Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 27 April 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Equine Welfare: My Lovely Horse Animal Rescue
Before we begin, I remind members, guests and persons in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones. The purpose of the first session of today’s meeting is to examine equine welfare, while the second session will focus on the development of the hemp sector in Ireland. The committee will hear from representatives of My Lovely Horse Animal Rescue on equine welfare in the first session and representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Teagasc on the development the hemp sector in Ireland in the second.
From 28 February, the legal requirement for mask wearing in all settings has been removed. However, it is still good practice to continue to use a face mask, particularly in crowded areas. While the easing of restrictions has removed the general requirement of maintaining a 2 m physical distance, the public health advice continues to state that maintaining a distance from other people is good practice. It is important everyone in the parliamentary community continue to be respectful of other people's physical space.
Witnesses giving evidence from within the parliamentary precincts are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. This means they will have a full defence in any defamation action for anything said at a committee meeting. They are expected, however, not to abuse this privilege and may be directed to cease giving evidence on an issue at the Chairman's direction. Witnesses should follow the directions of the Chairman in this regard and are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that, to the extent that is reasonable, no adverse commentary should be made against an identifiable third person or entity. Witnesses who are to give evidence from a location outside of the parliamentary precincts are asked to note they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness giving evidence from within the parliamentary precincts and may consider it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter. Privilege against defamation does not apply to publication by witnesses outside the proceedings held by the committee of any matters arising from the proceedings.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect they should not comment on, criticise nor make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Parliamentary privilege is considered to apply to the utterances of members participating online in the committee meeting when they participate from within the parliamentary precincts. There can be no assurances in respect of participation online from outside the parliamentary precincts and members should be mindful of this when contributing.
During the first session, we will hear from the following representatives of My Lovely Horse Animal Rescue: Ms Martina Kenny and Ms Deborah Kenny, co-founders, and Mr. Eoin Cullen, director. I invite them to make their opening statement.
Ms Martina Kenny:
I thank the Chairman and the members of the committee for the opportunity to make this presentation. My Lovely Horse Animal Rescue, MLHR, was set up in 2011 by its co-founders, me, Deborah Kenny and Cathy Davey, because we realised there was an urgent need for a dedicated horse rescue in Ireland. MLHR is dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming unwanted, neglected and abused equines, pigs, dogs and other animals. We believe all animals deserve the five freedoms, namely, freedom from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain, injury and disease, freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress. We have created a safe haven for our rescued animals on our three farms, where we ensure each and every one of them has a life worth living. MLHR is constantly growing, and the demand for our services increases in line with our growing reputation as one of the best animal welfare organisations in Ireland. We have expanded our operations to include three rescue centres - two in Kildare and one in Cork - run by our team of dedicated farm managers and invaluable volunteers, who have rescued thousands of animals from brutality and cruelty.
Why are we afraid in this country to call out something for exactly what it is? We allow suffering and cruelty to be inflicted by people on horses, dogs and other animals in our society. We must do whatever we can to reduce the number of people of all classes and backgrounds who do this, be that in horse racing, so-called sulky racing, dog-racing or dog-breeding businesses, or by owners of horses and dogs who reside in our cities, whether in privately-owned homes or council-owned properties.
The State seems to be happy to allow animals to be abused, with little or no enforcement of the law in situations where is it glaringly obvious who the perpetrators are. For example, more than two weeks ago, MLHR volunteers had found a dead foal in the canal close to Bluebell in Dublin, one of many drowning incidents of young horses we have had to deal with over the years where a horse is left with no water and slips into the canal. We also had to rescue War Celeste, a horse that no doubt some members will be familiar with, who was found abused knee-high deep in excrement in a disgraceful condition and emaciated. It is glaringly obvious that people are abusing these animals in our society yet they rarely pay the price for their crimes. So much of the wickedness that has lain hidden and protected in society is finally being exposed by brave and honourable people, yet the area of animal welfare remains our blind spot as a nation. When it comes to defenceless horses and dogs, we in MLHR believe the State is not doing enough and must do more. The world has changed and we need to change too. The horses of Ireland are being starved, neglected, beaten and dumped by all sections of our community and we are calling those responsible out for what they are.
We have worked extremely hard over the years to foster positive relationships with An Garda Síochána, county councils and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as these organisations have great powers in the area of animal welfare. We work closely with gardaí all over Dublin and throughout the country to assist in equine seizures and welfare call-outs and we have given a presentation on equine welfare and all relevant legislation to many gardaí, including the graduating class of 2018 from the Garda College in Templemore. We work closely with Dublin City Council and its newly established animal welfare unit, assisting it in the areas of both equine and canine welfare and this relationship is benefiting many animals every day. MLHR takes every equine that is seized and pounded in the Dublin City Council area after their five days, ensuring the animals are not destroyed. This is a great accomplishment and shows how well the two entities work together. MLHR sits on Dublin City Council’s animal welfare oversight committee, as well as on Kilkenny County Council’s animal welfare committee. We would eventually like to see every county council have an animal welfare unit and we would like to see a dedicated Garda animal welfare unit.
We work with both Tús and Nua to provide work placements and we have also hosted groups of inner-city youths for a day on the farm with instruction from our farrier, equine dentist and one of the Dublin city horse carriage drivers that we work with. This has been hugely well received and we plan to continue this work in the future. We work with the Travelling community in many different counties and we hope to continue this work on a greater level. Throughout Covid we did Zoom classes with schools around Ireland and we can see the great interest out there among young people for more knowledge of and interaction with animals.
Education and awareness are key. We want to create an educational space at our centres as we know education will positively assist the mental health of young people as they become adults and that it will help their understanding of animal welfare. We also want to involve adults who experience negative mental health and social skills issues. MLHR is a place where everyone fits in and is welcome; a place where no one judges and where everyone supports each other. Last year alone, MLHR took in 400 animals on top of the hundreds already in our care. We have amazing fosterers who help to ease the burden of numbers on our farms but we are constantly in need of more space, land and funds as we grow and as the number of rescued animals grows.
Last year our running costs were in excess of €400,000, which did not include salaries. We received a small Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine grant of €26,250. In comparison, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, and the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, DSPCA, for example, received €668,500 and €615,000, respectively. Everything else we fundraise and it is a constant struggle to keep up with our huge running costs. We have been a volunteer-run organisation up to recently but we currently employ five staff to help with daily operations. MLHR has proved consistently since its founding in 2011 that it is so much more than what it started out to be. Adaptable and resilient under great pressure, MLHR has become one of the most well-known and highly respected animal welfare organisations in this country. We are trusted by the public because we are unfazed by any obstacles thrown in our way and people know that if they contact us, we will be there for those animals in need.
Actions we believe that are needed to help improve the implementation of the legislation are as follows: enforcement by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; An Garda Síochána; local councils countrywide; and organisations such as MLHR working together. This work should tackle indiscriminate breeding; chipping and passporting; horses on public land; clear signage in troubled areas; prosecutions; and heavy fines. We are saying it out loud and clear: MLHR needs more Government funding. What we get is completely inadequate for the services we provide and the work we do. We need our Government to sit up and take note. These ongoing equine issues are not just going to go away. I thank members for their attention.
I thank Ms Kenny and I compliment MLHR on the work it is doing. I take issue with the paragraph on the second page of the submission. Maybe it was not intentional to send this message but it states: "The horses of Ireland are being starved, neglected, beaten and dumped." The vast majority of horses in the country are extremely well looked after. I fully accept that we have an issue and we have an issue with all animals, be they horses, dogs or whatever but the vast majority are well looked after. The way that paragraph was written implies that the majority of horses are being neglected, which is not the case.
I would have a big issue with the fact that microchipping of horses is not being enforced by the Department. The last time I asked the question I was told that 19% of horses in the country were not microchipped. When someone finds an instance of cruelty and the owner cannot be traced it makes it difficult to prosecute and I cannot understand why this is not being enforced by the Department. Every cow has to be clearly identified, for example. If an inspector or departmental official comes onto a farmer's land and he does not have all his cattle clearly identified, he will be prosecuted straight away and suffer a severe financial penalty. It baffles me that this is not being enforced because if it was enforced, it would be a lot easier to bring the people who are mistreating horses to justice. I am not telling Ms Kenny her business because she is obviously good at it but this is something MLHR should keep the pressure on the Department about. Microchipping is provided for in legislation and every horse is meant to be microchipped. There was a "Panorama" programme a year and a half ago, which showed a horse that had broken its leg racing in Fairyhouse and a number of years afterwards it appeared in an abattoir in the UK. Those things should not happen and if horses were microchipped they would not happen.
Ms Kenny's points on funding are extremely well made. With the number of cases MLHR is dealing with, the budget it has is miserly. Deputy Martin Browne and I work with Tipperary County Council, which has a vet who looks after animal welfare. Unfortunately, we have encountered a significant number of incidents. The county council will say it does not have the funding to impound the horses. It is an issue that needs to be co-ordinated. If a county council is moving to impound horses it cannot be worrying about the budget to do it. If there is cruelty there then the situation has to be dealt with.
I welcome the guests. I asked for them to be brought before the committee as part of its agenda because I had seen the work they had done. It came in light of the frequent discovery of abandoned horses in County Tipperary. As the Chairman said, we have seen this in recent years and there was one particular location that kept coming up, although we have seen instances of neglect in various other parts of the county as well. You would have to have the hardest of hearts not to be totally outraged by what has gone on and there are few people who would not be outraged by it but it seems to continue on a daily basis. Various arms of the State are involved in dealing with breaches of animal welfare. These include the Department, local authorities, animal rescue organisations such as MLHR and the Garda. There has to be buy-in from animal owners as well. To get an idea of what is needed to address these ongoing acts of neglect and cruelty, could the witnesses give us a description of what happens and who they contact when they get a call about a horse that has been abandoned or that is in neglect?
Mr. Eoin Cullen:
When we first get a call in and if we know the exact area, we will contact the local Garda station to see if they are able to attend the situation.
We will also try to contact the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to let its officials know. We log every incident that comes to our attention. Unfortunately, one of the main issues with contacting the Garda is that while gardaí are fantastic, they do not know enough about the animal health and welfare legislation to help us on a regular basis. A number of gardaí in different counties are looking to learn a lot more about that legislation and want to get more involved. That is fantastic from our point of view. Those gardaí want to do it. However, at the Garda College in Templemore, only half a day is spent on animal health and welfare legislation. That is all prospective gardaí learn as part of their training. It used to be a day's training but that has been cut back. Unfortunately, the knowledge required to allow gardaí to dive on board is not there but as soon as we have a conversation with them, help and inform them, they will get involved. We then get in touch with local authorities and local councils. They are the people with whom we would look to get in touch.
Ms Martina Kenny:
The Garda may also contact us. We find that if a member of the public gets in touch about a cruelty case, the Garda will direct them to one of the larger animal rescue organisations. The member of the public is then sent back to the Garda and told to get in touch with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, the representatives of which suggest the person concerned should call the Garda. This is the sort of chain that is going around. We want everybody to work together. We need a system where people are not fobbed off to the next person. Once My Lovely Horse Animal Rescue is involved, we do all we can to give people help and to answer them. We have to do that. The public have become very aware of animal cruelty. They want help and ask for it every day.
Ms Martina Kenny:
It depends on the time of the day. We provide an after-hours service but other organisations finish at 5 p.m. and that is the end of that. It depends on the time of day. If we know gardaí in the area concerned or have worked with the Garda in that area in the past, the response is amazing. Dublin City Council has an animal welfare unit and that has already proven it is working. Those guys are there until at least 8 p.m. but we will help too. There are gardaí in areas who will help. That is good.
Mr. Eoin Cullen:
It depends on the situation. If the situation is serious and gardaí get involved, they will organise a PULSE number. They will set the chain in place by getting in touch with Department officials and try to get a Department veterinarian to visit the location in question. There are Department veterinarians all around the country.
Ms Deborah Kenny:
We log everything. As soon as we get a call from the public or the Garda, we keep all the information logged. We usually get in touch with the Department and a garda in the area. The Dublin branch of the Garda is amazing in that respect. If we need anyone to come on board and help, we will make a call. After hours, it is us who receive calls.
Mr. Eoin Cullen:
The Deputy asked about an official chain. I do not think there is enough knowledge on the part of the officials as to what is involved. A certain garda may not know who he or she must contact. We always try to help as much as we can but not everyone is clear on exactly what steps are required. It also depends on the severity of the case. If it is only a matter of a stray horse, the Garda will not contact the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It will contact the pound for stray horses.
I will move on to public awareness and consultations with various horse-owning sectors. It is important that everyone is singing from the one hymn sheet. Are the programmes in existence effective in highlighting the abuse of animals? What more could be done to make the public, or even the Garda, more aware? Mr. Cullen spoke about the training new recruits are undertaking in Templemore. Are the programmes in place effective with respect to the general public?
Ms Martina Kenny:
The general public rely on social media. We run our programme via social media and for the past 11 years, we have got our message out to people through social media. We are not hiding the fact that there is serious cruelty going on. We let the public know because they need to know. They need to know who to call and talk to. Social media is the way to send that message. We feel there should be something out there in certain areas through advertising in bus shelters, dole offices or other places where information can be seen to show that the Government, the Garda and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are not accepting the mistreatment of animals anymore. Clear signage needs to be out there to tell people they can be fined or imprisoned for animal abuse. There is nothing out there at the moment. There is nothing to tell people not to go into public parks with certain animals. Those signs are required. There are horses in public parks all over the country and the owners say, "Well, it is a park." That is dangerous.
Mr. Eoin Cullen:
Better enforcement is required. The legislation itself is very good but it is not widely enforced. Gardaí need more education on the legislation and the powers they have as authorised officers. Not enough gardaí realise they are authorised officers who have more power than any of the animal organisations, such as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA. We need better education for training gardaí. We bring presentations to Garda stations around the country. We give hour-long presentations to all the new recruits in Store Street, Mountjoy and the Bridewell Garda stations. Those presentations include bullet points on the legislation because those gardaí do not have enough knowledge in that regard. Many gardaí are interested, and are becoming more interested, because they see exactly what is going on and recognise the need for them to get involved. Better education for gardaí is important.
Ms Martina Kenny:
We need prosecutions and fines. In many instances, there is a case for a good and clear prosecution. As we have said, not enough animals are chipped and have passports. In some cases, there is a chip which indicates a clear owner or the owner in question admits owning the horse. The rate of prosecution in such cases has dropped. We get everything ready with the farrier, dentist and veterinarian. We prepare for a prosecution to help the Garda. Everyone should help the gardaí, who are very good authorised officers. We must push for prosecutions and heavy fines. It is up to the Government to do that because it is the only way it will work. We must hit people in the pocket and show them we are not taking it anymore.
I welcome our guests and compliment them on the great work they are doing. I do not want to be critical, and there may be an element of poor phraseology or bad wording here, but I must comment on the portion of the opening statement in which Ms Kenny said that the horses of Ireland are being starved. That is a general comment and I am a horse owner.
The powers that be at home tell me that I put my priority on the horses more than I do on the house. I have been told that by the people who go shopping and have the trolley full of dog and cat food before we start buying anything for the house. I am only one of many very dedicated, committed horse owners who as I say, in many cases, prioritise the horse and the horse’s care maybe over the humans in their lives. The way it was worded was unfortunate but we will leave it at that.
The Chair also mentioned that in all aspects of the equine sector the problem is the identification. As with all aspects of life, when it comes to criminality or anything the people who comply are the dedicated owners who will have their horses checked and everything will be in order. The ones who will end up at the witnesses' door are those who are not traceable. In that regard, even for horses that are chipped there is no continuity of change of ownership. The Chair mentioned the War Celeste scenario and situation. War Celeste went through Tattersalls. It had been chipped. One would imagine that for a horse that went through Tattersalls and was actually sold for nearly €250,000 it would be just a matter of reading the chip to identify an owner. However they were not able to identify an owner. How does one overcome that problem from a traceability scenario for horses that are actually chipped? How do the witnesses overcome the scenario of horses left in the park to run wild and when they come into their care they are not chipped? What power have the witnesses over that horse if no owner is identified? They do the teeth, the hooves, they get the farrier and whatever. Would they or some of the powers in enforcement have the power, assuming an owner will turn up later, to spay or geld that animal? Do we have the power to go that far? In my opinion that might help in solving the problem of the wild or unidentifiable horses or unowned horses. I do not know whether you have that much power.
Finally, in its submission My Lovely Horse Animal Rescue says it is providing education at its centres. Who comes to the education sessions? Who recruits? Who decides who comes? Is it open days for schools? Does it identify certain people within the community, or advertise for interest? When it states it is educating people at its centres, who is being educated? Would the witnesses like to get involved in a broader element of education where they become regular visitors to schools, nationally? Is that something they would like to do? Education is often offered as a solution for most problems but financially or through limited numbers we always end up talking about educating a minority or a very small number of people. Unless it is broader it does not have the desired effect. Could they see themselves in a position where they would be able to become a travelling roadshow visiting all schools in the country? Who are the people they are educating at the moment? How are they recruited and how do they find out about this or how do they get them in?
Ms Martina Kenny:
First of all we did maybe word it slightly wrong with the amount of horse owners. We do understand there are amazing horse owners out there. Some of our own volunteers – there are 70 of us – are in the racing industry and have beautiful horses and that without a doubt is the way it is. However, we deal with a great many abused and neglected horses. Just recently we came across a farm type of livery that had about 150 horses on it. Half of those horses were starved and neglected. Only last year we helped the gardaí in Kilkenny with another case where there were 110 horses starved and neglected. Those words, when they come through us, we are dealing with hundreds. Ireland is overpopulated with horses. There are a great many doing well. They are loved absolutely and they are beautiful horses. We were in Punchestown today showcasing War Celeste but a great many of the horses we deal with on a daily basis are in a terrible state. They are in our housing estates, on farms, everywhere. It is quite scary that one person would have so many. It is a case of the summer comes, see who makes it. They can be sold for little or nothing. We are sorry for saying that but we deal with an awful lot of such cases.
In regard to the children and the schools-----
Mr. Eoin Cullen:
In regard to the neutering and the spaying, with the likes of War Celeste, she was chipped and we were able to identify who the previous owners were. Initially when one contacts people like that they say that she was sold on. In accordance with the legislation when a horse or any animal is sold the passport needs to be changed into the new owner's details but it does not happen all the time depending on whether or not the buyers intend to sell the animal on again. If they do not, depending on their purposes, not everybody changes the details of the passport and this is where the details tend to get lost.
War Celeste went to a couple of different auctions and was bought on. The person who bought her had no interest in looking after her. She was left with 11 others in stables. We had another incident where seven thoroughbreds were found in a wooded area in Naas. When the chip was scanned it was to a very well-known owner. However there is no way of proving that he put them there because he said he had moved them on a long time ago. They just seem to change hands. They can end up in urban areas in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. They can end up anywhere. It is a difficult one because there needs to be enforcement at the time of sale to say one must change the passport details now, today, because when they buy them they are just told they need to change it within a certain amount of time.
There was a report in the last number of months where we were insisting on traceability. Traceability and microchipping go together. One cannot have one without the other. When an inspector goes into a yard or wherever, there should be a register for the number of horses there and the owner has to be responsible for them. That has to happen if we are going to make improvements on horse welfare. One cannot just say that one gave that horse away; one's responsibility cannot stop there. There has to be an official record of where the horse went.
Can the witnesses not go back in that regard, for example, if they have War Celeste and there is a chip which says that Paul Daly owns that horse, do the witnesses have to take my word that I sold that horse on? It is still officially registered to me. Can they not follow me? That would put the pressure on me if I ever sell a horse in future to make sure the paperwork is filled out before the horse goes. Can they pursue the person who they have official documentation for? Can they say that Paul Daly owns that horse, they cannot take my word for it if a sale is not recorded. Can they do that?
Ms Deborah Kenny:
We have tried to do that in the past but it is difficult to do because people are telling the Garda that they have sold on that horse to somebody else. It is difficult for the Garda to prosecute on that basis because they are saying they sold that horse on to somebody else and they might have a receipt to say they sold it on but they do not have a name or a number and do not know where that person lives. That is where we hit a block. That is why we are saying that if a horse has to be chipped or issued a passport, whoever that horse is chipped to or named on the passport is the person at fault. That is where we want it go back to.
Are local authorities playing their part in regard to supporting the witnesses? My Lovely Horse Animal Rescue does a very good job. Like all previous speakers, I believe that anyone who has a horse loves their horse. People love their animals but many do not have the ground or the facilities to be able to look after them. Is cruelty to animals a bigger problem in urban areas or in rural areas? I know that local authorities get funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for veterinarians. Do they play any part in regard to animal welfare in particular in regard to horses and animals?
Thank you very much. I commend the witnesses on the great work they are doing. They are doing fantastic work but it would be remiss of me, like the two previous speakers, not to take them to task on the couple of lines relating to animal welfare. I appreciate that they are at the coalface and are seeing the absolute worst but right across Ireland, we are very passionate about our horses and 99.9% of horse owners look after them as well as any member of their family.
I agree with the witnesses in relation to funding. It is a huge challenge and €26,000 is a derisory sum. I will take that up with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The amount of money that is given to the ISPCA has been a bone of contention for me for many years. I live not too far away from the national sanctuary in Longford and I see the great work being done there. There is an opportunity for the witnesses here. They have proven themselves and have put in the hard hours on the ground.
Mr. Cullen mentioned that enforcement powers are available and that he is happy with the legislation. The issue is more a case of education for the courts staff, judges and gardaí. I have a couple of questions in that regard. Can the courts stop somebody from owning horses? Is there provision within the legislation to stop people from keeping animals or if they clean up a mess, can they start all over again?
On the 400 horses that the witnesses took in last year and micro-chipping, I appreciate everything they said in that regard. When departmental representatives were before this committee I told them that I knew of one horse owner with 40 horses. He wrote to the Irish Horse Register, which registers sport horses and draught horses, to explain that out of those 40 animals, 20 were still registered to him even though he advised that they were not. That is an issue. Out of the 400 horses that came to the sanctuary, how many were micro-chipped?
There is an opportunity for the witnesses in the education space although I appreciate that their numbers are small, with only five full-time staff. In terms of getting additional funding, the areas of riding for the disabled, mental health and therapy riding could provide opportunities. I admire the work the witnesses are doing with the Traveller community. They are ideally placed to move into that space but I concede there is not an awful lot more they can do with the staff they have and it is very much a funding issue. Perhaps the witnesses could come back to us with a proposal for development. I have seen first-hand the benefits of therapy riding and it is great to see.
Ms Martina Kenny:
The Deputy asked whether the problems are mainly urban or rural. In urban areas, the problems are in parks, backyards and so on. There are certain areas all around Ireland that have horses in them and it is very hard on the councils and gardaí. In rural areas, the problems would be on large farms where the farmer just breeds and breeds. There would be a few stallions in with some mares and they just keep breeding and it gets out of control. They will then sell whatever survives. On the basis of the kind of cases that we attend with the Garda, I would say that urban and rural areas are very much equal.
On the local authorities, a lot of them have taken the problem on board and have taken us on board. They are really listening. I will be in Kilkenny tomorrow with Kilkenny County Council which is trying really hard. We are working with two sets of Traveller communities. There is a huge horse issue in what is a small and very compact city and we are trying to deal with that. There is a lot happening, even in terms of education. Even though we are only a small organisation with five staff, we do a lot. Lots of schools contact us because they enjoy it. Ours is not a place where the animals are kept behind bars. It is very much a walk-around place where people can pet a pig or a goat. That has changed people's attitudes and helped them, in many ways. That is where the education part fits in. We are very much hands-on with the animals and that is very important for mental health, among other things.
Mr. Eoin Cullen:
On the local authorities, they are willing to help us out. Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues for us is that we are not authorised officers. We do not have an authorised officer but that is something we would love to get involved in.
One of the questions was around education, who we are educating and whether we would be interest in a travelling road show. We would be 100% interested in that. In terms of who we are educating, we go into schools. We have been invited into number of schools to give talks. As Ms Kenny said, youth clubs from the Dublin 8 area have visited our centre. They met farriers and dentists who have tried to educate them on how to take care of a horse, what is needed and what is involved. We have given presentations to the Traveller community and to gardaí too. We are trying to educate a broad variety of people. Getting involved in travelling around the country and visiting schools is something we would love to do. We would love to be involved in that.
Ms Martina Kenny:
All of the people involved with My Lovely Horse Rescue centres are from the local area. We have a Cork site too. The people involved with us are from the areas where problems have occurred. I am from an area where horses are tied up, are being jockeyed around the place and where sulky races take place. I am seeing that and am in it so I know how to talk to people. We are not afraid. We are told many times by various people to be very careful in certain places or we are advised not to go in but we march right in. It is the only way. We have to do that; we cannot be afraid. We are beyond being afraid in certain areas or with certain people or communities. We have to take a stance, not be afraid and speak out, loud and clear. This can be done when we have good gardaí on our side. That is a fantastic thing.
Sincere thanks to our guests for being here. They are bringing us a very important perspective on equine welfare in the broadest sense. We spend a lot more time than I would ever have envisaged at this committee talking about horses, from all different perspectives. It would be useful, if the opportunity ever arose, for the committee to visit one of the farms because often it is only when one is physically somewhere that one gets a true sense of it.
I would like to get a better understanding of where the problems lie. The issue that comes up when I speak to local communities who have found a horse in poor condition or dead is that they are passed from pillar to post. They are moved between the local authority, An Garda Síochána and back to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and sometimes they go around in circles. I gather from what the witnesses are saying is that there is co-ordination between the different statutory agencies. Is that fair to say?
Ms Martina Kenny:
No. We co-ordinate but we have had people tell us that they called the ISPCA, for instance, who told them to get in touch with the gardaí. The gardaí have then told them to get in touch with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Meanwhile the animal is dying and that person is in a frenzy. When they contact us, we try to find out what is happening. We ask if they have video footage or photographs and ask them were they are located. We have volunteers all over the country and we try to send them to the location, if it is something bad, or we see if there are gardaí available. Gardaí are our key because we do not have authorised officers. We are not authorised officers ourselves. We use gardaí as our authorised officers. We should have authorised officers ourselves at this point given that we are the largest horse rescue body in Ireland but we do not.
Going back to my question then, who should be the lead partner on this? A lot of the problems we are talking about, including the funding problem, stem from the fact that different bodies can pass the problem on to somebody else and not take responsibility. Is it the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or the local authorities?
Ms Martina Kenny:
The Department also needs to give gardaí very good backup because they are the ones who do not finish up at 5 p.m. There is always a garda right through the night, which is great. We need animal welfare gardaí in every station throughout Ireland who will know the legislation and will know where they stand. Prosecutions will then happen. Prosecutions and fines are key to this.
There is a programme for Government commitment to double the funding within two years. We are past that now for animal welfare organisations. I take it the funding for My Lovely Horse Rescue has not doubled in the past-----
-----two years. I happened to be in the Dáil yesterday when Deputies Mark Ward and Gino Kenny raised a Topical Issue matter on the Clondalkin Equine Club, which I have an interest in because I got an opportunity to visit it some time ago. It is an example of best practice, where the local authority, the Department and the local community came together with horse owners in an urban environment in which there was previously a tradition of horse neglect. They turned that into a very positive story, yet if they do not get €60,000 very quickly, they may have to close that operation. Some €60,000 in the context of the budgets we deal with in this place is a pittance. It is not to ordinary families but it is in respect of the overall figure. The Department is saying it sorted some money out for capital works and it is now up to the local authority, while the local authority is saying it does not have that money. These guys are being directed to the lottery or things like that. Is there a vote in the Dáil?
I thank the Chair and committee members. Last August, I wrote to this committee requesting that as part of these hearings, we invite people from My Lovely Horse Rescue to appear before the committee because I have had dealings with the group locally in Cork. I see the unbelievable work being done, to be fair, and it is very good the committee invited the group to appear before it because these are very important issues that need to be discussed and highlighted. I thank the organisation for the work it has done in Cork. It was instrumental and successful in getting the pound, which had left Cork city to move to Longford, back to Cork. I have been regularly contacted by people who are very upset by the conditions in which they have seen horses being kept. The neglect and abuse are horrific. I sometimes get photographs and, to be honest, they are so horrific they cannot be believed.
We are against the clock. There is one garda in Cork, who works on this matter. She is brilliant but she is the only garda I have met, or the only person working in the local authority or Department, who actually understands the law and the way it should be implemented. When I contact this garda she is on top of it, but if she is not on duty there is no one else to go to and I have to ring around as a result. We have the Control of Horses Act. The Garda are dealing with the owners, which was discussed earlier. I mean no disrespect, but it should not be up to My Lovely Horse Rescue to train hundreds of gardaí who come out of Templemore every year in what they should be taught. Templemore is a training college for gardaí. It should be doing its job. I have raised this matter locally at joint policing committee meetings with Cork City Council, the superintendent and the chief superintendent in Cork.
The representatives made a point about enforcement and responsibility. That is key. We have to make people accountable. They said the Act is good. Much of the time legislation is bad, but what we have is good legislation that is not being implemented or enforced. One of the proposals I am making is that the committee write to the Minister for Justice-----
I ask that we write to the Minister for Justice. There are no codes at present. The Garda has not yet been given the codes in order that, when cases go to court, the number of people being brought to court and the number of prosecutions can be recorded. We need the data if we are to ensure enforcement. I ask that that happens. I apologise that I have to leave because we are voting in the Chamber. I thank the representatives for the unbelievable work they and all their volunteers throughout the island are doing. There are some really great people out there. It just shows the care that people have for animals, especially horses.
I welcome the representatives. Their organisation is wonderful. I am a major advocate for animal welfare and I have been involved in equestrian sport for many years, but that is a separate matter. I acknowledge their enormous work. The one great thing about Irish people is that, on the whole, the majority of them - I know there are many cases where they do not - love animals, especially horses and dogs. I have been involved in other animal welfare charities and I know the challenges faced by charities when they have professional full-time staff versus volunteers. There is always a little conflict, particularly around governance issues and all of that, which are an ongoing challenge. Much of that has been tidied up. Quite a few animal welfare charities have been involved in issues around governance, although not the organisation represented today. These issues do not arise deliberately but happen because of the possible synergy or merger between the voluntary sector and professional full-time staff in a very keen body. I always acknowledge that but everyone is well-meaning and the My Lovely Horse Rescue charity is an exceptionally good one.
I will only share one or two issues because otherwise I will be repeating myself. As I said, My Lovely Horse Rescue is a very good organisation. I have looked it up and followed up some of its work. I would like to hear briefly about three issues relating to enforcement. If they have covered it, I ask our guests not to go back over it. I was speaking in the Seanad and I apologise for just arriving. There was an issue with a certain amount of reluctance on the part of members of An Garda Síochána, who said they did not have the expertise when they were challenged with issues around this. There were also conflicts with people involved in cruelty or abandonment of animals who were part of a bigger Garda operation to do with other issues of criminality where there were layers of issues and, suddenly, the Garda turned a blind eye. Such issues were considered as being way down the pecking order and not being as important for some. I do not agree with that strategy.
I did some work two or three years ago that I am happy to share with the witnesses. I surveyed every one of the 31 local authorities and ascertained what funding they were receiving from any Government agency. I was quite shocked by the high level of it but was more shocked by the fact it was not all drawn down. In some cases, there was a suggestion at the end of the year that it could be used for other purposes. Will the witnesses share with us their relationship with the local authorities? They are very important outfits in respect of policing and control, and they have certain responsibilities, but I was somewhat shocked by the amount of money going directly to local authorities that they were meant to redistribute to welfare charities. Is there a need for reform of that? What is the representatives' experience of that? I do not know if they receive any subvention from local authorities or centrally from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The issue I would like to hear about is the relationship of My Lovely Horse Rescue with the local authorities. How do the witnesses find it? Could it be improved? Is there potential for more funding? Where is their strand of funding from the local authorities and what is their relationship with those bodies? That is the gist of it.
Again, My Lovely Horse Rescue is a brilliant organisation that does brilliant work. It is highly thought of and people instantly know it. A colleague in my office today asked if she could attend when she heard representatives of My Lovely Horse Rescue were coming in. I said I would send her all the material but she was excited and delighted, as was her daughter, who is involved in some sort of horse welfare initiative in Clonsilla. I will link the witnesses in with that too. I thank them for their time and for appearing before the committee. Well done on their work.
As I said, this might seem a bit weird but it will be going on the record. Deputies Carthy and Gould, and Senator Boyhan, will look up the questions and answers that are on the record. The Deputies may even be back in the committee room before the representatives have finished their answers.
Ms Martina Kenny:
On local authorities with which we work, we do not go looking for funding from them but we try to establish a relationship with them. Dublin City Council has been very good to us and, amazingly, bought us our first horse van as it recognised that we needed van to help them as well. We will invoice Kilkenny County Council for certain things that we have done for it but we do not get an awful lot of money from anybody. All of our money basically comes through the public and some companies. We are very much a fundraising-type of organisation, which is awful because we must spend so much time thinking how we can pay a bill rather than give consideration to the issues that we really need to think about. That is a full-time thing for us. Even though many of us have jobs, families and whatever, we give our all to the organisation. No matter what, we never panic that we will not make things work or worry about closing down. I am one of the co-founders, and Ms Deborah Kenny is another, but we have always said that we will never blackmail the public. I mean that I have seen other rescue organisations say that they are at risk of closing their doors because they have not got enough money. We do not do that and have always found a way. It would be great if we did not have to worry about the financial problems that we encounter on a daily basis. We are here for the animals and we want change.
Mr. Eoin Cullen:
Deputy Flaherty asked if there was a way to stop someone from owning a horse. That is difficult question to answer. One cannot really do so unless a person is underage. A person must be aged 16 to own a horse. There is nothing to say someone cannot own a horse regardless of whether he or she lives in a city centre or a rural area. Technically, there are rules but anyone can buy a horse and keep it once the horse has been chipped and has a passport. The owner will say that he or she will keep the horse in a stable but the grass may be in County Carlow or somewhere else. Technically, there is no way to stop a person owning a horse. It is not about stopping people from owning a horse; it is about educating them to look after a horse properly and have the proper facilities to take care of a horse. It is not about stopping an individual from having a horse unless he or she is particularly cruel and, therefore, should not own one. It is more about making sure that everyone is educated and has the facilities to take care of their horses properly. That is what we strive for.
Ms Martina Kenny:
On equine initiatives, we are working on different horse associations around the country. The Clondalkin Equine Club cost more than €500,000 and there is no need for anything like that. First, we do not believe in a horse organisation in an urban area having a load of stables because there is no need for them and things can be done much cheaper. What a horse needs is a bit of land, grass, to be cared for and to have shelter. We have come across an awful lot of associations that say they will need 30 stables but there is no need for them. The problem now is that the Clondalkin Equine Club is trying to maintain such an expensive building, which is sad, and it only has room for 20 horses. Members of my organisation are in Clondalkin quite a lot so we know that there are dying horses in fields and some of their owners are children. Another problem is that there is no traceability in respect of children because they get horses for free. It is now almost summer and many foals have been born and many kids will get them for free, which is something that happens all over Ireland.
Mr. Eoin Cullen:
It is not that kids should not be involved with horses and their care. They should but only in a controlled manner. The Clondalkin Equine Club has control of the situation in Clondalkin but, as Ms Kenny said, it only has room for 20 stables. In Clondalkin, a lot more than 20 kids want to be involved in the care of horses.
Ms Martina Kenny:
Sadly, in Dublin city, there are an awful lot of kids who want to have a horse or who have one and they want us or their local authority to give them a place but there is not enough land. We all know that there is a housing situation and, therefore, all land is taken up. How do we deal with the situation? The children end up tying up their horses in parks or in a stable in their back gardens. There is an amount of stables in back gardens all over Dublin city.