Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 5 December 2012
Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his officials. I understand the Minister must leave at 11.45 a.m. I draw the attention of members to a fourth additional list of amendments. Amendment No. 25 has already been discussed.
I move amendment No. 25a:
In page 16, subsection (3)(c), lines 27 and 28, to delete subparagraphs (ii) and (iii) and substitute the following:"(ii) shelter and warmth,
(iii) adequate light and ventilation, and
(iv) adequate exercise.".
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 17, subsection (1), between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:"(a ) hare coursing and track racing, the netting of hares, the shooting of hares and the use of hares in the training of greyhounds before, during and after sporting events,
(b ) the use of animals in sporting events which may result in the mutilation and/or mental and physical suffering of the animal before, during and after the event including the risk of temporary or permanent injury, death as a result of an injury, or death as a result of the killing of the animal due to excessive suffering,
(c ) the use of canines for the hunting of any animal, digging out of any wild mammal gone to ground and the use of terrriers to attack and extract the wild mammal above or below the ground,
(d ) the hunting of stags for the purpose of sport and/or leisure on private or public grounds,
(e ) the hunting of foxes including the digging out of foxes, the use of trapping foxes and mink underground, to protect nesting birds where alternative forms of protection shall be used such as fencing,
(f ) the shooting of wild birds, except for the purposes of disease control or environmental control carried out by legitimate personnel,
(g ) the use of Ladder traps and Larsen traps to trap birds and mammals,
(h ) the use of ferrets for the hunting of an animal,
(i ) badger culling and the use of wire snares to capture badgers,
(j ) farming of mink or foxes for their fur,
(k ) the use of wild animals in circus performances,".
I move amendment No. 27:
I note the Minister has an alternative amendment and it seems he has taken on board the issue I raised. I will therefore just hear what he has to say.
In page 17, subsection (1)(a), line 5, after “animal” to insert “, save for normal, necessary farm practices”.
This section primarily relates to the prohibition on animal fighting, but it also relates to ensuring there is no cruelty or unnecessary suffering during a performance. I have some sympathy with the amendments put forward by Deputy Ó Cuív and we try to deal with them in amendment No. 30. The problem is that the term "normal farm practices" is quite difficult to define legally. Clearly, we are not trying to make it impossible or illegal for farmers to undertake normal farm practice whether with regard to bringing bulls or cows to a show or training animals for competition, etc.
There are also sectors outside of farming that are involved in training animals, whether in the equine or dog area or elsewhere. Therefore, we want to be careful we do not introduce legislation that makes it illegal to train animals in a way that is perfectly reasonable. I am not happy our amendment deals with this fully, having talked through the consequences of it with officials. Our amendment states:
In page 18, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following subsection:Obviously, I support condition (a). However, looking at condition (b), we could take Monty Roberts as an example, a person who makes a living out of showing people how to break in horses in a way that is perfectly humane and a lot more acceptable than the way in which many other people break in horses. This is something we should encourage, rather than make it illegal. What our amendment was trying to do was to ensure that the public is not invited to see something that is cruel as a performance. However, the by-product is that we seem to be making illegal the training of an animal in public where the training involves some level of struggle between that person and the animal, although done humanely. We should not be doing that. Therefore, I want to bring forward an amendment that is similar to amendment No. 30, as we do not seem to have got it quite right yet. I intend to withdraw amendment No. 30, with a view to bringing forward a better amendment on Report Stage that will deal with the full suite of issues.
“(12) Nothing in subsection (1)(a) or (e) prevents the training of an animal by persons competent to train the animal provided -- (a) unnecessary suffering is not thereby caused to the animal,
(b) the public does not have access to the place where training occurs, and
The final part of amendment 30, part (c) makes a provision, provided "any activity involved in the training of the animal is not prohibited by animal health and welfare regulations.”. This covers the training element required. This applies, for example, to Garda training of dogs to sniff out drugs or other banned products in airports. There is a need for practical training for animals, whether conducted by a farmer, arms of the State, a Monty Roberts type of person or his Irish equivalent.
This is a very important section and it is important we stamp out practices such as dog and cock fighting and animal baiting, whereby animals are pitted against each other to entertain people. I am aware Deputy Ferris has put forward an amendment which is a good amendment, which would provide that not only do we make it illegal to organise this type of activity, but we would make it illegal to attend or film it or to put that film up on social media. We are trying to give the tools to the Garda to stamp out a barbaric activity where people get entertained by watching animals pulling each other apart. However, in trying to make this section comprehensive, we do not want an implication for genuine people training animals for show or for work. We need to get the balance right in that regard. I feel close to that balance with amendment No. 30, but do not feel it is perfect yet. Therefore, I will withdraw it with a view to bringing forward better wording on Report Stage.
Amendment No. 28 seeks to replace the word "bull" with the word "bovine". This is self-explanatory. Page 17, section 15 (1)(e) categorises the throwing or casting of ropes or other appliances and refers to any unbroken horse or untrained bull. Basically, this concerns forcibly breaking in animals and is unacceptable. We do not want this to cover bulls only, so are using the term "bovine" to cover a broader range. In other words, whether a bull is just being castrated or not should not be the issue, but that the treatment or training should be acceptable. I agree with what Deputy Ó Cuív seeks in that regard.
With regard to the farm practices, I want to ensure we deal with the issue properly in terms of the wording we propose. Therefore, I will reintroduce an amendment very similar to amendment No. 30 on Report Stage if that is acceptable.
There is an obvious situation with regard to breaking in a horse, when the trainer will end up wrestling with the horse. With regard to the public not having access to where the training takes place, there are many open farms throughout the country where people see farmers working with and training sheep dogs. Therefore, I see the ban on access to the public as causing a problem. Open farms are becoming more common and we need to be careful with the amendment. I accept the Minister's statement that the best thing to do is to resubmit an alternative amendment and see what we and he come up with. We are all on the same track and trying to get to the same place.
Based on what the Minister said about amendment No. 30, there is a case to be made with regard to the situation where terrier dogs are being trained in the digging out of foxes. There is documentary evidence that both the dog and the fox suffer appalling cruelty.
The dog, in that case, is being trained to dig out the fox. I ask the Minister to examine that further.
That issue will be dealt with when we put in place codes or regulations, whichever is appropriate, on terrier work, which we are proposing to do. The term "unnecessary suffering", used in this section, is actually defined in a previous section. I know the Deputy does not agree with the way we have dealt with hunting, upon which we have just voted. I am not proposing to ban hunting or terrier work but I am proposing to ensure that the codes of conduct that exist are properly implemented and are improved, if necessary. The Deputy's concern will, hopefully, be accommodated by that approach.
I move amendment No. 29a:
This amendment deals with line 2 of subsection (7) where the Bill currently says "A person shall not, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, record an animal fight or performance by photograph, video or any other means." We are adding the caveat, “save for an investigative purpose". This makes provision for a situation where someone needs to gather evidence. If, for example, a Garda undercover operation is being undertaken with the aim of putting together a complete file in order to take someone to court and gardaí are recording a dog fight in order to gather evidence, we do not want to make that illegal. We will come to Deputy Ferris' amendment, No. 29c, but I believe it is necessary to insert that rider.
In page 18, subsection (7), line 2, after “not,” to insert “save for an investigative purpose or”.
I agree with the Minister on this but I have concerns regarding the wording of the amendment. It could be open to anybody to claim that he or she was recording for investigative purposes. Perhaps the amendment should read "for the purpose of investigating a crime" or something along those lines. My concern is that if people are caught, they might come up with the defence that they were investigating the situation. I must stress that I completely agree with the Minister's intention.
That is a fair concern but the definition of "investigative purpose" in the Bill, which also appears on page 18, reads as follows:
The Deputy's concern is valid because we do not want people who make recordings to put them up online and then, if they are caught, to say that they were collecting the information for a future investigation. We have tried to define what "investigative purpose" means in the Bill.
“investigative purpose” means investigating an animal fight or performance and includes a criminal investigation or the taking of any photograph, video or filming for inclusion in a television programme service (within the meaning of section 2 of the Broadcasting Act 2009).
The definition says that it "includes" a criminal investigation but in what other circumstances would recording be allowable, other than for a criminal investigation? At present, it is open to anybody to say "I am investigating it". Obviously, the purpose of investigation "includes" a criminal investigation but it is not limited to it and that is my concern. The law enforcement authorities, that is, the Gardaí will always be involved in investigations which are "criminal investigations".
Yes, but if a journalist, for example, is seeking to expose an industry, should he or she be allowed to record a dog fight? I would have thought so. We do not want vigilantism but if we are serious about stamping out this element of animal cruelty, then we should allow journalists to expose it and clearly, if the gardaí want to do it, they must be able to. We should be sending out a signal that animal fighting is against the law and that if someone helps to expose it, either from a media or prosecution point of view, his or her actions will not be illegal. If there are concerns with that, I will happily try to accommodate them but I believe the balance is fine at the moment.
I move amendment No. 29b:
This amendment aims to deal with the issue raised by Deputy Ferris in amendment No. 29c. At the moment the Bill says that it is illegal to photograph or video an animal fight and this amendment adds to that by making it illegal to then publish photographs or videos of same. Unfortunately, we have had examples of children using social media to record fights, although not between animals, and we are trying to deal with the issue of recording animal fights and then putting the material up on social media for entertainment or other purposes. That is also the aim of Deputy Ferris' amendment, No. 29c. I will happily hear what he has to say before I press my amendment.
In page 18, Subsection (7), line 4, after "means" to insert "or supply, display, show or publish such".
There is no preclusion here. Earlier, I used the example of a journalist but the provision is not confined to journalists. If any person suspects that a dogfight is being organised in a barn nearby, he or she can go along, make a recording of it and give the recording to a garda, and is perfectly entitled to do so under this legislation.
I move amendment No. 29c:
I will withdraw the amendment for now and re-enter it at a later stage, if necessary.
In page 18, subsection (7), line 4, after “means.” to insert the following:
“It shall also be an offence to knowingly supply, publish, show or display a photograph, image or video of an animal fight without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.”.
I move amendment No. 30:
This amendment has already been discussed with amendment No. 27 and I am withdrawing it.
In page 18, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following subsection:
“(12) Nothing in subsection (1)(a) or (e) prevents the training of an animal by persons competent to train the animal provided--(a) unnecessary suffering is not thereby caused to the animal,
(b) the public does not have access to the place where training occurs, and
(c) any activity involved in the training of the animal is not prohibited by animal health and welfare regulations.”.
Amendment No. 31 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 31 to 34, inclusive, and amendment No. 89 are related and will be discussed together. Amendments Nos. 32 to 34, inclusive, are alternatives to amendment No. 31. The alternative amendments are on the principal list of amendments, dated 7 November 2012, and on a third white list of additional amendments, dated 26 November 2012. Acceptance of this amendment will involve the deletion of section 16. If amendment No. 31 is agreed, then amendments Nos. 32 to 34, inclusive, cannot be moved. I am somewhat confused myself but perhaps the Minister can enlighten us.
I move amendment No. 31:
We are proposing to insert a new section 16. This has been a difficult area to deal with and there has been a good deal of toing and froing between veterinary representative bodies and the Department to try to get the balance right on issues such as tail docking, when it can be justified, when it cannot be justified, who should do it, how it should be done and what restrictions and controls should be in place. This new section is a significant improvement on the original section 16 dealing with the mutilation of animals.
In page 18, before section 16, to insert the following new section:
16.--(1) Subject to subsection (3), a person shall not, except in accordance with animal health and welfare regulations, carry out an operation or procedure to mutilate or cause or permit another person to mutilate an animal (including the docking or nicking of the tail of a bovine, canine or equine, the removal of horns or antlers from an animal or firing an equine).
(2) Where a person mentioned in subsection (3) proposes to carry out an operation or procedure referred to in subsection (1), he or she must be of the opinion that the operation or procedure is necessary for the health and welfare of an individual animal and is for diagnostic, therapeutic or other medical purpose.
(3) Subsection (1) shall not apply to--(a) a veterinary practitioner,
(b) a veterinary nurse, or
(c) a person carrying out an operation or procedure in relation to or connected with the practice of veterinary medicine prescribed in regulations made under section 54A (inserted by section 2 of the Veterinary Practice (Amendment) Act 2012) of the Veterinary Practice Act 2005,acting in accordance with the Veterinary Practice Act 2005 and subsection (2).
(4) A person shall not mutilate or cause or permit another person to mutilate an animal for--(a) cosmetic reasons, or
(b) in a manner that obliterates or obscures any mark identifying the animal or that renders the identification of the owner of the animal more difficult.(5) A person shall not show an animal at an event to which members of the public have access if the animal has been mutilated in contravention of subsection (1).
(6) A person who contravenes this section commits an offence.
(7) Nothing in section 12 applies to an operation or procedure carried out under and in accordance with this section.
(8) In this section--
“docking” means the removing of a bone or a part of a bone from the tail;
“firing” means the application of a hot liquid, caustic chemical or a heated iron or instrument to the leg of an equine;
“mutilate” means to carry out an operation or procedure which involves interference with the sensitive tissue or the bone structure of an animal;
“nicking” means the severing of a tendon or muscle in the tail.”.
Concerns were raised about this section and its possible interaction with the Veterinary Practice Act. Therefore, the section was re-worded to make clear that it does not impede the operation of that Act. On the face of it, this section outlaws all operations other than where they are allowed by regulation or where they are carried out under the Veterinary Practice Act. This includes a wide variety of activities including castration, de-horning and so on which are currently done on farms. However, the intention is that these will all continue to be allowed by regulation. The regulations will give clear guidance on what is acceptable, what time periods may apply or what equipment may or may not be used. I do not intend to interfere with normal farming practices. However, on the other hand I do not wish to allow a free-for-all whereby people can cut off bits of animals as they see fit. Therefore, operations which do not benefit the animals themselves should be regulated. Work has already commenced on draft regulations and I will be happy to forward details to the members of the committee in due course and we can discuss them.
I propose to restrict the docking of tails for cosmetic and showing purposes. It is possible to further restrict the activity by regulation if needed but I do not propose to do so at this juncture. I do not propose to follow the route taken in Northern Ireland, which is based on the concept of a working dog, because this is an artificial concept and introduces unnecessary bureaucracy. The option exists in animal health and welfare regulations to make provision having regard to breed and type of activity of the individual dogs concerned.
Amendments Nos. 32 to 34, inclusive, are rendered redundant by the redrafting of section 16. Specifically, since the reference to firing has been removed, amendments Nos. 33 and 34 are no longer relevant. This can be dealt with under regulation and it could apply at the end of the process i.e. after examining a series of other treatments and so on.
Amendment No. 89 is a knock-on amendment from the changes to section 16. It amends section 52. Since the numbering of section 16 has changed, the cross-reference must be updated. It is difficult to deal fully with issues such as tail docking, firing and other specific practices, which may be justified in some cases but not others, in a blunt manner with primary legislation. This is why, like other areas, we are looking to introduce a series of codes and new regulations to ensure that when these practices take place, they occur in an acceptable manner.
I have spoken to vets about these issues. Strong views have been expressed about tail docking in particular. There have also been strong views from some specialist equine vets on firing. Firing is a way of treating inflamed legs or shins on horses when no other treatment is available. I have held some detailed discussions with one vet in particular to understand how and why this could be justified. As someone who is involved with horses on a regular basis I was keen to understand how one could justify the firing of a horse's leg. Anyway, there is justification for it in certain circumstances but we need to regulate it. We are trying to deal with the complexity of these practices in a sensible way rather than impose a blunt ban.
Having said that we are introducing some clear bans in the legislation. For example, the new section will make clear that one cannot mutilate an animal for cosmetic reasons. We are also making clear that a person will not be allowed to show an animal if it has had its tail docked for cosmetic reasons. This will not be popular with some but I do not believe we should inflict pain and arguably mutilation on an animal for the purposes of making it look nice. If there is a reason for it because it is a working animal, because there is no alternative or on welfare grounds because of the environment it will be working or operating in, then so be it and we should deal with it through regulation.
There is a link with the Veterinary Practice Act. The regulation must cross-reference several Acts and is not simply related to this legislation. This is why we must work with vets and other organisations representative of various sectors, whether farming or other sectors, to ensure we get the regulations right and that they are consistent not only with this legislation but with the recently introduced veterinary legislation.
We were trying to do the right thing with the original drafting of section 16. However, from various conversations and discussions held it turns out it is somewhat more complex than had originally been thought. The new section 16 allows us to deal with some of that complexity through regulation. We can sit around the table with the people involved, primarily vets, to get the balance right between what is acceptable and what is not and under what conditions.
We should not forget that regulations are not voluntary codes of conduct. They are instruments of law but they are not defined through primary legislation. We can return and discuss the regulations at committee level at a later stage and that is a more sensible way to deal with it. Otherwise we would have to provide for it in this legislation and, as a consequence, we may have to amend it at a later stage, but the amending of primary legislation is not a straightforward matter.
As a consequence we may have to amend it a later stage. The need to amend primary legislation is not a straightforward matter.
I move amendment No. 35:
This legislation is an attempt to consolidate a series of legislative measures relating to animal health and welfare. This new section clarifies that the focus of the section is within the remit of animal health and welfare and does not stray into the remit of other legislation. It deals solely with the laying of poison. There is no point in double and potentially contradictory legislation. The protection of wildlife is dealt with comprehensively in the wildlife Acts. Where poison is laid, efforts must be made to ensure protected animals are not exposed to the poison. In reality this means simple precautions such as laying poison in pipes or metal poison boxes so that pet animals cannot access it.
In page 19, before section 18, to insert the following new section:
18.--(1) A person shall not--(a) poison a protected animal, or
(b) lay poison by a method or in a manner that a protected animal has or would have access to the poison.(2) The owner, occupier or person in charge of land shall not lay or cause to be laid a poison or a substance containing a poison on land unless, before laying the
poison or substance, he or she erects or causes to be erected, and maintains, a notice or notices of the laying of poison upon the land so that at least one notice is clearly visible from every public place adjoining or being upon the land.
(3) The owner, occupier or person in charge of land on which a poison or a substance containing a poison is laid shall give at least 7 days' notice in writing in advance of the laying of the substance to the local authority for the functional area in which the land is situated.
(4) In proceedings for an offence under this section consisting of a contravention of subsection (1), it is a defence for the accused to show that all reasonable precautions were taken to prevent access to the poison or substance by protected animals.
(5) A person who contravenes this section commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a class B fine.
(6) In this section “land” does not include areas within the structure of a building.
(7) This section is in addition to and not in substitution for any enactment relating to the laying of poison.”.
Subsection (6) states: "In this section "land" does not include areas within the structure of a building." A householder using poison to deal with a vermin problem in a walled garden, for example, will not need to put up a poison warning sign on the front gate. I welcome amendments to this new section on Report Stage. This new section is a good attempt at a practical response to the issue of laying poison while recognising that the impact on wild animals of the laying of poison is dealt with in the wildlife Acts.
We discussed the issue of feral cats briefly. I refer to the cost-effective way of dealing with them which is the system of trap-neuter-return. Constituents have told me of instances where domestic cats have been damaged by poisoning. I do not agree with the poisoning of feral cats. Will feral cats be included in this provision? Poisoning is not a way to deal with feral cats.
I presume feral cats will be dealt with as wild animals. They will be covered by the protections to ensure that wild animals cannot consume poison. This is also dealt with by the provision against unnecessary suffering. The main focus in this legislation is protected animals, by and large. The issue of feral cats is probably deserving of a separate response. We discussed cats and stray animals with Deputy Ó Cuív at the last meeting. Anyone who knows cats will agree that they are a semi-wild species. The issue of stray cats and kittens is a grey area and in particular how to deal with them in rural areas. Cats breed in farm sheds and they hunt vermin but these are not domesticated pets. This section imposes an obligation on those who lay poison for legitimate reasons to minimise the risk of the poison being consumed by other animals. The wildlife Act deals with the protection of birds in particular. There is the need to avoid having two different legislative measures which would cause legal uncertainty. I am happy to take suggestions from the Deputy on the formulation of a separate code to deal with feral cats.
I have a question about the laying of poison in ditches adjoining and close to farmyards which is a common practice. The population of rats in maize fields can be overwhelming. Farmers often put poison into the rat holes in the fields. Houses and farms are adjacent to maize fields. There is a regulation to give seven days' notice of poison laying but a farmer might need to give notice every week. Could a more practical period of notice time be devised? I suggest perhaps once a year. A farmer might forget to give notice if it is to be given every week. It would be preferable not to fall foul of the law.
Yes. This is an issue which arises at certain times of the year, particularly if one has a lodging problem in a field of barley or wheat. In some cases one will see thousands of crows descending from the sky and deliberately knocking down crops in order to harvest their bounty themselves. People are obliged to deal with problems of this nature. The restrictions on farmers in this regard will be dealt with in context of the Wildlife Acts.
The issue which arises relates to the notice that is required. If one is laying poison on a regular basis throughout the season, one will probably leave one's signs up in any event. What we are trying to do here is inform the public that if poison is laid, we will give due notice in order that people will not walk in the affected fields, etc.
Notice will have to be given to the local authority and a sign will also have to be erected. I am informed that as regards the local authority, the issue which arises relates to water quality.
There is an existing provision in this regard in the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1965. The concern here relates to the run-off of poison into water supplies. I do not understand how providing seven days' notice could be of assistance in this regard.
Farmers cannot take poison back out of burrows. We cannot insist that people send in notice every seven days because this just will not happen. What is proposed is completely impractical. There is no point in putting in legislation which will not be adhered to. County councils will not issue replies to letters of notice in any event.
My sense is that if one is going to be laying poison on an ongoing basis at specific times of the year when crops might be vulnerable or whatever, one would only be obliged to give seven days' notice in advance of doing so. I do not believe that on every occasion on which one lays poison one would be obliged to give seven days' notice. That would probably be impractical. Perhaps I will clarify the position-----
The Deputy is doing it every year but he is not doing it every week or month of every year. He only lays poison at the times when the crop is vulnerable to attack.
That is not the case in respect of maize. The size of the rat population in maize fields is extraordinary right the way through into January. People who live in the vicinity of maize fields become extremely cross when rats start hopping into their back gardens. Maize is particularly prone to infestation by rats. For some reason they love it and the size of the rat population increases while they are feeding off it. I would like a more practical approach to be taken.
Local authorities need to know what types of poisons are being laid. The issue that arises relates to trying to put in place a regulation that is both sensible and capable of being implemented. What we have done is use the existing legislative provision in this regard. If necessary, we will give further consideration to that provision.
Would it not be dealt with through the pest control services, PCS? Given that there are PCS numbers on all poisons, it would be possible for inspectors to check the poisons farmers use and ask about the fields in which they have been used. The position could be regulated in this way at any stage during the year.
Local authorities will still need to now what is being put down on land. If, therefore, a person is poisoned, the local authority would be in a position to know who was laying poison, the type used and when and where is was applied. That is not unreasonable. However, it is unreasonable to state that people who are laying poison over prolonged periods should be obliged to give seven days' notice on each occasion they lay it. Perhaps we will try to clarify the position and improve the wording. I remain of the view that when poisons are being laid, local authorities must be informed with regard to where they are being applied and the quantities being used. If a public health issue relating to water arises, they will be in possession of good information with regard to the likely source.
We will reconsider the matter between now and Report Stage and I will try to improve the wording. I understand what the Deputy is saying. There is a practicality here for farmers and we do not want to make life impossible for them. We must, however, ensure that they do not do anything illegal by failing to provide seven days' notice on a regular basis. The provision is practical enough in that regard.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 21, lines 29 and 30, to delete subsection (8) and substitute the following:
"(8) In this section "intensive unit" means a premises on which protected animals are kept under a husbandry system relying, for the purpose of providing for the care of the animals, on automatic equipment to such an extent that a failure of that equipment would, if it were not rectified or if some alternative arrangements were not made for the care of the animals contained therein, cause the animals unnecessary suffering.".
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 22, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following subsection:
"(5) In this section "intensive unit" has the meaning assigned to it in section 19(8).".
I move amendment No. 38:
There have been instances where animals were exported to countries where the animal health and welfare standards are way below those which obtain in Ireland. The amendment is designed to deal with such situations. I am aware that the Minister has done some work in this area and what we are seeking to do is strengthen the protections in respect of animals being exported from this country. I will be interested to hear the Minister's comments on this matter.
In page 22, subsection (1)(c), between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
"(iii) the substandard animal health and welfare conditions of the destination country of Irish animal exports,".
I do not propose to accept the amendments. I understand what the Deputy says but this legislation deals with animal health and welfare in Ireland. I do not believe that my Department possesses the resources that would allow it to make the kind of assessments relating to other countries that the Deputy is seeking before we determine whether animals can be exported to such countries. The system we use in the context of live cattle exports is a good example in this regard. We have in place the tightest veterinary regulations in Europe in respect of the shipping of live cattle. As an alternative to selling them into factories, we will potentially be in a position to avail of new markets in respect of the export of cattle as early as next month. From the point of view of price, this will be a good development.
However, we need to ensure that the welfare of those animals is protected by the State. Some people have contacted me expressing frustration about this because they seek to simply apply the regulations required at a European level for the shipping of live cattle. We apply those regulations but also a good deal more on top of those, which makes it a little more expensive to export live cattle from Ireland in terms of the stability of ships. If animals are being shipped from Spain to Morocco or from Italy to Algeria, they will be transported across the Mediterranean, which is a relatively calm stretch of water. It is a very different scenario to ship live cattle from Waterford to Libya across the Bay of Biscay in the middle of January or February. In that context one would need a ship with the capacity to deal with that type of weather and to ensure the cattle would not be thrown around or be at risk of breaking a limb or other serious welfare concerns. I will not stand over any serious welfare risk in the exporting of live animals but we will try to do everything we can to facilitate that market if people want to exploit it, and there are opportunities for doing that. If we do that, we have an obligation to ensure the welfare of those animals is prioritised in their transport. We have done a good deal of work to get that balance right and I believe we have got it right.
We live on an island and produce enough beef for ten times our population, or maybe more. We export primarily processed meat to 167 countries. It is important for us to keep open the option of live exports as well to ensure, as some people would say, the factories are kept honest. This is particularly important when there are concerns and accusations about a significant price differential between Ireland and the UK, for example, in terms of cattle prices. The option of live cattle exports is one I want to facilitate and we are working with people to facilitate it, but I will not compromise on the welfare issue. That means that for some people it will be more expensive to export, but so be it; they need to put a business case together. If we were to have a significant welfare incident, apart from being unacceptable in its own right, it could well lead to the introduction of more regulation at European level, which might prevent live cattle exports in the future.
This is about getting the balance right between commerce and our responsibilities with regard to animal welfare. We should not go down the route of trying to establish in law requirements in respect of the country that will be buying or facilitating these animals, whether the trade is in greyhounds, cattle, horses or dogs. I do not have the resources to find out about conditions in a country the size of some of the countries to which we export. I understand what the Deputy is saying but I would like to rely on a common-sense approach rather than try to legislate for what the Deputy is seeking in her amendment. It is too difficult to do that.
I accept what the Minister is saying and can accept the practicality and common sense of his argument, in that his officials cannot be authorities on animal welfare regulations in the 167 countries to which we export. However, there have been glaring examples in which animals were exported to countries with extremely unhealthy practices when it comes to animal welfare. I know the Minister acted when some of these were brought to his attention. I hope similar action would be taken if groups were to see this happening and were to bring it to the Minister's attention.
I will add a further point to reassure members on this. On page 71, under Schedule 3, on matters in respect of which animal health and welfare regulations may be made, there is a long section dealing with transport. The Deputy was probably not referring to transport issues-----
-----but I thought it was a good opportunity to explain what we are doing in that respect. I believe there will be some live cattle export trade early in the new year and that will be a good development, but I want to reassure people that we are also being rigorous in terms of the welfare element.
A specific issue arose about how greyhounds may be treated in China. I have been involved in launching and supporting a project to develop horse racing in China which will involve Irish horses. Some top Irish horses will go there and will be part of a growing breeding network within China. We will ensure that welfare concerns are part of that discussion as well as the commercial opportunities for the thoroughbred breeding industry here and for training in Ireland. I have looked at the site where the new infrastructure will be built and have spoken to the people involved. I am satisfied that the welfare of the breeding mares that go to China will be looked after. We have an obligation to ensure that is the case. People would be very uncomfortable if we did not do that. It is one thing sending an animal for slaughter to a country and another to send an animal to a country for the remainder of its lifetime for breeding purposes and so on. Ireland is seen as a country that sets pretty high standards in animal welfare and that is one of the reasons people in other countries come to Ireland to learn from what we have achieved, particularly regarding thoroughbreds. People's concerns about animal welfare can be addressed and are being addressed by the Department.
I move amendment No. 39:
In page 22, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following subsections:"(2) The Minister will draft guidelines outlining acceptable animal health and welfare standards in countries receiving Irish animal exports and which will determine the standard of living to be experienced by that animal in the receiving country.
(3) The animal is not exported to countries that have substandard animal health and welfare regulations as determined by the guidelines defined by the Minister.".
I move amendment No. 39a:
I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to the amendment.
In page 22, subsection (1)(a), line 41, after "years" to insert the following:"unless the person under 16 is accompanied by an adult and who has care of the person under 16 and the vendor is satisfied that the animal will be properly cared for in a family context".
I know what the Deputy is getting at in proposing this amendment. We had a long debate in the Seanad on the issue of selling of an animal to a minor under the age of 16. At the bottom of page 22, the section states that a person shall not sell an animal to a person who is apparently under the age of 16 years or give an animal as a prize to a person who is apparently under the age of 16 unless that person is accompanied by a person of full age, to whom section 22 refers - in other words, the sale of an animal.
What Deputy Ferris seeks in the amendment is that an animal could be sold to a person under the age of 16 if he or she was accompanied by an adult. My argument to that is to ask why the adult would not buy the animal in such a case, because he or she would be responsible for it in any event. In this legislation we would like to bring absolute clarity to this issue of selling animals to minors - that is, to say that a horse, which in most cases is the point at issue, can only be sold to a person who is over the age of 16.
If one is gifting an animal to a minor, that is a different issue. One can do so if the minor is accompanied by an adult. Those aged 15 and 16 should not be buying and selling animals. If they are accompanied by an adult, the adult can do the buying. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
Many of us were encouraged by parents to buy animals when starting off in life at the age of 13, 14 or 15. I do not see anything wrong with the practice; it gives a young person a sense of independence and responsibility. Most farmers' sons will have bought animals in their early teens. This is part of their development. It encourages respect for the animal and self-sufficiency.
I probably did. We are trying to prevent 14 and 15 year olds purchasing animals they are unable to keep, thus resulting in animal welfare issues. The temptation to buy an animal is very strong if one grows up around animals and wants to own an animal at the age of 13 or 14. It is an exciting and attractive prospect. I am sure the practice works very well when a 14 or 15 year old buys a calf and takes it home to the family farm. I have some sympathy with what the Deputy is saying, therefore. My problem is that, at fairs, particularly horse fairs, there is much selling and buying by minors. Often the same animal is bought and sold at the same fair with a view to making a profit. This is not the kind of activity that a 14 or 15 year old should be involved in. I am thinking of whether the person who ends up with the animal will be able to or can afford to look after it.
We do not want to be engaging in Big Brother tactics that kill off rural life, at a ploughing match, for example. I will consider the wording to determine whether it can be tightened up a little such that a 14 or 15 year old will be able to buy a calf with his parents.
The Minister referred to horse fairs. These are primarily associated with Traveller culture. Most 14, 15 and 16 year old Travellers that I know have horses. It is a cultural practice.
I fully accept that there are those who have ill treated animals on having acquired ownership but one must not generalise. One should not penalise an entire community or everybody under 16 because of the actions of a few. This applies to every age group in society.
Let me be clear. This is not an anti-Traveller measure; the provision is based on an animal-welfare perspective. I want to ensure that those who purchase animals are able to look after them, have space for them and have the means to feed and shelter them properly. We now have a series of obligations in law that attach to animal ownership. Are we to prosecute 14 and 15 year olds for breaching the law if they are not providing adequate shelter and feed to animals they have purchased? This is when an issue arises. I understand horse ownership is part of Traveller culture but we must protect the welfare of the animal in that context. It is a question of getting the balance right.
Obligations arise in respect of the buying and selling of horses. I refer to passports, microchipping and the provision of the address at which the horse will be kept. We will have to find solutions for people who are of no fixed abode in that context. The problem is even more complex if the person with no fixed abode is a minor.
I do not want this measure to be sold as one that is targeting one community because that would not be fair. If an animal is being sold, there ought to be some protection in law to ensure the purchaser has the means and ability to look after it.
I am thinking about farming friends whose children bought animals at the mart at quite a young age and looked after them until it was time to sell them, and also about young teenagers in urban areas. Smithfield horse fair is in my constituency. I have seen young teenagers from housing estates totally devoted to the animals they purchased but I have also seen the other side of the equation, which includes terrible animal cruelty. The key is to consider the welfare of the animal and the responsibility for that welfare rather than a blanket ban. I can see where the Minister is coming from and I have seen relevant examples at the Smithfield fair but believe it is terrible to penalise those under 16 who consider animal welfare when buying an animal.
In times of recession, it becomes more difficult to look after an animal. People take on animals and are unable to look after them, including in urban areas.
The Deputy might find it helpful to examine section 2(3), which states:
There is a definition, therefore. The issue is the actual point of sale. The person who has a legal obligation must give approval for the purchase. One does not want a young person who gets caught up in the excitement of a horse fair buying two horses and bringing them home to a family that cannot look after them, thus creating a welfare disaster. Such individuals would not be able to sell them and would be stuck with them, resulting in the animals being left in a field or at the side of the road, where they would have to be picked up by local authority officials. This happens and we are trying to prevent it.
The person, being of full age, who has actual care and control of a person who is--(a) under the age of 16 years, and
(b) the apparent owner or person in possession or control of a protected animal,is, for the purposes of this Act, regarded as owning, possessing or being in control of the animal.
I do not want to be the kind of Minister who introduces hard-line legislation that kills off the relationship that results in a parent and child going to a fair and the latter buying an animal that the family is perfectly capable of looking after properly. That is a reasonable concern.
I will consider the matter. If the Deputy presses the amendment, I will oppose it, but if he re-introduces it on Report Stage, I will determine whether we can improve the wording.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 23, subsection (2), lines 12 and 13, to delete all words from and including “If” in line 12 down to and including “regulations” in line 13 and substitute the following:“If an authorised officer acting on the advice of a veterinary practitioner or a person specified in animal health and welfare regulations acting on the advice of a veterinary practitioner”.
I move amendment No. a43a:
It sounds complex but it is not.
In page 23, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following subsection:“(3) An authorised officer or person specified in animal health and welfare regulations (who is not a veterinary practitioner) shall not do anything under subsection (2)(a), (b) or (c) unless he or she has consulted with, or made a reasonable attempt in the circumstances to consult with, a veterinary practitioner in that regard.”.
We held a lengthy discussion on the humane destruction of animals in a previous meeting. Deputy Ó Cuív and others were anxious that authorised officers be required to seek the advice of a vet before destroying an animal in order to ensure animals are put down only when necessary. I indicated that I would revert to them on Committee Stage or Report Stage with improved wording.
Amendment No. a43a brings us back to the example of a traffic accident involving a truck carrying live cattle. The scene is horrific, with animals in pain, and the authorised officer must make a decision about putting them down. He or she would be required to seek the advice of a vet or at least attempt to do so before making the decision on welfare grounds. We have taken legal advice on the wording of the amendment and we think it deals with the concerns expressed by Deputy Ó Cuív in particular. I was anxious to deal with the matter before Report Stage rather than leaving a list of detailed amendments to be discussed.
Amendment No. 43a does something similar. We could accept both amendments or on their own merits but they are complementary. Amendment No. 43a requires an authorised officer to take account of a code of practice or veterinary opinion before making a decision. Perhaps a vet sent an e-mail in response to a particularly inquiry and, as Deputy Ó Cuív suggested, that should suffice. The combination of amendments Nos. a43a and 43a puts an obligation on the person who makes a judgment call on putting an animal down to seek veterinary advice or apply best practice.
Amendment No. 89a is required as a cross-reference for the purpose of consistency in the event of amendments Nos. a43a and 43a being agreed to.
I move amendment No. 43a:
In page 23, line 38, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:“(5) In forming an opinion for the purposes of subsection (2), an authorised officer may, among other considerations, have regard to -(a) veterinary or other reputable opinion or advice which may be of general application or, in a particular instance, be obtained remotely, or(6) A person who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offence.”.
(b) a code of practice.
As we have passed 11.45 a.m., I propose that we adjourn the meeting for today. A meeting of the select committee has been scheduled for Tuesday, 11 December. Members will be notified in the usual way. We are due to meet at 3 p.m. but, while I recognise that the Minister must attend Cabinet meetings on Tuesdays, if members are agreeable we will attempt to convene at 2.30 p.m. I thank members and the officials for allowing us to make significant progress.