Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the Minister of State in the absence of the Minister. When we debate animal welfare, and this is an animal welfare Bill, we hear about extremes and serious cases of neglect. None of us wants to see animals mistreated, whether by means of neglect or poor husbandry, irrespective of the type of animal.
We are all well aware that dogs and dog breeding have been an important business as far as this country is concerned. The greyhound industry has been a major source of income to people throughout the country and has been reasonably well run and controlled. The only fear I have occasionally about the greyhound industry is what becomes of the outcasts, namely, the dogs that do not manage to make it on the track. What is done with them when they are finished with? I am aware they are sometimes re-homed or humanely put to sleep but in that regard we are also aware that there are cowboys, so to speak, operating in dog breeding and they have caused some serious problems for welfare groups, local authorities and the general community.
We are all aware of cases where people involved in dog breeding have neglected dogs. There have been a number of cases where puppy farms were found to be in a seriously bad condition, with dogs not looked after or fed. That is something none of us wants to see happen. It is hoped this Bill will introduce controls but in doing so, will we create another bureaucracy to be run by local authorities? To what extent will the authorities have to fund it because I do not see it being self-financing in many areas? It is suggested it can be self-financing but I do not believe there is any hope of that. We all are aware local authorities are stretched to maintain other services. I am not saying there should not be controls in dog breeding but there must be a cost involved, and I wonder whether local authorities will be able to carry those costs. It is suggested there would be back-up staff, up to and including veterinary surgeons, to implement this measure. This is an area that might have been added on to the remit of the current county vets who would be in a position to deal with it because they are not overly stretched looking after abattoirs throughout the country to which they are assigned. There is no need to expand the number of personnel to run the service because it is a service that could be put under the control of those people. I suggest the Minister, when he is further instructing the local authorities, should instruct them to take that course of action rather than create another post with a salary of €80,000 or €100,000 a year that cannot pay for itself, so to speak.
Litter wardens do a good job throughout the country. When they are called out to deal with particular situations, they deal with them, but the various anti-cruelty groups are deserving of a great deal of praise when it comes to dealing with certain situations. There are also some individuals who have made enormous commitments to ensure dogs are re-homed if at all possible rather than being put down, which had been the practice in many dog pounds throughout the country where dogs were put down once the prescribed number of days had passed. That was not the proper approach. Re-homing is a more positive way to deal with that problem. There is a pound in Leitrim which does a tremendous job in re-homing dogs. Some dogs are re-homed in the United Kingdom. People make considerable contributions to those groups to ensure dogs are re-homed but none of them re-home dogs unless they are assured they will be well looked after for the rest of their lives.
Dog owners have a responsibility in this regard also. Every Christmas the anti-cruelty groups remind us not to give a puppy as a Christmas present that will be dropped at the side of the road the first week of January when it becomes a nuisance in the house or fouls the house and the mother decides she no longer wants to deal with the mess any longer and the puppy is dumped. People who take in a dog must be able to look after it properly. A puppy is probably not the best Christmas present to give a child, unless they are old enough to look after the animal properly.
Dog owners have a responsibility to keep and look after their animals and to pay their licence fees. They also have a serious obligation not to allow their dogs wander. We all know that wandering dogs can create havoc for farmers because they worry sheep, cattle and horses, sometimes causing severe financial loss for a farmer. In many of these cases, the dogs are neither tagged nor microchipped. The farmer may know who owns the dog but there is no way to prove it. It should be mandatory that every dog from a breeding establishment would be microchipped so that if it gets up to any mischief, it can be traced.
Some of the terms proposed for dealing with hunts are draconian and beyond what needs to be done. A basic approach should be taken and negotiated with the various hunting organisations to ensure a compromise acceptable to everybody. If one wants legislation to work, one must ensure it is workable and those affected by it do not suffer any serious consequential loss, financially or otherwise. Nothing creates a black market except a consequential financial loss to people. I appeal to the Minister to work with the hunting organisations and the greyhound breeders to reach an agreement on how the Bill should be implemented.
This is a much needed Bill in light of the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimate that up to 1,000 puppies a week are exported from Ireland to countries where there is much greater regulation. This Bill is also an appropriate occasion on which to ask the question of what we do with stray dogs. According to the Government's figures, more than 12,500 stray and abandoned dogs were euthanised in Ireland in 2007, the equivalent of 34 dogs every day. In Scotland, a country of similar size, only around 350 dogs were euthanised in the same period. The figures for Ireland included puppies and pedigree dogs, so obviously too many dogs are bred in this country. I hope this Bill will make people think twice before they breed dogs in search of a quick profit.
I must declare an interest. For many years I hunted with the Fingal Harriers and the Ward Union Hunt. In Britain, the ban on hunting shows the clear division between city and country. I would hate to see this happen in this country. Senator O'Toole suggested one way to solve this might be to hand over hunting regulation enforcement to local authorities. For example, Meath County Council could decide if it would allow hunting.
The Minister said he negotiated with the hunting associations regarding this legislation. I was approached by the Ward Union about its concerns with the Bill and it certainly does not believe it is getting a fair deal. Its representatives said to me the debate affords an opportunity for the Minister to keep faith with written commitments given by him and his predecessors to the hunting associations. I understand the commitments were that hunt kennels would be exempt from the terms of the Bill. However, as it stands drafted, scores of hunt club kennels would be caught within its strictures. Will the Minister explain to me if that is so?
The Bill has always been promoted, according to the hunt associations, as one to deal with the issue of commercial puppy farming. Since hunt clubs do not breed pups on a commercial basis but only to renew the number of hounds in their own pack, they believe they should be excluded from the Bill. The former Minister, Deputy Dick Roche, assured the associations they were not part of the problem and would therefore not be part of the solution. The Minister, Deputy John Gormley, wrote to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 15 February 2008 stating:
Given that the primary objective of the proposed regulations is to regulate commercial dog breeding, and in view of the strict standards which apply to the members of the Hunting Association of Ireland, it is my intention that groups affiliated to the HAI be granted an exemption from the requirements of the regulations.
The Minister has not given any reason he has executed such a major policy U-turn in defiance of an undertaking given by his predecessor and his own clear commitment in writing to a Cabinet colleague.
The Bill will allow inspectors to prosecute breeders who keep their animals in cruel and unhygienic conditions. The obvious question of enforcement arises. Will there be enough staff to oversee this increase in inspections? Several local authorities did not prosecute anyone for not having a dog licence last year. How will more enforcement of dog licences be pressed? It is an offence to have a dog over the age of four months without a licence. By lowering this limit, a person might be less inclined, where their dog has puppies, to get rid of them before they reach four months old to avoid the costs of obtaining a dog licence.
There could also be a provision in the Bill for a mandatory inspection of dogs being exported. It could be an obligation on ferry companies to inspect dogs if more than a certain number are being transported to ensure their documents and licences are inspected and they have been treated humanely.
There was a shocking recent investigation into the famous Crufts dog show by the BBC. It found the way pedigree dogs were bred for such shows meant they were at great risk of health problems and that many of the dogs suffered from genetic diseases after years of in-breeding. We have to look at this sort of negligence by puppy farms. It is not the usual and overt mistreatment but something less well-known.
A report by the University of Cambridge professor, Patrick Bateson, which took ten months, has recommended the compulsory microchipping of all puppies in the UK, along with the creation of an independent council on dog breeding and beefing up an accreditation scheme for breeders. Lessons can be learned from this. Pedigree breeding is quite prevalent in Ireland and we must ensure such animals do not suffer unduly because of the way they are bred. I am interested in the Minister's view on this less obvious form of dog abuse.
The Bill is necessary. I was unaware of the problems and practices in dog breeding. Tackling this is worthy and I support it. I would like my queries about the inclusion of hunt clubs to be addressed. The Minister during his speech gave the impression the hunting associations and the greyhound industry support this Bill. That does not seem to be the case from the reports I have received. Will the Minister address the concerns of the Hunting Association of Ireland and the Ward Union Hunt?
I welcome the Minister of State and two aspects of the Bill. I listened to Senator Quinn and agree with him on many of the points he raised which I will be endorsing.
I recognise the need to improve and regulate dog breeding establishments and the management of dog breeding. We all are well aware of the disgusting images of illegal puppy farming and the appalling conditions in which some breeders rear their puppies before selling them to the public. It is vitally important, therefore, that this legislation is being introduced to ensure proper animal welfare standards in these establishments.
I acknowledge that the Minister has engaged in wide consultation with a variety of interested parties, including Departments, voluntary and dog interest groups, but there is a concern that the hunting association and the coursing breeders' board have not been consulted. This concerns me because, as Senator Quinn stated, they have made the point that they should not be included in this legislation to do with commercial dog breeding, with particular reference to the rearing of greyhounds, hunting and coursing. I again ask what is the long-term view of the Minister in this regard. The Bill deals with commercial puppy farming. Hunt clubs breed pups not on a commercial basis but only to renew the number of hounds in a pack. Therefore, such clubs should be excluded from the Bill. The reason I have taken an interest in this issue, even though I have worked most of my life in Dublin - there is an rural-urban divide - is members of my family are involved in and very much associated with hunting in the south east. I must, therefore, make known my view that the hunting association should not be included in these regulations and registration scheme. While we all agree there must be standards and regulation and registration of these establisments, the local authorities are the ideal bodies to be in control of such matters.
There is a question arising. It is very important, if we are to introduce new legislation providing for registration and regulation, that the cost factor is taken into account, as there must be backup services available. There must be dog wardens, inspectors and veterinary staff who can monitor progress and pounce on these establishments. There is not much point in talking the talk if no action will be taken through the local authorities. Most establishment owners welcome the new standards and structure because they will know exactly what they can and cannot do within their commercial establishments. It is very important, therefore, that they have a link with the local authorities in order that they can all work together and owners will know exactly where they stand. I also agree that there must be a transition period to allow the owners of puppy farms to put their house in order that after a certain period - perhaps three months - there will be no excuses. While I hope registration fee and dog licence income will cover the running costs of the inspectorate, I wonder whether that will be the case.
The Minister has stated he will consult the hunting association and coursing greyhound breeding groups but I would have thought he would have done this before he introduced the Bill.
It is strange that he should decide to do so midstream. However, if he does so and acknowledges that such groups do not rear puppies for commercial purposes, I will have no difficulties in that regard. It goes without saying we all want to protect and ensure the welfare of young dogs. Therefore, the legislation is to be welcomed, but the greyhound coursing groups and the hunting association are very anxious to make the point that the Minister's next move will be to ban hunting and coursing, over which I would not stand under any circumstances. From the time I was knee-high I was brought to coursing meetings. As Senator Cummins knows, it was part of the culture of rural Ireland and is still lovely. I am not saying we should destroy animals, but there is a way of protecting them. The hunting association and the greyhound coursing groups agree everyone wants to protect animals, but it is a matter of how we do it. I, therefore, ask the Minister to rethink and talk to the hunting association before he finalises the Bill. He has stated he will do so. We welcome his statement that this legislation must be brought forward, as there must be a tight structure for those establishments run by cowboys to breed puppies. That is what the Bill is about, it is not about the rearing of dogs for hunting. It is about protecting those animals which are badly treated. In that regard, this is good legislation. However, I hope the Minister will talk to the hunting association to clarify exactly where he stands with it.
A dog may be a man's best friend, but without question there are many humans who are cruel to dogs. As one who raised the question of puppy farms four or five years ago in this House, I welcome legislation that will assist in rooting out cruel and greedy dog breeders whose only concern is financial gain. Thankfully, such individuals who run these establishments are few and far between. I hope they will be a thing of the past when the legislation is passed and enforced, although there will always be unscrupulous individuals who will try to defeat the system where money is involved.
I have reservations about some aspects of the Bill. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, mentioned in the House that he had consulted the Hunting Association of Ireland and its affiliates only last week. I want him to confirm that this statement was correct; otherwise, he may need to come to correct the record of the House. Written assurances were given by the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and the Minister, Deputy Gormley, to hunt representative associations in his reply to the comments of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, that they would be exempt from the Bill, both in terms of fees and registration. Based on what is contained in the Bill, the Minister has reneged on that commitment. I acknowledge the payment of fees has been waived, but the same does not apply in the case of registration. Hunt kennels only breed a handful of pups each year, simply to renew numbers in a pack. They are certainly not commercial dog breeding establishments and cannot be classified as puppy farms.
When one mentions registration, does that infer such information will be in the public domain? If that is the position, no wonder breeders are concerned, as there are animal rights groups and activists who can only be classified as subversives who have been convicted of offences in the United Kingdom. Some of these groups and individuals are active in Ireland; some even purport to have links with the Green Party which I am sure the Minister will deny. However, one understands why breeders would be concerned if such people had access to their names and addresses. These people have shown and proven in the past that they are capable of anything. Senators Norris and Ó Brolcháin asked what the hunt people are worried about and why. One of the main reasons they are worried is the possibility of these type of people having access to their names and addresses.
I refer to a quote from Bernie Wright who has met the Minister, Deputy Gormley, several times recently. The Minister met several people before the referendum on the Lisbon treaty and promised them various legislation on animal welfare if they voted "Yes". She is the public relations officer of the Association of Hunt Saboteurs. The hunt were lobbying for an exemption for hunt kennels. She suggested they failed to get the exemption and that they would be inspected. This lady told us this before the Minister had the Bill in and after he promised other Ministers they would be exempt. This lady was able to tell all and sundry that hunt kennels would not be exempt. One wonders who is running the country since such people put pressure on the Minister and the Minister accepts it and introduces legislation to appease these people.
I refer to correspondence from Nuala Donlon, the founder of the Alliance for Animal Rights, AFAR, to Bernie Wright. She stated:
This Government is far from stable. You may be already voting "Yes" on Friday or not voting at all. If you are going to vote "No" then I would urge you for tactical reasons only to consider a "Yes" vote. I oppose Lisbon and find it a gross insult that we are voting a second time. But for the sake of some progress on animal rights in this country, the current Government in which the Greens hold such a power and sway must be kept in place and it is for this reason and this reason alone that I will be voting "Yes". A hard pill to swallow.
I refer to a further quote:
Nuala and I both agree with the strategy below, although both of us have voted "No" in the past. We need the Greens there a little longer. Please trust us.
Such e-mails are being passed around and this legislation comes as a result of such actions.
Some of the despicable puppy farms unearthed in recent years contained fewer than six bitches. I trust the fines in the Bill will be an adequate deterrent for the rogues and scoundrels that run these establishments and carry out cruel and inhumane practices. None of us wishes for such practices to continue.
I refer to the question of finance raised by Senator de Búrca. Even after the increase in the licence fees, local authorities will have a shortfall of €1.6 million each year. Does the Minister intend to ringfence funding for local authorities to make up this deficit? The County and City Managers' Association and the representative associations for members are keen for sufficient funding streams to be put in place to enable them to meet their responsibilities under the Control of Dogs Acts and under this Bill. Senator de Búrca and the Green Party have stated there will be a €1.6 million deficit. Where will the local authorities get this money? We have already seen the disgraceful cutbacks on roads and there is another cutback in respect of this Bill. Is the Government trying to stifle and ruin local authorities altogether?
As I stated earlier, Fine Gael will support the Bill in principle and will not oppose it on Second Stage. However, I hope that on Committee Stage the Minister will be receptive to some of the amendments we intend to table. As Senator Ormonde stated, people have been hunting since Adam was a boy and will continue to hunt whether the Green Party is in power.
They will do their business. The Green Party seems to be trying to ruin rural Ireland. I am very surprised that the majority of the Fianna Fáil Party involved in rural Ireland seems to be running along with the Green Party and these policies. We should get rid of and root out cruel and inhumane people dealing with animals in puppy farms by all means, but we must consider our roots in rural Ireland and protect them as well.
I welcome the Bill in principle but with some slight reservations. It is incumbent on the Government to act and root out the very cruel puppy farms that obviously exist, some of which are for dog fighting and illegal activity. Some of the people involved have taken part in other activities in the past, some may be paramilitary and some may be involved in illegal drugs, betting and gambling. There are such circles and it is very important that they are rooted out.
My reservations relate to the greyhound industry, which is already covered by the Irish Greyhound Board. There are very strict guidelines, rules and regulations in place. Some notes I received in recent days indicate there will be a special meeting of the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to examine the dangerous situation facing the greyhound and horse racing industries from a commercial point of view. They are going through a difficult period. The greyhound industry creates employment, sport and entertainment as well as the horse racing industry and one has no wish to introduce measures that would damage this very important industry in some way. It is important to note as much.
I have received a great deal of communication from both sides, from the extreme left to the extreme right and it is important to have a balanced view. I refer to the Irish Coursing Club. I have no big axe to grind against coursing per se, whether on one side or the other. I was never at a coursing meeting in my life. I have seldom attended a greyhound track, perhaps only a dozen times. Given proper curtailment and regulation, it has a role to play in rural Ireland. A trainer may have a number of bitches on his premises for the sole purpose of racing. Such a person would be licensed by the IGB, the Irish Greyhound Board, and upon the conclusion of a racing career the owners take charge of his or her greyhound. In such cases, the trainer is not managing greyhounds for the purposes of breeding per se. Some of these points are very valid and should be considered. It should also be remembered that under current coursing rules and regulations, all stud dogs and brood bitches are DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, profiled. There is a register of all matings and litters born, the adult greyhound name and transfers of ownership etc. These points should be borne in mind.
I have no great role to play. However, I remember a case involving the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in a remote part of west Cork. The gentleman in question has long gone to his eternal reward. A substantial article appeared in a prominent newspaper. This took place, probably between 15 and 20 years ago. The case highlighted and brought attention to an animal. It was not a greyhound, it was a donkey but I use it as a case in point. Its hooves were not pared, it was old and probably somewhat neglected. A photograph of the donkey was taken from a car or over a ditch. When the case was investigated further and eventually came before the court, it was dismissed. That old man who has since died was caring for his mother who was in her mid-90s. He had no running water, no electricity, no bathroom or toilet, his roof was leaking and he was living in dire conditions. What came out in the court case was that somebody had blown this out of proportion. In dismissing the animal cruelty case the judge said the two people living in the house were living in much more cruel circumstances than the poor donkey. The circumstances of the case should have been investigated. The man in question had a disability and was living with his elderly mother. I do not like overkill or extremists.
It is natural for a dog to chase a rabbit. When I was a kid, we dazzled rabbits at night and sold them for a half crown or three shillings a piece. We made a few bob pocket money. It was hard going both for me and the dog and we had a very good one. My father would give out to the dog who would lie under the table for the next couple of days unable to move - a little like myself. There can be overkill about what happens in rural Ireland. I am not trying to water it down but one must look at the reality.
There is a proposal to increase the dog licence fee. Does this apply to all dog licence holders? If it does, I earnestly request the Minister to consider providing an exemption for old age pensioners who may live alone and have dogs as pets. I would also like to see such an exemption extended to the long-term unemployed. Some years ago I met a man whom I knew from my school days. Things went wrong for him in life and he suffered a little from depression and alcohol abuse. Eventually, he got a dog and obtained pleasure from walking it every day. He found it difficult to feed and care for it but it was a great outlet for him and encouraged him to go out into the community. He loved it dearly but on one occasion came to me to say he found it difficult to pay the licence fee. If there is to be an across the board increase in the licence fee, we should think about those going through difficult times. I know people who love their dogs. A dog is a man's and, in some cases, a woman's best friend and very dear and important to him or her. Perhaps the Minister will consider my proposal sympathetically.
Hunting in Ireland dates back to prehistoric times. Hunting is part of the story of Cuchulainn. Hunting is natural but it must be controlled. As I said, I broadly welcome the principle behind the Bill which I will support. Perhaps, as it passes through the House, some of the points sincerely made by colleagues across the divide will be taken on board because we do not want to bring forward regulations which certainly are needed in a fashion that will damage the greyhound and hunting industries. I know the Minister will listen to our valid complaints.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. As someone who was born and bred in rural Ireland, I grew up in an environment in which dogs and cats were an essential part of every farm, whether for herding cattle or sheep, hunting or guarding property. I am often struck by this thought because as I now live in Dublin, one of the joys of returning home, apart from meeting the folks, is the opportunity to renew the encounters with family pets. I remember an advertisement on television a few years ago in which the fellow returned home and wanted to know where the cat was. That probably tells a story to which many can relate.
Dogs and cats are different. Somebody once said cats did not have owners; they had staff. I think it was P. G. Wodehouse who, when describing the insufferable snootiness of cats on occasion, said it had to do with the fact that in ancient Egypt they were worshipped as gods and that they continued to expect such treatment. Dogs are a different proposition. It is fair to say most people's feelings about dogs, although not everyone is an animal lover, go very deep. Going back in our history, we find instances where the peculiar relationship between dogs and humans was celebrated. There is a very famous Welsh folk tale about the loyal hound of Prince Llewelyn who died around 1240. One day the prince went hunting but his loyal hound, Gelert, did not answer the call. When the prince returned, he found blood on Gelert's mouth. Assuming it had attacked his child in anger, he killed the hound. Later he learned that Gelert had protected the royal child from the depredations of a wolf. To make amends, he erected a memorial in the hound's honour. As a child, I remember being very moved by that tale.
There are other tales about dogs whose faithfulness to their human masters has outlived their masters. They continued to mourn after they had died. There is something very special about the relationship between dogs, in particular, and human beings which we celebrate in art and literature. However, it is fair to say that for many years in Ireland we have not done well in the way we have treated dogs and in regard to animal welfare generally. For example, I recall being horrified at the description in Peig of the practice of hanging dogs who had misbehaved. On occasion we see children being brought up with a love of and a respect for animals. There is nothing nicer than seing the joy of young children when a new pet is introduced into the family home. It is also uplifting to think of the role dogs play, for example, in hospices and nursing homes. Sometimes people who are largely beyond the reach of medical assistance can mount some response when a pet is brought around a ward and they pet the animal. We might call animals dumb because they do not enjoy the same rights as human beings. Nonetheless, there is something special about the role they play in the enhancement of human flourishing and contributing to the happiness of human beings. That is why we should take very seriously legislation oriented towards their welfare and dignity.
I am not comfortable with the concept of animal rights. Different philosophical and religious traditions have different things to say on the matter. I find attractive what is in the most recent catechism of the Catholic Church, for example. It stresses the importance of treating animals well but also states we should not lavish on them excessive care which should properly be reserved for human beings. There is something obscene, for example, about the amount of money spent on pampering animals in other parts of the world and lavishing them with luxuries, while human beings suffer. That displays a lack of proportion. However, there is no lack of proportion about what is contained in this legislation. Dogs were and are valued in rural Ireland. As I said, they have often been considered to be extra members of the family and some would say they have considered themselves as such.
I am delighted that the Government has finally moved to regulate the practice of puppy farming. It is not before time. Internationally, Ireland's reputation has suffered greatly owing to the existence of this trade because we have the reputation of being the puppy farm capital of Europe. As one UK charity noted, this is a haven for puppy farms because up to now not one single piece of legislation was in place to control them or protect the welfare of dogs. The Control of Dogs Act 1986 is of relevance to pet owners but not to commercial operations. Their legitimacy is a grey area. There is no statutory limitation on for how long or how many times dogs may be used for breeding. Dogs can be kept in any enclosure. There is no law stipulating they must have outdoor runs or, in the case of indoor breeds, that they be kept indoors. One could say that in the European Union chickens have more protections and livestock farmers have more legal responsibilities. Last year an estimated 30,000 dogs were exported to the United Kingdom alone. It is estimated that there are 600 breeders, with some farms having up to 500 breeding bitches and selling puppies for between €300 and €1,500.
I am very doubtful that even so-called responsible dog breeders should be allowed to run intensive dog breeding farms. In a recent documentary on the issue a dog breeder stated - I am paraphrasing what the person concerned said - a bitch bred in a pen had never known anything else and, in fact, would be afraid to leave the pen once he opened the gate. Anyone with any experience of dogs will know they enjoy nothing more than a run in the open countryside. I am always glad to see my neighbour being brought for a walk by his three dogs, something which happens daily. In towns it is a shame that a dog is kept on its own. It seems it is appropriate to have at least two dogs in any one urban premises in order that the dogs have company while their master is away. Dogs are highly intelligent and intensely social animals. They evolved from wolves which hunted in small family packs. It is these qualities which have allowed us to tame dogs and make them useful workers and well loved pets.
It is no excuse claiming puppy farming is a big and valuable export business. When Dublin was first founded - I hope people do not think the comparison is obscene; I would not push it too much - it was well known as a major centre for the slave trade. I am sure that was a valuable export industry. I am not making an inappropriate comparison; the mere fact that something has economic or commercial potential does not mean we should turn a blind eye to abuses. That is why the Bill is before us today.
If I had my way, I would ban intensive dog breeding as something which is plainly unnatural and inhumane. That is not to say I am not fully supportive of alternative farm enterprises, rather I support breeders who follow best practice. I see nothing wrong with a farmer who breeds dogs for his or her own use and who makes some money on the side from the sale of pups or a person who has a love of a certain breed who breeds high quality animals in a humane fashion. I have no problem with various exemptions where needed to facilitate responsible individuals engaged in responsible practices, but my general sense is that we should not be afraid of anything which seeks to regulate this practice because we have a past which, as far as animal welfare is concerned, is not honourable. We should expect people to see regulation or rights of inspection in this area as beings in the best interests of the community. We should remember when we abuse or inflict unnecessary cruelty on animals, we should not just bear the impact on animals in mind but also the impact on human beings when we see fit to mistreat creation in this fashion.
I welcome the Bill, in so far as it will regulate the industry. while I regret it will not regulate it out of existence, at least it will impose some standards on the sector and do something to restore Ireland's tarnished reputation among those who love animals.
Mar achoimre ar an méid atá ráite agam, ba bhreá liom a rá go bhfáiltím roimh an mBille seo. Tacaím leis an chuid is mó de. Bhí am i stair na hÉireann nuair nár chaitheamar le hainmhithe sa chaoi cheart. Measaim go bhfuil an-dul chun cinn déanta againn. Sa lá atá inniu ann, is breá an rud é an ghrá atá ag daoine, go háirithe páistí, d'ainmhithe agus do pheataí a fheiscint. Caithfimid cur leis an gcultúr sin. Tabharfaidh mé tacaíocht d'aon chóras ina bhfuil stiúriú agus caighdeán á chur chun cinn. Is maith an rud é go bhfuilimid ag tabhairt cumhachtaí dos na húdaráis caoi chun breathnú orthu siúd a bhfuil ainmhithe - madraí, sa chás seo - á thógáil acu. Caithfimid a chinntiú go bhfuil ard-chaighdeán á chur i bhfeidhm sa chomhthéacs seo. Muna bhfuil daoine áirithe ag feidhmiú leis an ard-caighdeán sin, de réir na rialacha, ba chóir go mbeadh pionós géar á ngearradh orthu.
I am disappointed that having called for a quorum Opposition Members have not mustered more of their membership to listen to what I hope will be a considered and erudite contribution to the debate.
In a time of economic difficulties the Bill could have been considered as not being the highest of priorities but I have been encouraged by the degree to which Members have contributed to the debate. Many of the views expresesed are sincerely held. The Bill is necessary. We are negligent as a people in not having such legislation on the Statute Book and the fact that such negligence has been allowed to continue means untoward and unacceptable practices have continued in the breeding of dogs. I will not repeat the contributions of many Members on how low Ireland's standing is because of this.
Many of the contributions have outlined how the Bill should apply. There have been a number of representations by interest groups which suggest particular establishments should not be covered by the Bill. These representations are unnecessary. The fact is there are caveats in the Bill which deals with the regulation of dog breeding establishments of a certain scale. The major caveat is that it applies to establishments with six bitches or more for breeding purposes. The debate in the House concerns whether this should apply to the commercial resale of pups from such establishments. Some establishments claim they do not breed dogs for resale purposes. This is a spurious argument. Even if there is no direct resale, there is a commercial basis to all these establishments. All require regulation and the right to inspection that goes with regulation. I do not wish to go too far into the wider aspect of the debate on how dogs are bred for alleged sporting practices but this Bill is intended to cover everybody who is involved in the large-scale breeding of dogs. There should be no caveats in that regard.
Questions must be asked, especially with regard to dogs being bred for specific sporting purposes or alleged such purposes. After a set time they are seen as not fit for purpose and are put down, possibly unnecessarily. In the area of regulation and regular inspection of such dog breeding establishments we need to ensure this practice, if it exists, is appropriately measured and stopped. We may be talking about as many as 5,000 dogs in any given year. If we exempt from important legislation such as this, by deregulation or lack of inspection, establishments that cater for 5,000 dogs, we are not doing our job effectively as legislators.
The type of representations we have been receiving reflect a wider debate that goes beyond the Bill. I received two such from organisations that may not be particularly representative but which none the less address a debate that concerns the nature of modern Ireland. One was from a group that calls itself Farmers against Fox-hunting and Trespass; its unfortunate acronym comes out as FAFT. The other came from Rural Ireland Says Enough, or RISE, which is a bit more catchy although the communication did not define what rural Ireland has had enough of. If it is the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, it has a very low threshold of tolerance. The Bill is being misrepresented by interest groups which do not want to see change or improvements in this area, which want to see things staying as they are, with the levels of negligence that we, as a Government and State, have allowed to continue. The unfortunate misrepresentation is that urban Ireland is beating up on rural Ireland without understanding it.
In the first place, these are debates on which people, whether from urban or rural communities, will have opinions either way. I do not accept there is a steadfast monolithic view in rural Ireland that says this is how we should do things, especially in regard to the rearing of animals, dogs in particular. It is unfortunate that many of these points were raised in this debate because they do not create better legislation. They obscure debate and ensure the legislation is not improved.
The Minister has introduced legislation that takes many of these fears and potential arguments into account and he has listened to some of the points raised in this argument. I reiterate what I said. A caveat that would exempt such a large number of dogs in breeding establishments and so many actual establishments makes a nonsense of the legislation. The core element must remain. What we need are standards in respect of the breeding of dogs. That means effective regulation and regular inspections. I fear that lying at the heart of many of the representations, despite protestations that animals and dogs are well cared for, is a sense of a cost implication to regulation. An inference is drawn that inspections might reveal something contrary regarding standards, namely, that dogs are not being looked after properly. If people care for dogs and believe dogs are being cared for properly, there is nothing to fear in this legislation. If regulations are pursued and inspections are open, there will be no comeback by way of fines or possible imprisonment. If there is a collective understanding about improving the welfare of dogs in this county, there can be no difficulty about what is contained in this Bill.
These are simple principles. I am somewhat disappointed that many Members in this House have chosen to obscure those principles by bringing in extraneous factors that relate to spurious economic analysis of the issue and disregarding the central point. This legislation is about Ireland being in line with appropriate national standards and not accepting standards we have allowed to continue for far too long. Our legislation will be better for the passage of this Bill and our reputation for animal welfare can only be improved if we address the legislation honestly.
We spoke yesterday in the House about the care of disabled persons and persons in nursing homes. We have a long way to go in those two areas from a regulatory point of view.
In a sense it is ironic that we are debating the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill and the regulations to apply to the breeding of dogs. A significant number of people in rural Ireland have a difficulty with the Bill in that they see in it a Trojan horse that might have a negative impact on some rural sports and traditions.
I wish to talk about two aspects, first, the broader need to put in place a framework to deal with puppy farms, as they are so termed, and, second, the possible negative impact of the legislation on country sports. I very much welcome the fact that dog breeding establishments, or puppy farms, are being regulated. I have been concerned for some time by what appears to be the grave mistreatment of animals in puppy farms. We see advertisements in newspapers and websites and note the growing number of establishments that have cropped up over the past decade. Huge profits are being made from backyard enterprises. There have been many media investigations and reports into the very improper standards that apply in these places. This is appropriate and the fact that this type of puppy or animal breeding establishment is to be regulated will be welcomed by every Member of the House. This is only fair and proper and will have the support of everybody.
The other side of the coin, as the Minister of State will know from written representations he will have received in his Department, similar to those we all have received as public representatives, is that there is a profound and genuine fear that the application of the legislation, particularly to hunt clubs, is the first step on the part of some politicians to bring an end to rural sports. There is significant disappointment among hunt clubs that what appeared to have been a cast-iron guarantee given by the Minister's predecessors in the Department that such regulations would not apply to them has come to naught.
I appreciate what the previous speaker, Senator Boyle, said regarding the need for regulation. Other speakers asked why we should be afraid of shining a light. However, people who are involved in country sports, especially those in hunt clubs and in the breeding of dogs for hunting purposes, carry out their activities with absolute propriety. The standard of care, hygiene and attention given to these dogs is second to none. If the pups bred for hunting purposes are not well cared for, they simply will not carry out the purpose for which they were bred. It has always been in the interests of hunt clubs to do their business very properly and thoroughly. They have done so and the record speaks for itself. An examination of any kennels of this kind will show clearly that sufficient rules and regulations are already in place. As the Minister will be aware, hunt clubs throughout the country are genuinely and deeply concerned. I inform Senator Boyle of their concern that this is the first step in bringing not only their business but their sport and way of life to an end. The majority of representatives in the Houses of the Oireachtas, including me, want to see Irish rural life and its traditions continuing. They want to see one of our ancient sports - hunting - continuing.
There has been great progress in animal welfare.
During the past three days, tens of thousands of people have attended the national coursing meeting in Clonmel. For many years, hare coursing was the subject of a great deal of debate. However, new regulations were introduced and provision was made in respect of the muzzling of hounds. To any fair-minded individual, it is obvious the current system works well. Regardless of whether it is hunting or politics, it will never be possible to arrive at a nirvana state of absolute perfection. However, hare coursing is an extremely popular sport in rural areas and the current system relating to it works well. Hunt clubs and kennels operate in a proper manner and people look after their dogs in an extremely acceptable fashion. There is no need to bring down the heavy hand of State law - in the form of the legislation before the House - on those hunt clubs.
Committee Stage will be interesting in that Members will be in a position to read into the record what previous Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government said regarding this matter and the commitments they gave in respect of it. We will also try to elicit from the Minister a response as to why he changed departmental policy. Fine Gael will certainly be tabling amendments that will be designed to seek proper exemptions for hunt clubs.
Animal welfare is the main issue with which the Bill deals. There have been some interesting contributions from colleagues in respect of this matter. Consideration must be given to the dog licensing system, which is a joke in its current format. We must continue to impress upon people that dogs and other pets are not just for Christmas, they are a long-term commitment. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of cruelty to animals in this country. As a result, there is a need for regulation and a proper monitoring system. However, there is also a need to strike a balance. It is for the latter reason that I am disappointed about the application of the regulations to the broader sector of country sports.
I welcome the fact we are debating this matter and that the position with regard to so-called puppy farms will be legislated for, monitored and properly regulated. Those who run dog breeding establishments of a commercial nature in a proper fashion have nothing to fear from the legislation.
I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, will impress upon the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, concerns to the effect that the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill will, if Members will excuse the pun, become a Trojan horse in the context of rural sports. That would be an extremely regrettable development. The customs, habits and traditions of rural Ireland have existed for millennia and will, I hope, remain long after we are gone. There is a degree of threat - I do not know the extent to which this is the case - to some of those traditions within the legislation. We should attempt to lay those concerns to rest and to deal with any outstanding issues on Committee Stage.
I hope the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will come before the House to take the debate on Committee Stage, particularly in view of the fact that we wish to put questions to him with regard to why the U-turn to which I refer has taken place. I would like the Minister to give the House a commitment to the effect that he has no intention of trying either to shut down rural sports or bring the rural way of life to an end. From the Government's perspective and that of the Green Party, it is important that the Minister of State should place on record his appreciation of the fact that the traditions and customs of rural Ireland are valuable. These traditions and customs are part of the fabric of life in rural areas and they must be maintained.
Regardless of whether it is the coursing meeting at Clonmel, the point-to-point meeting at Dromahane, the Curragh races or the Duhallow Hunt in my area, which is the oldest hunt club in the world, these institutions are extremely important and valuable to the country from the point of view of attracting tourism and advertising income. Long may they continue. The enforcement of the legislation must be monitored closely to ensure that doubts will not surround the future of the associations, groups, peoples and communities to which I refer and which mean so much in the context of rural life.
I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. Like Senator Bradford, I hope the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will not shut down rural sporting organisations and perhaps the Minister of State might provide a commitment in that regard when replying to Second Stage.
Some years ago, we used to look at English people as if they had two heads as a result of the care they gave to their dogs. There were those who stated that the English cared better for their dogs than they did for themselves. However, the position which obtains in this country now is quite similar to that which obtained in England in the past. We have come a long way and the majority of people take great care of their dogs and other pets.
The Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009 will put certain controls in place. In that context, those who breed dogs will not have anything to which to object in the context of the Bill. While they may object, they certainly do not have anything to fear.
I wish to inquire with regard to the inspection regime. I am delighted local authorities will be responsible for inspections and that a new agency will not be established. This Government and the two which preceded it put in place far too many agencies. As a result, there is a plethora of agencies and an additional cost is being imposed on those affected and on taxpayers in general. In this instance, however, the local authorities will have overall responsibility.
I accept that the cost of dog licences etc. have increased. The Minister indicated that the inspection regime will be cost-neutral in nature but I do not know how that can be the case, particularly when one considers the nature of the inspections and spot-checks that will have to be carried out. I am informed that if a person owns more than four hens, he or she is obliged to apply for a licence and an inspector must be despatched from Limerick to carry out an inspection. That is completely daft, particularly when one considers that inspectors, who are based in Limerick, might be obliged to travel to Donegal, Wexford or Carlingford, County Louth, to establish the position regarding the hens a person owns. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify whether that is the position. I hope something similar will not obtain in respect of the inspection regime to be put in place under the provisions of this Bill.
Local authorities have done great work in the context of issuing licences in respect of abattoirs. With regard to animal welfare in general, the veterinary sections of local authorities are sound in nature and would be in a position to carry out inspections. When it comes to inspecting houses etc., however, local authorities do not have the necessary funding available to them. The Bill will impose an additional burden on local authorities and rate payers in respect of the new inspection regime. I hope, therefore, that the Government will provide extra funding to local authorities in order that they might put the necessary structures in place. The veterinary sections of some local authorities are extremely strong in terms of their performance. Others, however, are weaker in this regard. They will need to be strengthened to put the proper structures in place to handle what is proposed in the Bill. I hope the Government will be able to do that because it will require extra funding and manpower. There are areas in local authorities with an oversupply of staff who could be moved into the veterinary section. I hope that will be possible.
Dogs are very important. Guide dogs are very important to blind people and also give them great comfort. Sniffer dogs are used to detect drugs at our ports and prisons. As Senators Coffey and Bradford said, while we broadly support the Bill, certain provisions need to be changed. I hope the Minister will listen to the proposal made by a number of Senators from this side of the House in order to improve this important Bill. While we need controls, we do not want to see areas that have benefited from dogs, including hunting which is very important to the country, become a thing of the past in years to come.
I understand the objective and reasoning behind the Bill, and more particularly the cause of the Bill's introduction. None of us would attempt to condone puppy farming, which in some instances was an horrendous abuse of vulnerable animals and represented cruelty beyond measure. Nobody would attempt to defend that and everyone accepts the need for remedy in that regard. In principle we have no objection to the broad objectives of the legislation. However, there could be the risk that the legislation represents taking a jackhammer to hit a nut. We need to caution against over-responding and over-regulating.
One must assume that in virtually all the cases those people who breed dogs commercially would have an affection for and a natural way with the animals. However, apart from that they have a commercial and vested interest in ensuring the dogs are in optimum condition from a developmental and growth point of view and that they are thriving. I say that as someone from the country with a farming background. I know what I am saying and it is obviously not lost on other people in the Chamber. Those people have a commercial interest in ensuring the best possible standards. The Minister should approach the legislation from that perspective, with awareness that by and large people are doing the right thing. The Minister is rightly trying to correct an abuse among a small minority and in the process he should not be too penal on commercial dog breeders.
I have met many dog breeders and local small farmers with a number of dogs in recent weeks. As I live in a rural community and know these people, it is clear to me that the proposed registration charges will work out too dear. The fee for an establishment breeding up to 12 bitches is €400, with which it is possible to live. However, the fee for an establishment breeding between 13 and 25 bitches is €800, for an establishment breeding between 26 and 100 bitches is €1,600, for an establishment breeding between 101 and 200 bitches is €3,000 and €1,600 for every 100 bitches after that. In his Second Stage speech the Minister defended that on the grounds of the high profit levels. However, the profit levels are no higher in this sector of farming than in any other. There are variations in prices and the cost of food is extraordinarily expensive. Dog food is more expensive than feed for other animals. Veterinary expenses are high. There are natural losses and the market fluctuates. It is like every other area of farming.
Anytime the Minister of State leaves Dublin and meets farmers he must become acutely aware that the vagaries of farming are extraordinary and the same is true in commercial dog breeding. The Minister should reconsider those costs, which are prohibitive and may affect small farmers who are commercially breeding on the side. I know one family where the son has recently graduated and tells me he will not be able to get employment in his chosen area. He loves the dogs and the home set-up in which he grew up, and wants to develop it somewhat. The costs could be prohibitive in such cases. It will not achieve a higher standard of care for the dogs, if that is the Bill's objective. It is merely an accountancy issue and I appeal to the Minister to reconsider that.
I appeal to the Minister to reconsider another area of concern for breeders, which if true would not make any sense to me. I hope that both myself and those dog breeders who have lobbied me are wrong about this. Section 16 seems to suggest it will be possible for people from the animal rights organisations - of course they have an important role, which we salute - to be inspectors of commercial dog farms. That would be unacceptable because it would be just wrong and would not happen in any other sector. I ask the Minister of State to make a clear statement about that. There is no problem with inspection by veterinary people and trained inspectors applying a uniform standard of inspection. However, we need to know about the inspectorate. I hope the Minister of State will be able to allay fears in this regard. It would seem absurd to have anything other than a uniform trained inspectorate independent of both animal rights groups and commercial breeders. An independent inspectorate is required and no logical legislation would suggest the contrary. I am sure the Minister of State will be in a position to reassure me on that matter. If it is not crystal clear in the legislation, I trust the Minister will sensibly accept amendments or propose his own amendments to clarify that.
Nobody is suggesting there should be no legislation - even the deputations I met accept that. Nobody is suggesting having no regulation or low standards. All people want is a sensible balanced approach. When the Minister sets about preparing the specific ministerial orders defining the space in kennels, lighting, heat etc., which in virtually all cases are appropriate anyhow, he should meet the dog breeders to discuss those regulations. Obviously he does not need to accept their proposals in full, nor would they enter the meeting expecting that. However, I appeal to the Minister of State to give a public commitment today that the Minister will not draw up regulations without meeting the dog breeders.
It is important that non-commercial dog breeding for hunts etc. should not be subject to the same registration process, given that this legislation relates to puppy farming etc. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply on the registration fee and the inspectorate. I hope to get clarification on that as well as on the Minister's commitment to meet the interest groups before drawing up regulations. The people who breed dogs tell me they have not has full frontal meetings with the Minister.
Trevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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Ar dtús báire ba mhaith liom mo leithscéal a ghabháil nach bhfuil an tAire, Deputy Gormley, ar fáil ar an bpointe seo. Bhí air imeacht go práinneach, ach d'iarr sé orm labhairt ar a shon.
I thank Senators for their positive contributions to the Second Stage debate. I thank them for their general support for the Bill and assure them that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is mindful of the matters raised in the debate and looks forward to examining these issues in greater detail as it progresses through Committee and Report Stages. He is fully committed to working constructively with Senators to deal with these and any further matters that may arise. It is his belief, as he stated when presenting the Bill to the House, that this legislation will address the two key issues which remain outstanding since the Control of Dogs Acts 1986 and 1998 were brought into force, the regulation of dog breeding establishments and the updating of the licence fee for dogs from its 1998 level of €12.70.
Senators Coffey, Glynn and others questioned the extent of consultation in relation to the Bill. I reiterate that the preparation of this Bill has involved a large amount of ongoing consultation with a variety of interested parties, Departments of Government and voluntary bodies as well as dog interests, including the Hunting Association of Ireland, HAI.
Trevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I assure Senators that the Minister and his Department will continue to liaise with all interested parties to ensure the optimal outcome is achieved, namely, a Bill which is efficient in terms of its implementation and effective in that it places the welfare of dogs at its centre-----
Trevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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There have been many submissions and I am not here to have a discussion with the Senator. However, I can talk to him afterwards if he wants me to bring something to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Gormley.
The Minister and his Department will continue to liaise with all interested parties to ensure the optimal outcome is achieved, namely, a Bill which is efficient in terms of its implementation and effective in that it places the welfare of dogs at its centre. The Minister will only sign the regulations proposed in the Bill into law after full consultation with interested parties, including the Hunting Association of Ireland.
The debate today and last week reflected the broad spectrum of opinion on the issue of the regulation of dog breeding establishments, while also touching on some broader matters in relation to dog control and animal welfare. Consultation on this Bill has been extensive. The working group included representatives from the Veterinary Council of Ireland, the Irish Greyhound Board, the Irish Kennel Club, and the Dog Breeders Association in addition to Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The working group received 27 submissions in response to a notice in the national press from a variety of animal welfare and veterinary bodies and local authorities in addition to private individuals. The deliberations of the working group reflected a complexity of opinion and resulted in one majority report and three minority reports being presented to the then Minister. This divergence of opinion is also evident in the 652 submissions received by the Department following the release of the report of the working group, most of whose members were in favour of some degree of regulation.
The legislation, when enacted, must be effective in its implementation and fundamentally have the welfare of dogs at its core. In this context, I want to refer to the Minister's letter of February 2008 which has been referred to by a number of Senators during the course of this debate. The letter indicated that groups affiliated to the Hunting Association of Ireland would be exempt from the then proposed legislation to be introduced. To a certain extent the HAI is exempt from the full requirements of the Bill in that hunt clubs, affiliated to it do not have to pay fees for registration. This is in recognition of their non-commercial status. In the interim the Minister has considered further the practical difficulties that a full exemption would create for the implementation of the legislation and concluded that such an exemption is neither feasible nor justifiable.
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-----and its affiliate bodies have stated publicly and privately to me that dogs bred and in their care for hunt packs are accommodated to the highest voluntary standards available. It is therefore his contention that this Bill will not place an undue burden on any such hunt club.
I do not agree that this Bill is any type of assault on the culture and pastimes of rural Ireland which Senator O'Toole movingly invoked. It is my belief that reputable dog breeding establishments will see opportunities for employment and expansion, while poorly run establishments may cease as a result of the stronger regulation. We, as legislators, have to attempt to balance the variety of sincerely held beliefs, whether they reflect the point of view of the person with a dog as a family pet, or of those breeding dogs as a legitimate business.
I am heartened by the contributions from Senators Glynn, de Búrca and Norris welcoming the Bill and raising animal welfare issues generally, as did my colleague Senator Boyle. As the Minister indicated in his previous contribution, my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, and I are preparing an animal welfare Bill, which will deal comprehensively with animal welfare issues as part of our Department's responsibility for animal welfare in general. It is envisaged that the present amicable working relationship between the local authority dog control staff and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's veterinary staff will continue and indeed expand as a result of the practical implementation of the Bill before the House.
I thank Senator Hannigan and others for raising the issue of the licence fees. I can assure the Senators that all moneys raised by the licence fee and registration fees will go to the dog control service in the local authorities.
The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has previously given consideration to a waiver for pensioners from the dog licence fee and while the idea is commendable, there are a number of practical difficulties. The purchase of a licence for a dog reinforces the idea that a dog is for life and not for Christmas, to coin a phrase. The new licence fee will be a modest €20 and when set against the costs of food and healthcare for a dog, which the ISPCA estimates at around €1,700 per year, it is quite insignificant. The potential loss of vital income to the dog control services could mean the service becoming much poorer as a result of this legislation which would be contrary to the stated intention of all Senators in this debate. Many elderly people benefit greatly from the companionship of a dog and should be comforted by the existence of an adequate dog control service.
I am encouraged that there is general agreement on the major recommendations of the working group to review the management of dog breeding establishments. It is appropriate, at the end of this Second Stage debate, that we keep in mind the majority recommendations of the working group, as it helps us to keep focused on the task at hand. The working group recommended that a State regulated registration system for dog breeding establishments be put in place and that these regulations should 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.
I am confident the welfare of dogs and the reputation of this country in respect of care of dogs will be progressed by the introduction of a reputable and adequately resourced regulation system. No one wishes to see recurring instances of pups reared in appalling conditions, with malnourished or ill pups being sold to an unsuspecting public.
I emphasise again that those establishments which over the years have built up good premises and practices in co-operation with their local vet, should have nothing to fear from the provisions in the Bill.
The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has been careful to include safeguards for dog breeding establishments in that local authorities will be statutorily obliged to pay heed to any reply from an establishment in regard to a potential refusal or conditions attached to a registration certificate. This is critical to encouraging a co-operative relationship between a local authority and any dog breeders in its administrative area.
Senators Coffey and O'Toole queried whether local authorities should be able, under section 16, to designate persons connected with animal welfare as "authorised persons". This provision only continues the good practice provided for in section 15 of the Control of Dogs Act 1986, whereby a local authority may enter into arrangements with persons connected with animal welfare. The provision has been quite helpful to local authorities and has been implemented responsibly. Therefore, the extension of the provision to this Act should not give rise to any concerns.
Inevitably, there has been discussion about the number of bitches in an establishment which will determine whether a premises is covered by the legislation. The Bill defines a dog breeding establishment as 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. I am conscious that setting legislative limits can sometimes appear subjective but this definition was the subject of much debate at the working group. The definition in the Bill represents a considered balance.
Understandably, the level of fees and who should pay them have attracted considerable attention in the course of the debate. It is an important principle that the fee will vary, in accordance with the amount of breeding bitches, so as to reflect the size and scale of the operation in question. This echoes the concern expressed by the Canine Breeders Association of Ireland that fees reflect the size of the dog breeding operation. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has been very careful to ensure the fees are reasonable and proportionate, both in respect of the cost of the dog control service, including regulation, and the income stream from selling pups. I refute any suggestion that the introduction of registration fees, in conjunction with the proposed dog licence fee increases, is an additional revenue raising exercise for local authorities. The dog control system as it is costs more to administer than it raises and this is not sustainable in the longer term. The increase in the dog licence fee to €20 does not place an undue burden on dog owners when set against the other costs of responsible dog ownership such as veterinary costs and food.
I emphasise the important and sometimes forgotten services dog wardens provide. These include the operation of dog pounds, re-homing strays, picking up abandoned dogs and keeping residential areas and farms free from uncontrolled dogs. Ensuring people are responsible by purchasing a dog licence is only a small part of the dog wardens' duties. Without the efforts of dog control staff, I am convinced this country would have a much more serious stray dog problem. The fact that the number of dogs being put to sleep in pounds decreased from in excess of 16,500 in 2004 to slightly above 10,000 in 2008 shows the progress being made in this area. The Bill will assist in ensuring this progress continues.
The Bill will also ensure all dogs in dog breeding establishments will be micro-chipped. This will enable dogs to be reunited with their owners should they stray and assist dog control staff in tracing owners if a stray dog has attacked people or worried sheep. This element of the Bill should be welcomed by all.
With regard to duty of care, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, indicated that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I were preparing an animal welfare Bill. As it will contain a duty of care provision, we do not wish to pre-empt any relevant provision in that Bill.
A number of Senators were anxious about the transition period for the legislation. In one sense, it could be argued that the five years that have elapsed since the report of the working group should be considered ample lead-in time for the new regulatory regime. However, the Minister is seeking to ensure a smooth transition to full registration. He also wants to prevent a scenario where dogs may be disposed of by establishments which may choose to cease operating. The Bill provides for a period of up to three months from its commencement for dog breeding establishments to be registered. It shall be lawful for an existing dog breeding establishment to continue to operate for this period. The Minister is reassured by the representations he has received, including from the Hunting Association of Ireland, that most dog breeding establishments already operate to high quality voluntary guidelines and standards. It should, therefore, be a seamless transition for well run dog breeding establishments to meet any new mandatory guidelines.
The working group recommended an improvement notice model. In line with best practice in any regulatory regime, there is an appropriate scale of regulatory actions which can be taken to gain compliance. Under the Bill, the Minister envisages liaison between the local authority and dog breeding establishments. If agreement is not reached between the local authority and an establishment, the local authority will be empowered under section 18 to issue an improvement notice which will state the specific measures to be taken in a specified timeframe.
Senators should note that the closure notice provided for in section 19 will only be used where there is a significant and immediate threat to public health. Such a provision will provide reassurance for the public that quick action can be taken in response to a threat to public health from dog breeding establishments. There will be an element of public scrutiny through the obligation on premises to publicly display their registration certificate. This will give members of the public a certain level of reassurance that the establishment from which they purchase their pups complies with standards.
We have made great strides in the constructive and healthy exchange of views on the Bill. The Minister looks forward to dealing with the detail of the Bill on Committee Stage.