Thursday, 20 December 2018
Greyhound Racing Bill 2018: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage
I thank the Senators. I appreciate that this is a sincerely held concern on the part of most Senators in this House. I have been charged with minding animals since the day I was born and I am as acutely aware of animal welfare as anybody else here. To be honest, the only accurate data available is based on the Irish greyhounds registered with the database of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, GBGB, which indicates that 86% of greyhounds registered with the GBGB to date in 2018 were Irish-bred. Bord na gCon informs me that this equates to approximately 7,000 greyhounds annually. The other information concerns retired greyhounds that are rehomed in Ireland, the USA, Canada, France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Holland, Sweden and Slovenia. As I stated in the last debate, 853 greyhounds were rehomed by the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust and other charities between January and October of this year. A further 58 greyhounds are on the current rehoming list, to be rehomed by the end of 2018. Approximately a quarter of those are rehomed by the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust here in Ireland, with Italy being the biggest rehoming destination, accounting for 30% of the total.
Regarding the proposal in amendment No. 36 for a "white list", I note that any legislation banning the exports of greyhounds to certain countries would face very significant legal difficulties. Placing restrictions on trade with a third country would no doubt need the approval of the EU. The advice from the Office of the Attorney General regarding Deputy Broughan's Private Members' Bill is that it is incompatible with domestic and European law. Given what I have said regarding the UK's position as the principal export destination for greyhounds, the proposed restriction on exports would be impossible to enforce. I am not saying this figuratively. Officers of my Department would have no power to compel a UK purchaser to release details of any onward sale. If the Department tried to police a restriction on greyhounds that are sent abroad being subsequently sent to another country, it would only create a burden of bureaucracy for responsible greyhound exporters and owners. We would fail to stop an unscrupulous exporter who had exported to a country with a problematic welfare record. Such an exporter could refuse to give details of such a sale and as the UK or any other country is outside our jurisdiction we would have no power to either compel it to comply or punish it. Similarly, it would be impossible to prove in a court that an Irish exporter sold a greyhound knowing it would be sold to a country not on the white list. It is for these reasons that our legal advice is that this is unworkable and, therefore, should not be put in legislation.
The Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 obliges Bord na gCon to publish a code of practice for the welfare of greyhounds. The primary objective of the code is to set standards and clearly define what is expected of all individuals engaged in the care and management of registered greyhounds. Currently, the code gives guidance on a range of areas, including general welfare principles, animal husbandry, animal health and use of animal remedies. Bord na gCon proposes to expand the existing code to include provisions with regard to best practice when exporting greyhounds. This will include information and guidance on preparation for export, transportation arrangements and advising the exporter on the need to research the proposed export destination to establish the prevailing animal welfare code and legislation. Bord na gCon encourages and promotes the export of greyhounds to countries that have established a positive animal welfare code and practices.
Based on the information I have provided regarding amendment No. 36, the Senators should appreciate the great difficulties the production of an annual report on the export of greyhounds would present. It is not currently possible to retrieve the information being requested by the Senator and, therefore, it is not possible for any Minister to stand over an annual report which could be presented to a joint Oireachtas committee setting out the details in the Senators' amendments. TRACES which is used to record the export of canines does not differentiate between greyhounds and other dogs. Breed is not a category used in TRACES for categorising animals within the same species. This applies to all species, not just dogs. As such, it is not possible to report on greyhounds exported to other countries. For the reasons stated, amendments Nos. 36 to 38, inclusive, cannot be accepted.