Thursday, 20 September 2012
Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The programme for Government contained a commitment to strengthen legislation on animal welfare. The Bill before the House fulfils that commitment. It updates existing legislation, ensures the protection and welfare of animals and provides for stiffer penalties for offenders.
Another major focus of the Bill is disease eradication, in which respect I welcome the Bill's robust measures. In particular, the Bill gives extra power to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in terms of the eradication of existing and potential diseases, makes animal mutilation a specific offence and specifies standards relating to the slaughtering of animals.
A number of important provisions in the Bill relate to the obligations imposed on farmers and other holders of animals to ensure their animals do not stray. This requirement extends to ensuring that all buildings, fences and structures are maintained in a way that reduces the chances of diseases spreading. These provisions must be properly communicated to farmers, especially as the relevant fines can extend up to €5,000.
One particularly welcome aspect of the Bill is the power given to the authorities to take pre-emptive action where they suspect incidents of animal cruelty are about to take place. Currently, the law prohibits cruelty to animals, but there is a gap when it comes to taking preventative action. The Bill provides greater safeguards for what are termed "protected animals".
Some farmers will have concerns about the powers granted to authorised officers to inspect premises with animals or animal related products and take samples. The Bill provides for greater powers to search a premises, but can only be used where there is a genuine risk of the spread of disease or where an offence has taken place. We all remember only too well the foot and mouth outbreak in Ireland and the necessity for swift action to ensure the disease did not spread. Thus, most farmers will see the necessity of such powers when there is an outbreak of disease.
Much of the Bill's focus is on the prohibition of animal cruelty. I welcome the fact that this prohibition applies to all animals, not just those defined as protected animals. It prohibits general cruelty but also provides examples of cruelty, such as baiting, kicking, overworking and mutilation. Apart from penalties imposed by the court, those found guilty of cruelty can also be ordered to contribute towards the cost of veterinary treatment and the care of the animal.
Another of the Bill's elements that must be communicated properly to all animal owners is that the Bill places obligations not just on the person in possession or control of the animal but also on the owner of the animal if he or she is a different person. The owner of an animal can be found guilty of an offence unless he or she can prove that he or she took all reasonable steps to ensure the animal was fed properly.
Balance is an important element of any legislation and I am glad to note the Bill sets out detailed arrangements for compensation to apply where animals are slaughtered to control a specific disease outbreak. This includes a process of expert valuation and arbitration to apply in law in a manner consistent with the Constitution and case law.
Another particularly welcome provision is the extension of the prohibition on animal fighting to include dog fighting, cock fighting, animal baiting and any other activity that may cause suffering to an animal.
The animal welfare notice is another facet of the legislation that must be welcomed, as it gives animal owners due notice that their animals may not be cared for properly, gives all involved time to comply with requirements, and in many cases should see the problems rectified to the satisfaction of all involved.
Protecting animal health has knock-on consequences for human health. Some 60% of infectious diseases in humans can be contracted from animals, whether wild or domestic, and 75% of emerging human diseases have their source in animals. Thus, the control of animal disease is an important factor in protecting human health.
Tackling animal cruelty in all its facets is at the heart of this legislation and is to be welcomed by all those who have an interest in correct animal husbandry. Farmers and animal owners across the country will welcome the commonsensical provisions of this Bill, but it is important that proper steps be taken to make all owners and keepers of animals aware of the Bill's provisions and the penalties that result in cases of non-compliance.
I wish to address three matters, one of which was raised by Deputy Ann Phelan, that being the culture surrounding dog fighting. I doubt that many of the Deputies present would follow American football, but a famous American footballer was caught and prosecuted three years ago for setting up a dog fighting ring. He was sent to prison and received many fines. The greatest concern that resulted from the case was the fact that he took up dog fighting as a child, everyone around him participated and it became natural. While they knew they were doing something wrong, it was simply a part of life. Part of his penalty was to visit schools to tell children of the wrongs and ills of dog fighting. Although we have penalties to punish anyone caught dog fighting, there needs to be an educational element to show it is not normal behaviour and that treating animals so cruelly is unnatural.
Coming from a farming background, I wish to raise the issue of the control of TB. That we seem to have brought Ireland's brucellosis problem under control in recent years is welcome, as is the decreasing incidence of TB. In recent months, TB regulations have been tightened. Will the Minister ensure common sense is applied as much as possible? Given my background, I know only too well the financial and other hardships that can be caused if a herd of cattle contracts TB. One's herd and year are disturbed. Under the new regulations, it can even have knock-on effects on neighbours. In the west, many farms are fragmented. A farmer could have a field here and there and three or four neighbours. If one or two of the farmer's animals come down with TB, the response should be contained to that farm alone. Unless there is a genuine concern about an outbreak in the area, it is not right for a single farmer to lock up as many as ten other farmers.
From the suckler perspective, farmers can only take weanlings to market at certain times of the year. Although TB testing has become more accurate, concerns remain that farmers with supposedly diseased cattle will bring their animals to a factory for slaughter only to find that the animals never had TB. While there will always be changes in medical research and it will approach the point of being an exact science, it is not exact now. Where a farmer has one or two animals that have contracted TB or are considered high reactors, it is not proper that he or she has the potential to lock up neighbouring farmers as well. At a time when farmers throughout the country are under great financial strain, it would be a pity if their ability to go to market would be upset for a number of weeks for retesting even though their farms were not diseased.
Deputy Ann Phelan covered another issue that the Minister might clarify for me. In respect of animal cruelty, special provision will be given to gardaí, Customs and Excise officials and animal welfare officers to enter farms. Inspections are the bane of farmers' lives, although they occur for good reason. For example, if they are receiving money from the Government or Europe, we want to ensure the money is well spent and that farmers are doing what they signed up to do. I have no issue in this regard. Rather, I am concerned about the potential for these people to walk onto farms and conduct inspections of farmers' activities at any time. The majority of farmers are only interested in the best of animal husbandry. From time to time, however, an animal will become sick or get injured in a shed. It is a part of the farming life and the animal may need to be put down. If so, the animal will be lying in a field or the corner of a shed for a number of hours because it cannot be put down by the farmer. A person could walk onto the farm during that waiting period and view what has happened as cruelty to animals. While I welcome the new role afforded the people in question, will they have an expertise in farming, will they understand what the farming business involves and will the local vet have any role?
It is important that these people, if they are to walk onto a farm, understand the practices and what the farmer is doing in order to put the farmer's mind at ease. They should understand the business and ensure that before any prosecutions or procedures are put in train, we get a very clear picture of what has happened. The last thing I would like to see is farmers who are doing their job being affected by an incident that could happen on any given day where it could be considered as cruelty to animals.
I welcome the Bill before the House and commend the Minister on the work done on it. Perhaps when he is wrapping up the discussion he could cover those issues.
I am also delighted to be able to speak today on this legislation. I compliment the Minister on all the work done since he took his post, particularly with animal welfare and rural Irish life. He has a keen interest and knowledge of everything happening in the agricultural industry.
I am pleased to welcome this Bill, although I have slight concerns about some aspects. They are not major concerns and I suppose they can be teased out with amendments and further discussion. I welcome the increased penalties, both monetary and custodial. These are important as it is a major issue, with people having different perspectives depending on whether they live in rural or urban areas. Animal husbandry is very important, particularly in light of the Food Harvest 2020 process and recovery in our exports and economy. The processing of animal products and their derivatives is vital to exports, and we have a good reputation abroad in this respect. I know the Minister is doing his best to enhance this with trade missions, etc. to promote and enhance the reputation of the industry.
The Chinese delegation has left the Chamber but a previous speaker mentioned horse exports to China. I come from south Tipperary, which used to be the home of hurling but is not any more, unfortunately. It is definitely the home of Ireland's equine industry, although the Acting Chairman, who is from Kildare, might take issue with that assertion. We in the Golden Vale have a very proud industry in horse husbandry, breeding and racing. Another Minister was involved in a trip overseas that concerned exporting valuable progeny in the horse industry. We hope extending that process to China will be a success. Anything that has happened in Coolmore and elsewhere has been successful, as we saw when Queen Elizabeth II chose to visit Coolmore. Other dignitaries and foreign visitors have come to see what we have and what goes on there.
I envy some of the people when I see the way animals are kept. They are definitely living in better conditions than some constituents as they have expert minders and facilities. The people working there love their trade, which is why people are queuing up to work in the industry throughout the country and beyond. I have mentioned Coolmore and there is no fear that any horses from there or similar facilities would be subject to any kind of mistreatment. It would be anathema to the industry.
People from animal rights causes have debated with me on the radio, arguing that horse racing should be banned because it pits one animal against another. I do not know where these people are coming from but this legislation is a very reasonable effort from this Minister and his officials to legislate fairly. As noted by the last speaker, Deputy Connaughton, issues will occur in daily life. Incidents occur on our roads and elsewhere but anyone reared with an understanding of a farm would know that all kinds of issues may come about. We need only consider what happened in Hillsborough last week, which was an appalling tragedy. We have seen too many of these in agriculture but they show human frailties that exist, even when dealing with gases that cannot be seen or smelt. Animals may break loose and have accidents. Bulls or other ordinary animals may cause accidents.
It is not the safest profession in the world but we must be reasonable in our understanding of what it takes to breed animals, rear them and look after them. There is no one better than 99.999% of farmers in doing this. They are custodians of the land and animals, giving up their sleep and meal times to ensure animals are well looked after and fed. We have seen this in times of flooding and other circumstances when farmers must go through all types of danger to ensure animals can be kept safe. I understand some people have compromised their own safety significantly to ensure herds of animals are brought to safety. We can also see this in urban society with pets, etc. that may be on the motorway or in some place they should not be. Efforts are made by members of the public, gardaí and others to come to the rescue, bring an animal to safety and return them to their flock, either in the wild or in a farming scenario.
Reasonable efforts are being made to stop cruelty, which is an issue. I have no truck with the people who in any shape or form wish to abuse animals. Some speakers have referred to the issue of horses and buggies and horses in open spaces in housing estates. There is also the issue of dogs. I visited an estate recently to do a leaflet drop and I could not believe that in an area with approximately 50 houses, I met approximately 30 dogs. Some of them were quite vicious animals, although some were restrained or behind a fence. I knew from looking at the animals that they could jump the fence. I have a nervous disposition towards dogs, although I like them and I have a number of sheepdogs. There is no better company than a dog, which is often man's best friend. Nevertheless, they can cause problems and dog wardens do a hard job.
I am glad legislation is taking into account and considering the strengthening of powers to remove horses from certain locations. We meet people who may say they have a different culture but are part of our indigenous society. I am speaking about what would have been referred to as "tinkers" in the old days, the tinsmiths who would have made coal shuttles or a crúiscín for a householder in exchange for milk, sugar, butter or a bit of jam. It was a wonderful practice and it is a pity it has disappeared. We now refer to Travellers, whom I support. They must be allowed to exist. Nevertheless, they should come into the real world and exist alongside the culture of settled people.
I have served on the housing committee in south Tipperary and worked very actively with Travellers, including women who have gone to work. There must be an understanding that housing estates are not places for animals or racing jarveys. The practice is not confined to Travellers either but it is a major problem in Clonmel. I have suggested that the county council, which has a significant tract of land, should create a safe track to get this activity off the roads.
They continue to do it and it is a danger to themselves. I see little kids riding them and it sends a shiver up my spine to see them holding on. They race two abreast and hold up business and commerce as well as being a nuisance on the roads. They should be brought into consultation to discuss creating tracks so if they want to continue to engage in this activity they can do so safely on a suitable surface. I do not believe horses being raced down the road and pitted against each other on a tarmac or tarmac chip surface is fair to the animals. It is a far cry from the plains of Kildare and the Curragh or any other race track.
To return to the Bill, the Minister and his officials have tried their best to look after animal husbandry and animal welfare without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I want to return to the coursing industry. The coursing industry is very important to south Tipperary and other parts of the county also. I have invited my colleague, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, who spoke when contributing on previous legislation about shooting hares, to come to Clonmel. I also invited Deputy Clare Daly who has refused to come. I invited them to see coursing, not to look at the videos that have been made, but to see at first hand what happens during the coursing festival in Clonmel. It is a very valuable industry which is worth €6 million to Clonmel. It is not all about money and I do not argue we can be cruel to animals for the sake of the economy. However, these industries are very valuable to the economy and use good practice.
When I was a buachaill óg I went coursing every Sunday with the men and women of my parish. It was a three parish coursing club and it was best education I ever received. With the flora and fauna I learned about nature. We hunted the hares and if we could beat or frighten them out, we had coursing. It may not have been as humane as it should have been because the dogs were not muzzled at the time but nonetheless the coursing club did much for young people by instilling in them the values of nature and our heritage, the value of our open space, camaraderie, club membership and association. It held many fundraisers and supported many charities. It also held an annual social. It no longer exists, unfortunately, but we still have our coursing festival which we want to protect. I invite anybody to come, and if they want to picket it is a free society, but I ask them to come and see what goes on during the festival.
Two years ago I was appalled when so-called "animal rights" people cut the wire and released the hares which were in fields waiting for the coursing. They were not waiting of their own free will, but they were in fields and were not locked up in kennels. The hares got onto the N8 motorway between Cashel and Cahir and were slaughtered by the traffic. A so-called "animal rights" person went on the radio and stated it was more humane than being raced with muzzled dogs. We must ask where is the logic and what is wrong. It was an obnoxious situation. The same person went on to state on the radio that cattle exports should be stopped and any animal such as my sheepdog rounding up hill sheep on the farm I partly own should be stopped. What planet are these people on?
I do not want to cast aspersions on the memory of the late Tony Gregory who was mentioned by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. He was an excellent representative. If one lives in the Pale or any other town, one accepts the practices which go on outside the Pale. Everything does not happen inside the Pale and people should get out and get a greater understanding. I do not have an understanding of what goes on inside the Pale with regard to many issues, but I do not tell people what to do and what not to do and where to go and where not to go. We must all live.
My next point is not with regard to Deputy O'Sullivan but to another Deputy, Deputy Clare Daly, who spoke yesterday. She professes to be a socialist who wants jobs. However, we have industries which they want to destroy. They do not provide too many jobs through the State but jobs are provided on family farms and by those in the country who keep greyhounds and provide the best facilities for them. They nurture and love them. They breed them. They bring them to greyhound tracks and coursing festival and it is part of their culture and heritage. By doing so they create an industry and give employment to thousands of people throughout the country. I cannot imagine why people want to dismantle this.
I will make another point, which perhaps I should not but I will. I have already said to Deputy Daly's face that I cannot understand how people can be pro-abortion and anti-bloodsport. It just does not fit into my little logic, and I may not have much of it. Deputy Daly has introduced an abortion Bill and states she is committed to introducing anti-coursing Bills. I cannot understand how the two can sit together. It beggars belief. It is not right or proper. We profess to be pro-jobs and pro-work but we want to destroy industries such as coursing and horse racing.
I am sick and tired of receiving e-mails and letters from so-called "animal rights" people. I am in favour of animal rights and 99.9% of animal owners are in favour of animal rights and look after the animals better than any so-called self-professed "animal rights" lover would look after them because they understand what animals need to live and survive. They understand what it costs to breed animals. They are not the people who give pets at Christmas. Too often I see pets given at Christmas being neglected and abandoned at huge cost to the State with pounds and veterinary bills. They do not have a clue but ordinary people involved in animal husbandry look after those animals better than their own children. They do this because it is their livelihood, their love and passion and their nature. They want to look after animals and do so.
This legislation must be fine tuned. It is very difficult to legislate for many issues. Deputy Connaughton spoke about practical farming and issues that can arise. He has a serious concern, as do I, about the type of people who might get involved in policing the new legislation. I have no problem with local authority vets and dog wardens but I do have a problem with self professed and maybe secret so-called "animal welfare" people perhaps ending up in these jobs. They might end up there under false pretences or in open competition and they will have an agenda to persecute people and farmers for issues which may arise from time to time in normal farming practice. I have serious concerns about this. I compliment the animal rescue centres throughout the country which do great work. Nothing is more distressing than to see animals being neglected. No half-decent farmer would want to see any animal hurt or neglected and would go without themselves to ensure their animals are looked after.
Legislation is being introduced with regard to the pig industry requiring more space for sows and litters and rightly so. When we were young we all had a sow in the back yard and we did not have half the waste and had our bacon killed at Christmas. We have lost many of these practices. There is now a great deal of legislation on the keeping of hens and fowl. One requires a herd number for a sow. We must examine some of our legislation and undo it because we are destroying an industry and people's ability to be self-sufficient to a fair degree. There was not much waste when people had a sow or two in the yard because the food waste was well looked after and one had a product afterwards.
Since my previous contribution on animal welfare I have been asked by the Vegan Society to visit it and I will do so.
I will try to understand and educate myself better on their views and feelings and why they will not eat meat and other products. However, the anti-coursing people have refused to come to see a civilised coursing meeting, to see the industry around it, to learn and to leave the Pale and see what goes on in the Golden Vale and elsewhere. I abhor badger baiting and dog fighting and all those obnoxious practices which must be stamped out. I am glad the Minister has addressed these issues in the Bill. However, some practices have gone on since our Lord's time and the rabbit was killed and skinned when people had no other food. We are now being told that is cruelty.
It is interesting this Bill is being debated in the House this week when the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, announced the wording for the children's right referendum, on which I compliment her. I look forward, I hope, to supporting it.
The Minister said that any involvement in dog fighting or animal baiting is despicable and should be completely done away with. It is a significant problem and it is often hidden. Some people breed or buy dogs solely for the purpose of fighting and it is an extremely cruel practice. I compliment the Minister on the efforts he has made and will make and on putting more resources into dealing with that barbaric practice.
I refer to the issue of TB and brucellosis, which has cost the State billions of euro and about which I am concerned. Like the previous speaker, I am concerned about neighbouring farms being locked up. Scientifically, we do not know how TB and brucellosis are spread. The fact that neighbouring farms and adjoining lands must be locked up and farmers cannot go to marts to sell their produce when they want is causing major hardship. This year has been particularly difficult because of the lack of fodder. Given the severe and adverse weather conditions since March, which was a lovely month, most of the surplus produce or silage been eaten, and this issue needs to be examined. It is bad enough for the unfortunate farmer whose animals have TB, which he or she has not caused, and whose farm must be locked up, but neighbouring farms should not be penalised in this way because it does not eradicate TB. I wonder why TB has not been eradicated after all the years and millions of euro spent. I wonder is there something deeper going on and it is has become an industry in itself, which would be very serious. However, we must not penalise neighbouring farms.
I thank everybody who contributed to the Second Stage debate and I look forward to what I know will be a very long Committee Stage. A number of those who spoke in this debate are passionate about this issue and I want to try to take on board, where possible, their concerns. However, I must also try to provide balance. There is a series of conflicting views on what constitutes the right balance where activities such as hare coursing are concerned, and I will address this in some detail in a moment.
The badger culling programme, which is part of the TB eradication programme, has been hugely successful over the past ten years in terms of the number of reactors in Ireland which has more than halved from more than 40,000 to approximately 18,500 this year. That is a far more impressive record than anything that has happened in the UK or Northern Ireland. We are doing something right but I would like to see a time when we can move away from having targeted culling of badgers to having a vaccination programme. We are planning for that but we must also remain determined to eradicate TB. Regardless of whether we like it, badgers carrying TB are a major contributory factor to the spread of the disease.
I can send Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan a note on the detail around that culling, how it operates, the equipment we use for it, the independent assessment of the use of that equipment and the damage it does or does not do to badgers, because I know she is concerned about it. I think she will be somewhat reassured by that, but some badger snaring is being done by non-departmental staff which is totally unacceptable. I would not defend that for one second but I will defend the programme my Department runs, supervises and independently monitors in terms of the use of equipment to capture badgers in a way which maximises the humanity of that catching, the assessment of the badgers caught and their removal and appropriate disposal afterwards. Nobody likes to see animals being put down and I can assure the Deputy this only happens in targeted areas where there is evidence to suggest that badgers are contributing to the spread of TB.
This Bill is an enormous step forward for animal welfare and health in Ireland. The primary legislation under which we operate dates back to 1911 and is outdated. This Bill is concerned with making the shift from outlawing cruelty to animals to putting a new legislative infrastructure in place which ensures animal health and welfare is respected and protected in law. That means people who have a responsibility for animals have a legal obligation under this legislation to look after those animals in a way that is acceptable in a modern country. That is where the five freedoms, if one wants to use that reference point, are relevant and are the basis for this legislation.
There are all manner of other positive spin-offs for the country in terms of the agrifood sector, our reputation and so on. As a self-professed animal lover, I think that, morally, this is something we should be doing anyway. It has been a long time in gestation. The two officials with me have been working on this for a long time and have done a very good job in putting a very complex set of Acts into one piece of legislation and updating and modernising it where possible. We need to make political judgment calls in regard to some of the more contentious areas such as hare coursing, fur farming, the treatment of feral cats and whether we should export animals from Ireland to other countries, to which I will refer.
I wish to refer to some of what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan raised because she has stayed to listen to the response. I will deal with a lot of the other concerns on Committee Stage when Deputies are there to hear it. The project in which I, Coolmore Stud and others are involved to help China to create and build a horseracing industry and all the standards that go with that is a very positive contribution to equine management and welfare in another state like China. In fact, that project is developing in a very positive way and will involve selling in foal mares to China. The sending of mares to Tianjin, north of Beijing, where the project is being put together, has been delayed because Coolmore Stud was not happy that the stabling conditions and the space were acceptable at this stage. It has therefore deferred the sending over of those mares until it is absolutely happy it can stand over it.
I reassure people that we are not in the business of expanding sectors at the expense of animals or their welfare or care - in fact, quite the opposite. We want to export the best practice and know-how which we have developed in Ireland over the past 50 years and which have reached a global leading standard.
We want to export that expertise and some of our animals to help other countries develop the standards we expect. I would take a tough line to prevent the export of Irish animals to any part of the world if I believed they were heading into an abusive situation but I genuinely do not think that is the case. Those who are developing the industry in China and the many other countries to which we export horses are seeking to build the expertise and standards we have come to expect in welfare as well as quality breeding.
I have asked my Department for a review of the fur farming industry. Ireland has a relatively small number of fur farms. Whether I like something or not is irrelevant and the question is not one of simply outlawing fur farming, which some people would like us to do, but whether we should regulate to insist on best practice. I will be making proposals on new regulations for fur farming which will involve random inspections and a set of standards that can allay some of the concerns people have expressed and although some maintain that the only to deal with the issue is to ban it I have made the judgment call not to pursue that option at this stage. Banning fur farming would have the consequence of being required to compensate the industry to the tune of between €10 million and €12 million. That is money that I simply do not have but even if I had it I am not sure the case has been made for shutting down the industry if it is properly regulated and if we can provide evidence that it is a form of farming like any other intensive production method.
I respect everybody's views on the issue of hare coursing. I will not take the high moral ground on either side. This is a sector which needs tight regulation but I do not consider it is appropriate to simply ban the practice because people are uncomfortable with it. There are strongly held views on both sides of the argument and I am trying to find an acceptable balance. If there is evidence that coursing is taking place in an appropriate way along the lines set out in the Bill we will take action, and the same goes for hunting. However, it is not appropriate to simply outlaw hare coursing and hunting when they are pursued according the to the codes of conduct drawn up by clubs. Considerable numbers of people are passionate about these pursuits and my job is to ensure that standards are met rather than simply outlawing practices.
In regard to neutering, Deputies will be glad to hear that despite all of last year's cutbacks we increased the funding available to animal welfare organisations. A large number of people dedicate their lives to animal welfare organisations and rescue centres. I happen to own a rescued dog. These organisations and people deserve the State's support but they also need to operate to acceptable standards. Sometimes people's enthusiasm and compassion results in their taking on a workload of animal care that they do not have the capacity to manage and that has led to other problems. We have now linked the funding from my Department for animal welfare organisations with a requirement that they meet a code of practice and a standard of care built around the five freedoms for animals. I consider this appropriate and hope other Members will support me on it.
On the issue of authorised inspections, I would like to provide reassurance and information to the House. Little, if anything, is changing from an agricultural point of view. The people who inspect farms are officials from my Department who understand farming and all of its complexities and they will continue to be responsible for inspecting farms, speaking with farmers and imposing standards that allow us to take appropriate action against the rare farmer who is unwilling or unable to look after his or her animals. We will go through the Bill's provisions in this area in detail on Committee Stage. We are primarily speaking about departmental and local authority vets in this regard but further work and resources are needed in the area of caring for domestic animals. There is a role for veterinary nurses, for example, if they want to volunteer to join panels of inspectors, and for proven animal welfare workers, whether from the ISPCA, the Dogs Trust Ireland or any other NGO that has proven its worth and can make a significant contribution in responding to the calls my Department receives on its freefone helpline from individuals who have comments or complaints about the abuse of animals.
This is a strong Bill which takes a hard line against practices such as dog and cock fighting and badger baiting while trying to deal with tricky and difficult areas in which differences of opinion arise. The views of those both inside the Pale and outside of it are equally legitimate and it is my job to find a balance that protects animals while at the same time understanding that certain sports in rural Ireland should have a future. We have tried to reassure the lobby and representative groups of all those involved as best we can in preparing this legislation. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to a long and detailed Committee Stage debate in which I will try to accommodate people's concerns as much as is reasonable.