Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I shall recap although we have spoken at length on this section. Many colleagues contributed their concerns about this section as currently drafted. On the previous occasion, Fine Gael proposed tabling an amendment to exempt operators of establishments registered to the Irish Greyhound Board because we believe there is adequate provision for regulation and control under the Greyhound Act 1958 which is administered under the auspices of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would also have a role in regard to supervising the operations of Bord na gCon.
It was felt the Bill introduces further regulations, supervision, bureaucracy, and, in effect, duplication of many of the controls and inspection systems already in place. We have concerns that additional charges for those involved in the greyhound industry could threaten the viability of what is a reputable, well regulated and successful indigenous industry. As a result of greyhound breeding and track successes, as well as coursing successes, the greyhound industry has had high exports over many years and has a very good name internationally, which can be seen in the number of Irish derby winners not only in Ireland but abroad.
This section of the Bill needs to be properly thought through. Earlier in the debate, I said the Bill needed to be cross-referenced with the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 so that, if there are common areas, they could be joined up rather than just adding another layer of inspection, costs and bureaucracy to what already exists. This is a genuine concern.
I have already outlined the standards and controls in the greyhound industry with regard to DNA profiling, tattoo ear-marking and the like with regard to existing establishments. Many greyhound trainers do not even own the dogs they look after. There is another category of people who rear greyhounds as a livelihood. They take on greyhound puppies, rear them until they are approximately one year old and then release them into training. No breeding whatsoever is carried out in any of these establishments yet the Bill seems to be catch-all legislation which gives no recognition to previous legislation and the regulation system already in place in the industry.
The issue of the definition of a bitch was highlighted to the Minster. The Bill states that establishments which have six bitches or more will be deemed a "dog breeding establishment" where the bitches are more than four months old and capable of being used for breeding purposes. One could have six bitches in an establishment that are being reared or trained with no intention to breed from them. Another establishment could have five bitches which could all have a litter of puppies but the establishment will not be covered by the Bill. There are anomalies in regard to how we deem an establishment to be a breeding establishment rather than a training or rearing establishment.
We on this side of the House feel many areas of the Bill have not been properly thought through. If the Bill goes through as currently drafted, it will be a very real threat to what is a vibrant greyhound industry which was built up over many generations and has a very positive profile in regard to the breeding lines of champion greyhounds. If this section is passed as it stands, it will certainly threaten what has been a very successful indigenous industry. In a climate of job losses and given that the economy is under serious pressure, we are shooting ourselves in the foot in this regard. We should be strengthening industries such as the greyhound industry rather than adding further layers of bureaucracy that will increase costs and drive people out of the industry because they will not be able to afford to remain in it. It will be a sad day if that happens.
We are not happy with many aspects of this section. We hope the Minister will indicate to the House that he will make amendments to address our concerns.
I thank Senator Coffey for his contribution. He indicated on Committee Stage last week that he will propose a revised amendment which would have the effect of excluding greyhound breeders from the registration charges provided for under this Bill. I do not propose to apply the same exemption from fees to the Irish Greyhound Board as I did to the Hunting Association of Ireland-affiliated members.
The Hunting Association of Ireland sought exemptions from the inspection regime and the licence fee requirements proposed in the Bill. The Hunting Association of Ireland assured me it already maintains the highest voluntary standards in its establishments. In recognition of the not-for-profit basis of these activities and in response to the representations on its behalf, I decided to provide exemption in the legislation in respect of the payment of registration fees only. Notwithstanding the fact the Hunting Association of Ireland has made it clear that its premises operate in accordance with the comprehensive and appropriate standards, I have not excluded Hunting Association of Ireland affiliated hunt clubs from the requirements of the proposed inspection regime, and I have made this clear in a number of my contributions in the Seanad.
Senator Coffey pointed out that the regulation of greyhounds is governed by the Greyhound Industry Act 1958. The Act, by virtue of its Title, is to provide for the improvement and development of the greyhound industry, greyhound racing and coursing and for the better control of greyhound race tracks and coursing grounds. The Bill before the House seeks to have the protection and welfare of all dogs in breeding establishments at its core. I do not understand the argument that this Bill will introduce a second regulatory regime for the greyhound industry in that it seeks exclusively to establish mandatory conditions for the breeding of all dogs, including greyhounds in dog breeding establishments. The Bill will supplement the provisions in the 1958 Act and ensure that regulation will improve the reputation of the Irish dog breeding industry, including greyhound breeding, which would benefit the industry in the long run. It is unclear how the Bill as proposed would prove excessively burdensome in terms of fees and welfare standards to greyhound breeders who should already operate to high voluntary standards. This is an important point.
I remind Senators that in its submission to the working group in 2005, the Irish Greyhound Board welcomed any regulation that would ensure the welfare of all dogs is protected and policed. This is what the Bill aims to achieve. I agree it is self-evidently in the interests of greyhound breeders that their greyhounds are well maintained. For that reason, I believe they should have little difficulty in complying with any regulatory regime under this legislation. I further add that the Irish Greyhound Board in the same submission stated that "the greyhound industry does not wish to circumvent or compromise any welfare initiatives". I submit to the House that exempting greyhounds from regulations under the Bill would do both.
Such regulation has to be funded and it is not my proposition that the taxpayer would be asked to fund this regulatory regime. It is only proper that the cost of the regulation should be met by the sector being regulated and which will benefit from this regulation in the long run. The charges proposed in the Bill for breeding establishments are quite modest. The potential income stream from greyhound racing and coursing should render such establishments well placed to meet the registration fees proposed in the Bill. Therefore, I do not propose to extend the limited exemptions in section 13 to any other organisation.
My office is in receipt of a letter dated 16 February 2010 from the CEO of the Irish Greyhound Board, Mr. Adrian Neilan, in which he states the welfare standards of greyhounds are maintained by registration, ear-marking and DNA profiling, inspections by 20 control and stipendiary stewards and attendance at all stadia by veterinary surgeons. This is also the point made by Senator Coffey. It is important to point out that these activities are, in the main, conducted in the vicinity of the race meetings and are for the sole purpose of recording matings, litters, namings or transfers of greyhounds. The correspondence does not instance any inspection regime for greyhound breeding establishments for dog welfare purposes. I reiterate the 1958 Act and this Bill have a completely different emphasis and therefore, I do not propose to accede to the exemption proposed.
I thank the Minister, but I am most disappointed with the content of his response for reasons I will explain. He referred in detail to the 1958 Act, in particular the Title. It states the Act is to provide for the reconstitution of the Irish Coursing Club and its recognition as the controlling authority for the breeding and coursing of greyhounds. It is clear that the Act relates to the breeding of greyhounds and gives such authority to the Irish Coursing Club. This is stated in law and should be recognised. The Act is accompanied by a stack of regulations, of which I have copies. There are pages of regulations which apply to the greyhound industry, greyhound tracks and racing facilities. However, they also apply to the control stewards and how they carry out their business.
I refer to the greyhound trainers' regulations of 1961 which read:
12..—(1) The kennels of any person applying for a licence to carry out the duties of a public or private trainer shall be inspected beforehand by a Control Steward or Stipendiary Steward, who shall report on the general lay-out, etc., to the Board.
(2) The kennels of a public or private trainer shall be periodically inspected by a Control Steward or Stipendiary Steward, who shall make a report to the Board. If the Board is satisfied that the kennels are not properly kept, the Board may suspend or revoke the licence of the trainer concerned or take such other disciplinary action as it may deem necessary.
The Minister is trying to tell the House that the 1958 Act has no bearing on how standards are upheld in establishments in which greyhounds are kept. The law is in black and white in front of us, with the associated regulations. It proves there is a very robust regulation and standards system for greyhounds covered by the Act. The Minister is being dismissive in saying the new Bill will have little or no effect on the greyhound industry because it will. It will introduce more bureaucracy and overheads and costs to an industry which is already struggling, an indigenous industry which has been successful over many generations. It is a retrograde step if extra controls are to be introduced.
I would have no problem if the Minister had decided to cross-reference the Bill with the 1958 Act or bring together the supervisory elements of the two pieces of legislation in some way. The Minister's officials could be inventive in doing this but this has not even being attempted. Instead there will be added layers of bureaucracy and regulation which will place significant burdens and costs on the greyhound industry. It might not bother the Minister or his party too much but it certainly bothers me that we are to introduce measures which will, in effect, kill off an industry which has been built up successfully over many years. The Minister may shake his head but that is what will happen. There will be added costs and pressures on an already struggling industry. That is not the way to go. The Act, as I outlined, significantly provides for regulation, control and the supervision of standards within the greyhound industry. The Bill is a backward step. The Minister said he would not be accepting the amendment but I appeal to his partners in government. Some Members on the Government side suggested they would bring forward amendments and the Minister said he was expecting amendments from Fianna Fáil. I hope they will have the common sense to see that this indigenous industry is under threat from the Bill and that they should table amendments to exempt the greyhound industry from its provisions.
This Bill is a joke. The Minister should withdraw it and meet those involved in the greyhound racing sector to iron something out which would be achievable. As Senator Coffey right noted, the Bill has not been cross-referenced with the 1958 Act. It is an absolute joke and a cod. It will mean two registrations, two inspections and two chips in a dog's ear. At some stage I predict there will be a court case. Senator Coffey has rightly pointed out that he would be very happy if the Bill and the Act were cross-referenced. If there is a dispute about whether kennels are up to scratch under the Act but may be under the Bill, there will be a court case and it will be the greatest joke of all. I, therefore, ask the Minister to consider amending or withdrawing the legislation to allow for one inspection regime, one registration regime, one inspection fee and one microchip per dog. Otherwise, we will have two chips, two inspections, two registers and probably a host of other bits and pieces. This is a small country but the greyhound industry is big. We are making a joke out of it in this instance. I, therefore, plead with the Minister to withdraw the Bill and not to make a laugh of the 1958 Act.
I am confused. I am not clear — neither are those working in the greyhound industry — on the substance of the Bill. When I read it Bill, I understood it was to regulate commercial puppy breeding establishments. The greyhound industry is in a different category. I, therefore, ask the Minister to explain the purpose of the Bill again. There will be two regimes. Is it correct that the Irish Greyhound Board operates a licensed trainer register? Is it correct that the greyhound industry has its own licensing system and registration body and that a new body will be introduced under this legislation? There seems to be duplication. I listened to other speakers and have read all the material. I come from a county in which the greyhound industry is the main industry and people have talked to me about the issues involved. However, the more I talk about them, the more confused I become. The 1958 Act and the Bill seem to be at loggerheads with one another. Perhaps we should start with the 1958 Act and see if it has anything to do with registration.
The Minister has been let down, by his officials others, on the Bill which has not been properly cross-referenced with the 1958 Act. As Senator Coffey said, the 1958 Act clearly states the controlling authority in the breeding of greyhounds is the Irish Coursing Club. The Minister has said the greyhound industry should be subject to checks, while Senator Coffey has clearly stated what is contained in the Act. Coursing clubs and the industry as a whole have inspection regimes in place in the interests of the welfare of greyhounds. On a couple of occasions bedding and everything else concerned with the breeding of greyhounds are inspected. The Minister is trying to introduce legislation that runs contrary to the contents of the Act.
Appropriate welfare standards are in place in the greyhound industry. There is no denying that defined and recognised infrastructure has been put in place to support the regulation and control of the industry which operates a register of all matings and litters born. Adult greyhounds are named in the case of transfer of ownership. All stud dogs and brood bitches are DNA profiled. Each greyhound is marked with a tattoo for identification purposes. We are talking about duplication when we talk about microchipping, ear-tagging and tattoos and will end up with cruelty to animals. It will run contrary to the principle of the Bill we are discussing. If we mark dogs with tattoos, attach microchips and ear tags, they will not be able to come out of their bedding because they will have so many tags. It is laughable that such duplication is being advocated in the Bill. Duplication is what we are talking about.
As Senator Burke said, the Minister should revisit this matter and introduce a proper Bill that is cross-referenced with the 1958 Act. When most Ministers introduce legislation, they ensure everything is cross-referenced, but that has not been done in this instance. The Minister's response was incorrect. He mentioned that the greyhound industry should be subject to inspection. It is already subject to inspection under the Act. Senators on this side of the House want the best animal welfare system to be in place. It is already well regulated by the industry in question. Those involved have said that if the measures suggested by the Minister are put in place, they will decimate the industry. The Minister spoke about the working group. He only listened to certain of its recommendations. There was a minority report in that regard.
A former Member of the House, Déirdre de Búrca, has said that, even with the proposed charges and licensing regime, local authorities will still have a shortfall of €1.6 million. These charges will have an effect on local authorities and, in turn, taxpayers. I agree with what the Minister is trying to do. As I mentioned, when I raised the issue of puppy farms in the House six years ago, I was one of the first Senators to do so. We need to regulate certain practices and eliminate others, but the measures proposed by the Minister in the Bill go way beyond this. He is trying to regulate a well regulated industry which is in trouble. He should go back to the drawing board and return with a proper Bill we could all support. Such a Bill should eliminate puppy farms, which is what this legislation was supposed to be about. I do not know why the Minister has gone beyond this. Perhaps he has been listening to people with other views on these matters. I refer to animal welfare and animal liberation groups, for example, which may have wanted to have their say on the Bill. I suggest the Minister's proposals will defeat what he genuinely intended to do in this legislation.
I was struck by some of the remarks made by Senators on both sides of the House. The suggestion that a greyhound might have a chip in both ears reminds me of the story of the fellow who was regarded as being very balanced because he had a chip on both shoulders. I listened to what Senator Ormonde had to say about growing more confused as the debate continued. That is not an uncommon experience in this House. The more we debate them, the more complex the issues sometimes seem to become.
The Minister is aware that I support his attempts to establish a regime of regulation and inspection in the Bill. However, a couple of questions emerge strongly from the exchanges we have just had. Is the Minister satisfied that the regime of regulation and inspection that applies to coursing clubs and greyhound breeders, as provided for in the previous legislation, is adequate and efficient for that section of the industry? It is important that he answer that question at this point. Does he believe this new regime is necessary for the sections of the industry covered under the old legislation? If he believes this, can he explain why an exemption is provided for hunt clubs but not for coursing clubs and greyhound breeders? What is the distinction that justifies an exemption for hunt clubs but not for others? Is there any sense in which this is about revenue? Is it a case of using one section of the industry to raise the funds that are necessary to inspect another which is currently unregulated? If that is what this is about, is it fair? Those are the questions I would like Minister to answer.
We have probably spent the guts of an hour debating this point. It would be easy for the Minister to dispose of it by telling us whether the existing regulations and inspections will be superseded. If not, why not and why do these additional regulations need to be put in place? If the Minister provides a clear and precise answer, we will probably be able to move on.
I will try to be clear and precise, as Senators have requested. It needs to be understood this is an animal welfare Bill. I accept that the 1958 Act which has been mentioned was introduced to encourage the greyhound industry. I ask Senators to believe me when I say I am not trying to undermine the greyhound industry in any way. I hope they accept my bona fides in that regard. I am trying to provide adequate protection for dogs. Those citing the 1958 Act are doing so erroneously. It is not about animal protection or welfare.
I would like to give the House some statistics to emphasise the difficulties we are facing in the greyhound sector. I have received statistics about this breed from all parts of the country. In 2008 some 1,045 greyhounds were put to sleep. That represents approximately 10% of the 10,069 dogs put to sleep in Ireland in that year. As a percentage of all dogs put to sleep in each local authority area, greyhounds accounted for a range from 0% in the Westmeath County Council area to 38% in the Galway City Council area. The Galway figure may be an anomaly, as it may be the case that the Galway city pound takes many dogs from rural parts of County Galway. When I examined these statistics, it was clear to me that we had a problem with stray greyhounds. It appears that when greyhounds are no longer useful as racing animals, they are often dispensed with. We have to examine all the animal welfare issues that arise in that context.
I am listening to what Senators are saying. If they want me to ask my officials to ensure all our bases are covered, in terms of legislation, I will do so. I am the last person who wants this to be challenged in a court, as suggested by Senator Paddy Burke. I will return on Report Stage to ensure all i's are dotted and all t's crossed.
Senator Rónán Mullen inquired about hunt clubs. As I stated earlier, they are not exempted from inspection. I took into account that they operate on a not-for-profit basis. While I may have the chip on both shoulders, I hope it is a balanced approach.
On the other hand, I have to take into account if a hunt club is a commercial activity.
I cannot make exceptions when it comes to animal welfare. I can make exceptions if I find too much of a financial burden or risk is placed on a person. Animal welfare includes all bodies in question from the DSPCA's pound to a hunt club. I have been assured by the hunt clubs and others that they have high standards of animal welfare. If they believe they are adequately covered under the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 and the standards in place are fine, there should no problem.
Having said that, I will return to it on Report Stage, as I do listen to what Senators raise, to check if any anomalies exist, that we have covered our bases or that there needs to be cross-referencing. I do not believe so but as Senators have pointed out, due to the Greyhound Industry Act 1958, some exception from this provision might have to be made. That could be counterproductive from an animal welfare point of view, however.
Yes. If they were not euthanised, does the Minister want them left to live in a kennel somewhere? The Irish Greyhound Board takes a responsible approach to how it manages greyhounds which are no longer racing. The board has refuted the Department's figures on stray dogs. In recent research it did with county council dog pounds, it found 151 greyhounds were put to sleep one year, which comes to 1% of the total. The Irish Greyhound Board also funds the greyhound-as-pet scheme and the retired greyhound trust which successfully re-homes many greyhounds when their racing careers are finished.
The board has to be realistic too. That is why the euthanisation of greyhounds can also be a humane end to a greyhound's life rather than abandonment. There is a responsible approach in this regard. The Minister has introduced a red herring to justify a Bill which is not complete.
The Minister did not address my point on the Bill's definition of a "bitch" as being a bitch over four months old capable of being used for breeding purposes. Anyone will tell the Minister that any four month old bitch is not capable of breeding or having a litter. We must come up with some realistic definition of a bitch. I have suggested it should concern whether a bitch is capable of breeding. That should be the yardstick as a definition and not picking out of the air four months as a figure. Anyone could tell the Minister that it would not apply to the breeding cycle of a bitch.
The Irish Greyhound Board already charges its breeders under the 1958 Act. This Bill proposes specific charges for greyhound breeders which in effect will amount to a double charge. Does the Minister agree with this? Does he believe the industry can afford it? There is no need for this penalising charge or for a double inspection. The Minister referred to the figures of greyhounds put to sleep every year. As Senator Paudie Coffey rightly pointed out, regardless of what legislation is introduced, greyhounds will still be put to sleep every year.
I listened carefully to Senator Paudie Coffey disputing the Minister's comments on the desirability of greyhounds being euthanised when their racing careers are over. I am glad they do not do that to politicians who no longer run for office. As to whether an animal welfare problem arises as reflected in the statistics given is beside the point.
The Minister said the primary purpose of the 1958 legislation was not animal welfare. Is the Minister therefore claiming the existing regime would not be sufficient to guarantee the welfare of animals? If the proposed regime is necessary to amend what is already in place, I can see the case for requiring some level of a charge. I, however, sympathise with those who feel they will be subject to double charges. Will the Minister clarify whether the charge made by the Irish Greyhound Board is not necessarily for animal welfare services per se?
It seems to me the greyhound industry is being penalised twice. I do not believe this is right as two separate issues are involved. The provision in the 1958 Act is broader in its scope and has nothing to do with welfare while the provision in the Bill does. Will the Bill overrule the relevant section in the Greyhound Industry Act 1958?
This represents the duplication of charges as well as of regulations. We are talking about putting an extra charge on the greyhound industry when there already is a regime under the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 which deals with the obligations of the greyhound industry to animal welfare. This Bill suggests the bodies involved, the Irish Greyhound Board and the Irish Coursing Club, are not fulfilling their obligations under the 1958 Act, a serious charge.
The Minister claims up to 10% of all dogs put down each year are greyhounds. As the Minister can give that statistic, I would be interested to hear the percentage of greyhounds in the total dog population.
I agree with colleagues on the charge issue. We cannot justify a double charge, which is unsustainable in terms of natural justice and every other kind of justice. It is not an option for the sustainability of the industry. I ask the Minister to clarify the point.
I refer the Minister to section 12 of the Greyhound Trainers' Regulations 1961:
12.—(1) The kennels of any person applying for a licence to carry out the duties of a public or private trainer shall be inspected beforehand by a Control Steward or Stipendiary Steward, who shall report on the general lay-out, etc., to the Board.
(2) The kennels of a public or private trainer shall be periodically inspected by a Control Steward or Stipendiary Steward, who shall make a report to the Board...
(3) Trainers shall ensure that kennels, muzzles, feeding bowls, etc., are kept in a clean and good condition.
(4) Where possible, trainers shall ensure that stud dogs or bitches in season are not kennelled in the vicinity of the kennels in which greyhounds entered for races are kept.
That is obviously an issue of welfare.
I wish to respond to Senator Mullen's direct question on whether I believe it is adequate in dealing with animal welfare issues. I do not believe it is adequate. This is superior legislation in dealing with animal welfare. I must emphasise it is not my aim to undermine any particular industry. I am simply introducing this legislation as a means to deal with a problem that has emerged over the past number of years with regard to animal welfare. If those bodies are serious about it they will ensure they are operating to the highest standards and there should not be any real difficulty. Having said that, I will examine the issues and will consult with my officials to see if anomalies exist.
Senator Mullen asked if this is a fundraising exercise but it is not. I will speak to my officials but it is not my aim to be unnecessarily undermining in any way. I want to ensure we do not have exceptions even for hunt clubs. They do not have an exception because there is no exemption for hunt clubs with regard to inspections. It does not exist and it should not exist for any part of the industry.
The Minister said he does not want to undermine the industry. Effectively he has said he does not have great confidence in the Irish Greyhound Board in carrying out its duties regarding animal welfare. I am very disappointed to hear the Minister say that. I believe the Irish Greyhound Board is doing a magnificent job throughout the country. It has nurtured the sport and led to it being a world-class sport. Effectively the Minister has seriously undermined the board in what he said. From a welfare point of view he said the board is not carrying out the functions to the standard expected.
On the same point, I am astonished at the reply of the Minister. The Minister has called into question the animal welfare bona fides of the Irish greyhound industry. The Minister's reply will further undermine the capability of the Irish greyhound industry, which provides massive employment the length and breadth of the country. The reply of the Minister has brought into question the capability of the Irish greyhound industry to act under the 1958 Act in regard to animal welfare. That is an appalling statement about an industry that is prized in the country. The industry has brought much recognition to the country and brings tourism to this country. It also creates many jobs. I am astonished at the reply of the Minister. Perhaps the Minister will revert to me on Report Stage about the statistic he mentioned about dogs put down. I asked the Minister what percentage of greyhounds make up the dog population in the country. The Minister must have that information available and we hope to have it provided to the House. There is no point in throwing out statistics if the Minister does not have the full information.
I did not hear the view of the Minister on the definition of a bitch, which is fundamental to the question of what is considered a bitch in this Bill. In the draft version of the Bill it is described as four months. I would like to know if the Minister intends addressing the definitions. I am astonished to hear the reply of the Minister. We are now getting to the nub of the issue. We were concerned there would be duplication of regulation and standards with regard to animal welfare. Opposition Members fully support the idea of proper animal welfare standards in this country but the Minister has admitted to the House that the present system, under the auspices of the Irish Greyhound Board and the Irish Coursing Club, is not adequate. In other words, those bodies are not doing their jobs. I remind the Minister that State boards are running the agencies. I remind the Minister they are under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. I would like to hear the Ministers of those Departments respond to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government saying agencies under the remit of those Departments are inadequate and are not doing their job. The Minister gave due recognition to the Irish greyhound industry, to its importance as an indigenous industry for tourism and how reputable it is internationally. The Irish Greyhound Board — Bord na gCon — and the Irish Coursing Club have major reputations internationally. It is a sad day when the Minister says the job they do is inadequate. It is a serious charge and the Minister should retract it. The current debate takes away from the aspirations of the Bill as drafted, which is to address the maltreatment of puppies in puppy farms. That should be the focus. In this case a catchall Bill is spreading into other areas already legislated for and it is unacceptable that the Minister makes this comment about the Irish greyhound industry. He should retract his comment.
The definition provided is that the dog must be four months old and capable of breeding. That came from the working group. We took the expert advice. No amendment has been tabled to say otherwise.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 32 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Shane Ross, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 21 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Eugene Regan, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins.
Question declared carried.
I move amendment No. 10b:
In page 14, subsection (1), between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:
"(f) greyhounds should be exempt from the limit of six litters, subject to veterinary approval,".
Brood bitches in the greyhound industry rarely have more than three litters, unless they are very successful. Putting a limit of six litters on successful brood bitches in the greyhound racing industry would lead to the exportation of some of our best breeding bitches. If a bitch does not breed successful litters of greyhounds, there will not be a demand for her. She will not be marketable and will not have high value. She will not be used for further breeding. However, if she breeds winners and they have success on the track or coursing fields, there will be a big demand for them, not only in Ireland but also internationally. Greyhound breeding lines have been established over many generations. As I said earlier, they are well regulated through the DNA profiling of stud dogs and bitches. The information has been well recorded for everyone to see.
In a successful greyhound breeding establishment, when a bitch produces successful litters and reaches the limit of six as specified in the Bill, there will still be a demand for her. The most obvious course of action will be for the owner of the establishment to export her to another jurisdiction, resulting in a loss to the Irish greyhound industry. It will not have the effect the Minister seeks which is to limit the number of litters a bitch will have because she will continue to have them elsewhere. We believe the deciding factor as to whether a bitch should produce more litters should be veterinary approval based on the health of the dog. That is a decision for the owner and the vet in each case. It is reasonable to exempt greyhounds from the limit of six litters subject to veterinary approval and we hope the Minister will accept the amendment. We do not want to encourage the export of the most successful brood bitches to other jurisdictions, as it would obviously have a serious impact on the greyhound industry.
Amendment No. 10c reads:
In page 14, subsection (1), between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:
"(g) greyhounds should be exempt from the requirement that a bitch is not to be mated inside 12 months from the previous litter.".
The season cycle of a bitch may vary. As drafted, the Bill does not show a clear understanding of the breeding cycle of a bitch. If a bitch had puppies in January, she might not come into season for ten months in October. If she has to wait until she comes into season again after that, it will be 22 months between litters. As drafted, the provision could lead to a gap of two years between litters, which leads to questions about the viability of breeding successful greyhound pups. If we are to limit the number of litters and the time between having a litter and mating again, it will have an enormous impact on the international reputation of good racing dogs produced in Ireland, which would be a serious backward step. I, therefore, ask colleagues on all sides of the House to consider reasonable amendments to correct the wording used in the Bill.
Amendment No. 14a reads:
In page 15, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
"(2) Greyhounds registered through the Irish Coursing Club should be exempt from the micro-chipping requirement".
As outlined previously, greyhounds are tattoo marked and registered by the Irish Coursing Club. They are easily tracked through the forms of identification used, as are their owners and breeders. We now have an additional requirement in this legislation to micro-chip them. If the micro-chipping were universal, one could say there was some logic in the argument, but it is not. The micro-chip that might be introduced in this legislation does not have universal recognition, and these dogs race in venues throughout the world. There is no requirement for a micro-chip for greyhounds because they already have body markings in the form of tattoos on their ears and DNA profiling that I would say is better than most breeds going back generations.
I understand, and the Minister might clarify this, that the Department and the Minister's officials admit that the working group established in 2005, to which he has so often referred, agreed unanimously to exempt the greyhound industry from micro-chipping. The working group in which the Minister put so much faith in all his argument until now unanimously agreed to exempt the greyhound industry from micro-chipping, yet we see there has been a turnaround in the Bill as drafted in that micro-chipping for greyhounds is included in it.
There is much confusion about who and what the Minister is listening to with regard to this Bill. He seems to be listening to everybody on the one side rather than the reasoned representative views of those in the greyhound industry. For that reason we are tabling this amendment that greyhounds registered through the Irish Coursing Club should be exempt from the micro-chipping requirement. It is an unnecessary requirement because identification of greyhounds is already well established and properly managed. We believe the amendments are reasonable and hope that some of the Members on the Government side or the Minister will support them.
The greyhound industry has always been regulated by the Department of Agriculture and when one reads this Bill one knows the reason for that. The lack of knowledge of the greyhound industry that is highlighted by what has been included in this Bill is disgraceful. From much of what is contained in this Bill there appears to be no knowledge of greyhounds. The limit of six litters is unreasonable and not practicable. As was stated earlier, greyhound owners and breeders have a close working relationship with their veterinary surgeons and the industry depends on the breeding of successful brood bitches to maintain a vibrant and healthy breeding market. That has been the lifeblood of the greyhound industry. On the mandatory requirement to allow 12 months elapse before a bitch is mated, Senator Coffey outlined the position in that regard but the Bill shows a complete ignorance of the greyhound cycle which can vary from six to 24 months. There appears to be no understanding of greyhounds from what is contained in this Bill. It is an effort to decimate the industry through lack of knowledge. I will accept the bona fides of the Minister regarding animal welfare but the lack of knowledge of the greyhound industry shown in the content of the Bill is appalling.
There is no point in going into the area of micro-chipping and ear-marking of dogs. It has been dealt with, and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The Minister quoted the working group to us in reply to a previous amendment but we have given another recommendation of the working group which the Minister is disregarding. He may think he can have it both ways but he cannot. He cannot quote the working group to make one point and then forget about it on another matter. What is happening with this Bill is disgraceful. The more it is teased out, the more people will realise there is a lack of knowledge of the greyhound industry and even of the cycle of a greyhound. Animal welfare is not to the forefront where this Bill is concerned.
There is no point in going over the issues outlined by my colleague, Senator Coffey. He has tabled three simple amendments, Nos. 10b, 10c and 14a. They are common-sense amendments that the Minister should accept. Amendment No. 10b deals with the exemption from the limit of six litters which Senator Coffey said should be by veterinary approval. I fully agree with him because an independent veterinary surgeon will be under the control of the local authorities. Senator Coffey is in agreement with that but says we should have an independent veterinary surgeon who would be the arbiter on this aspect. It is very simple. Common sense has been dispensed with in many parts of this Bill. Senator Coffey is taking a common-sense approach and if these three amendments were included in the Bill, they would improve it. I urge the Minister to accept them. They are common sense and it is for the good of the industry, which is the purpose of this debate. It is also for the good of animal welfare, and we have taken that into account on this side of the House. Along with everybody else, we want the welfare of dogs to be of the highest standard but at the same time we want this industry to thrive. We do not want it to be exported. What will happen, as Senator Coffey pointed out, is that the top dogs in this country will be exported. That will be the case, especially for counties along the Border such as Louth, Meath and so on. It will be easy for breeders in those counties to cross the Border into Northern Ireland.
The Bill will have serious consequences for the greyhound industry and I urge the Minister to accept Senator Coffey's amendments. They will make it a better Bill that can be more easily operated and it will be better for the industry as well.
We might be getting into the politics of the bedroom somewhat but having heard what Senator Coffey said, I am inclined to think this is a matter that can be left to veterinary surgeons and breeders. Without knowing much about it, it strikes me that the proposed amendments relating to the breeding are reasonable.
Regarding the third amendment, I have tabled an amendment requiring micro-chipping for dogs over eight weeks old or at least before they leave the kennel. There may be some merit in the exclusion of greyhounds from that if the grounds for such an exclusion are based on animal welfare.
I know nothing about the limit of six litters. I am not knowledgeable in that area but I would imagine that the veterinary surgeon would be a key person in deciding each case. That is obvious to me.
We are talking about protection and welfare, and this is a welfare Bill. We have the identification procedures under the 1958 Act and now the Minister plans to add the micro-chipping requirement. The dogs have tattoos on their ears and now we have micro-chipping. This is a double identification, which goes back to my point about duplication in terms of the 1958 Act and this Bill. I would like the Minister's views on that.
I had not intended to contribute but Senator Mullen put his finger on it. The veterinary profession has a pivotal role in this area. We cannot legislate for a broad spectrum because each dog will differ. I am sure the Minister is doing the best he can to safeguard animal welfare and I will reserve further comment until I hear what he has to say. Senators Mullen and Ormonde raised valuable points and Senators on all sides of the House have a deep interest in this long overdue Bill. The time we spend on it will be well spent.
I thank Senators for their contributions. The working group recommended against microchipping greyhounds because of concerns that the practice could affect performance. Since then, however, a comprehensive report produced in the UK revealed that microchipping does not affect greyhound performance. Legislation is being drafted in that jurisdiction to microchip greyhounds.
I was not casting aspersions on the greyhound industry when I said in a previous contribution that the animal welfare provisions of the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 are not adequate.
The proposed amendments would have the effect of creating separate regulatory regimes for dog breeding establishments, one for greyhounds and a second for other breeds. It is as simple as that.
The Bill seeks to put the protection and welfare of all dogs in our breeding establishments at its core. It is the intention to ensure that regulation will improve the reputation of the Irish dog breeding industry as a whole, including greyhound breeding. This will benefit the industry in the longer term. It is unclear how the Bill as proposed would prove excessively burdensome to greyhound breeders in terms of fees and welfare standards given that they should already operate to a high voluntary standard. I do not wish to add further complexity to the new regulatory regime. A number of contributors on Second Stage made the point that good legislation is that which is not overburdened by exemptions. I would create difficulties if I introduced too many exemptions and I do not intend to set down an unfortunate precedent in legislation by making exemptions for particular breeds.
The working group's recommendations on microchipping were made at a time when we did not have the UK report to hand but we now have clear evidence that microchipping does not affect performance.
It is not all right. His argument would be fine if an identification regime was not already in place. That system goes back generations and greyhounds are subject to DNA profiling beyond any other breed. They also have tattooed ears and registration cards. If this regime was not in place I could understand the Minister's argument.
Microchips are being introduced in the UK because of the integrity and identification problems in that jurisdiction but that does not imply Ireland has the same history. The working group in which the Minister places so much faith unanimously agreed to exempt the greyhound industry from microchipping because it acknowledged the identification systems that already existed. He has shifted the goalposts quite a distance from that recommendation.
As Senator Cummins has noted, the Bill appears to lack a clear understanding of the breeding cycle of a greyhound bitch and the demand for successful racers. It will obliterate the Irish greyhound industry and its international reputation because we will end up exporting our best brood bitches and their litters will no longer be considered Irish racing dogs. It is a massive industry, although I an not sure the Minister acknowledges the benefits it brings to the country.
Every time the Minister speaks, he casts further aspersions on the Irish Greyhound Board. The Irish Coursing Club operates a register of all matings, litters born, adult greyhounds named and transferrals of ownership. All stud dogs and brood bitches are DNA profiled and all greyhounds are earmarked with tattoos for identification purposes. Litters are inspected by control stewards jointly appointed by the Irish Coursing Club and the Irish Greyhound Board. Clearly the Minister lacks confidence in this supervisory activity.
As Senator Coffey pointed out, the Irish Greyhound Board is a State body which operates under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It would appear from this section and the amendments to it that the Minister does not share our confidence in the board.
It will be claim and counter claim. I understand the needs of Opposition Members and adversarial politics but the Senators' claims cannot be substantiated.
The Senators are trying to make the case that, first, I am undermining the greyhound industry and, second, I have insufficient respect for it. Neither claim is true, however. Horseracing, the greyhound industry and other rural pursuits are vital to our tourism sector. I have seen the press releases put out by RISE and other organisations. I am sure Senators are aware of the campaign which is currently underway.
None of the Senators' claims stands up to scrutiny. When it comes to rural pursuits in general, I have no difficulty with angling or shooting. The programme for Government makes no mention of hare coursing or fox hunting. The accusation that we are undermining the greyhound industry by stealth is nonsensical and does not stand up to scrutiny. I have listened to the contributions of Senators Mullen, Glynn and Ormonde, who take the view that we should include an amendment relating to veterinary advice and so forth. I will examine and discuss that to ascertain whether it makes sense or whether it would undermine the legislation.
I am not approaching this with a closed or blinkered mind. I am anxious to ensure we have the highest animal welfare standards while ensuring a viable industry as well.
Yes. I understand there were to be draft amendments to that effect and I am sure Members will put down amendments as well. Let us look at this in a constructive way.