Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Welfare of Greyhounds (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage
An Act to control the export of greyhounds and for that purpose to provide for the publication of a white list to which the export of greyhounds under licence shall be permissible; to make it an offence for a person to export a greyhound to a country which is not included in the white list; to amend the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and to provide for related matters.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to move this important legislation, the Welfare of Greyhounds (Amendment) Bill 2017. The Bill amends the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 by inserting a new Part 4A. It provides for control of the export of greyhounds and for the publication of a white list of countries to which the export of greyhounds under licence will only be permissible. The Bill will also make it an offence for persons to export greyhounds to countries not on the white list and will provide for related matters.
I thank Ms Suzie Carley, the executive director of Dogs Trust, and her staff for their powerful advocacy and research on this Bill and for bringing this matter to the Legislature and the public. Dogs Trust has been in Ireland since 2005 and has re-homed 7,000 dogs since 2009. Indeed, they re-homed almost 3,000 in 2016 alone.
Along with the ISPCA and Bord na gCon, the Dogs Trust is a welfare member of the International Greyhound Forum. Pursuant to the new section 27B proposed in the Bill, welfare members of the forum will be given a statutory role in preparing draft and finalised lists for submission to the Minister which he will declare the white list of countries that meet minimum standards regarding the welfare of greyhounds.
Last April and May, there was a public outcry when reports confirmed that three Irish greyhounds had been exported to Macau, China, to race in the infamous Yat Yuen canidrome, which has a well-documented and deplorable record in terms of the welfare of greyhounds. Around this time, 24 greyhounds were also returned to Ireland from the UK after being stopped en routeto China. There are reports that in the canidrome unless a greyhound finishes in the top three in five consecutive races it is destroyed. In response to the public outpouring of anger at the treatment of these greyhounds, Bord na gCon, the Irish Greyhound Board, issued a statement saying it had no control over events outside the jurisdiction of Ireland and did not have a role in regulating the export of greyhounds. The statement went on to say:
While IGB does not have a statutory remit in relation to export controls for greyhounds, we expect owners to apply the principles set out in the Code of Practice when exporting greyhounds in accordance with our guidance issued to the industry.
When I raised this matter with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, by means of parliamentary questions, I was told that two greyhounds were exported to China in 2014 and that nine were exported in 2016. The Minister said he endorsed the Bord na gCon advice I have outlined. This matter needs to be placed on a statutory footing because it is clear that some owners are choosing to ignore the advice given by Bord na gCon and, of course, because the reputational damage to Ireland of exporting our greyhounds to countries such as China should not be underestimated.
I note the report of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, produced in January 2016, on the greyhound racing industry in Ireland. I welcome reports that progress is being made in implementing the 27 recommendations for the industry arising from the July 2014 Indecon report, Review of Certain Matters Relating to Bord na gCon. I also note the proposed upcoming greyhound industry (amendment) Bill, which will provide for amendments to both the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 and the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011. Given that figures provided to me via a reply to a parliamentary question indicate that 10,175 dogs were exported from 550 registered premises in 2015, surely we can now prioritise the development of a white list of countries to ensure that greyhounds are only exported to countries with welfare standards that are equal to or higher than those which obtain in Ireland.
Besides the export of these wonderful sentient dogs that are synonymous with Ireland, there are many other aspects of greyhound welfare that I have not touched on this afternoon but which require urgent attention from the Minister. The Greyhound Rescue Association of Ireland reports that approximately 38 greyhounds are put down each month, that there are major issues regarding the traceability of thousands of greyhounds and the accountability of some owners, and that just one prosecution has been brought against an individual who did not comply with a welfare notice from Bord na gCon in 2014. We need far more inspections of breeding establishments, licensing and microchipping for all greyhounds from birth, and sufficient resources provided for rehoming of retired greyhounds. On Thursday, 9 March, RTE's "Prime Time" aired its "Gone to the Dogs" programme in which Sharon Ní Bheoláin and her team highlighted the problems with doping and very poor regulation in the greyhound industry. The programme raised a number of very serious questions on animal welfare and I sincerely hope the Minister will address all of the relevant issues in his upcoming Bill.
There have recently been major discussions in places such as New South Wales about the whole future of greyhound racing. Of course, 80% of the racing greyhounds on British tracks come from Ireland. Such is the problem with doping here that the UK Government has started mandatory testing on greyhounds exported from Ireland since 1 January 2017. The simple Bill before the House is, therefore, a timely supplement to the promised upcoming legislative improvements in respect of the welfare of these wonderful animals in Ireland. I urge the Government to accept and pass it.