Thursday, 20 September 2012
Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
First, I am pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words on this important Animal Health and Welfare Bill. The welfare of animals is extremely important in Ireland and regardless of whether people have animals as pets, for commercial use, as farmers or whatever the case may be, it is important to introduce and have in place legislation. I am delighted this Bill has been allocated so much time for debate.
The Bill aims to address two separate but related themes. On animal health, the Bill sets down a number of rules aimed at preventing the spread of disease. It also sets out much clearer definitions of what is expected of people who own animals, as well as those whose responsibility it is to care for them. This legislation will empower the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to deal efficiently and effectively with all current or potential disease threats to farming livestock. It also will allow the Minister to declare that the State or a part thereof is a disease eradication area. This will allow the country to tackle any future outbreaks in a co-ordinated and aggressive fashion. As for our history of tackling animal diseases, particularly brucellosis, tuberculosis and others, I note much progress has been made. However, this has cost a lot of money and in the future, I will welcome the introduction of new and better ways of detecting and eradicating disease. I refer to the blood testing for tuberculosis, which I believe will constitute a major step forward and I hope for and look forward to the day when it will become a reality.
That is because testing is costly for animal owners not only in terms of finance but also in time and we should find a more efficient and effective way to deal with the matter.
Section 8 Bill will impose obligations on animal owners or carers to take all the necessary precautions to ensure that animals do not stray. Common sense requirements will be introduced to ensure that appropriate infrastructure, such as fencing and buildings, is provided by the owner. This will act as a substantial prevention measure to reduce the spread of disease. In the event of an outbreak a person would be required to show that he had taken all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of disease or at the very least minimise the impact on himself and his neighbours.
Given the increase in prominence of our agriculture sector these measures are necessary to ensure a profitable and sustainable future for the agricultural industry. It would be foolish for us not to take these steps and I have no doubt of the positive impact they will have on our industry, an industry that has great potential for growth. In order to get out of the recession striking the country I have no doubt that food and agricultural industry provides a gateway. There is an opportunity for us to develop and extend given that we have done so much on our animal production and have a clean food image. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, his predecessor, farming organisations and farmers themselves have done so much in this respect. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, in particular is striving to pursue this agenda which will greatly benefit those who are unemployed.
On animal welfare, the Bill provides for harsher punishments and greater preventative powers in the area of animal cruelty. Some of these measures are long overdue particularly when it comes to the mistreatment of domestic animals and the weak punishment of those found guilty of cruelty. While obviously protecting the work done by veterinary surgeons as well as those partaking in hunting, fishing and coursing, for the first time this legislation will make animal mutilation a specific offence.
With regard to country sports and country pursuits, particularly coursing and fishing, a growing number of people have an agenda to try to get sports such as coursing banned. I understand that many strong speeches were made in this House last night. I come from an area of the country that has a very strong tradition of coursing. Given the way those coursing meetings are guarded and protected, I would challenge any of those people opposed to those sports to come and see at first hand exactly how they are run. Too much is being written and said about those sports which are major tourism attractions, particularly hunting and fishing. There is great potential for tourists fishing on the lakes and rivers throughout the country. Some people have an agenda to suggest to the public that those sports are cruel. The people involved in those sports are committed to animal welfare and protecting all the animals involved. We should protect them and regulate them, but they should be seen as a benefit to people and to the country's tourism industry. That is a matter that needs to be introduced into this debate.
I would welcome the opportunity to bring some of those people, who talk about how cruel those pursuits are, down to my part of the country so that they could see how those rural pursuits are being carried out. I can guarantee that they would have a completely different attitude rather than making statements in the Dáil that they believe appeal to the public. I challenge them, and particularly those Members of this House, to come with me to the coursing in Clonmel and Cashel, and to the fishing in Golden. They could come to any place in my constituency and see how the people in that area look after those animals and look after their sports.
It is very welcome to have the Bill before the House. Some farmers were concerned that there might be over-regulation. The reality is that people who are good at animal husbandry and are committed to their animals have nothing to fear from the Bill. I welcome that these provisions will be put on a statutory basis.
I agree with Deputy Tom Hayes that the vast majority of people involved in agriculture and animal husbandry who have good practices have nothing to fear from this legislation. I welcome the updating of the legislation which goes back over 100 years dealing with cruelty to animals and animal diseases. I welcome the publication of the Bill and the provisions outlining basic requirements for looking after animals on farms and elsewhere. It is not before time in that regard.
I wish to focus on some areas not referred to by previous speakers. I agree with the harsher punishments for those found guilty of cruelty to animals contained in the legislation. There can be no hiding place for people who would engage in wanton cruelty to animals. As someone who has lived in the countryside all of my life, I could not defend people who behave in a cruel way towards creatures of any sort and I welcome the legislation in that regard.
I take this opportunity to remind the Minister of some matters I have mentioned previously to him and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan. I refer to the care of dogs and some of the puppy shelters and dog shelters which are essential and carry out important work in collecting dogs that have been abandoned by owners. However, I have some reservations about some of the controls and with regard to those who accept or take dogs from these shelters, particularly in connection with their suitability to look after the animals. There have been a number of very serious incidents of attacks by dogs on flocks of sheep in my constituency in recent months. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that some of the dogs in question may have been dogs that had been in pounds or shelters and were taken by people who did not have the wherewithal to look after them. There is strong evidence to suggest that some of the dogs belonged to families that may have been relatively new to rural areas and did not understand the dangers associated with owning a dog in a rural area if that dog is not controlled.
In the cases of which I have spoken a great deal of damage was done to the sheep and the farmers suffered great financial loss and distress. As a young child I saw sheep that had been attacked. It was not a pleasant sight. I ask that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, in conjunction with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan who is responsible for dog pounds and the regulations governing such premises around the country, to embark on a renewed campaign of education of people who own dogs, in particular in rural areas.
Some 25 years ago when I was growing up there was an advertisement on television in regard to dogs attacking sheep. That advertisement disappeared from our screens a long time ago. It was the first in a type of advertising that has since been used, in particular in respect of road safety and other matters. From a television advertisement point of view little, if anything, is done nowadays to alert people, particularly in rural areas, to the responsibilities of dog ownership and the damage and destruction which uncontrolled dogs can do in rural areas. I call on the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, to ensure the introduction of a new public advertisement and education programme alerting people living in or adjacent to the countryside who own dogs, and those wishing to take dogs from the pound and give them a new home, of the potential for danger in this regard and the consequences for them of not controlling their dogs. It is unacceptable that dogs would be left uncontrolled resulting in havoc being wreaked on other animals, in particular sheep.
I welcome the legislation, which I support. It is appropriate that after 101 years we are introducing updated legislation to deal with cruelty to animals. I support what the Minister is endeavouring to achieve through the introduction of this legislation.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and commend the Minister on introducing it. This is important legislation from the point of view of animal health and welfare, the maintenance and increase of our food exports and the clean green image of Irish food products, thereby ensuring they can be sold on the international market resulting in significant progress being made in the production of Irish food for export.
One of the aims of the legislation is to bring all animal health and welfare legislation under one umbrella, including the Cruelty to Animals Act 1911 and the Disease of Animals Act 1966, both of which have been amended extensively. This Bill updates the terminology used in legislation in this area. Not alone does it outlaw animal cruelty as provided for in the 1911 Act but it places a positive obligation on owners to care for their animals through proper feeding, the provision of suitable shelter, veterinary care and so on. In the past the State could only intervene where a person failed to feed his or her animals to such an extent that the animal was malnourished to a level that clearly constituted cruelty and caused suffering. Under new provisions provided for in this Bill the appropriate authorities will be able to issue animal health and welfare notices requiring animal keepers to feed animals, improve shelter, provide medicines and so on, which is to be welcomed. The Bill provides that authorised personnel can take action in cases where animals are at risk so as to prevent suffering, which is important.
The welfare requirements contained in the Bill are informed by the five freedoms set out by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. These include freedom from hunger and thirst by way of ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention, diagnosis and treatment; freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress. The Bill is important from a range of views, including, health, welfare and food exports.
The Bill updates our legislation in regard to animal fighting. While up to now it has been difficult to secure convictions in respect of animal fighting this situation is remedied under section 15 which prohibits the organisation of or participation in any performance involving, for example, wrestling with animals, dog fighting, cock fighting, animal bating, throwing or casting of ropes, riding an animal which has been stimulated with the intention of making it buck, or any other activity that may cause unnecessary suffering to animals and is prohibited by the regulations. The Bill also outlaws organisation of or attendance at this type of fighting, which is welcome.
The Bill also deals with the issue of the sale of animals to minors, a matter that has given rise to serious concern in recent years. The age in this regard has been raised from 12 to 16 years, which is welcome. However, perhaps the Minister would take another look at the relevant section, which appears loose in its wording in that the obligation is placed on the vendor to satisfy himself or herself that the minor is over 16 years of age.
Another issue is that animals roam loose on public open spaces in many areas and that is not acceptable. It is unhelpful to residents. It should be prevented and where it occurs we should make it as easy as possible for those animals to be removed. I ask the Minister to address in the legislation how we could be more effective in ensuring that animals are not allowed to roam loose on our public open spaces, particularly in housing estates.
There is also the question of the keeping and ownership of particular breeds of animals. For instance, pit bulls are being kept and are not being properly looked after. In some cases they are allowed to roam free in public areas. There is a provision that they must be muzzled and kept on a lead but the observance of that is quite loose and is not properly followed up. I ask the Minister to examine that area also.
The Bill is welcome. It updates the legislation in this area and puts an onus on the owner to ensure the health and welfare of animals. It is important legislation from a series of points of view. I ask the Minister to confirm that the Bill will not adversely affect any properly organised or regulated greyhound and coursing industries. That is an important consideration. Those important industries are widespread throughout the country and generate considerable employment. It does not appear that the provisions of the Bill would adversely affect these two industries but I would like the Minister to confirm that is the position. I welcome this important legislation and I also welcome the Minister's comments on it.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I thank the Minister for initiating it and bringing animal welfare legislation into the 21st century. As many Members on the Government side have spoken about agriculture and animal husbandry, I will concentrate slightly more on the domestic and companion element of the Bill.
I am confident the Bill will provide a shift from merely outlawing cruelty to animals, as outlined in the Cruelty to Animals Act 1911, to placing a positive obligation on animal owners to maintain the welfare of any animal under their care. It is hard to believe it has taken us this long and the involvement of several Ministers and that it is only now that legislation on this area is being brought into the 21st century, particularly as animals are so important on a small island like Ireland and we place such economic importance on them.
The Bill contains many welcome provisions such as stiffer penalties for acts of cruelty and a hotline for reporting offences. It rightly carries over the prohibition on cock fighting and badger baiting from the 1911 Act, which is the heinous act of setting roosters against each other to inflict pain and injury, as is the use of dogs to attack a badgers in badger baiting simply for the amusement of onlookers. Illegal dog fighting thrives in a lax society and, unfortunately, this has certainly been the case in this country for the past number of years. The laws have been so antiquated that it has rendered it difficult to prosecute offenders. Our country has been tainted by the images that have been reported in the media in this regard. It is a dangerous and despicable practice and I welcome the Minister's concentration on this issue, with the increase of penalties in this area.
I draw the Minister's attention to the Smithfield horse market which takes place on an annual basis and has rightly been targeted by animal health activists and the Garda over the years. Horse racing and trotting on city streets and roads is a form of cruelty and it is an image I unfortunately see on a regular basis in my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. It also endangers pedestrians and other road users. There is an element of cruelty involved and it is an area that should be kept under review. I appeal to the public to engage in the public consultation process that is taking place around the Smithfield horse fair.
The legislation also provides that the sale of an animal to a minor, that is, anybody under the age of 16, is prohibited. I believe that age should be raised to 18. In terms of people who have good intentions towards animals, when a child reaches the age of 16 their parents will be able to engage in that practice as well, but I believe the age should be raised to 18. One of the basic tenets of animal rights is that animals should be free from abuse and be maintained in a humane way. However, it still happens, and with the recession it is happening even more, that pets are bought as presents at Christmas, only to be abandoned weeks afterwards.
The Animal Heaven Animal Rescue Centre in Kerry highlights the level of animal cruelty and neglect that still exists in Ireland. The centre, founded by Suzanne Gibbons in 1991, is a rescue centre for all animals. An average of more than 1,500 animals a year are rescued by the centre. Due to the amount of unwanted pets and neglected animals, the centre relies heavily on donations. It is difficult to accept in this day and age, in a developed country with so many highly educated people, that sometimes the treatment of animals is still so lax. It is said that the measure of a society is how it treats its vulnerable but a measure of a society is also how it treats its animals, and I am not expressing a sentimental point of view or the perspective of animal rights people. There are very moderate people who believe that animals have rights as well and that the contract between humans and animals is extremely important, even if one were only to consider it from a cold economic perspective. How we treat our animals is also a measure of how intelligent, modern and educated is our society.
In that regard, I welcome the introduction of on-the-spot fines following inspections by authorised officers. However, I would welcome clarification from the Minister on section 2 surrounding powers of enforcement, namely, those of authorised officers. The Bill defines an "authorised person" as a member of An Garda Síochána or an officer of Customs and Excise. Unfortunately, there is a level of ambiguity surrounding paragraph (c), which states that an authorised officer may be appointed by the Minister under section 37. That section states that the Minister may appoint any person or group of persons as he "considers appropriate to be authorised officers". Will the Minister provide some clarity as to what type of person or class of persons he has in mind and how he intends to measure their appropriateness for the role, as it may be left open to varying degrees of interpretation in its current format?
Section 23 deals with the humane destruction of animals where, in the opinion of an authorised officer or veterinary practitioner, "an animal is fatally injured, an animal is so severely injured, diseased or in such pain or distress that, for the alleviation of its suffering it should be killed, to prevent further suffering ... or an animal is a danger to life and property".
In these limited circumstances, the animal may be put down in a manner that will inflict as little suffering as possible. While I agree with the amendment, I request that the Minister take into consideration that it is not always possible to attain the services of a veterinary practitioner within a reasonable time. It is important we are aware of the realities of what happens on the ground when a veterinary practitioner is unavailable and that it may not be necessarily in the interest of the animal's well being.
Ireland has fast become recognised for its contribution to the food sector. I am delighted to see issues of food safety and security have been incorporated in this Bill in the effort of enhancing our already excellent reputation on a global level within this sector. Agribusiness has become an area of significant growth and importance for our economy. Therefore, it is vital that we do not submerge ourselves in bureaucracy while trying to implement controls for the protection and subsequent welfare of animals within our care. I welcome the Minister's efforts in this regard.
It is imperative that we maintain our traditional approach to farming, which has so far contributed to our success on a national and international level. We are an island of small to medium-sized farms that is successful in the production, management and growth of its exports - a far cry from the American corporate-controlled food industry with its large factory farms, which produces food that is unhealthy and environmentally harmful to animals and employees. I am not sure if the Minister is aware of the very large abattoir closed down recently. Dairy cattle that did not produce enough milk were sent to the abattoir, supposedly to be humanely killed. However, the practices in the abattoir were despicable and the authorities saw fit to close it down completely.
I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister on its introduction. I ask the Minister to continue to review the legislation in the area of hare coursing. This morning, I discovered that hares are at an endangered level. I take the point that many people are employed and that it is of economic importance. If the practice is to the detriment of a particular species, it must be well regulated and continually monitored. What is the status of the Minister's report on fur farming in Ireland? Does he intend to bring it before the House soon?
Perhaps I can make one suggestion to the Minister. We should introduce education on how we look after animals and responsibility for animals at primary level. This does not arise from a sentimental point of view; it demonstrates how good a society can be if it can look after animals well. I draw the attention of the Minister to the research showing much improved levels of rehabilitation in prisoners when they have access to animals and pet ownership. Our interaction with animals is very important. I understand the economic point of view but, from a humane point of view, it is important to portray ourselves as a good society. I congratulate the Minister on introducing the legislation.
I acknowledge that the Bill has been introduced and the work that has gone into it. It is long overdue and the existing legislation comes from another time. It is inadequate for dealing with the emerging needs and demands of today. It is progressive and good that animal health and welfare are being taken together. I acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is the first Minister to take real steps in decades to address fundamental animal welfare issues. Other Bills have been passed but they were on specific matters.
I will deal with the positive aspects before addressing the aspects lacking in the Bill. It is good that the Bill firmly states the responsibility of owners of animals. Animal welfare does not mean an absence of cruelty but promoting the welfare of the animal. It is positive that failure to look into notices and conditions for animals will be an offence. Considering the extent of international trade and the importance of knowing the source of animal products and the need for surveillance in respect of animal disease in imports, it is positive that these points are covered in the Bill. It works both ways for our imports and exports. Another positive point is that officers can inspect premises with animals and animal products and take samples.
Another positive point is the appointment of authorised officers to enforce animal rights legislation. It shows the Minister is taking animal rights seriously and that no one will be exempt from punishment for the cruel treatment of animals. The notices will only be effective if the fines for breaches are significant enough and if there are further consequences for those who do not comply. On-the-spot fines and penalties are great because they are more significant than going through the court process, which can drag on. The code of practice is also positive.
The Minister does not expect additional costs from the implementation of the Bill because of the significant numbers of staff working in the area. The hope is that the Bill will enable their work to be done in a more comprehensive way.
I am not sure I agree that the deliberate laying of poison which will endanger protected animals should be considered minor, with a lower fine. One positive measure concerns the people who should not be allowed to have animals in their care. Anyone found guilty of a serious animal welfare offence will be precluded from owning or working with animals in the future. Persistent offenders will be caught. We know this does not happen at the moment.
I am ambivalent about the sale of animals to a young person under 16 years of age. I know young people who have been very careful of their animals. This can continue but it will be under the guidance of a parent or guardian. There are too many cases of the Christmas or birthday present being a designer dog, which is then abandoned. I acknowledge the work of animal sanctuaries and animal shelters doing phenomenal work. Some young people and teenagers are committed to animals and I acknowledge the way in which dogs are used for those who are visually impaired and children with autism.
This Bill is positive in respect of dogfighting because animal baiting is despicable. I am not certain we can preclude coursing because, to me, coursing is animal baiting. I am glad that dogfighting is included in the Bill because it should be completely done away with. It is reprehensible that people deliberately breed and train dogs to fight and be vicious. It is good that it will be illegal to attend a dogfight so that there will be repercussions for those involved in attending and organising one. Section 16 gives emergency powers to authorised officers and vets who encounter animals in distress or suffering injuries requiring immediate destruction on humane grounds. I was on Cape Clear while a whale was standard in Baltimore. I saw the distress of people looking at it, never mind the distress of the whale. The legislation will be beneficial in such cases.
I acknowledge the work of the late Tony Gregory because animal welfare was high on his agenda. He regretted that more had not been done in his lifetime. In a Private Members' Bill in 1993, he made the point that all legislation concerning animals should have "the welfare of the vulnerable and defenceless in nature's creation". I acknowledge the work of Noel Browne, the former president Mary Robinson and the current President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, who all had concerns about animal welfare.
The explanatory memorandum refers to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine "providing a legislative basis for the protection of all animals be they farm animals, sport animals, pets or otherwise". The Minister referred to protected animals being accorded greater protection than animals living in the wild and said all animals are protected in so far as cruel acts are forbidden. Section 12 refers to cruelty being expressly forbidden, including any unnecessary suffering whether caused by direct physical abuse, recklessness or negligence.
I welcome that.
I now refer to where the legislation falls down. My first point deals with badgers. I accept that we are not fully free of bovine TB and that control measures are necessary but such measures could be carried out in a humane way, not through the most barbaric, gruesome and inhumane practice of catching badgers in a snare. I have seen the snares; they belong to a medieval torture chamber and are not part of a modern, civilised society. The trapping is cruel and when the badger is caught, it is a sitting target for the hunter to shoot it. A consequence is that the young badgers are left to starve. There are no badgers in the Isle of Man, yet there is bovine TB there. Farmers who are against badger snaring say other measures could be used to combat TB, including strict movement controls, thorough cleansing of livestock buildings, good ventilation and double fencing on all boundaries. There were some measures of note taken in England. Movement controls, improved cattle testing and biosecurity saw a 15% reduction in bovine TB. There are similar improvements in other countries where there is no badger killing.
The Minister has previously taken questions on this matter and I noted the replies he gave. If one culls intensively for four years, there is a net TB reduction of 12% to 16%. Therefore, 85% of the problem remains. I hope that the legislation could lead to a vaccination strategy instead of using the very cruel and barbaric practice of badger snaring. The Irish Wildlife Trust stated in a letter to The Irish Times this week that since culling began in Ireland many years ago, 90,000 badgers have been killed. However, 80,000 of the badgers were healthy. In Northern Ireland, badgers are tested in the field so that only those infected with TB are killed.
Let me refer to coursing. I could read out a catalogue of instances of coursing cruelty but I will refer to just a few pertaining to various coursing meetings. Over two days of coursing at one event, 16 hares were hit by dogs. Nine were pinned and seven died of their injuries. At another meeting, six hares were hit by muzzled dogs, six were injured and two were killed. Over another two days, ten hares were hit, two were killed, two were injured and two died overnight. At another meeting, 12 hares were hit by muzzled dogs, one was killed, four were injured and one was put down because of injuries.
There was an interesting case in Westmeath. The ranger, in his report, states nine hares were hit on the first day of the meet. Of these, one was tossed and rolled on the ground, another was tossed and mauled, and another was mauled on the ground by the two dogs and placed in a wooden box. Another was hit about five times and mauled on the ground by the dogs. In Limerick, 15 hares were hit by dogs. The findings of the post-mortem stated, "I presume it was internal injuries rather than muzzles coming off". The ranger noted that the muzzles did not come off. Muzzles, therefore, do not prevent cruelty to the animal. At another meet five hares were hit. No veterinarian was present but one was on call, yet the veterinarian completed a veterinary report despite not having been present.
At yet another meet, in County Kerry, where 12 hares were hit, three were killed, three died of natural causes and one was put down because of injury. The ranger's report noted this was because of the weather conditions on the day. There was very heavy rain on the Saturday night of the coursing which made the ground very heavy and soggy and this, in turn, made it difficult for the hares to run, resulting in 12 hares being caught. The ranger should have called off that meeting because of the condition of the field. The condition resulted in the hares being hit and killed and made it difficult for them to run, yet there is nothing in the licensing regulations about weather conditions. The so-called humane practice of muzzling has not stopped the injuries and deaths.
We know what occurs before coursing meetings. The club members go out collecting hares. Sometimes they do so outside the bounds of their licence. Netting involves supporters yelling and shouting to herd hares into a net and then into an enclosure. This, again, is cruel to hares because they are solitary creatures. The wild hare is released into the field where we know what happens. Blooding with hares, rabbits and kittens is practised by people who own greyhounds. While debating legislation before the recess, I discovered that hares can also be shot. I do not know what the poor hare ever did to Irish society to be subjected to such cruel treatment.
Greyhounds are very gentle creatures. They are being trained to hunt and to be something that is against their nature. Greyhounds have suffered injuries because of their being muzzled. I am not advocating the removal of the muzzles but I am saying that muzzles, which are supposed to be humane, are not humane for the hare or greyhound. There are thriving greyhound industries in countries that have banned hare coursing.
Let me consider the use of animals in experiments. These experiments cause severe and prolonged pain. There is concern over the lack of bioethical input into the transposition process. There have been improvements in breeding but more legislation is required in respect of the code of practice.
I acknowledge the work of BirdWatch Ireland, which states wild birds are vital indicators of environmental change. Therefore, monitoring their population is very important, especially when some species are experiencing serious decline. The breeding curlew is an example. There is a need to ensure the protocol for reporting on species and numbers hunted, or bag returns, is adhered to. Changes in hunting pressure need to be monitored. There is a need to review the listed bird species which can be hunted in open season and the monitoring of the number and impact of the licences.
Let me refer to fur farming. I have seen evidence of the manner in which animals are kept, breaching all animal welfare laws, even those we had before now. The practice is similar to the medieval torture chamber represented by the badger traps. A review group submitted a report some months ago but this is not being addressed in the Bill. I hope separate legislation is being planned as a consequence. I know there is employment in this area but believe it can be diversified to the satisfaction of people who want fur coats.
There is no doubt that feral cats are a problem, not just in the countryside but also in many urban areas and housing estates. They comprise a growing problem but there is a humane method of dealing with them, namely, an emergency neutering campaign. Many veterinarians are offering this service for free. There are groups involved in raising awareness in this regard.
It is horrific to see animals, including dogs and cats, being dumped. Last week, a cat and three kittens were dumped on Dollymount beach and people tried to rescue them. The microchipping of all dogs would go a long way towards tracing owners who have completely disregarded their responsibilities.
There are alarming reports of plans to ship Irish horses to China. This debate arose already in respect of greyhounds. Why should we export live animals to a country that has a record of treating animals inhumanely? I do not understand this. Ignoring human rights abuses, we should note that China, as a country, is steeped in animal abuse. Animal rights organisations can chronicle the abuse of horses, which is part of life in China. China has horse fighting. There is a need for legislation to ensure that live Irish animals will not be exported to countries with a record of ill treatment of animals.
There is a lack of formal regulations for monitoring institutions in receipt of State funding that deal with animals. Accountability and transparency are vital in ensuring that animal welfare is adhered to. This goes for animals in private and State-funded organisations. The level of compliance with animal welfare legislation by institutions should be monitored by independent authorised animal welfare officers. I refer to the Irish Coursing Club, the greyhound club and Horse Racing Ireland. My predecessor, the late Tony Gregory, said the coursing club is a law unto itself and not fit to regulate anything involving animal welfare.
The new legislation does not address the lack of oversight of a number of State-funded organisations. Perhaps there is a need for an independent body to which people can go if they have complaints about animal welfare standards in institutions. At present, it is not possible to know the extent of animal cruelty or whether all practices involving animals are in accordance with the law in the organisations in question. This is because there is no transparency. Will the new authorised animal welfare officers have the authority to enter the premises to monitor animal activity, sport and recreation activities and animal experimentation?
The Arts Council gives funding to circuses. What is the level of compliance with animal welfare standards among circuses? Does this feature in the applications for Arts Council grants? Are inspections carried out before grants are allocated? Will the authorised officers have the authority to inspect circuses? I acknowledge Fossett’s Circus, which has eliminated animals from its circus. The focus is entirely on human activities, such as acrobatics.
There is some debate over zoos.
Dublin Zoo has come a long way since the time when, as a child, I saw lions and tigers pacing up and down the length of a cage that was not as large as the area I am standing in now. Dublin Zoo has done a great deal to try to include elements of their natural habitats. While nothing beats leaving them in their natural habitats, zoos have done good work in preserving species that would have become extinct through poaching and so on. The zoos have also done good work in promoting animal welfare. When schools and youth groups visit Dublin Zoo, it does good work in building their awareness of animal welfare.
While the Bill has many positive aspects, it also has negative ones and the instances of animal cruelty that I mentioned must be addressed. Other Deputies and I will seek amendments in that respect.