Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009: Second Stage
I am pleased to bring the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009 before the Seanad and look forward to an informed and constructive debate during the Bill's passage through this House. As the House knows, matters concerning dog control are governed by the Control of Dogs Acts 1986 to 1992, as amended. These Acts have in general been working satisfactorily since their enactment but need updating in certain areas. In the main, these relate to regulation around dog breeding establishments and the general level of the dog licence fee, which has not changed since 1998.
Following some well publicised incidents of dogs apparently reared in Ireland that were being sold in a poor condition to unsuspecting purchasers, working groups were established to review the management of dog breeding establishments and make recommendations on the matter. The working group made a number of recommendations, the majority of which I intend to implement through this legislation. Unfortunately, Ireland got the reputation of being the dog breeding capital of Europe for all the wrong reasons. I am introducing this legislation to ensure proper standards of animal welfare in these establishments.
The Bill's preparation has involved a large amount of ongoing consultation with a variety of interested parties, including Departments, voluntary bodies and dog interest groups. These have included the Hunting Association of Ireland and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In addition, more than 650 submissions were made in connection with the report of the working group, the majority of which were in favour of regulation of dog breeding establishments. I wish to thank all of those who participated in the consultation phase and I am confident that the Bill is stronger for their input.
Senators will be aware that there is a variety of opinion on any issue involving animal welfare and, in particular, on the welfare of dogs. While most people connect with dogs as a family pet, for others the breeding of these pets is a business. The Bill seeks to legislate for the point where the two interact. The variety of opinion generally was reflected in the deliberations of the working group and resulted in one majority report and three minority reports being presented to the Minister. This complicating factor in itself is part of the reason it has taken a considerable time to bring these legislative proposals before the Houses. Further consultations were required prior to the decision to draft legislative proposals on the basis of the majority recommendations. While the intention was to make regulations under the Control of Dogs Acts, legal advice indicated that effective regulation of dog breeding establishments or, indeed, increasing dog licence fees under the Acts was not possible. Hence the need for revised legislation rather than regulation under the principal Act. Unfortunately, this has added to the timeline for introducing these legislative proposals.
While the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has responsibility for animal welfare, my Department has retained responsibility for dog control for the practical reason that the dog control service is operated through the local authorities. Local authority dog wardens liaise with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's veterinary staff on an ongoing basis. It is envisaged that this will continue and expand if particular animal welfare issues arise as part of the proposed registration and inspection process for dog breeding establishments. Senators will also be aware that my colleagues, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, and the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, are preparing an animal welfare Bill that will deal comprehensively with animal welfare issues.
In today's debate, I intend to summarise the majority recommendations of the working group on the review of dog breeding establishments and the actions I intend to take in respect of each.
The basis for regulation of dog breeding establishments is as follows. The group recommended that a State-regulated registration system for dog breeding establishments be put in place and that these regulations be enforced through the existing local authority dog control structures. The group also recommended that the regulations should include a comprehensive set of statutorily enforceable standards for the operation of dog breeding establishments and provision for inspections by local authority officers.
This recommendation comprises a number of separate issues. We can all agree that a regulation system should be put in place, if only for simple reasons concerning dog welfare and this country's reputation in respect of care of dogs. It is only proper that, in a modern caring society, legal remedies are in place to deal with a minority of breeding establishments that rear pups in appalling conditions and sell malnourished and ill pups to an unsuspecting public. I am heartened that the Hunting Association of Ireland and the Irish Greyhound Board have both agreed with the need for such regulation.
I concluded also that regulation should be through the local authorities, the dog control staff of which have built up a considerable level of experience in dealing with dog control issues. They have a knowledge of existing dog breeding establishments, albeit without the powers to regulate such premises up until now.
The Bill provides for inspection of dog breeding establishments where necessary. I want the Bill to form the basis of a co-operative relationship between the local authorities and well run dog breeding establishments. Its provisions will not hold any fear for those who run their establishments well and who have established quality premises and practices in co-operation with their local veterinary practices.
In terms of this relationship, local authorities will be required to inform a dog breeding establishment of the grounds on which they would refuse to register a premises. The local authority will be statutorily obliged to pay heed to any reply from the establishment in regard to a potential refusal or conditions attached to a registration certificate. This will encourage a co-operative relationship between the local authority and dog breeders in their administrative areas.
The working group recommended that dog breeding establishments be defined based on the number of bitches with breeding potential present on the premises. I propose that the legislation will define a dog breeding establishment as a premises at which are kept no fewer than six bitches, each of which is more than four months old and capable of being used for breeding purposes. The limit of not fewer than six bitches will exclude the vast majority of cases where people rear dogs as pets. While there might be instances on farms, for example, where the number of bitches might exceed six, the stipulation that they must be capable of breeding will ensure that retired animals, so long as they are sterilised, could be excluded from the count. Bitches under four months of age would also be excluded.
The group recommended that the new regulatory regime be self-financing and be funded by varying the existing general dog licence fee. I propose that the cost of regulation and inspection of these establishments will not fall on the general population, but will be borne by the dog breeding establishments through a registration fee. This fee will vary in accordance with the amount of breeding bitches so as to reflect the size and scale of the operation. To that end the appropriate fee bands will be as follows. For a dog breeding establishment at which not more than 12 bitches are kept, the fee is €400; for an establishment with 13 to 25 bitches, the fee is €800; for an establishment with 26 to 100 bitches, the fee is €1,600; and for an establishment with 101 to 200 bitches it is €3,000, with a further €1,600 for every 100 bitches thereafter.
The fee will be payable to the local authority and the moneys raised are intended to cover the costs of regulation and inspection. Any balance will go towards dog control services in general which, in the current climate, are hard-pressed to keep up with the demands being placed on them. I pay tribute to the many dog control staff who work tirelessly to rehome strays, pick up abandoned dogs and keep residential areas and farms free from uncontrolled dogs. It can be a thankless job and should be acknowledged. I am confident the measures in this Bill will be welcomed by the dog control service and will assist them greatly in performing their duties.
I do not consider the fees to be excessive when set against the potential income stream from the number of breeding bitches. For instance, a premises with 12 breeding bitches might conservatively be expected to produce one litter of five pups each, resulting in 60 pups in total. At a conservative estimate of the value of a premium pup at €500, the estimated income from the sale of 60 pups would be €30,000. The proposed registration fee of €400 for the puppy farm of 12 bitches would equate to a cost of only €6 per pup. This is in no way unreasonable when we consider that some pedigree pups command prices of €1,000 or more.
Dog breeding establishments appear to specialise in lines of breeds commanding premium prices and like any business they try to minimise their costs and charge what the market will bear. On the basis of the fees above I do not think their bottom line will be significantly altered. There will also continue to be the option of adopting a dog from a shelter or charities at minimal or no cost, as at present.
I take this opportunity to urge people to be responsible about purchasing a dog and to make sure they know the source. They should follow the ISPCA guidelines regarding care of pets and be aware of the potential costs. The ISPCA also advises new owners to bear in mind the financial implications of owning a dog, such as vaccinations, flea and worm treatments and veterinary expenses such as nail cutting and teeth cleaning, which mount up over a period. The cost of boarding kennels while away on holidays should also be considered. Of course, the costs associated with ownership and care of a dog often pale into insignificance when set beside the immeasurable benefit, joy and even health gains to be had from the companionship of a dog.
The working group recommended that all dogs kept in breeding establishments, including their offspring, be electronically microchipped to ensure traceability and assist in the enforcement of the registration system. As such, it is a requirement of the proposed legislation that each dog in a dog breeding establishment be microchipped. This provision only builds on existing practice, whereby any dog that is registered with a dog breeders' association or a breed association is generally microchipped for the purpose of registration and verifying bloodlines. There are a number of companies that provide microchipping services at present. The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and implanted under the skin of a dog around the neck. The microchip can be read by scanners held at veterinary offices or by dog control staff and assist in reuniting a dog with its owners.
It was further recommended by the group that every dog owner and every dog breeder has a duty of care in respect of animals kept by them and that this should be enshrined in all animal welfare legislation. As I stated previously, my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is preparing an animal welfare Bill. I am informed that the Bill will contain a duty of care provision. I therefore do not wish to pre-empt any such general provision in that Bill.
The group concluded that the new dog breeding registration system should be introduced on a phased basis using an improvement notice model to avoid the creation of a surplus of dogs caused by the closure of substandard dog breeding establishments. This lead-in time will allow dog breeding establishments to meet the necessary standards and avoid the problem of having to dispose of a number of unwanted dogs. Any premises, where inspectors encounter serious animal welfare issues or have no reasonable prospect of meeting the registration standards should, however, be closed immediately.
It is my intention to provide for as smooth a transition as possible. The Bill provides that a period of up to three months will be provided from the commencement of the Act for dog breeding establishments to be registered. It shall be lawful for an existing dog breeding establishment to continue to operate for this period. This will enable a smooth transition to full registration and will ensure against a significant number of dogs being disposed of by establishments which may choose to cease operating.
The reassurance provided by the Hunting Association of Ireland and other interests in their representations to me, leads me to believe that most dog breeding establishments already operate to high-quality voluntary guidelines and standards. It should not, therefore, be a major concern for well-run dog breeding establishments to meet any new mandatory guidelines.
In line with best practice in any regulatory regime, there is an appropriate scale of regulatory actions which can be taken to gain compliance. In this Bill, I envisage liaison between the local authority and the dog breeding establishment. If agreement is not reached between the local authority and the establishment, the local authority, under section 18, will be empowered to issue an improvement notice. The notice will state the specific measures to be taken within a specified timeframe. This is in line with the recommendations of the working group.
The working group also stressed that the provisions of the Bill be meaningful, relevant and implementable. As a logical next step to the improvement notice, the Bill provides authority to a local authority to close a premises where standards present a significant health risk. It is envisaged that such a closure notice under section 19 of the Bill would only be used where there was a significant and immediate threat to public health. Such a provision will provide reassurance to the public that quick action can be taken in response to any threat to public health from dog breeding establishments.
Other provisions are included in the draft Bill to ensure the correct and appropriate functioning of the regulatory regime for dog breeding establishments. It is important that provision is made for an appeals mechanism where conditions to a registration are imposed. Each successful applicant will receive a registration certificate after submitting the appropriate fee and completing an application form. The Bill provides that where the local authority proposes to impose conditions on the issue of a registration certificate, it shall notify the applicant of said conditions and consider the applicant's response. Furthermore, the applicant will be able to appeal the decision of the local authority to the relevant District Court.
It is important that the Bill allows me, as Minister, to set down mandatory criteria relating to minimum standards of dog breeding establishments by way of regulation. In order for successful implementation and acceptance of the proposed regulations, full consultation with interested parties is essential. The strong views of interested parties in this area are evidenced by the large number of individual submissions received by my Department at the consultation phase on the working group report. I wish to assure the Seanad that I will only sign the proposed regulations into law after full consultation with all interested parties.
A provision is necessary to require owners of establishments to co-operate, within reason, with dog wardens. There is general need for such a provision and it is particularly important in cases where an establishment operates from the private home of the owner. The draft Bill makes provision, in circumstances where consent of the occupier to enter a dwelling is not forthcoming, for the authorised person to apply to the District Court for a warrant to enter.
The definition of authorised person has also been broadened in the draft Bill to allow others to assist the dog wardens in their duties. For example, a dog warden may require to be accompanied by other officials from the local authority, members of the Garda Síochána, or veterinary experts in carrying out duties.
The current dog licence fee of €12.70 for a single licence and €254 for a general dog licence was set down in the Control of Dogs (Amendment) Act 1992 and activated in February 1999 under the Control of Dogs (Commencement) Regulations 1998. Licences are generally issued through An Post, which has increased its administrative charge to €3.50 per licence, with the remaining €9.20 accruing to the local authority. The income from licences is required by local authorities to offset the costs of the provision and maintenance of their dog control services. In most cases the local authority subsidises the service, in some instances to a significant degree, and this is not sustainable. It is considered that a dog licence fee of €20 would not place an undue burden on dog owners when set against the other costs of responsible dog ownership, such as veterinary costs and food. The €20 fee only reflects the rise over the years of the consumer price index to September 2009, notwithstanding the recent falls in the CPI.
I will briefly run through the main provisions of the Bill. Sections 1 to 5, inclusive, of Part 1 contain the usual provisions of a general nature dealing with such matters as Short Title, collective citations and commencement, definitions, regulations, expenses of the Minister, and service of documents. The key definition is that a dog breeding establishment will be a premises at which are kept not less than six bitches, each of which is more than four months old and capable of being used for breeding purposes. This definition reflects that recommended in the working group report.
Section 6 provides for fines not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment up to six months on summary conviction for certain offences, including providing false information, non-display of registration certificate or obstruction of authorised personnel. The same penalties can be applied on summary conviction for forgery and contravening a closure order for a dog breeding establishment. Increased penalties can be applied on indictment. Fines shall be paid to the relevant local authority.
Section 7 provides that a fixed notice fine can be issued for non-display of a registration certificate for up to €2,000, which will fall due within 21 days. Moneys so raised will be payable to the relevant local authority.
Part 2 contains sections 8 to 21, inclusive, which deal with the regulation of dog breeding establishments. Section 8 instructs local authorities to have a register of dog breeding establishments and requires operators of such establishments to register in the manner required and to pay an annual fee. Section 8(3) provides that existing dog breeding establishments can continue to operate for three months after the commencement of the Act. Under Section 8(6), a local authority shall not register a premises if the application is not in order, the applicant is in breach of the Act or if the local authority is of the opinion that the premises is not suitable for the operation of a dog breeding establishment. Each premises which receives a registration certificate must have that certificate prominently displayed, under section 8(12). Under section 8(18), hunt clubs, commercial boarding kennels and charitable dog operations such as mountain rescue, will be exempt from paying fees, but must register and be subject to possible inspection. Commercial boarding kennels will also be exempt from paying registration fees.
Section 9 provides 14 days for applicants to make representation against a local authority's intention to refuse registration. This section also provides that a local authority will notify each applicant whether it is to be registered or not. Section 10 sets out the circumstances whereby an applicant may appeal the decision of the local authority to the relevant District Court against a refusal to register the dog breeding establishment or conditions that the local authority has set for registration. In the case of a refusal, the District Court can order that the establishment be registered, set conditions for registration or affirm the refusal.
Section 11 provides for removal of dog breeding establishments from the register by order of the District Court and conditions which the District Court may impose. Reasons for removing an establishment from the register include where the operator has been convicted of cruelty to animals, has been convicted of an offence under this Act or the Control of Dogs Act 1986, or has breached an improvement order or a court order. A person who contravenes an order under this section shall be guilty of an offence.
Section 12 sets out the appropriate fees for a dog breeding establishment and provides that the Minister may, by regulation, vary these charges in line with the consumer price index. Section 13 sets the registration charges as an annual charge payable to the relevant local authority and provides that certain types of dog breeding establishments shall not have registration charges applied, including hunt clubs, charitable organisations and commercial boarding kennels.
Section 14 describes, in general terms, the duties of operators in respect of the conditions in dog breeding establishments. Records must be kept and be available for inspection. Section 14(5) provides for the Minister to invite representations on draft guidelines, consider representations received and publish guidelines for dog breeding establishments.
Section 15 provides for all dogs in a dog breeding establishment to be micro-chipped for updating of the database, and for the micro-chipping to be carried out by an authorised implanter. Section 16 allows a local authority to appoint certain persons, including veterinary practitioners and those connected with animal welfare, to act as authorised persons to assist the local authorities in their duties under the Act. Section 17 enumerates the powers of authorised persons, including the power to enter and inspect any premises, other than a dwelling, suspected of being a dog breeding establishment. The authorised person can inspect and take copies of records kept on the premises and can require the owner, operator or those employed in the establishment to answer relevant questions. Section 17(2) provides that an authorised person may be accompanied by other authorised persons or the Garda. It will be an offence to obstruct or refuse to comply with the authorised persons under section 17. An authorised person cannot enter a dwelling without the consent of the occupier, or failing consent, without a warrant issued by the District Court.
Section 18 provides for the local authority to serve an improvement notice on the establishment if it is believed to be in breach of the Act or there is a threat to public health or animal welfare. The improvement notice will contain details of specific measures which are required to be taken within a specified timeframe and will inform the operator of the option to appeal to the District Court. Section 18(4) provides that notice may be appealed to the District Court.
Section 19 provides for a local authority to issue a closure notice requiring a dog breeding establishment to cease breeding or keeping dogs at the establishment on the basis of stated grounds. Provision is made for appeal to the District Court which shall affirm the notice, revoke it or give direction to the establishment. It will be an offence to contravene a closure notice. Section 20 makes it an offence to operate an unregistered dog breeding establishment except in specified circumstances where there is an application submitted or where it is subject to appeal.
Section 21 makes it an offence to forge registration material or knowingly provide forged documentation or alter registration material with intent to defraud or deceive.
Part 3 contains a number of amendments to the Control of Dogs Act 1986. Section 22 provides for the addition of a new form of dog licence to cover the lifetime of a dog by varying the duration of the dog licence. Section 23 sets out the new licence fees at €20 for an individual dog licence, €400 for a general dog licence for numerous dogs and €140 for a licence for the lifetime of a dog. This section also allows the Minister to vary fees payable in line with the consumer price index. Section 24 provides for the establishment and maintenance of a database or databases and the information to be held therein.
The provisions of the Bill in respect of dog breeding establishments will be cost neutral to the Exchequer. The provisions for increasing the dog licence fees will only reduce the current loss that local authorities incur in providing a dog control service. The new charges for licence fees would raise an estimated €4.3 million compared with the €2.8 million raised in 2008. However, the cost of the service in 2008 was €5.7 million
I look forward to engaging on these provisions and on Government and Opposition amendments on Committee Stage. I am sure these will be constructive and helpful. I commend this Bill to the House.
I thank the Minister for enlightening us on the main provisions of the Bill and why he is bringing it before the House. Fine Gael welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this Bill. Fine Gael is supportive of this Bill in principle and recognises the great need to improve and regulate dog breeding establishments and the management of dog breeding in this country. We have all seen disgusting images of illegal puppy farming and the appalling environment these pups are raised in. Some people have been convicted over recent years. I am sure the Minister agrees these instances are in the minority and that the majority of people involved in dog breeding in this country are very responsible. Whether for commercial gain or otherwise, the reason they are breeding dogs means it is incumbent on them to care properly for dogs in the first instance. Notwithstanding that, Fine Gael agrees that proper standards are needed in this area. This Bill goes a long way to addressing the concerns that are raised. However, Fine Gael has some concerns about certain elements of the Bill and will table amendments on Committee and Report Stages to address these concerns. I hope the Minister will listen with an open ear and take our concerns on board.
When we talk about regulation I can easily throw in a quip. If regulation was working, why did it not work with the banking sector? We can see how the economy has been destroyed because regulation did not work. I understand the Minister has principles in regard to this area and he has good intentions that the regulations will work. Regulations should be used to improve standards, not as a tax gathering exercise. I hope that is not the intention. Regulations should not be used to put responsible people out of business. We must have regulation but we must have reasonable systems in place. The Minister referred to systems of appeal and systems of improvement to give people a reasonable opportunity to improve their circumstances. Regulation should not be used for the wrong reasons.
The Minister referred to broad consultation on this Bill taking place. I understand a working group was established in 2005 which subsequently made recommendations to the Department. Many of these recommendations are included in the Bill. However, many of the stakeholders in the industry of dog rearing, dog breeding and dog use have concerns. They feel they have been excluded from much of the consultation. It is important that this is on the record at an early stage of the debate on the Bill.
The Minister referred to the hunting associations. This Bill concerns dog breeding establishments and it can be argued legitimately that those involved in field sports or the utilisation of dogs for sporting activities, whether foot harriers or hunting associations, are not breeding establishments, yet they are classified as such under this legislation. There is a clear demarcation that should be understood by everyone. That should be on the public record at the outset.
Of course, and I argue that anyone involved with working dogs or hunting dogs looks after animal welfare better than most people understand. The Minister needs to understand this point. The dogs are in their prime and are reared, primed, fed and cared for better than most family pets in many instances.
The problem I have is that the Minister said he consulted widely on this Bill. From the information available to this side of the House, it does not seem to be the case. The Minister formed a working group representing many organisations, but many organisations were missing from the group. They would have been interested in consulting at an early stage and giving their view. The Minister referred to not signing the Bill into law until he has consulted. Why did the Minister not consult these agencies and people before drafting the Bill?
The Minister did not. That is incorrect. The Minister did not consult many organisations and some were told the Bill would not apply to them and that there was no need for consultation. Subsequently, for some reason, whether the Minister was influenced by voluntary organisations or otherwise, he changed his view and shifted the goalposts. The working group had made its recommendations by then. I hear the Minister is proposing to meet these groups next Friday when the Bill is going through the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister can clarify or confirm this in his own time. To say that the Minister has widely consulted with stakeholders is incorrect. He has consulted them but he has done so in a biased fashion. That is not the way good legislation should be framed or adopted. If the Minister requires support across all sectors, he should hold early consultation and get buy-in from all stakeholders so that they will have trust in the system imposed and he will have a good working system.. If the Minister introduces distrust and cynicism, obviously this will create barriers before he starts and that is not a good road to go down. I say this to inform the debate because this is how we should proceed with legislation.
I have a copy of a letter from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on 15 February 2008. The Minister says that given the primary objectives of the proposed regulations are to regulate commercial dog breeding and in view of the strict standards that apply to the Hunting Association of Ireland, it is his intention that groups affiliated to the Hunting Association of Ireland be granted an exemption from the requirements of the regulations. The Minister says they are exempt in his letter but in the Bill they are exempt from the registration fee but not from the requirements of the regulation. Something does not fit. The Minister said one thing in February 2008 but he is saying something different now. There are mixed messages and for good law we need clarity. I hope the Minister will clarify this matter for the House and for the people. It seems to be at odds with the content of the legislation.
Many organisations, such as hunting associations, already have strict policing guidelines. The Minister acknowledged this in his speech. They have management systems that work quite well. We need to work with these organisations to get buy-in for new systems we hope to introduce. We should not introduce so much legislation and regulation that we drive puppy breeding underground because then we would be left with a more ridiculous system whereby those who can afford it would be regulated, with properly run systems, but there would also be an underground system. We must be careful to ensure this is not allowed to expand in any way. Departmental officials should take this into account. It is all about trying to strike a balance so that all stakeholders can work with, support and fully understand the system. It should not be too restrictive and should not put people underground or out of business.
This area is very important in respect of rural enterprise. There is a business but I am not saying it should be at the expense of animal welfare. Dogs should be treated properly and humanely and that is the intention of the Bill. I am highlighting concerns that need to be addressed although the Minister may think I am being negative. I am not; I am trying to help the Minister understand the impact this Bill will have on stakeholders.
I have spoken at length on the regulation and registration side of this Bill. It is important to keep a proper database and proper information for those in authority. Fine Gael has some concerns and wants clarity on some parts of the Bill.
I refer to section 16, which permits a local authority to appoint certain persons, including veterinary practitioners and persons connected with animal welfare, to act as authorised persons in assisting it in its duties under the Bill. That definition needs clarification. I do not have a problem with veterinary or Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food inspectors but this definition could allow anyone with a connection to animal welfare to enter an establishment. I ask Fianna Fáil Members to seek clarity on the provision.
I do not object to the increase in the dog licence fee, which has not kept pace with the cost to local authorities of providing dog control systems. The dividend to An Post has increased substantially from €1.52 to €3.50. I do not know if such a large slice of the licence fee was negotiated with local authorities, which are now obliged to operate their systems with less money. Dog licences can be purchased at any post office and from certain local authorities. It is important that they are easily purchased. Perhaps the Minister would consider an on-line registration system for licences to facilitate people in purchasing them. It is obvious that thousands of dogs in this country are unlicensed. I hope the Bill goes some way towards addressing that deficit.
Local authority dog services are struggling to cope with a shortage of resources. Standards in dog pounds and services across the country are inconsistent. I hope the increased income from dog licences provides the resources to develop adequate facilities and proper animal welfare systems. If local authorities lack the facilities to house abandoned and neglected dogs, who else will care for them?
The dog control statistics for 2008 revealed that 34 local authorities employed 44 full-time and 26.5 part-time dog wardens to enforce dog control legislation. It is clear that the service is not overstaffed by any means and the majority of local authorities can only employ one warden to run a skeleton or emergency service. This Bill will increase wardens' workload but the Minister intends to ensure the new provisions are cost neutral by means of raising sufficient funds through registration and licences. It will be interesting to see the impact on local authorities, which are already stretched to the limit by the embargo on recruitment.
Fine Gael will be tabling amendments and if the Bill is to garner wide support it will be important that the Minister takes our advice. It is disappointing that people felt excluded from the initial consultations. I understand he has offered to meet several organisations next Friday but I do not know what such a meeting will achieve. It would have been preferable to enter into consultations at a much earlier stage. I referred earlier to the letter in which he referred to kennels and dog breeding establishments. The goalposts have moved.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I welcome this Bill, which is long overdue, although I also have a number of concerns about it. I support the increase in licence fees as long as they will be used by local authorities to improve the welfare of dogs.
I have read several horrific reports about puppy farms in this country and across the water. Dogs were kept in unspeakable conditions and subjected to absolute cruelty. I do not know how a human being could treat dogs in such a manner. It is sadism at its worst.
Dogs contribute greatly to a broad section of the community, not least as valued companions to the elderly, the handicapped, the blind and the isolated. They provide security by alerting their owners to intruders in the dead of night. I am proud to own two dogs, for which I purchased licences yesterday. I consider the fee of €12.40 to be minuscule. If we are to provide a proper dog welfare service, local authorities will need more money than that.
I am pleased that members of the ISPCA and dog wardens will have the back-up of local authority officers and the Garda. A member of my family who is involved with the ISPCA was threatened by certain people. Senator Coffey referred to powers of entry. I agree that privacy must be maintained but we must also consider animal welfare. The legislation must ensure those who are charged with the welfare of dogs can gain entry to premises when necessary. In the normal course of events privacy would have to be maintained.
Senator Coffey referred to the Hunting Association of Ireland. In a communication to my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated that this association would be exempt under the requirements of the regulations. I hope this will be the case. The association runs a fine show and if it were otherwise, I would say so and would not apologise to anyone for so doing.
I refer to the Irish Coursing Club. I come from Killucan, a famous area for greyhound owners and breeders and coursing. Was there consultation with the club and the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation? From what I know of them, these associations run a very tight ship and their views would be valuable. I refer to a letter from the Irish Coursing Club which reads:
The ICC operates a register of all matings, litters born, adult greyhound names and transfer of ownerships.
4. All Stud Dogs and Brood Bitches are DNA profiled.
5. All greyhounds are tattooed earmarked for identification purposes.
6. All litters are inspected and tattoo marked by Control Stewards jointly appointed by the ICC & IGB.
I acknowledge the sincerity of the Minister and Members and welcome the comments of Senator Coffey that Fine Gael is broadly supportive of this very important Bill. However, we must be cognisant of all its terms. I am confident that the Minister will be open to reasoned argument pertaining to amendments and, if required, that he will bring forward Government amendments but I do not wish to pre-empt what he will do in this regard.
I acknowledge this country has been known as the puppy capital of Europe. Many of us will be aware that at least 1,000 puppies a week are exported from the Republic and that the North has proved to be a very lucrative entry point into the United Kingdom for traffickers from the Republic. This is not something of which we should be proud.
The legislation proposes that all dog breeding establishments be required to register with the relevant local authority, pay a registration fee and meet a minimum set of veterinary, welfare and other standards. A dog breeding establishment is defined in the Bill which provides that existing establishments can continue to operate for three months after the commencement of the Bill. The significant rise in the number of puppy farms in Ireland highlights just how lucrative a business it has become. In order for this legislation to be taken seriously, the fines must be imposed and collected, otherwise we will not do justice to the dogs who are dumb animals and cannot speak for themselves. As a result of submissions made to the Minister by the Hunting Association of Ireland and in recognition of the not for profit basis of its activities, an exemption has been granted in respect of the payment of its registration fees, as referred to by both Senator Coffey and me.
I welcome the increase in the cost of individual dog licences. I am astounded to hear that hard strapped local authorities incur costs of €5.7 million in the collection of dog licence fees but that they only receive a total of €2.8 million. Many local authorities, including Westmeath County Council and Athlone Town Council, could badly do with a portion of the shortfall moneys. This is not acceptable and I glad the matter has been addressed in the Bill. The increase in the licence fee will certainly help offset the cost to local authorities in providing dog control services and ensure puppy farmers will abide by the legislation.
It is welcome that the Bill has been introduced following significant consultations with interested parties. I urge that any interested party who has been overlooked be consulted prior to Committee Stage. Once the Bill has been passed into law, regulations will be introduced setting out the detailed criteria to be met by these establishments. Once again, the regulations will be subject to consultation with the various interest groups involved. I urge the Minister to consider recommendations made by any other interested individual or group. The Bill will complement the animal health and welfare Bill being prepared by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith.
I ask for the indulgence of the House to digress from the subject of the Bill to refer to the welfare of horses. The recession has led to an increase in the incidence of dumping of animals, particularly horses. According to officers of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, they are now picking up as many horses as dogs. Yesterday it was reported in the media that the ISPCA had been flooded with calls about abandoned and unwanted horses. The recession and the recent bad weather conditions have led to an unprecedented number of cases of abandonment. The number of calls relating to horses rose from a figure of 9% to 52% at the end of 2009. This is not a very pleasant statistic. The ISPCA equine rescue centre in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath is almost at capacity, with the problem sky-rocketing in recent months. We are facing a crisis of abandoned, starving and neglected animals, including horses, dogs and cats. When children ask for a dog or cat from Santa Claus at Christmastime, it should be borne in mind by the parents that they and the child must be in a position to appreciate their responsibility to look after a pet. If one cannot look after a dog, cat, horse or pony, one should not acquire it. It seems many animal lovers simply cannot afford to buy expensive feed for their animals.
The Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009 is important legislation that will improve inspection, accountability and traceability in dog breeding. It is an important first step in bringing our laws on animal welfare into line with international standards. This is long awaited legislation but it is never too late to do the right thing. I am glad it has been welcomed by animal welfare groups and Members on the other side of the House. It is hoped it will put an end to the activities of backstreet dog breeders and will instead benefit commercial breeders who do a good job, treat their animals humanely and must be supported. This legislation must be considered as supporting those who take seriously the job of keeping, breeding and rearing animals.
The Bill provides the necessary powers for the relevant authorities - I am glad this means the local authorities - and agencies to take action allowing for entry and inspection of dog breeding establishments. Some years ago I spoke to a dog warden who had been threatened when he went to carry out his duties on behalf of the ISPCA. This is the type of entity with which one is dealing. The gloves will have to come off in dealing with them. The legislation is about the welfare of dogs. We are not concerned about the bulging purses of the backstreet breeders. We must remember that we are talking about a consumer-driven industry. We have seen increased demand for designer dogs in recent years. Given the constant reports in newspapers of animal neglect, we can no longer claim ignorance of inhumane puppy farms. The legislation will ensure each breeding establishment prominently displays its registration certificate. It is up to us as consumers to ensure we buy from a reputable, registered dog breeder. It is the very same as buying something off the side of the road that has had the registration number removed. One is supporting thieves when one buys dogs from illicit dog breeders in the back streets of our cities, towns and villages. 5 o'clock
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Gormley, to the House. I compliment him on bringing forward the Bill. Before he gets overly enthusiastic, I should say I have certain reservations about it.
It is important that the Minister introduces legislation in this area. I hope he will listen to the arguments made. Some aspects of the matter addressed by the Bill, and related areas, are quite controversial. There is consensus in the house on puppy farms. How horrible a concept it is and how sickening it is to see what we saw on the television. However, there are also other forms of animal cruelty. It is worthwhile recognising that even the best willed intention on the implementation of the legislation would not get over the difficulty the BBC had when it refused to broadcast Crufts for the simple reason that it believed that the breeding of dogs for show purposes can be as bad for the breed as anything else. We have seen that certain breeds of dog such as King Charles spaniels suffer from weak hearts due to generations of in-breeding as lap-dogs that are not allowed to exercise. One can do the same with almost every single breed of dog. I do not expect the Minister to introduce legislation to deal with that issue.
However, I make the case because there are issues we need to discuss. The Minister might take exception to it, but it bothers me in terms of this issue that there is a dismantling of the culture of rural Ireland in the context of hunting and other areas. That is unacceptable-----
There is something wrong when the leafy suburbs of the city begin to write and implement the laws for the meadows, mountains and stony soil of rural Ireland.
I have put this to the Minister previously. I welcome the fact that he has involved the local authorities but he should operate according to the philosophy of the Green Party, namely, to devolve authority down as far as possible. Hunting and aspects of this legislation should be decided upon by local authorities. It is not the business of Government to make such decisions. Stag hunting or other types of hunting should be dealt with by the appropriate local authority. Let the people decide. We should do this within the drafting of general policy. In a sense we are turning out the lights in rural Ireland.
The Minister should let me give an example. I have nothing to do with hunting but I have lived in a hunting area for the past 35 years. I do not hunt myself. The Minister has heard me say this previously. In those 35 years of watching stag hunting or being aware of it happening in the vicinity, whatever number of hunts per year multiplied by 35 or 36 years, only two stags were ever put down. One was hit by a car and the other ran into a farmer's yard and he shot him. I do not think those elderly men on broad-backed horses ever get close enough to a stag to cause him any difficulty whatever. I do not agree with the concept of stress on the stag. I do not believe it is an issue of such importance to divide society.
As the Minister was present I felt I should make the point. It is the classic example of getting my reaction in first because I believe the Minister is working on something else behind the scenes.
There is no question of the licence fee paying for the cost of what is proposed. One can work it out. I did the sums a while ago. I worked it out according to the minimum wage and how many people one could employ in a local authority. The dog breeders' associations recommendation of 2004 or 2005 was that each establishment would have to present or produce certain clearances signed by a vet, which would be sent to the Department. From the way the legislation is drafted, it seems that one could not give this additional function to dog wardens, that one has to appoint specific people. That is nonsense because one will not be able to pay them.
If the Minister wants to diminish the importance of the legislation, this Bill follows in a great line of previous legislation. I was present approximately 20 years ago when the dog muzzling legislation was introduced by Pádraig Flynn. I was present approximately 15 years ago, as was my colleague, Senator Norris, when the then Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, introduced the wandering horses legislation. Those Bills were never implemented. Some parts of this Bill will not be implemented either if we do not get it right.
I say with some certainty that there is no justification for not excluding the hunts and the hunt kennels from the provisions of the Bill. It is beyond contradiction that regardless of people's views about hunting or shooting, there would not be a pheasant in north Dublin or east Meath without the game associations. They look after their dogs themselves. I have no doubt whatever about that. In fairness, the Minister should consider that they would follow the rules of the hunt association.
I detect an error in section 15 re the microchip. "The operator of a dog breeding establishment shall cause a microchip to be implanted in each dog kept at that establishment." This is a Bill, which is mainly aimed at bitches. I do not know what is meant by "dog" in this situation but I suspect it is a flaw in the Bill. If the Minister intends bitches then he should specify that. That is obviously what is intended. It could lead to the Bill being ridiculed.
In section 2 where the Minister has a definition of a dog breeding establishment as "a premises at which bitches are kept, not less than 6 of which ... but shall not include a local authority dog pound", he should include "or a hunt club". A hunt club is then defined in the very next section. It is just a matter of making that small change. We need to do that.
The best way to ensure the legislation will work is to get the people working in the area involved. There is a view that people who hunt are cruel to animals. In fact, they love their animals. I know that is a contradiction to people who live in the city and do not understand it-----
I guarantee that this would be a support for the Bill. I would like to get rural Ireland behind this legislation. That is why I wandered off the main theme. Some day we will return again to the horses and other issues. Let us make the legislation work. Let us protect dogs from the horrors and cruelty of puppy farms. To do that, let us get all of rural Ireland, namely, hunt groups, game associations and others behind it.
What are they afraid of? What is their problem? I do not understand it. I agree with Senator O'Toole that they look after their dogs. They look after their dogs well; therefore, what are they worrying about? They should be subject to every regulation, like everybody else. If the DSPCA is subject to inspection and brought within the terms of this legislation, what is so bloody special about the hunts? The days of the landed aristocracy are gone.
Since the Senator brought up the issue of hunting and all the rest, I accept that it is a wonderful pageant. My mother adored the hunt. My uncle retired to Rutland, principally because he was surrounded by the Quorn, the Pytchley, the Belvoir and the Cottesmore. I have seen it and listened to talk of the bell-mouthed hounds. I can understand there is an argument in terms of fox hunting, perhaps, that a cull in the natural way is more decent than gassing or shooting them, that it is a tradition and so on and so forth.
However, I know of no animal that stands by and takes pleasure in the destruction of another animal. That is a pleasure reserved for human beings. I never understood this. I heard a Member on the Government side attempt to defend the obscenity of coursing, which is indefensible. To see a small, poor frightened animal torn to flitters by the fangs of a dog-----
I rarely agree with theologians of the Roman Catholic Church. However, I was a great friend of the late Tony Gregory. To his eternal credit, he introduced a Bill on hare coursing which the Government was too gutless to accept. I fed him a quotation from St. Thomas More which read:
Thou shouldst rather be moved with pity to see a silly innocent hare murdered of a dog, the weak of the stronger, the fearful of the fierce, the innocent of the cruel and unmerciful. Therefore, all this exercise of hunting is a thing unworthy to be used of free men.
With regard to the Bill, I support the Minister. I can understand there may be some confusion and have asked the Minister to explain why he appeared to give certain undertakings and then changed his mind. It is a prerogative of anybody to change his or her mind. Perhaps it means he or she is acting on superior information.
That is a relevant question to be asked. I see no difficulty with the fees for the dog breeding establishments.
This country is known as the puppy farm capital of Europe, of which we should be utterly ashamed. The conditions in which the unfortunate animals are kept are appalling. We also have dog fights taking place all over the country.
I was lobbied hard on the Bill. Given my constituency, I am, as I speak, shedding votes all over the place, but I do not give a damn. I will say what I think and what I believe is the truth. Greyhound establishments claim to be another special interest and are whinging. We all know that greyhounds are badly treated and that very often, when they finish their racing lives, they are disposed of in the most callous and disgusting way. Therefore, I very much welcome the legislation which is reasonable. It does not deal with hunting, another day's work, in which regard we will have something to say.
The Minister stated: "The limit of not fewer than six bitches will exclude the vast majority of cases where people rear dogs as pets." First, what kind of eccentric would want six bitches in a house? Second, when they have more than this, they usually mistreat the dogs and often use them for breeding purposes. I assume the word "dog", rather than "bitch", is being used as a generic term and that it indicates the species, not the particular animal. Some who are unused to the ways of the countryside, as Senator O'Toole claims to be, might find the word "bitch" offensive - I do not know.
I want to ask about one issue. The Bill is vague. The real meat will be in the regulations which is where issues will really be cured. I want to know whether the Minister will implement in the regulations the excellent recommendations of the DSPCA which deal with the provision of accommodation for dogs, the provision of sufficient space for dogs to stand, the location and construction of kennels and the partition that can be used, the amount of space for dogs to turn around and sleep, the temperature at which they should be kept, noise levels, lighting, ventilation, security, hygiene, bedding, pest control, waste disposal, dog dirt, breeding and so on. An excellent series of recommendations have been made and I strongly hope they will be followed through on by the Minister.
On a final point, a lot of other legislation is needed. For example, we have no legislation dealing with exotic pets. When I raised this matter, I was laughed at. It is very unfair to allow people to keep animals which are completely unsuited to the climate of this country in an unregulated fashion. It is also dangerous, with wild animals such as snakes and spiders escaping. Could we consider legislation in this area also?
I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome the opportunity to engage in the Second Stage debate on the Bill. As Senator Glynn said, the legislation is very welcome because it is long overdue, as most of us would accept. Both of the Minister's immediate predecessors in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government had spoken about their intent to introduce legislation in this area. I give credit to the Minister, Deputy Gormley, because he is the one who has done something. He has acted and introduced the legislation.
Senator Coffey spoke to the Minister about what constituted good law. Good law is law that is not undermined by the creating of significant exemptions or exceptions. It is about applying the same standards to everybody and not allowing for self-regulation where it is not appropriate to do so. This legislation is informed by the principles of animal protection. It puts strong provisions in place to ensure dogs, in particular dogs bred in establishments, will be treated humanely. That is to be welcomed. Therefore, the Bill is very good law.
I am personally very happy to see the Bill introduced because in my constituency, as most people will be aware, there was a high profile case in June 2007 in which a puppy farm had been discovered in south Wicklow in which 76 dogs, many of them pups, had been kept in absolutely appalling conditions. Some 16 of the dogs had to be put down. The health problems found among the dogs rescued included flea and lice infestations, mange, cataracts, overgrown and diseased teeth, bone problems, ear infections, mites, mammary tumours, dietary problems and so on. The puppies had been housed in dreadful conditions with no access to food, water or light. The case was not an isolated one. I know of other incidents identified in recent years in counties Down and Carlow and elsewhere.
The breeding of dogs on the cheap is a grim and shameful industry. Obviously, the objective is to produce cheap, poor quality, pure bred dogs, mass produced by the hundred, usually in cages and kept in appalling conditions. One journalist referred to it as pet production, battery cage style, a very apt way to describe it. The intention is to sell on the dogs on pure bred designer puppies. In a business that is tax free these activities have made it an extremely lucrative industry that provides high profit margins for those involved in breeding dogs. It is estimated that pups are now being sold for approximately €400 and that up to 1,000 puppies a week are exported from the Republic. Unfortunately, most farmed puppies are sold over the counter in pet shops or through advertisements on websites or in newspapers, in which only the mobile number of the owner is given, with the result that the buyer never becomes aware of the appalling breeding conditions in which the puppy was produced.
There is a clear need for licensing and inspection measures to tackle cruelty on dog breeding farms, to bring proper policing measures to these establishments and to provide the necessary powers for the relevant authorities and agencies to ensure they can take action. This legislation is part of the process of bringing Irish animal health and welfare legislation into the 21st century. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, referred to other animal welfare legislation that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is in the process of preparing. Major strides forward in animal health and welfare protection will be made when that legislation is introduced.
The Bill gives a legislative basis for the regulation of dog breeding establishments. As others have said, many dog breeding establishments throughout the country operate in an extremely responsible way, which must be recognised and acknowledged. These establishments have nothing to fear from the implementation of this legislation. I acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, in drawing up legislation attempted to exempt certain organisations from any undue financial burden that might be presented to them, but this legislation is fair and provides an important legislative basis that will allow, as others have said, for subsequent regulations to be introduced in a number of key areas.
The legislation provides for an increase in the dog licence fee. This will go some way towards resourcing a system that is currently seriously under-resourced. It is proposed to increase the licence fee from €12.70 to €20. The Minister referred to the fact that An Post has increased its administrative fee to €3.50. This will leave only €9.20 per licence fee collected by local authorities to provide for the funding of the dog warden service. In 2008 the income derived from the dog licence fee for all local authorities was €2.6 million, while their combined expenditure on dog-related activities was €5.7 million, which left a shortfall of more than €3 million. Increasing the licence fee to €20 will increase to €4.1 million the income derived from the licence fee for local authorities, which will reduce the shortfall to only to €1.6 million, but there will still be a shortfall.
The legislation, to which the Minister did justice in his outline of it, introduces the need to register breeding establishments with the local authority. Existing dog breeding establishments will have three months from the commencement of the Act to register or otherwise they will be in breach of it. The legislation also requires minimum standards to be adhered to in such establishments. Within nine months of the commencement of the Act local authorities must arrange to carry out an inspection of registered establishments which, in the meantime, can continue to operate.
The legislation also requires the introduction of microchipping of all dogs, to which other speakers referred, commencing with those resident in dog breeding establishments. To enable the making of effective regulations in these areas, this legislation was required.
Some Members opposite referred to shortcomings in the consultation that occurred on the preparation of the legislation. I have no doubt the Minister's response will make clear the extent of such consultation. In drawing up the Bill and regulations, I am aware that the Minister's Department consulted the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the veterinary expertise available to local authorities through the City and County Managers' Association. The draft guidelines the Minister supports are based on advice from the Irish Society for Protection of Cruelty to Animals. Others consulted included the Hunting Association of Ireland and Animals Need a Voice in Legislation or the ANVIL group. In addition, the working group that was set up received numerous submissions as part of its responsibility to prepare recommendations on the management of dog breeding establishments for the Minister.
I recommend this legislation to the House. It is long overdue but good legislation. This Bill provides a sound legislative basis for the regulations that need to be introduced in key areas. I draw the Minister's attention to a submission I received from the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the past week or two comprising some last minute proposals it put forward to the final draft of the legislation. One proposal is a suggestion on the age at which dogs should be microchipped and another calls on the Minister to ensure that the guidelines on the operation of dog breeding establishments are put in place prior to or on the enactment of this Bill. The guidelines, to which the society referred, are on the duty of care to animals, including dogs and dog breeding establishments. I commend the passing of this legislation to the House.
I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome the introduction of this legislation. It represents a step forward in animal welfare in this country, but that is not to say I welcome all aspects of the legislation. I have some issues about some of its provisions, with which I will deal later. I serve notice that we may table some amendments to it on Committee Stage but, in general terms, we are very supportive of it. The Bill's primary purpose is to regulate dog breeding establishments. Councils will be required to maintain a register of dog breeding establishments and the operation of unregistered establishments will be outlawed.
We are all aware of and have heard from other Senators of appalling cases involving the breeding of dogs over the years. Hundreds of dogs are kept on some farms. Animal welfare groups and others are rightly concerned about outbreaks of diseases such as canine brucellosis. Recently, the chief executive of the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals commented on one farm and said it was one of Europe's largest mass breeding establishments. It is estimated there could be as many as 1,000 dogs on the farm. The operators of that farm refused to co-operate with a visit from the society and reluctantly confirmed the presence of canine brucellosis. This is what can happen when we have an unregulated puppy farm industry.
Ireland has become known as the puppy farm capital of Europe. It is estimated that up to 1,000 puppies a week are exported from these shores. Such breeding occurs in battery farming style. Some establishments can contain up to 300 breeding bitches, each having two or three litters a year, and they can charge in the order of €300 or €400 for each pup.
Thankfully, the Government acted and in 2004 set up a working group to review the management of the dog breeding establishments nationally. The then Minister appointed Mr. Finbar Heslin, a veterinary surgeon, as chairman of the working group, which comprised representatives from bodies such as the Veterinary Council of Ireland, the Irish Greyhound Board, the Garda Síochána, local authorities and the Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. We are all grateful for the time and effort these organisations put into the deliberations of the working group. We see the fruits of their labour in the form of the Bill.
The legislation will provide safeguards for dogs in breeding establishments and assurances to customers that pups and their mothers have been treated well in these establishments. Each local authority will be required to have a dog register for breeding establishments and will require the operators of them to register and pay an annual fee. Each premises will receive a registration certificate, which must be prominently displayed. Under the terms of the Bill, a local authority will be empowered to issue a closure notice to establishments and order them to cease breeding dogs if they are not fit places for breeding purposes. It will be a criminal offence to operate an unlicensed dog breeding establishment. As the Minister, Deputy Gormley, said recently, this will stop backstreet dog breeders and benefit those commercial bodies which do a good job and treat their animals humanely.
The operations manager of the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Ms Orla Aungier, said the regulation and licensing of dog breeding establishments would end the practice whereby Ireland has become the puppy breeding capital of Europe because of the current lack of regulation. She is excited about this Bill, but has pointed out that it is critical the necessary financial measures are put in place to ensure the Bill is enforced at local level. A key requirement is the ability of the local authority to enforce the measures. The Bill is meant to be self-financing, but I am not convinced that significant enforcement measures will be in place and will be used, based on my experience of the enforcement powers and procedures of local authorities.
On a related matter, many local authorities are failing to establish measures to prevent dog fouling in their localities and are not enforcing their powers with regard to owners who allow their dogs to foul public spaces, footpaths and so on. In County Meath our dogs are no better and no worse than anywhere else and the vast majority of owners are upstanding citizens, but there are a few who do not seem to care where their dogs foul. My experience has been that it can be difficult to persuade local officials to enforce the law and tackle the problem. They often fail to see it as a problem and sometimes the measures they take are inadequate or do not compare favourably with what is done in neighbouring jurisdictions. Official guidance from the Minister's Department on best practice for local authorities would be a positive step in this regard.
I welcome the fact this Bill is before the House. While speaking in general terms about the Bill it is useful to raise other issues regarding dogs, because we rarely get to talk about dogs in the House and it is a subject close to my heart. One issue is the noise made by dogs in housing estates. Many of us have received numerous complaints over the years about dogs barking throughout the day and night when their owners are away from home. Citizens are finding it difficult to persuade local councils to enforce regulations, and there are issues with regard to the confidentiality of complainants. It is not easy for the average Joe to make a complaint about dog noise in an estate. Again, I ask the Minister to consider issuing guidance to local authorities to ensure our citizens do not have to be subjected to ongoing and incessant noise from dogs because their owners are unable or unwilling to silence them.
I welcome the measures in this legislation with regard to the identification of stray dogs and dog traceability. I agree that the higher cost of acquiring a dog may force potential owners to consider the implications of owning a dog and perhaps think twice before getting one. Dog ownership is not something that should be taken on lightly. I recognise this may cause hardship to senior citizens who are surviving on a pension, so I ask the Minister to consider providing a waiver to senior citizens and those less well off people who want the benefit of a dog for company or security.
Finally, I ask the Minister for clarification of the impact of these regulations on hunting kennels. I have been contacted by various hunting groups about this. The Hunting Association of Ireland has publicly accused the Minister of doing a U-turn and reneging on his promise to make hunt clubs exempt from the legislation. I believe assurances were given in the past with regard to hunt kennels and I am asking the Minister whether he has changed his mind in this regard. Did he provide an assurance and is he now doing a U-turn? If so, can he tell us why it is so essential for hunt kennels to be included in this legislation? He should make the case for this.
We welcome the Bill in general terms, although we reserve the right to table amendments on Committee Stage.
I welcome the Minister of State and the Bill, which is long overdue. Senator Hannigan mentioned barking dogs in estates. We receive many complaints about this; I received one only last week. Barking can keep people awake all night. They wonder what they can do about it and who can they go to. Do they go to the Garda? I am glad to see there is provision in the Bill for this, but more clarity is required. I read this part of the Bill specifically because I had an interest in it. It states that complainants must speak to their neighbours and then write to them. However, I do not think it is always practical for people to speak to neighbours about whom they are making a complaint and, even if they do, some will tell them to get lost. It is not practical to write to them either and then go to court. That aspect of the Bill needs more clarity.
I know of several people who keep dogs in inadequate facilities. Some people have dogs in apartments or in houses that do not even have gardens but only small patios. A dog needs a run. Such conditions are not suitable for dogs and it is cruel to keep them there. As has been mentioned, people sometimes get presents of pups at Christmas, get fed up with them and abandon them. I have heard of cases in which people have driven 50 miles down the country, let the dog out of the car and driven off. For that reason I welcome the provisions with regard to microchipping in the Bill. It may help somewhat in curtailing that type of practice.
Senator Norris referred to dog fighting, which is a common practice, particularly in other parts of our island, with dogs imported from the UK. It is a blood sport and there is much money involved, with people betting on one of two dogs in a fight to the death, sometimes with both dogs eventually dying. This needs to be addressed by the Minister. I do not see such a provision in the Bill, although it could be there.
Another issue is that of guard dogs on building sites which are not properly looked after. They are half-starved and out in the open with no proper kennels. The issue of puppy farms has been adequately articulated by previous speakers and I am glad to see it has been dealt with in the Bill.
There are regulations in some local authorities which provide that dogs should be on leashes when on beaches and so on. However, this does not happen in all cases. I have never seen anybody fined or prosecuted for not adhering to such regulations, but there have been a couple of instances in my constituency in which children were attacked, including one who suffered from severe facial disfiguration.
Hunting is a dog-related issue because dogs are used for hunting. I do not see much wrong with certain types of hunting which have been traditional in this country. As Senator O'Toole said, we do not want to turn off the lights completely on rural Ireland. One could use any excuse for banning a sport. A stag running into a school playground is not a reason to ban hunting, just as car rallies should not be banned because somebody drives a car into a wall.
It has been reported that puppies and breeding bitches are being brought here from the UK and subjected to docking, which involves cutting off the dog's tail with a knife. This procedure has been illegal since 2007 and is quite cruel. Most of these dogs are docked for cosmetic reasons, such as for dog shows.
Last year about 550 dogs and cats were used for research. What happens to them after that research is completed has not been clearly established; some people in the DSPCA believe they die. Thus, dogs and cats are being bred to die. This should be addressed in the Bill.
I have received representations from various associations involved in the dog business, as Senator Coffey mentioned earlier. They feel they have not been adequately consulted and that the submissions they made were not taken into account. They felt that promises had been made to them by the Minister which were not delivered on and that the Minister had done a U-turn on some sections of the Bill, to which they have proposed amendments. While I welcome the Bill, I hope the Minister will find time to consult them adequately prior to Committee Stage because the Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association, the Dog Breeders Association of Ireland and the Irish Kennel Club have put a great deal of work into the submissions. I commend them on their work and the interest they took in the legislation.
I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I agree with most of the Bill's provisions. All Senators agree with large chunks of the legislation and everybody concurs on the need to regulate what are termed "puppy farms" throughout the country. I have been a Member for eight years and this was one the first topics raised on the Order of Business when I entered the House. Senator Cummins was the first politician I noticed raising the issue of puppy farming and bringing to the attention of the Government the need to introduce regulation in this area.
The primary purpose of the Bill is to deal with puppy farms and I will nail my colours to the mast. Anybody who abuses dogs and who treats them the way they have been on puppy farms that have been exposed deserves nothing other than the full rigour of the law. Such behaviour is nothing short of despicable. The Minister assured the House he would only sign the proposed regulation into law "after full consultation with all interested parties". It is remarkable that there was not "full consultation with all interested parties" before the Bill was introduced. Hound clubs, including beagle clubs, were not consulted and perhaps other hunting organisations were not consulted but they are interested in this legislation. The Minister stated section 16 "allows local authorities to appoint certain persons, including vets and those connected with animal welfare to act as authorised persons". Senator Coffey sought an explanation of that definition. What does "those connected with animal welfare" mean? Will the Minister address that when he replies?
Even though I am from the heart of rural Ireland, I have never fired a gun and I have never hunted, fished or followed hounds in pursuit of an animal but I would defend a person's right to do so. The Minister and the Government have been disingenuous regarding this legislation by speaking out of both ends of their mouths regarding commitments they gave, particularly to hunt clubs and hunting organisations. The former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, stated a number of years ago, "Hunt clubs were not part of the problem and, therefore, they wouldn't be part of the solution".
The current Minister in a letter to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in February 2008 explicitly stated it was the intention that "groups affiliated to the HAI be granted an exemption from the requirements of the legislation". I acknowledge he said in his opening contribution that they would be exempt from the fees that will be applied under the legislation but they will not be exempt from the requirements of the legislation. It is important to differentiate between puppy farms, on the one hand, and hunting clubs on the other. Such clubs are not commercial operations. Pups born in hunting kennels are bred to ensure the hunt pack is replaced naturally and survives into the future and they are not bred for the purpose of making money. There is no exchange of money between hunt clubs when they swap different animals for breeding purposes. The animals are not sold to the public.
Hunt clubs are voluntary groups and, under the British legislation governing dog breeding, such clubs in Scotland and Northern Ireland are exempt from its provisions. That is as it should be in this jurisdiction. If the Minister is to have credibility regarding any commitment or promise he gives in the future, he should honour his statement to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 15 February 2008 that hunt clubs would be exempt from the regulations imposed by this legislation.
It is interesting to consider what has happened in the meantime. My theory on why the Minister has reversed his position was highlighted on "The Last Word" radio programme before the negotiations on the revised programme for Government were concluded when an animal rights activist, who is a former Green Party member and councillor, stated his supporters who were members of the Green Party would support a revised programme for Government if certain provisions regarding animal welfare were included. The Minister has had his arm twisted by a group of vocal members in the Green Party. As somebody who is not involved in hunting, I share Senator O'Toole's view that the insidious drip drip effect being pursued by those who have no understanding of the way of life and traditions of rural Ireland means they want to destroy it. The legislation partly reflects that and that would be a retrograde step. I am disgusted that Fianna Fáil is prepared to stand over this because, like my own political party, it has roots in rural Ireland as well as urban Ireland and I expected its members to be prepared to stand up for the interests of those in rural Ireland.
It is amazing, as Senator Coffey mentioned, that there will be more regulations governing dog breeding by hunt clubs than banking institutions, which ran roughshod over the economy for the past number of years. That will be one of the unfortunate consequences of this legislation, if it is not amended.
I agree with much of the legislation and anybody who abuses animals, particularly dogs, should be treated harshly but hunt clubs, whose interest is in protecting dogs and ensuring they are healthy, should be exempt. These voluntary organisations are currently subject to rigorous inspection by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. They are part of rural life and they should not be undermined in any way.
I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome this important legislation, which will provide for a much better environment for dog breeding. I am a former member of Galway City Council and there is one dog warden in the city, which is not sufficient to deal with the large number dogs, including strays, in the city. Dogs are bred for fighting, to which another Member referred earlier. Dog fighting is illegal and unacceptable but, nevertheless, it happens. One dog warden, therefore, cannot deal with all dog-related activities in a city the size of Galway.
Sections 16 and 17 provide for authorised persons to become involved in the policing of dogs within a local authority area. It will allow for veterinarians and people involved in animal welfare - the Galway Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, in the case of Galway, and the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in the case of Dublin. That is a very welcome provision because it will allow local authorities to control the situation but not at any great cost to themselves. It will allow people who have great knowledge in the area concerned to get involved in the policing of dogs. That is a very important provision.
We have much very good legislation but local authorities in particular find it very difficult to enforce it. The idea that we would look outside the cost structure of the local authorities, in particular in these difficult times, and look for help from people who are only too willing to give it and give them the power and authority to work with local authorities to achieve a better outcome is very good. I commend the Minister in that regard.
Sections 18 and 19 allow for improvement and closure notices to be served on establishments, which is very good. The local authorities will register all the local dog breeding establishments within their areas. There is a methodology whereby they can first serve an improvement notice on an establishment and if that fails to deal with the issue of animal welfare or health and safety, a closure notice can be served. That is important.
I wish to address certain points raised by Senators O'Toole and John Paul Phelan because they seem to be connecting this Bill to Bills on hunting. In some strange way, Senator John Paul Phelan connected the Bill to NAMA. I am not quite sure how this Bill relates to NAMA. It is quite a stretch of the imagination. Puppy farming and NAMA require quite different legislation.
Indeed. A point being made loud and clear by Fine Gael concerns the exemption of hunt clubs. I echo the point Senator de Búrca made that it is not good to exempt groups. Why not exempt other dog breeding establishments? Many people are involved in animal welfare. It is quite clear that most establishments which breed dogs are perfectly good. Dogs are a man's best friend and are loved by many people in this country. Most dogs are bred with loving care and attention. I am sure many of the hunts breed their dogs in a good and proper way but why should people be afraid of this legislation applying to them?
If this legislation works for one group of people, it should work for all groups. Why exempt one group of people? What is the purpose of this? Obviously, there must be some ulterior motive. I am not sure why Fine Gael has this ulterior motive. I do not understand the purpose of exempting breeding premises. The purpose of this legislation is to ensure a good standard, good welfare and good inspections of breeding premises.
There is a suggestion that this will destroy the whole rural way of life for generations. The suggestion that this Bill, which is straightforward animal welfare legislation, will destroy a way of life or a rural culture is a gross exaggeration. I cannot understand from where this is coming. I do not see the logic in it other that there is some ulterior motive which is not being expressed here.
What would happen in practice if this amendment exempting a particular group was agreed to? There are bad breeding practices in this country and if one group of people is exempt, what is to stop somebody setting up a puppy farm but calling it a hunt?
By calling a puppy farm a hunt, one would be exempt. What is to stop people using that provision to get around the rules and the good practice set up by local authorities?
This Bill is about good practice and animal welfare. If people are afraid of that being applied to them, I suggest they have something to hide. It is in the interests of the hunts to comply with this legislation. That is the way forward. I commend the Bill and do not believe the proposed amendment is welcome.
I wish to state my absolute love of dogs. I welcome the broad thrust of this Bill given the horrific state some dogs who have been born in puppy farms have had to endure. I do not mean to take issue with Senator Ó Brolcháin but the confusion in regard to the Hunting Association of Ireland is that a commitment was given by the Minister and his predecessor, Deputy Dick Roche, that these breeding establishments would be exempt. I am familiar with the South Westmeath Hunt. There is no question but they are the kindest people to those dogs. The bottom line is that raising puppies for a hunt is not a commercial enterprise. The whole purpose is to replenish stocks in order to have enough dogs to commit to the hunt. They are happy, lively and healthy dogs. There is a huge difference between puppy farming and that commercial side.
I do not know why the word "fear" has come into this debate. There is red tape and bureaucracy involved and these are voluntary clubs rather than commercial entities. There should be regulation for puppy farms which charge €400 per puppy and which are breeding unhealthy animals in dreadful situations.
I understand the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Dogs Trust have had several meetings with the Minister. While I support the broad thrust of the Bill, I cannot understand why the i's were not dotted and the t's were not crossed. The Bill goes so far but why did it not go the whole way? Why did the Minister not listen?
The definitions of "a commercial boarding kennel" and "an animal shelter" need to be clearly described in order that there is no confusion in the Bill. There is also the issue of dog chipping. The legislation fails to state at what age a puppy needs to be chipped or whether the puppy should be chipped before leaving the commercial centre in which it is bred, which stands to reason in order that the puppy cannot be lost in transit. It is a crucial point. There is no point saying we must chip dogs because if we do not do so properly, it is nonsense.
I cannot understand why guidelines are not published before the Bill is instigated. That is the whole basis of the Bill. As Senator de Búrca rightly said, we have a duty of care to animals. Why were the recommendations and extensive consultations with these animal rights bodies not followed through to the nth degree?