Thursday, 20 December 2018
Greyhound Racing Bill 2018: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage
Amendments Nos. 36 to 38, inclusive, are variations on similar amendments tabled on Committee Stage and relate to a ban on the export of greyhounds to countries outside the European Union which have horrific animal welfare standards and a statutory requirement to produce a report to provide more data on the export of greyhounds, where they are going and how they are treated when they get there. I again thank Senator Black and her office for their help in drafting these proposals.
This issue was extensively discussed on Committee Stage and I do not propose to go over all the details again. However, groups such as Dogs Trust have reported that Irish greyhounds are being exported to countries in which they are subjected to cruel treatment likely to result in a lengthy jail sentence in Ireland. We have a moral obligation to ensure that our exported greyhounds are protected to the same extent as those in Ireland.
Amendment No. 36 would allow for the Minister to take an active role in monitoring and regulating the export of greyhounds and ensure that greyhounds are treated with care, dignity and fairness in any country to which they are exported. We have made a couple of changes to the amendment as tabled on Committee Stage to incorporate feedback we received. We have allowed the Minister discretion in circumstances where information about a particular country is not available. We have allowed for a public consultation such that if information about relevant countries comes in through an open submission process those data can be used and the research burden is taken off the Minister and the Department. We are trying to make this amendment even more workable and I hope the Minister of State can see that and factor it into his considerations.
I know he will point out that under Articles 34 and 35 of the EU treaties, trade is an exclusive EU competence and member states have no latitude to unilaterally restrict trade, while advice from the Attorney General means that the Minister of State cannot accept this amendment. However, as I stated on Committee Stage, neither the Attorney General nor any other national level legal official can definitively say that this amendment is incompatible with EU law as the only body with the authority to make a definitive judgement in that regard is the European Court of Justice. In the absence of a ruling from that body, we make the argument that Article 36 of the treaty specifically provides that exemptions may be sought on the basis of public policy in order to protect the lives and welfare of animals. What we are proposing is explicitly allowed under Article 36. The only barrier to the Minister of State accepting this amendment is political, not legal. All he would have to do is decide that this is a legislative move on which he was willing to expend political capital on and allow Ireland to lead the way on animal welfare on the European and international stage. That is a decision that he can make here today.
Amendment No. 37 would collate and standardise the data that are already available and give the Minister a role in monitoring export of greyhounds. It would allow for the publication of an annual report from the Minister and his Department to an appropriate Oireachtas committee regarding the number of greyhounds exported in a year, where they are going and how they are treated on arrival. On Committee Stage we tabled a similar amendment and in response the Minister of State claimed that the information being requested cannot be retrieved. After carrying out subsequent research, I do not share his view. He stated that TRACES cannot be used to differentiate greyhounds and other canines, but I am reliably informed that a simple technical change to the system is all that would be required and that such change is likely to be easily made at the request of an Irish Minister. I understand that data are also gathered by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain on UK exports, which would provide data for that large trading partner. The Irish Coursing Club holds data relating to microchipping, the Department of Rural and Community Development holds data relating to dog control and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine itself collects data as a Department vet is required to sign off on the export of a greyhound through the pet passport system. In addition, information will be available under section 28 of the Bill which sets out exhaustive regulatory subsections on the tracing of greyhounds.
With all these data sources and the new traceability section of this Bill, it is simply not plausible that it would not be possible for the Minister of the day to produce a very straightforward annual report to an Oireachtas committee in this area. This amendment is much shorter than the one I tabled on Committee Stage. I am trying to make it easier for the Minister of State to accept it and I really hope he will not let the Bill leave the Seanad without making at least small changes in this area. I have even tabled amendment No. 38, which drops the animal welfare research requirement and only requires a report to register export, country of destination and reason for export. This really is a basic ask and I hope the Minister of State can accept it.