Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Greyhound Racing Bill 2018: Second Stage


8:10 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I know there are responsible owners, who were referred to earlier, but there is evidence of other owners who have no guilt or compunction and they are ready to sell off unwanted greyhounds to places such as Macau and elsewhere. We have well documented cases of the appalling treatment of greyhounds there and in other places in China and Pakistan. The owners first export to Spain or France so they are not seen to be going to Macau but the trade is there. These owners should not be allowed to register or reregister as the case may be.

The reality is that since last November four more Irish greyhounds have ended up in China and 37 Irish greyhounds are on a Chinese dog breeding establishment post. We know the appalling conditions of our puppy farms. One can only imagine the horrific conditions in these Chinese breeding establishments where there is no animal welfare regulation. Clon Eagle, a greyhound that competed in Clonmel in 2018, is now coursing in Pakistan. I saw a post where it was offered for £5,000 by an infamous sales agent transporter who had his greyhounds seized at Kinsley track in the UK such were the horrific conditions his greyhounds were in. I would love to know what has happened that particular owner and what the Bill will do to prevent this. Up to now there has been no follow-up on these issues except by the rescue organisations.

Information was given to me by the Minister, Deputy Creed, on the export of greyhounds to countries lacking animal welfare regulations where we know there is documented proof. We know about the regulations when dogs go to an EU country. There are pet passports, micro chips, valid rabies vaccinations and they are examined by authorised vets. Seemingly, the board can only advise greyhound owners not to send their greyhounds to other countries but that is it. This is not enough. We have owners who continue to send their greyhounds to countries with appalling records when it comes to animal welfare. Deputy Broughan will probably discuss the Bill he has tabled on this. The question on the Bill comes back to how effective it will be. When owners abandon their greyhounds it is left to the ISPCA and the rescue groups to look after them. This is where we need a comprehensive paper trail, micro chipping and tracking so that abandoned greyhounds, whether in Ireland or shipped off to Macau, can be traced back to the owners and their owners will pay for it.

Another point I raised is something I have been looking for in the Bill and perhaps I have missed it. It is with regard to the fact that all greyhound owners pay their registration fee to the coursing club. I am not sure if this will be changed in the Bill. There are greyhound owners who do not agree with coursing. Bord na gCon, or rásaíocht con Éireann, which will be its new name, should have the book to register greyhounds. Then we will see exactly how many greyhounds are racing and how many are coursing.

Bord na gCon has the Retired Greyhound Trust to rehome greyhounds but I want to refer to a particular situation of which I was made aware recently with regard to rescued greyhounds. Irish greyhounds were rescued from Macau and taken to a number of countries, including the UK. A number of them were to be returned to Ireland but because of opposition from animal welfare groups to them coming back to Ireland they have been rehomed in England and this is an absolute scandal.

If the welfare of greyhounds is central to the Bill we will see real action when it comes to their welfare. The maximum fine for conviction on indictment for operating a greyhound racing track without a licence is €250,000. I would like to see similar very harsh fines for those owners who are found guilty of deliberate cruelty to their greyhounds. The sanctions are advice, admonishment, censure, disqualification of the greyhound, exclusion of individuals and revoking licences but they need to be hit harder where it really hurts, which is in their pockets.

Some of the examples I have mentioned also involve breaking the law. Prior to Christmas, I asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of times the Garda Síochána has invoked the Animal Health and Welfare Act when dealing with reports of animal neglect and cruelty. I would have included the greyhound Bill had it been passed. The specific information is not recorded on PULSE; some information is recorded but it is not specific enough. It is good there have been training seminars to familiarise gardaí with the Animal Health and Welfare Act and I hope it will apply to the greyhound Bill also. If there are breaches of the greyhound Bill I want to know it will not just be Bord na gCon that will be involved but also the Garda. Bills must be enforced, which means resources are put in place and they are implemented, and that action is taken when they are not implemented.

I was a bit bemused by section 27, under which a greyhound that fails a test for prohibited substances is disqualified from racing or trialling. I had to go to section 46 to find the sanction for the owner, which is a fine not exceeding €12,500. I feel sorry for the dog in this situation because it has no choice regarding what the owner does with it but it seems the dog gets the more severe penalty.

To summarise, I find it difficult to isolate greyhounds from other animals. We need comprehensive enforceable and enforced legislation when it comes to the neglect, cruelty and abuse of animals. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, the Control of Horses Act 1996 and the Dog Breeding Establishment Act 2010 are good on paper, or at least aspects of them are. They are not, however, being enforced so the abuse, neglect and cruelty continues. It does not help that there are three Departments involved in animal issues. It does not help that there is no consistency in the way councils apply the Acts and the guidelines. Again, I refer to the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, the Control of Horses Act 1996 and the Dog Breeding Establishment Act 2010.

It also does not help that there are refusals by certain councils to release inspection records. I also refer to the levels of secrecy and difficulties that animal welfare supporters have in getting information, including through freedom of information requests, on inspections that have been carried out by various groups. When that information in secured it can be very heavily redacted. It is also unhelpful that there are authorities that choose to do nothing when cases of animal neglect and abuse are brought to their attention by individuals and groups.

Those authorities then spend their time justifying inaction and close ranks to protect their own. There are also vets who are not enforcing the animal welfare legislation. This Bill will go some way towards addressing those issues but there is a long way to go before we will really see action on animal welfare. I know Bord na gCon is trying to improve things. I have met its representatives. One of its pamphlets states that it loves and respects its athletes, which are the greyhounds. We have to go further than nice booklets. The reality is that there are gaps in the legislation and in enforcement.


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