Thursday, 25 February 2010
Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009: Committee Stage (Resumed)
For the benefit of the House and the Minister who was not in attendance for the debate on Committee Stage on the last day, this amendment was tabled in an effort to acknowledge the needs of people already involved in operating breeding establishments. The Minister has already acknowledged that a three month lead-in time is required. I presume it is to give those people an opportunity to get their houses in order to meet the requirements of the new regulations that may come into force once the Bill is enacted.
Planning or other requirements might apply and Fine Gael believes a more reasonable timeframe of 12 months would be more appropriate. If the housing conditions in establishments are not adequate, sufficient time should be given to the people and the stakeholders involved to apply for planning permission and to get their relevant structures and establishments in order.
I said during the debate on the last day that if this is to be good legislation, it is important there is a good buy-in to it and that all stakeholders have a good understanding of it and trust in it. This is a reasonable amendment to offer those people an opportunity to bring their breeding establishments and the structures in which they house their animals up to an adequate standard. I hope the Minister will consider extending the period from three to 12 months if at all possible.
I agree with the amendment because three months is very restrictive, especially given the need in some instances to put in place finance for the upgrade of premises or to obtain planning permission. As the Minister knows, that process can often take many months. There is no real difficulty in accepting the amendment to extend the period to 12 months but if the Minister is unable to accept it, I would like to know the reasons.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I support my colleague, Senator Coffey, in his proposition of this amendment. Three months is an unreasonably short time for any of our walks of life or businesses. To make considerable changes or even become familiar with the terms of the legislation, a three-month period is unrealistic. The amendment should be viewed in those terms.
If the Minister accepts the amendment it would be a sign that he is involved in a consultative two-way process with breeders and this is not confrontation but rather a joint attempt to do what is right. The Houses of the Oireachtas are part of that joint attempt rather than forming part of a diktat from on high. It is unreasonable to ask people to adapt, in so far as they need to, within a three-month period. It would be too much of a shock and unrealistic. No other sector would be asked to do it. When we move people in offices, we give them money. Under this legislation we will ask breeders to reorganise in a similar fashion. In the interests of common sense, I hope the Minister will accept the amendment.
Having listened to the debate, there is reason in the amendment which would extend the three-month period to 12 months. If the Minister has problems with the 12 months, he might agree to a compromise so we might come up the middle to identify all the problems which could exist in the transitional stage and allow people to familiarise themselves with the new inspectors, the local authorities and procedures and structures. The amendment is not unreasonable so if the Minister cannot give the 12 months, he might look to compromise along the way.
I support this reasonable amendment. To follow from Senator Ormonde's comments, we have proposed a period of 12 months but if the Minister wants to come back on Report Stage with a nine-month period instead, we will go along with it. Three months is not sufficient for people to comply with all the new legislation which will be put before them and for the local authorities to implement the proposals in the legislation.
No matter what happens, three months is insufficient for dog breeders to get their houses in order if necessary. I know from the greyhound sector in particular that the majority are in order but some establishments may need a longer period than three months in which to act. I hope the Minister will compromise on the issue as it does not concern the principle of the Bill. It is dealing with the reality. The amendment has been proposed in good faith and I hope the Minister will respond favourably to it.
The thrust of this amendment is worthy at least of extra consideration. In the main we are talking about reputable breeding establishments which are anxious to see implemented much of the action the Minister wishes to take. It is not a case of persons not wishing to see the legislation enacted.
Three months is a particularly short period and a 12-month period has been suggested. I would like to think the Minister might be able to give some more consideration to this. The various views put forward here seem reasonable but perhaps the Minister has other reasons to explain to us. For the industry, it is important for us to be seen as supportive and responsive to its needs.
This is a very reasonable amendment which the Minister should take on board. When the Bill is enacted, this section will have consequences for people in the industry. They will have to make their minds up in some cases as to whether they will stay in the breeding business, which will entail financial decisions and going to bank managers. It is not difficult to get an audience with a bank manager nowadays but it is difficult to get a decision as to whether extra facilities will be extended or existing facilities will be withdrawn.
It is a reasonable amendment put forward by Senator Coffey extending the period from three months to 12. In the economic circumstances we face and in view of new legislation which will require people to make decisions on the future of their businesses in some cases, it seems a reasonable amendment. I hope the Minister will not divide the House on the matter. The people on the Government side are supportive of this amendment and see it as reasonable. The House should not be divided as I have no doubt that Senator Coffey will press the amendment.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I preface my remarks by saying that many people in the dog breeding industry in this country and involved in the Irish Greyhound Board or other groupings are in the main very reputable. More than anybody else, they want to ensure the cowboys and cowgirls operating the infamous puppy farms are put out of business. If that happened yesterday, it would not have been too soon.
In this section of the Bill, the three months allows for registration. To give this the optimum effect, one would have to ensure the local authority - the registration authority for these establishments - would effect a positive and active public awareness campaign. I await the Minister's reply on why the three-month provision was included. He might look at it again. I can say with a great degree of certainty that all of us in the House are trying to do the right thing. If the Minister can confirm that three months is sufficient, that is fair enough but if not, I am sure the Minister will reconsider it on Report Stage or even in the Lower House. Having had time to consider the matter and heard the debates pertinent to the section in both Houses, he might look at the provision again. I await his comments.
I am glad the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is present to deal with the legislation. I hope his presence and responses will help to alleviate some of the concerns which may be felt, rightly or wrongly, by some of our constituents about the broader aspects of the Bill which we will debate later today.
The amendment has been proposed by my colleague and friend, Senator Coffey. On first reading, an application within three months may appear appropriate or reasonable. However, reading what is required in the application, there certainly could be difficulties. For example, the application must contain such other information as may be prescribed, but we do not know yet what that information may be or whether financial projections and so on are required. It could be difficult to have a proper application within a three month period. It would be fair enough if the Bill stipulated that one had to write to a local authority within three months and state one's intention to apply. However, we do not know what the information required may be, so three months may be a little unreasonable.
The Minister knows that we all want to see this Bill enacted, and we support his efforts to regulate puppy farms and shut down puppy farms that are being run in an improper fashion. To send the right signal that we can all work together on this Bill, I ask the Minister to look favourably on Senator Coffey's amendment or come up with some compromise. That is a reasonable request and I look forward to the Minister being equally reasonable in response.
I am coming to this relatively fresh, which may not be a disadvantage. I can see the welfare issues involved and the danger that a 12 month period will be interpreted as a charter for the underbelly of the industry that we all abhor. Twelve months for some of these individuals is more than enough time to adapt. I have seen this is in other sectors along the Border over the years, so I would be wary of creating a timeframe that is too lenient, given the very serious animal welfare issues that this Bill is attempting to address.
Senator Bradford touched on a very important point about the application. Section 8(6)(b) refers to whether a local authority "is of the opinion that the premises in respect of which the application concerned was made is not suitable for the operation of a dog breeding establishment." We do not know what the Minister means by "is not suitable", because we have not seen any technical specifications, standards and so on. The council officials who will be responsible for enforcing the Bill at this stage do not know what they would be required to enforce, because we have no detail on those standards. I take on board what Senator Dearey said, but if we do not get in as much buy-in as possible from people in the breeding industry, we will drive it underground, which is the last thing any of us want.
We want to expose the people who have been treating puppies badly. We want to eliminate puppy farms that are irresponsible, so we want a Bill that will work. This is a reasonable amendment to provide an all-encompassing role for the people involved in the industry. It gives the breeders reasonable time and gives the officials who will enforce inspections reasonable time to get to grips with the standards that will be expected. As of today, we do not know those standards, which is why we are tabling this amendment.
This Bill seeks to ensure that we are dealing not just with the question of animal welfare, but that the dog breeding establishments will benefit. We already have a problem as we have a reputation for being the dog breeding capital of Europe, with all the animal welfare issues associated with that. This means that we are not held in high esteem, and one only has to read some of the articles that have appeared in the British press. This Bill will be of major benefit to dog breeders.
People are misreading the Bill. We want to ensure a smooth transition and this proposed amendment would extend the period for owners to register their dog breeding establishments from three months to 12 months. We have consulted widely on this issue, and it could be argued that the five years that have elapsed since the report of the working group is ample lead-in time. We have been talking about this over and over again, yet we are here on Committee Stage and I am being told that people are not aware of this. They have been made aware of it and they have been given ample time.
I am trying to ensure that we have a smooth transition to full registration, while keeping the period allowed for registration meaningful. Therefore, I propose to retain the three month period for registration provided for in the Bill. The three month period starts from the date of the enactment of the Bill. In view of the number of representations that my Department has received on this Bill, I can safely say that there are very few dog breeders here who are not aware of the Bill and its proposed requirements. People have been made aware of this.
Senators have raised certain issues related to the Hunting Association of Ireland and the Irish Greyhound Board. Representatives from these bodies assured us that their breeding establishments maintain the very highest voluntary standards, and on that basis I cannot see that their establishments will need significant alterations to meet the requirements of the proposed legislation. Those regulations will be made. We must enact the Bill first and then we will bring in the regulations.
While the Bill provides for a three month grace period, I envisage that the submission for an application for registration within that period will see a dialogue begin between the local authority and the establishment to ensure that any requirements are met. We are not coming in here with a heavy hand and this is not draconian. We will bring in registration and then examine how each breeder can make his or her establishment a better place in respect of welfare. It is in the best interests of the dog breeders to comply with this. They know that their reputation is at stake. If they want to sell their puppies abroad, they must ensure that the highest standards apply. The message that we are getting from our consultations is that for the most part, they comply with those standards. There are those few people who are bringing us all into disrepute, as Senator Dearey pointed out, and that is very regrettable.
Once an establishment acts in good faith to implement improvements, it is my intention that the relevant local authority will work with the breeding establishment. This is about co-operation and is not about heavy handedness. I have concluded that the three month period is definitely sufficient. As we are talking now, those establishments have an opportunity to come in and talk to my officials. In fact, they have been speaking to my officials in recent years.
This Bill has been in gestation for a long time. I am not bringing it in all of a sudden. We have been talking about it for years. It is not as if people did not know about it. The local authority officials will not demand that this place or that place be closed down. They will act where people are clearly in defiance of the rules, but anybody who is co-operates will get every assistance from the local authorities.
Everybody in the House seems to be on the same wavelength about this. There should be a reasonable lead-in time for registration. When regulations are introduced or changed, it is not just the simple fact of complying with the rules and so on.
I would like to get some clarification on something the Minister said. If people are having difficulties in complying with registration and so on, they should be dealt with on a case by case basis. If an inspector calls and I am not registered, what happens? The Minister said there would be dialogue if I claim I have not got round to registering. Does that mean dialogue with the Department, which would then grant another two months to sort things out? This must be clarified. If new regulations are introduced in any business, those involved will know about it but that is not the point, the point is that people must be given a reasonable time to get their house in order.
The Minister claims not be using a heavy hand in this legislation but he is not prepared to accept the wishes on both sides of the House that there be a greater lead-in time. If that is not being heavy handed, I do not know what is.
The Minister is going against the wishes of the vast majority in this House. He talks about consultation. There were many aspects in the report that was commissioned, including a minority report from the Irish Greyhound Breeders Association that is not referred to in the Bill. Consultation is one thing, but the Minister is listening while not heeding what people are saying because he does not want to hear. He has his own view, is digging his heels in and is not prepared to compromise on such a minor issue as a three month lead in period.
He mentioned the British press claims Ireland is a bad place for dog breeding. There have been occasions and incidents that we deplore. I was first to raise the disgrace of puppy farms six years ago. Everyone wants to rid ourselves of the rogues and blackguards involved in this type of breeding of dogs. We do not, however, want to penalise those who are looking after their dogs properly. That is what the Minister is doing; he is tarring everyone with the one brush. He is going about this the wrong way, he is getting people's backs up unnecessarily.
Accepting a lead-in time of longer than three months is the minimum we expect, it is not a lot to ask. I find it reprehensible that the Minister talks about good faith but is not prepared to accept a reasonable amendment that the vast majority of people in the House support. I hope those on the Government side who know what the situation is like will support the amendment. It is nothing to do with the principle of the Bill, it is a reasonable amendment that has been put down to allow for a practical arrangement. We will need a greater lead in time.
Senator Coffey has outlined the local authorities do not even know what regulations will be put in place. The Minister is talking about people coming into the Department. It is rubbish and, with all due respect to the Minister, he should be man enough to accept the proposal being put before him and that has the support of almost everyone in this House and the vast majority of people in the country. We cannot pander to minorities who have no interest in overall animal welfare.
The Minister suggested that Senators have misunderstood this section of the Bill. We do not misunderstand it, we understand it better than most of the Minister's officials who drafted the Bill. I have outlined the reasons for the amendment, so there is a more a workable and legitimate Bill that will achieve the Minister's objectives. If we bring this in as it stands we will drive rogue traders underground.
The Minister did not address my query about the standards required, although he mentioned that regulations will be introduced after the legislation. Why can we not have an idea of what those regulations will be along with the legislation? Why could they not be an appendix to the Bill so everyone would be aware of what is going to happen and would not need to extend the timeframes for lead-ins?
It is unfair to say the working group was in place for five years. Every breeder and small farmer who is involved in this area would not have been aware of that. This amendment is reasonable and secures inclusiveness. We are prepared to withdraw it, however, if the Minister would agree to some extension, even to six months. It seems the Minister is not for turning, which is a disappointment.
I appreciate the Minister's openness in his address and his indication that true consultation and representation brought us to this point. I hope we will be able to continue in that frame.
I grew up with a dog in the house and have lived with a dog in my house ever since, including my beautiful west highland terrier that I enjoy personally. I have a great love for the simplistic pleasures of having a dog and the benefits that accrue to a family from having a dog. I certainly abhor puppy farming.
I took an interest in the Dog Breeding Establishment Bill as it was passing through the House and listened with interest to the Minister's address to my parliamentary party, where there were a number of representations made to him. The Minister is aware of our concerns and I support Senator Coffey in his remarks, and I am glad to hear he is prepared to withdraw amendments if the Minister co-operates.
A former member of the Minister's party sat in this House on Committee Stage and to the embarrassment of the Government sat with her hands on her backside when it came time to vote on the Defamation Bill and other Bills. We do not want to get into that sort of situation and I support Senator Coffey's idea that it would be best if we could work through the Committee Stage of this Bill in consultation and co-operation. The Minister also indicated there had been representations and that he was aware of the issues.
I am concerned that these amendments are the only amendments. I understood there would be Government amendments. Is the Minister going to take on board the various genuine representations? Will he refer to the impact this Bill will have on rural pastimes, the Ward hunt and other issues such as the RISE campaign? The Minister should clarify how consultation and co-operation will work.
Senator Coffey used an important phrase, namely, "workable legislation". In general, workable legislation is good legislation and vice versa. I ask the Minister to reflect on the possibility of either accepting our amendment or drafting a similar amendment for Report Stage. In the context of the need to make an application within three months, we are operating in the dark to some extent. Such applications must contain "such other information as may be prescribed". We are not aware and cannot yet be advised as to what might constitute such other information.
Most people want there to be goodwill in respect of this legislation. If we are to drive the rogue traders out of business rather than underground, it is important that the legislation should work. In that context, the three-month period is somewhat short. The Minister may be in a position to present a convincing argument with regard to why a period of 12 months is too long. Various political parties experienced turmoil in the past two to three weeks. I am of the view that we should be able to progress legislation such as that before the House without becoming overly excited in a party-political sense.
If the Minister and his colleagues in government can assist in resolving the problems in Northern Ireland, surely it is not beyond us to come to a decision on whether three months or 12 months should be the appropriate period. I am sure there is an alternative somewhere between the two with which everyone would be comfortable. I ask the Minister to reflect on the position and to return to the matter on Report Stage.
I was thinking of the future. I thank Senator Bradford for his measured contribution which stands in stark contrast with that of Senator Cummins. The latter's contribution was somewhat emotive and headline-grabbing in nature. It is important that we should have a balanced debate on this matter.
In the context of what Senator Callely stated, this matter has nothing to do with the Ward Union Hunt or any of the other issues-----
It is unfortunate that people have sought to confuse these issues. This is a straightforward item of legislation which has been planned for over five years. I assure Senators that there are no hidden agendas or anything of that sort.
Senator Callely also referred to amendments being put forward by members of his party. I was happy to attend the meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party to which he refers. I was expecting to receive written proposals from members of the latter but I did not, in fact, receive them.
On a point of order, the Minister indicated that the legislation has been planned for five years. Is it not the case that he wrote a letter in which he stated that he intends to exempt the Hunt Association of Ireland, HAI, from the provisions of the legislation?
It is not a point of order and I did not write any such letter. I explained that on the first occasion on which I contributed to the debate on this Bill in the Seanad.
Senator Bradford indicated that he wanted to engage in a dialogue on this matter. If we are going to become involved in bickering, etc., we will not make much progress. I have taken note of the comments made by Senators on all sides and I will consider what has been said. If Senator Coffey withdraws his amendment, I will return to the matter on Report Stage.
The Minister was particularly conciliatory in his interpretation of the proposed legislation. Conciliation is the hallmark of the Minister. We were expecting to have a conciliatory debate on this Bill today. I take on board the points made by Senator Dearey in respect of the legislation.
On reflection, I was not recommending a 12-month extension. The important thing is to remove disreputable individuals from the breeding industry. However, I remain of the opinion that a period of three months is too short. If the period were extended to six months, this would be of assistance.
Conciliation should influence the tone of the debate on this Bill, particularly in view of the fact that there are other issues which remain to be discussed. It would be far better if we made progress in that way. The Minister is prepared to reconsider the position before Report Stage, which is what we were hoping would happen. I thank him for his positive response.
The Minister is a reasonable man, as is Senator Coffey. The Minister indicated that this measure will be self-financing. If that is the case, there will be an obligation on local authorities to have sufficient numbers of staff in place. This will require a reorganisation of staffing resources and a glut of cheques will be sent in by those who wish to register. It will take time to deal with these various matters. In that context, the Minister is taking the right approach and I am delighted he has given a commitment to reconsider the position.
I thank the Minister. As an aside, I must indicate that I made a suggestion to the Minister and his response is extremely reasonable.
I am concerned with one matter which has some form of correlation to this section of the Bill. I refer to the theft of small thoroughbred dogs. These animals are being stolen and then sold on at car boot sales. I want a stop to be put to such behaviour.
I thank the Minister for listening to the comments made by Senators on both sides of the debate. It was Senator Bradford, I believe, who finally convinced the Minister to reconsider the position. I have said from the outset that 12 months might be too long but that a six-month period would not be beyond the realms of possibility. I appreciate that the Minister listened to what we had to say and has taken our points on board.
I thank the Minister for his response in respect of the issues I raised. I am not my party's spokesperson on this topic. As already indicated, all that I am is a simple dog lover who is concerned about animal welfare. I welcome the fact that the Minister has indicated the merits of the work done to bring this legislation before the House. I appreciate what he said in that regard and I am of the view that everyone would support improved regulation, especially as this would be in the best interests of animal welfare.
I have a difficulty in respect of one issue. I spend a great deal of time in west Cork and I enjoy participating in traditional rural pastimes. On occasion, I have also enjoyed the Ward Union Hunt. There appears to be a degree of ambiguity in respect of this matter. The Minister indicated that he was expecting some amendments to be forthcoming in the aftermath of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting he attended. He also indicated that the Bill will not impact on the Ward Union Hunt, rural pastimes and other issues of that nature.
I appreciate the Minister's open approach. I also appreciate that he is prepared to enter into dialogue and engage in consultation. If it emerges that the legislation might have an impact on the various issues I and others have brought to his attention, I ask that Government amendments be tabled for Report Stage. I will leave it to the Minister's good offices, in the knowledge that he knows there are certain concerns on certain issues, to ensure those amendments come forward to the satisfaction of all those who would like to sign into this.
I acknowledge the Minister's response, which is quite positive considering what he stated earlier. In light of that fact, we are happy to withdraw the amendment in the hope that the sentiment of it at least will be addressed on Report Stage in a Government amendment. We will wait and see but we reserve the right to resubmit the amendment on Report Stage.
The Minister said the working group took five years and that everybody knew about the legislation. I would have hoped that the Government parties would have had their houses in order and tabled their amendments so we could debate them properly on Committee Stage. It is a shame to have Government amendments introduced on Report Stage when we cannot interact on them. I hope communication lines between the Government parties on this important Bill can improve.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 8, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following subsection:
"(6) Without prejudice to the executive function of determining any additional conditions specific to a particular registration, the determination of conditions of a general character to apply to any registration in the functional area of the local authority is a reserved function.".
The amendment proposes to give a role to elected members of local authorities to ensure they can have an input into the regulations that will govern the scheme. It is a straightforward amendment and I ask the Minister to take it on board.
I thank the Senator for his amendment. As I indicated previously, however, I will ensure the draft regulations are subject to consultation with all the interested parties before I sign them into law. It is important these regulations are consistently applied throughout the State. Giving the power to local authorities to have their own local conditions or guidelines would not assist in ensuring uniform and effective implementation of the legislation. A requirement for local guidelines would also place an unnecessary burden on local authorities to develop local guidelines and standards. Such broad latitude where each local authority could implement its own guidelines would only create confusion which would result in a lack of clarity on the standards to be implemented by breeding establishments throughout various local authority functional areas.
A number of questions arise in this context. What would happen if a dog breeding establishment straddled two local authority areas? Could it choose the less onerous of the two sets of guidelines? We come across this repeatedly and we are trying to address it in the White Paper. Would we want operators to engage in location shopping whereby they would set up a dog breeding establishment in a local authority area with less onerous standards? These are practical difficulties that I see in the amendment proposed by the Senator.
In its report, the working group stressed the importance of having regulations that are very clear and enforceable. Providing for local guidelines would undermine the national approach envisaged by the working group and which is provided for in the Bill. The very fact we are introducing this legislation will help dog breeding establishments. There is no question that reputational damage has occurred and it is only by having a national standard that we can progress. I understand the thinking behind the Senator's amendment but there would be practical difficulties in its implementation.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, subsection (7), line 23, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
Section 8(7) states that a local authority may refuse to register a premises or dog breeding establishment under the section. The reason we think it should be compulsory is because the section later refers to such refusal being necessary to ensure the safeguarding of animal welfare. If it is necessary to ensure the safeguarding of animal welfare, it should be compulsory and not arbitrary. We do not think the word "may" is strong enough. The word "shall" is required.
I fully understand the intent behind the amendment and emotionally I have much sympathy for it. The idea of the amendment would be to instruct a local authority to withhold registration from those who may have certain convictions, especially for cruelty to animals. It would seem to create a blanket provision because it would not matter how old the convictions were or under what circumstances they were received. That seems to be the intent. As someone who abhors animal cruelty and who believes in animal welfare, I have a great deal of sympathy for the amendment. However, we are seeking to impose a new regulatory regime with the sole purpose of providing for the welfare of dogs in breeding establishments.
If one was to stand back from the situation, one might consider it unfair to apply restrictions that might have a retrospective effect. If a person had been convicted of an act of cruelty, he or she would have received the appropriate sanction from the court at that time. It is not for the Bill to punish a person further by denying him or her a right to a livelihood. I intend to allow local authorities use their discretion in such instances. In contrast to the subject matter of the previous amendment, in this instance I will allow local authorities to use their discretion to consider whether a person has learned a lesson.
After the Bill is enacted I am sure it will be appropriate in instances for members to raise issues such as this in a council chamber to state a person has been convicted of treating animals with a certain amount of cruelty and to express a view that the person will continue to act in this way. However, discretion is the order of the day. Putting it in cast-iron terms that under no circumstances can such a person continue with a business is an unnecessary restriction.
It is envisaged under the Bill that a local authority will work in co-operation with dog breeding establishments on an improvement model basis to ensure proper standards are maintained in dog breeding establishments. In keeping with this co-operative relationship it is considered more prudent to allow the local authorities discretion on whether to refuse registration on the grounds outlined in section 8(7). I do not propose to tie the hands of local authorities and therefore I cannot accept the amendments.
I welcome the Minister to the House and I hear what he has to say on this matter. On one level it seems appropriate to make it a discretionary power. I certainly hear what he has to say on the rule against retrospection. The idea that a person should not be prosecuted for an action which was not an offence on the date it was committed has a clear constitutional background and we are very conscious of that when considering issues relating to retrospection. However, if one reads through the relevant section, one will see it is about local authorities considering whether a refusal to register a premises would be necessary to ensure the safeguarding of animal welfare. It also deals directly with issues of cruelty to animals.
Is it possible that where there is any contravention of the Bill it would be upgraded to mandatory refusal? I understand the legislation will have to be implemented in context, whereby a local authority will work with people to get them to come into line. However, once this legislation is in place they will have had that opportunity. Stricter requirements should be imposed on local authorities where it is established that they have breached the new legislation. Will the Minister would consider tweaking this to allow the discretionary aspect where one is considering past wrongs or offences under existing legislation while tightening the obligation on local authorities in the event of contraventions of the Bill. This is the type of area where a nod may end up being as good as a wink in that unevenness could apply among local authorities in the way they apply the standards. I do not think we should discount the possibility of creating a requirement on authorities in certain circumstances.
I listened with great interest to the Minister's contribution. Before he publishes the guidelines, will he hold further meetings with the stakeholders involved? I welcome to the Visitors Gallery the chief executive of the Irish Coursing Club, Mr. D. J. Histon, who takes this business very seriously. I am sure he would like to have an input into the guidelines. If the Minister was to liaise with the people concerned before the guidelines are published, he might address some of the issues raised by Senators.
I agree with Senator Burke on keeping the doors open to stakeholders. Agreements can only be reached through consultation. What the Minister is pursuing is not unreasonable but he cannot avoid sitting down with the stakeholders at the end of the day. He will surely meet a reasonable group of people.
I have no doubt that the people involved in the dog breeding industry are reasonable for the most part and I have no reason to believe standards are not being upheld. I have no difficulty with engaging in consultations. I have indicated to my officials that they should meet interested parties and they have done so on several occasions. That is as it should be.
In regard to Senator Mullen's contribution, if tweaking is necessary I would be happy to consider any amendment he might propose on Report Stage.
I referred earlier to his point on consistency across local authorities. As I am only too aware, this difficulty arises in a number of areas. One has only to look at the annual service indicators to recognise the lack of consistency between local authorities. I certainly do not want to see this occurring in the context of this Bill. The only way to achieve the Senator's aim, however, is by making sure local authorities enforce the guidelines properly. On reflection, I feel it is better to preserve the section without amendment because of the difficulties that could arise otherwise.
I move Amendment No. 7:
In page 9, subsection (12), line 17, after "establishment" to insert the following:
"and shall comply with any conditions attaching to such registration".
This amendment seeks to amend section 12 to provide that the operator of a dog breeding establishment registered under the section shall display the registration certificate issued to him or her in a prominent position and shall comply with any conditions attaching to it. At present, it is not an offence to fail to comply with the conditions of registration and we believe that is a major omission.
I do not know whether this amendment fits perfectly under subsection (12), which deals solely with the display of the registration certificate. This subsection stands alone as an important provision which seeks to ensure transparency for the consumer. It is important that any customer of a dog breeding establishment be informed that the establishment is registered because this is an assurance that the standards of the establishment are sufficient and that the dogs are well cared for. Subsection (17) provides that it is an offence not to display the registration certificate.
The proposed amendment is perhaps too general. The Bill provides ample opportunity for the local authority to act if the establishment is found not to be in compliance. The working group, to which I keep referring because that was how we consulted stakeholders, recommended that an improvement notice be served on an establishment that fails to meet the standards required. We do not plan to commence a prosecution immediately because we want to give establishments the opportunity to improve. In line with best practice in all regulatory systems, there is an appropriate scale of actions which can be taken to gain compliance. We are not seeking to impose huge penalties because we want to encourage people to comply. This is an objective which I think is shared on all sides of the House.
If agreement is not reached between the local authority and the establishment, the local authority is empowered under section 18 to issue an improvement notice. Given that the improvement notice sets out the measures to be taken within a specified timeframe, the proposed amendment is unnecessary. The notice can be appealed to the District Court within seven days of its serving and the local authority can progress to a closure notice under section 19 if it is ignored. However, this would only occur at the end of a very long and arduous consultative process. It is only when a person contravenes the closure notice that he or she will be guilty of offence, at which stage the fines are hefty and set out in legislation.
It is important that the provisions of the Bill are clear and enforceable. I am of the opinion that the amendment will dilute the clarity of the enforcement provisions under sections 18 and 19.
The Minister cited the dog breeding working group but I have held meetings with dog breeders in County Wexford and it was amazing to hear how many concerns they expressed about this legislation. They informed me that very few of their recommendations were taken on board by the working group. They are concerned about becoming victims of crime because their dogs are potentially valuable resources. They fear that by posting signs all over the place they will make a list available to anybody who wants to snatch their dogs in the middle of the night. The Minister is making it too easy for thieves, bar giving them the keys to the establishments.
Other provisions of the Bill appeared to go against the spirit of the working group. For example, one section describes a bitch as beginning to breed at four months of age. Nobody breeds dogs at four months of age, however. The Bill also refers to a uniform breeding cycle for dogs but there is no such thing across all breeds.
Owners are concerned that they may be exposed to risks. As a medical practitioner, I have to post a certificate on the wall of my surgery so that members of the public can clearly see I am registered with the Irish Medical Council. I have to update it every year and make it freely available to anybody who comes into the surgery. However, it is only available inside my premises. There is nothing wrong with a person wishing to purchase a dog going to a dog breeder's kennels to make sure it is of good standing and that the registration is displayed prominently somewhere within the premises. They are the type of principles the Minister should try to follow.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 12, subsection (8), between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
"or any other matter that significantly affects the welfare of the dogs.".
In section 11(8) we are dealing with the possible contraventions that could lead to a removal of registration. Would it be sensible to add the amendment as a new subsection that it would include "any other matter that significantly affects the welfare of the dogs"? It is clearly meant to be a catch-all measure and given the overall objectives of the legislation perhaps that is something that should be considered.
I am sympathetic because in the way he has worded the amendment Senator Mullen has referred to "any other matter that significantly affects the welfare of the dogs." I also have to ensure that we have legal clarity. Section 11 provides for the removal of a dog breeding establishment from the register in certain circumstances which are outlined in the legislation. They include by order of the District Court if the operator has committed certain offences under specific Acts. The section is very specific as to the circumstances in which an establishment may be removed from the register. The proposed amendment, which is stated in fairly broad terms, would lead to an erosion of that clarity and might introduce an element of uncertainty to the basis for removal.
To return to the point Senator Mullen made earlier, this is very much open to interpretation. He wants us to include "any other matter that significantly affects the welfare of the dogs". We might have a certain interpretation of what affects the welfare of a dog while others would have a different interpretation. In terms of the law, that leaves far too much uncertainty. Therefore, to be on the safe side and to ensure that we have clear, robust legislation, it would be better if this were not included.
I listened to the Minister's explanation. I agree that we require clarity in the law. It is essential. However, given that there are responsible bodies in charge of applying the standards, I wonder whether it would be a problem in practice were such an amendment to be included.
It raises an interesting issue because, as Senator Mullen might be aware, there are those who would argue that those who carry out the inspections should be veterinary experts and that perhaps they would have a different point of view than those laypersons who have an interest in animal welfare. They would have different perspectives. Therefore, if one had a provision of this type one might not go down the strictly veterinary route and one might have quite a subjective interpretation. The less subjective a Bill is and the less it is open to interpretation the better. I am very sympathetic to what Senator Mullen is saying, but as Minister I also have to be mindful of the robustness of legislation and therefore I am sticking to the wording as is.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 12, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The Minister shall make provision for payment of any fee or charge under this Act to be made by electronic means.".
It is a simple amendment to ensure easy accessibility to the system for registration purposes. The Minister has already engaged in that in other areas of his brief, namely, motor tax and second properties. I see no reason in the Internet age for not facilitating the registration process and that we would have electronic means of paying the registration fee.
I take the opportunity to extend that change to the payment of dog licence fees. A significant amount of every dog licence fee that is paid through post offices is taken in fees by An Post, whereas if there was direct registration by electronic means the full amount of the licence fee could be used for what it is meant for, namely, to maintain proper standards in dog care and to provide council pounds. That would be a positive step to take. I am interested in hearing the Minister's response.
I thank Senator Coffey for his proposal and his amendment. It is interesting that he mentioned the means by which the second homes levy is now paid. I recall that a certain amount of doubt was cast in this House about whether it would be successful.
I do not wish to be prescriptive about this. We are not talking about mass payment. There is a limited number of dog breeding establishments. At this stage local authorities are quite experienced in processing payments for rent, rates or levies of any description. They generally operate a range of payment mechanisms to facilitate easy payment. It is not necessary for the Minister to prescribe how they should operate their systems. I understand the sentiment behind the amendment but it is not necessary. Therefore, I intend to leave the section as is.
I am happy to withdraw the amendment in the light of what the Minister has said. However, I would ask him to consider the payment of dog licences and the introduction of an electronic means of registration. The latter would help to increase the number of dog registrations. I take the opportunity to bring that to the Minister's attention. Much of the money going to An Post could be reinvested where it should be, namely, the care of dogs by local authorities.
I draw the Minister's attention to another matter relating to the section although we have not tabled an amendment on it. Section 12(1)(a) to (e) refers to dog breeding establishments of varying sizes. Would the Minister consider including the words "for the purposes of breeding"? In effect, that is what this Bill is about, namely, the regulation of breeding establishments. It should not be seen to be a catch-all measure. Other legislative Acts deal with animal welfare and greyhounds, for example. The purpose of this Bill is to regulate breeding establishments. We need to be more clear and specific in our language in that regard. I urge the Minister to consider tabling such an amendment on Report Stage.
The Minister did not respond to my questions on the previous amendment but the issue crops up here again. There is reference in section 12(5) to a "bitch" being a bitch of more than four months old capable of being used for breeding purposes. One can have young pups on a farm that could be for sale at some point. They may not be sold or they might be awaiting export and so on. That could push people over the breeding quota and they could end up paying much more. Four months is wrong and something must be done about that. The Minister cannot be that restrictive regarding dog breeders.
The time varies for different dogs but the Minister should consider at least nine months for the average dog. Most people will not keep a pup beyond nine months. It will be sold or used for some other purpose. Four months is too young. Some dogs breed much later than that. For instance, a pelvic test is done on Labradors at 13 months to see if they are suitable for breeding. Other dogs have different breeding cycles. The Minister wants this provision to be restrictive but that could cause problems for genuine breeders and this figure must be changed.
I move amendment No. 10a:
In page 14, subsection (8), between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
"(a) the operator of the establishment is registered through the Irish Coursing Club,".
I will withdraw the amendment because the wording is incorrect and I will resubmit it on Report Stage. The amendment should read, "the operator of the establishment is registered through the Irish Greyhound Board". A registration and fees system is in place for the greyhound industry. The Minister will know from his working group that the industry is governed by the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 which clearly sets out the responsibilities of the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, and the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB, in the promotional development of the sport and in the regulation and enforcement of standards in the sport. A sophisticated system tracks all matters relating to breeding and ownership of greyhounds.
Duplication is a possibility as a result of this section. A system is in place under the aegis of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism which involves reputable agencies such as the ICC and the IGB. The ICC operates a register of all matings, litters born, adult greyhound naming and transfer of ownership. All the stud dogs and brood bitches are DNA profiled and all the greyhounds are tattooed and earmarked for identification purposes. All the pups are inspected and tattoo marked by control stewards jointly appointed by the ICC and the IGB. Greyhound breeders are subject to registration fees which ultimately support the maintenance and integrity of the industry. I am sure the Minister will agree we do not hear many complaints about the maltreatment of greyhounds because this is a well regulated industry.
While the Minister is not doing this intentionally, the amendment is an effort to avoid duplication. The greyhound industry is well regulated and breeders are paying fees for regulation and registration. Imposing further fees, regulation and bureaucracy could threaten the viability of the industry. Greyhounds are covered by the 1958 Act which comes under the remit of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. It would not be a problem if the Minister wanted to strengthen that legislation by cross-referencing it in this legislation and endorsing the work of inspectors. Reference is regularly made to the economic climate, over regulation, bureaucracy and overheads. This provision will result in an unnecessary overhead through additional inspections in an industry that is well regulated.
I have also had representations from Bord na gCon and I agree with Senator Coffey's comments. Bord na gCon is a responsible body and one does not hear many complaints about the industry. When I see greyhounds, I am always struck by how thin they are. The fashion industry comes to mind whenever I look at a greyhound. The key issue raised by Senator Coffey is cross-referencing. It would be useful to cross-reference the 1958 Act in the legislation.
People who have complained about aspects of the Bill are concerned that it will somehow introduce onerous requirements on the undeserving in that people who are operating to a high standard could be drawn into a bureaucratic nightmare as a result of the Bill's requirements. I will touch on this later when we deal with my amendment regarding guidelines. Will the Minister clarify his expectation about how the Bill will work in practice? Is it likely to lead to inspections of reputable groups, bodies, organisations, companies or individuals? How will the legislation be enforced? It would be useful to hear what the Minister thinks about that looking forward.
Senator Burke raised a number of important questions. I would like the Minister to address the issue regarding the 1958 Act, in particular, which governs the IGB. Surely the board will continue to impose its own fees and regulations. Will registration fees be duplicated or will the regulations and standards proposed by the Minister supersede the 1958 Act? The IGB and the ICC are doing a wonderful job regulating their own affairs. It would be to the detriment of the greyhound industry if fees and regulations were imposed under both the 1958 Act and this legislation. How will the legislation operate on the ground? Will fees be doubled? Will two sets of people visit farms and so on?
The Senator stated the amendment is not drafted as he intended. A number of issues were raised about previous legislation. I suggest that he amends his own amendment and we can discuss it in greater detail on Report Stage.
Senator Coffey will amend his amendment but will the Minister address the questions raised rather than have us repeat them again on Report Stage? He should respond to the questions raised regarding the 1958 Act, double registration and so forth.
On the section, I wish to hear the Minister's views regarding the 1958 Act and the current regulations, regimes and registration systems that are in place. How does he envisage the provisions of this legislation fitting in or working in collaboration with the existing system? Essentially, these provisions constitute an overlaying of the existing regulations and concerns have been expressed in this regard. Moreover, I refer to the section's definition of a "bitch" being "a bitch of more than 4 months old that is capable of being used for breeding purposes". I concur with the sentiments expressed by my colleague, Senator Twomey, and ask the Minister and his officials to reconsider this point before Report Stage.
While I intend to submit an amendment on Report Stage on this subject, in the interests of collaboration the Minister and his officials also should consider an amendment. I will offer a wording for the new definition, namely, "a bitch that has produced a live litter and is capable of being used for breeding purposes". Obviously a bitch cannot be considered capable unless she has produced a live litter, which is the evidence and proof. The four-month age limit does not seem reasonable, is illogical and demonstrates no understanding of the breeding cycle of a bitch. The Minister should consider this point because it is a fundamental aspect of the Bill that will have implications on its introduction.
Very well. If the amendment has been withdrawn, the proposal I made to the Senator was that I would revert to him at that stage. I must consult my officials as he has raised a series of issues about the 1958 Act and so on. I propose to give Members my assessment when Senator Coffey tables his amendment on Report Stage. Is that all right?
For the benefit of the House and to bring some clarity, the amendment I tabled stated clearly that the exemption would apply to "the operator of the establishment [who] is registered through the Irish Coursing Club" but it should have referred to the Irish Greyhound Board. It is the same sentiment and I am sure the Minister would have had a response prepared for such an amendment in any event.
There are just two simple questions in this regard. All Members need to know are the Minister's views on the legislation pertaining to the Irish Greyhound Board and the Minister's view on accepting the amendment relating to the breeding cycle of a dog. While the Minister need not affirm it will form part of the Bill, does he accept there are points to be made on this issue?
On section 13, the Minister will put in place regulations for the local authorities, which will have powers to inspect and a fee will be forthcoming. At the same time, however, under the 1958 Act the Irish Greyhound Board is empowered to have its own regulations and to levy fees.
Under section 13, which will give the Minister the power to put in place regulations, will two sets of regulations henceforth apply to greyhound breeders, that is, one from the Irish Greyhound Board and the other under the relevant local authority? Similarly, will there be two sets of inspections? What does the Minister envisage will happen in respect of the 1958 Act under which the Irish Greyhound Board, which is doing a great job, is regulating at present? What will the local authority do following the enactment of this legislation and the imposition of new regulations on them?
I can only speak in general terms. This issue arises because, as Members may know, the Hunting Association of Ireland sought exemptions from inspections and the licence fee requirements. In that instance, I proposed that while people could not be exempted from inspections, as the Hunting Association of Ireland operates on a not-for-profit basis, it was exempted from the fees. Therefore, I could look at issues in a similar light but have not done so. Members have just raised this issue in respect of the Irish Coursing Club. I will try to be as fair as possible but my approach will be similar. I note the Fine Gael Senators are in conclave at present but I am trying to give them some idea of my thinking in this regard. I cannot really see where we could-----
The Fine Gael Members were speaking while I was trying to let them know my thinking, which is the reason I tried to get their attention. I am going to try a similar approach but my point is that I do not believe one can make exemptions from inspections. Inspections are-----
I am trying to tell Members that from the perspective of inspections, one cannot make such exemptions because everyone will be subject to them. That is my position in this regard.
While I accept what the Minister has said, I will outline the question on which I seek clarity. There already is an inspection regime in place under the 1958 Act, which this Bill should address in some way. It should be either endorsed, superseded or amended. Members and the industry need clarity in this regard because otherwise there will be duplication in respect of registration fees and inspection regimes. This Bill certainly will introduce over-regulation and bureaucracy in this area and will bring the viability of the valuable Irish greyhound industry under serious threat at the fundamental levels of breeding, rearing and training at dog establishments. This is a highly important section of the Bill to which adequate time must be given to achieve full clarity and certainty.
I refer to section 13(9), in which a bitch is defined as being "a bitch of more than 4 months old that is capable of being used for breeding purposes". Who in their right mind would have bitches breeding after four months? Who is advising the Minister in this regard? I do not wish to be emotive and I do not believe I was emotive earlier. I certainly am not a headline grabber in this House. However, I like to deal with practicalities and the Minister likewise should deal in a practical manner in this regard. Who advised the Minister that people are breeding bitches at four months old? This is absolutely crazy. How could anyone support a section of a Bill that refers to bitches for breeding purposes at more than four months? It is ludicrous and no one could support this.
To be fair, some time ago in response to a request from Members for an extension from three months to a year, the Minister stated the industry has had five years to consider this matter and to get its house in order. However, only two or three months from the legislation's enactment, when Members ask a straightforward question on whether this Bill will necessitate additional inspections, the Minister will not tell them. The Minister must provide Members with a clear statement regarding the proposed inspections and I ask him do so do.
The Fine Gael Members should allow the Minister to give consideration to all the points that have been raised today and should allow him time to revert on Report Stage and then debate the amendment that will be tabled. Members should let matters rest there to allow him to revert and to raise the points.
I am sorry. There must be inspections, but our problem relates to whether there will be two inspections for some parts of the industry. The greyhound industry is regulated under the 1958 Act. However, the Minister is saying there will be further inspections under this Bill.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.