and others take horse-drawn carriage rides in the mistaken assumption that the drivers are fully vetted and insured, that the carriages have been inspected and approved, that the horses are suitable to draw the carriages, that the drivers are skilled in the operation of the carriage and that regulations have been set down. That is an assumption not borne out by the reality of the legislation. I have met some very responsible operators. There was a very nice event held on Merrion Square, which happened to be in the rain, featuring carriages and their drivers. They are very concerned about operating in this vacuum. In the meantime, tourists assume that everything is all right. We hope that it will not take a serious accident to bring this matter to the fore. Can the various groups be brought together, perhaps under the Minister's leadership, to resolve this once and for all? The longer it goes on, the more abuses take place.

The Deputy is correct that there is a lacuna and a vacuum. It is difficult for me to defend because it has taken too long. I apologies to here for that. It is complicated because at least three Departments are involved. She is correct in her comments in that regard. Three Departments are involved in what is a relatively minor issue in the scheme of things; many have been solely involved in emergency legislation relating to Brexit, so that might be a tangential reason for the delay. That does not mean that there should not be an urgency in respect of the matter. There is an obligation on us to bring the Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Transport, Tourism and Sport and, perhaps, Justice and Equality together and to involve the Office of the Attorney General and others, as well as the local authority, which would have to be included.

I received a briefing from my officials on this matter yesterday because I knew the question was coming up. I hope that I have instilled a sense of real urgency in them as I was somewhat distressed that this was taking so long. Perhaps it is not the fault of anyone in particular and comes down to the fact that so many parties are involved. However, I will try to inject a renewed sense of urgency in respect of the matter

Without meaning any disrespect, we were told this before. There is also the matter of the welfare of the horses being used to draw the carriages. Many, including myself, applauded the Minister on his action in relation to greyhound racing. That was very welcome. The lack of minimum requirements is having a detrimental effect on the welfare of some of the horses as there is no clear minimum standard. There is a need for this industry to be regulated and to have by-laws that are up to date and that serve the industry well. From what the Minister has told us, I hope it will receive the urgent attention it needs as it has been going on for far too long. Some of the Acts date back to the 19th century. The legislation must be brought up to date.

The Deputy has put her finger on it. I am not absolving myself of blame but the fact that so many Acts date back so far makes the matter much more complicated, obscure and also very time consuming, especially when there are several items of legislation involved.

Animal welfare is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine. I am not passing the buck but I will make sure he knows of the content of this debate. The Control of Horses Act 1996 provides powers to local authorities to designate, using by-laws, control areas within which horses are required to be licensed and where minimum standards are set for keeping horses. In this regard, DCC has designated its administrative area as such a control area under the Control of Horses Bye-Laws 2014, the enforcement of which is a matter for the council. The council's responsibilities and experience in horse licensing and welfare matters is one reason we have concluded that the council is the best place to regulate horse-drawn carriages for hire or reward in Dublin.

In the context of animal welfare more generally, the Control of Horses Act 1996 gives powers to members of An Garda Síochána to seize and detain horses and to require veterinary inspections. Under animal health legislation, the Garda also has powers of arrest in respect of incidents of animal cruelty.