Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011: Committee and Remaining Stages
We must recognise the importance of the Bill. Much work was done on this Bill, both by the Minister of State, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his ministerial predecessor. It is an indication of that work and co-operation between politicians and the industry that the House has unanimously passed the Bill without any division.
The protection and welfare of animals, whether they be greyhounds or any other animal, is vitally important not only to agriculture and the good name of farming, but to society in general. It is important that this Bill is a standalone piece of legislation removed from the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010 and that it gives a very clear and definitive recognition to the greyhound industry, which is an industry known at home and abroad for its sporting excellence. Representatives of the industry would certainly welcome this Bill, which provides a clear, legal definition to where the industry stands in respect of the protection of animals.
I commend the Minister of State for following through with this Bill. I am glad that it has passed here and I know that the industry will welcome it.
We are delighted to have the Minister of State back again and I am delighted to speak on the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011, which is before us for discussion. We discussed the Bill at length on Second Stage on 25 October. The Bill arose from the debate last year on the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010. It must be highlighted that one of the major strengths of the greyhound industry in Ireland is that all greyhounds are identified and registered individually in the stud book of the Irish Coursing Club to ensure the integrity of the racing system. The industry already has provisions in place with regard to welfare. I will not repeat to the information in great detail as it was adequately debated and discussed at length the last day.
According to Bord na gCon, the greyhound industry is responsible for 11,000 full-time and part-time jobs, directly and indirectly, many of which are in rural communities. The industry provides an estimated €500 million to the local economy. The greyhound breeding sector is also very successful, and approximately 75% of greyhounds now running in the UK are Irish. The industry also attracts many tourists to Ireland and it is therefore of paramount importance that we protect and enhance it through the most stringent regulations.
I would like to recap briefly the main points of the Bill. The Bill grants a wide range of powers to welfare officers to allow them to specify various items of welfare notices. However, these provisions will not present any difficulty to individuals who take due recognition of the welfare requirements, have proper premises and operate their businesses in co-operation with local veterinary practices, as appropriate. The Bill provides for a period of up to three months from the commencement of the Act for greyhound breeding establishments to be registered. It will be lawful for dog breeding establishments to continue to operate for this period and will enable a smooth transition to full registration of greyhound breeding establishments.
Bord na gCon will be responsible for the establishment of a code of practice under section 6 of the Bill. Under section 11, it will be an offence to allow a female greyhound to give birth more than six times during her lifetime. Section 12 provides for the establishment of a register of greyhound breeding establishments. Finally, section 18 of the Bill outlines that a welfare officer or member of the Garda Síochána may inspect premises and may require books, records or any other documents to be made available.
The social aspect is very important. It must be remembered that this industry provides great entertainment for all people and greatly enhances Ireland's tourism industry. It has been brought to my attention that greyhounds are sometimes abandoned at greyhound tracks if they do not win their races. I would like to affirm that the introduction of this new Act will protect greyhounds from mistreatment as, under the new law, each greyhound will be fully traceable back to its original owner.
It is important that the greyhound industry is regulated in the same way as any other industry in Ireland. The enactment of this Bill into law at a future date will ensure that greyhounds are protected from any undesirable treatment and will establish tight regulations for the future. I thank the Minister of State for addressing the House on this Bill and for his work in overseeing the passage of the Bill.
Thar ceann Sinn Féin, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an reachtaíocht seo. Táimid ag tacú leis an mBille. Tá áthas orainn go bhfuil sé ag dul tríd. Creidimid go léiríonn an díospóireacht seo go raibh an ceart ag Sinn Féin nuair a dúirt muid gur chóir go ndéanfaí scarúint idir an reachtaíocht seo agus an reachtaíocht a bhaineann le madraí i gcoitinne.
Sinn Féin welcomes this Bill and we are happy to support it. The discussion today shows that Sinn Féin was correct when it called for the separation of a Bill dealing with the welfare of greyhounds from the general Dog Breeding Establishments Act and other animal welfare legislation. This course of action has proven to be wise. Although we all agree that the industry is extremely important and we all support it, as has been outlined by previous Senators, there are certain questions that are raised. At the peak of the industry, approximately 25,000 greyhounds were born in Ireland every year, which is a huge number compared with other countries. Typically, only 80 greyhounds were adopted into Irish homes per year, while between 430 and 450 were adopted into European homes at the end of their racing lives. Some 40,000 greyhounds are unaccounted for annually, which is still a serious cause for concern.
We acknowledge, however, the contribution made by the vast majority of those involved in greyhound racing and coursing to the sporting and cultural landscape of Ireland, particularly rural Ireland, and to the welfare of dogs. This industry is also important in providing employment, sport and recreation for thousands of people, who have shown great dedication to the sport.
The vast majority of greyhound people show a fantastic commitment to the welfare of their animals. The familiar scene of local greyhound trainers out with their dogs in the early hours of the morning is one repeated in villages, towns and cities throughout the island. The greyhound industry itself is significant. It is a good industry and I have no doubt that 90% of the people involved treat their animals well and have animal welfare high on their list of priorities. However, a percentage of those involved are treating their animals in a manner that could be improved. The greyhound racing industry is often regarded as difficult to regulate and that is one of the questions that will arise. It is important to enact a Bill such as this, but it is also important to put the resources in place to make sure it can be enforced. There is no point in giving people monitoring powers and so on if the resources are not available to ensure it is happening.
We must not forget that the greyhound industry is just that - an industry. Its aim is to produce pedigree dogs in a competitive environment where the working life of a top-class greyhound is very short. As legislators, we have a responsibility to protect the welfare of these animals, and the Bill provides for this, but only if it is implemented and enforced. We welcome the expansion of powers for welfare officers from Bord na gCon, the Irish Coursing Club and local authorities, which will enable them to issue welfare notices and, where necessary, to seize greyhounds.
In general, we support the Bill and are glad it has been passed. We would like to see similar Bills applying to the horse and showjumping industries as we feel that area is in need of similar attention. Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Aire agus buíochas a ghabháil leis as ucht an reachtaíocht seo a thabhairt os gcomhair an Tí. Tá áthas orainn go bhfuil tacaíocht á thabhairt dúinn don Bhille seo. Mhol muid go gcuirfí ar aghaidh é. Tacaíonn Sinn Féin leis an mBille seo.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and commend him on the work he has done. We fully support this Bill. On Second Stage I raised a number of issues with the Minister of State. One of these was to do with the carrying out of inspections and whether the required manpower would be available, as mentioned by the previous speaker, Senator Ó Clochartaigh. I also raised the issue of how to deal with people who are in breach of the legislation in terms of regulating their future activity within the industry. I am extremely pleased with the interaction I have had with the Minister of State and his Department since then. Confirmation has been given that there are adequate facilities within the Irish Coursing Club to deal with this issue should the matter arise, and that there are already provisions within the ICC to deal with people who are in breach of the legislation in terms of their future activity within the industry. I am pleased that both of those issues, which I feel are extremely important, were dealt with by the Minister of State and his staff. I have received communications clarifying these points. At the time, I know the Minister of State was concerned about these issues himself, however, my contact with the ICC has confirmed that they have been dealt with.
This is good legislation. The Minister of State mentioned the last day that if a similar approach had been taken by the last Government, namely, taking a mature approach to this issue instead of dealing with it as part of an overall plan to improve the welfare of animals, including the banning of hunting and so on, that Government might still be in office.
One sign that this is good legislation is that it has been accepted by all sides of the House. Another is the availability of clarification and the willingness of those concerned to engage with us on issues of importance such that there were no amendments to the Bill, an excellent sign with any legislation. It will be good and I have no concerns about it.
A compliance figure of 90% within the industry was mentioned. I have been involved in the industry as a punter, an owner and otherwise throughout the years. It is safe to say that 99% of people involved in the greyhound industry are compliant. There may be 1% in any walk of life who are not compliant and for whom all this legislation is required. However, people from all walks of life are involved, in the main, for the love of the animal and the sport. Some people participate on a professional basis and make a living out of it but these people are more in love with the animals than anyone else and I have seen at first hand the care and attention given to greyhounds by professional dog trainers throughout the country. This is a good day for the greyhound industry in Ireland, it is a good day for the welfare of the greyhound and it is good legislation. I commend the Minister of State on today's work.
The message is clear: when one gets involved in something, if one brings everyone along and allows everyone to have their say, it is better. I know from my responsibility, as does the senior Minister from his responsibility, that people in the greyhound industry welcome this legislation. Like those in every other industry they are going through a hard patch. Any legislation that strengthens their position and which is related to the welfare of their dogs is helpful. The people themselves have no wish to be taught in any other way. This is why we have the retirement home for greyhounds. While I have never had a greyhound as a pet, any dog can mean so much to a family and can be great company, especially for someone who is on their own.
The Bill is going through and other Bills will follow. If one were to pick out one element of the legislation that is memorable, it is that the person to whom the dog is registered is responsible at the end of the day. It is like the case of the car. Great legislation was introduced relating to cars so that whoever was the last owner was responsible. If anything goes wrong with a dog that person is responsible.
The legislation is in place to punish. Senators are aware of how much people love their greyhounds and I hope this will help the business. As Senators said, rightly, there may be questions on certain aspects and the horse industry must be examined as well. If anyone has any queries on anything related to agriculture, they should lift the telephone to contact me. It need not take three or four weeks to get an answer. It is a great way of working. I thank everyone responsible for getting this legislation through.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to bring the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011 before Seanad Éireann. I thank the various Senators who took the time to examine the relevant issues and for their support in progressing this legislation. The contributions have been very useful.
The greyhound industry makes a significant contribution to the economy and it should be recognised that it is an export-orientated industry, as evidenced by the fact that approximately 75% of the greyhounds that currently race in the United Kingdom were bred in Ireland. Legislation to enhance greyhound welfare is crucial for the further development of the industry. The provisions in the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011 take account of the well-established controls that the Irish Coursing Club and Bord na gCon have in place already. This legislation provides a sound legal basis for welfare inspections to be carried out at all premises where greyhounds are kept. The Bill grants a wide range of powers to welfare officers and empowers them to issue welfare notices outlining improvements where they are required. The Bill allows for local authorities to appoint welfare officers in addition to those appointed by the Irish Coursing Club and Bord na gCon.
In drawing up the welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011, my Department engaged with several organisations concerned with the welfare of dogs. In this regard I thank the various bodies such as Bord na gCon, the Irish Coursing Club and various NGOs, such as the Dogs Trust, all of whom engaged with the drafting in a helpful manner. It was agreed in the discussions with these bodies that the restriction this Bill places on the number of times a greyhound bitch can be bred as well as the prohibition on breeding a bitch under 15 months are significant factors in greyhound welfare. I thank the secretariat of the House who facilitated the Bill. I am satisfied this legislation, which is comprehensive and appropriately pitched, will ensure a good standard of welfare for greyhounds. Again, I thank all Members of the House.