Abattoirs Bill, 1987 [Seanad]: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 24 February 1988

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 378 No. 4

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Sections 11 and 12 agreed to.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 11, before section 13, to insert the following new section:

“13.—(1) The holder of an abattoir licence shall only transfer the licence to another person who is deemed fit by the Minister for Agriculture, and who subsequently sanctions such transfer.

(2) Where the holder of an abattoir licence dies the licence shall continue in full force and effect for the benefit of the licence holder's personal representative, or as the case may be, his spouse or any other member of his family, for the period then unexpired of the term of the licence, and such spouse, or personal representative [899] shall be entitled to apply for the renewal of the licence in the ordinary way.”.

I ask the Minister to accept this amendment because the Bill, as currently drafted, seeks to exclude the transfer of a business from father to son. It gives the Minister power, within two months of the death of the owner, to rescind or withdraw the licence, which has very sinister implications for family butchers in towns and villages throughout the country. If the section is allowed to stand, there will be no incentive for a person with a public house to transfer it to his son or next of kin. In the interests of continuity, such a licence, subject to my amendment, should remain with the family and they should be given the right to have it renewed in their name.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. J. Walsh): Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  This amendment seeks to allow for the transfer of abattoir licences and to alter the provisions relating to continuance of the licence on the death of a licence holder. I cannot see the need to provide that a licence may be transferred on the lines suggested by Deputy McCoy. The whole purpose of the subsection is to ensure that a licence — which has to be renewed annually — will not be passed on with the sale or lease of an abattoir. In such circumstances, it will be necessary for the new owner or occupier to make a fresh application for a licence. This is necessary to ensure that the new owner or occupier is a fit and proper person to hold a licence, as required by the provisions of section 11 of the Bill.

Deputy McCoy's amendment serves no purpose other than to involve the Minister as a party to the transfer of the premises and it will have to be resisted. It is cumbersome and an ineffective approach to the situation. It could also involve a breach of confidentiality by the Minister. Subsection (2) as it stands does not preclude the legal personal representative, spouse or any other member of a deceased licence holder's family from applying for a renewal of the licence in [900] the ordinary course. Accordingly, Deputy McCoy's amendment is unnecessary. Indeed, in certain circumstances, it could be a disadvantage to some people, for example, where the licence was within a week of expiring, as the amendment makes no provision for this while the existing subsection does. In regard to the latter, I hope to improve the concession of two months when we are discussing amendment No. 5.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  The section which the Minister feels it is not necessary to amend gives him power over the sale or disposal of an abattoir or business involving an abattoir. My amendment stated that the licence should only be transferred to someone who is deemed fit by the Minister for Agriculture and Food and who subsequently sanctions such transfer. The wording is unnecessarily restrictive in the section as it stands and if a person has gone to the expense of providing an abattoir which complies with the regulations in terms of hygiene and so on which the Minister has laid down, it will not be much of an incentive for him to discover that the continuity of a family business will be at the discretion of the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  When a licence holder dies, it is reasonable that facilities should exist for the continuance of the licence for the benefit of his personal representative, a spouse or any other member of the family. This can and will be done and I have made every arrangement to ensure that the dependants of licence holders are facilitated in every way. It will be similar to the annual renewal of licences, if a person is deemed suitable and fit, there should be no difficulty in receiving such a licence.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  Amendment No. 5. Amendment No. 13 is cognate so it is proposed, for the purpose of discussion, to take amendments Nos. 5 and 13 together.

[901]Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I move amendment No. 5:

In page 11, subsection (2), line 22, to delete “two” and substitute “four”.

I wish to thank the Minister for accepting my amendment and incorporating it in his own list of amendments. Having considered the section as originally set out, it appeared that where the death of a licence holder took place and a period of 11 months unexpired licence remained, that person's family would have an advantage over the family of a licence holder who died with, say, a month or two unexpired licence. This amendment brings it into line in regard to the various administrative problems that usually arise in the case of a death and transfer of the property to another member of the family and it should meet the requirements that will be incumbent on the next licence holder. It will also give them sufficient time to get their affairs in order, to put in their application and to comply with the regulations as set out in the section.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  I recognise the reasonable reaction of the Minister in accepting the points we made. We all agree that the proposal to extend the period from “two” to “four” is sensible and reasonable and will lead to a better Bill and in so far as you can minimise hardship after death, it will be minimised.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  Arising from the concern expressed to me by Deputies O'Keeffe and Durkan — and I thank them for bringing this matter to my attention — I realised that the period of two months might, in some circumstances, have caused some difficulties. I am pleased to say that section 13(2) will be amended accordingly. Amendment No. 5 will do that in the case of abattoir licences while amendment No. 13 makes a similar provision in relation to knackery licences.

Amendment agreed to.

[902]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  I must advise Deputy O'Keeffe that amendment No. 6 is not in order.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  We have already been notified in that regard. Deputy Durkan and I raised the concerns about the access of family butchers to IDA and FEOGA funding on the motion prior to the commencement of the debate on Committee Stage. We have made our point and the Minister has promised to consider it before Report Stage.

Amendment No. 6 not moved.

Question proposed: “That section 13, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  We have improved the position that will arise on the death of a licence holder but I should like to know what the position will be where a company is a licence holder in the event of that company (a), going into receivership, (b), having gone into liquidation or, (c), where the shares of the company, as opposed to the company itself, are transferred.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I am advised that while the shares might be transferred the company remains in operation. I assume that the same conditions apply to a company as to any licence holder.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  Does that mean that the licence automatically passes to the liquidator or the receiver in the event of a liquidation or receivership? What becomes of a licence in such circumstances?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  The licence passes on with the change for a minimum of four months or until it comes up for renewal, just as happens in the case of an ordinary licence holder.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  We now move on to amendment No. 7 in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 7 and 14 are cognate and Nos. 9 and 16 are cognate and are related to No. 7. It is proposed to take amendments Nos. 7, 9, 14 and 16 together.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 11, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following subsection:

“(2) Whenever the Minister considers it proper to refuse an application for the grant or renewal of an abattoir licence, he shall, by at least 21 days notice in writing, notify the applicant of his intention to refuse the application and of the reasons therefor.”.

The purpose behind amendments Nos. 7, 9, 14 and 16 is to provide for an intermediate period between either refusal or revocation of abattoir or knackery licences takes place, and, moreover, before formal recourse to the Circuit Court on appeal becomes necessary. The trade has been concerned about the Bill's appeal provisions where a licence was being either refused or revoked. We had comprehensive discussions with the trade and we have tried to facilitate them in every way. They were anxious to ensure that their members could have some informal procedure available to them before having to resort to the Circuit Court on formal appeal. These amendments meet this concern by providing that, in the first instance, notice of intention to refuse or revoke a licence must issue at least 21 days before notice of actual refusal or revocation, as the case may be, issues. This added safeguard of 21 days advance notice will facilitate any aggrieved proprietor who feels his case may not have been adequately reported upon at the time of inspection to represent his case more fully to the Department. Moreover, it will ensure that proprietors are not immediately catapulted into the formal appeal procedures involving the Circuit Court.

[904] I would like to take this opportunity also to clarify the Department's approach to licensing of premises once this Bill is up and underway. Our approach will be quite straightforward and reasonable. If a premises is up to licensing standard it will get a licence. Should the premises not be up to standard but could achieve it through improvements, a temporary permit as provided for under sections 17 and 32 of the Bill will issue. This permit will have the same force and effect as a licence. Under this kind of system, it is unlikely that recourse to the courts will need to be invoked very often. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, there now will be an added safety valve period provided for proprietors through these amendments and which period does not involve any court procedures. In other words, if a proprietor does not comply with the regulations he will be given 21 days notice that his licence may be revoked. That period will give him an adequate opportunity to make representations to the Department, if the licence holder wishes. I should like to stress that I tabled the amendment following consultations with the trade who have found it acceptable and a reasonable resolution of the problem.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  The amendment in principle is good and will lead to more reasonable discussion between the Department and owners of abattoirs in the event of difficulties arising. However, I am worried about a technical point. If the Minister says it is proper to refuse an application and then gives 21 days notice in writing of his intention to refuse to grant a licence can he, as the provision is framed, withdraw that notice of intention? It seems to me that in section 14 there is a mandatory provision, that where the Minister decides to refuse an application he shall by notice in writing notify the applicant. Will the Minister be able to put a stay on that notice if a reasonable case is made by the owner of the abattoir? I should like to ask the Minister, and his advisers, to look at this matter before Report Stage. I am concerned, because of the way subsection (2) [905] is framed, that it could be said that the Minister has decided and, therefore, shall issue the notice. I am worried that the Minister might not be able to use the period of 21 days to listen to representations and, if convinced by them, to withdraw the notice.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I should like to stress that before a Minister would signal his intention to withdraw or revoke a licence there would have to be a serious infringement. Such notification will not be issued lightly. The thrust of the Bill is to operate standards and stringent standards will have to be adhered to. However, in this provision we are stating that the Minister will give 21 days notice of his intention to revoke a licence. Within that period a local TD, or other people, might make representations that improvements had been carried out and in that event the Minister would not put into effect his intention to refuse or revoke a licence.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  If an individual approaches a solicitor, rather than his local TD, will 21 days be adequate notice? I am concerned about the self-employed.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I have some experience of dealing with inspectors from the Department in relation to food premises and I am aware that they are very humane and responsible people. An individual would need to have a binder twine operation, almost, in existence before notice would be issued of intention to withdraw or revoke a licence. I have found that every assistance possible is given to proprietors of food premises to get their premises up to standard. As a last resort a threat is issued to withdraw a licence. In such cases it is patently clear that the proprietor is not serious about running a hygienic food premises. Under those circumstances the 21 days provide a very reasonable opportunity for a person to put his premises in order. It is an adequate time to show seriousness on the part of a proprietor.

[906]Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  A person who is self-employed, especially if he works alone, can have a problem in finding time to deal with the veterinary inspector. It has been known from time to time for personality conflicts to enter into certain relationships. Where a person finds he has no recourse except to a solicitor, perhaps 21 days is a short period, especially when communications have broken down. Regarding the regulations generally, what is the Minister's opinion in regard to an abattoir which may be landlocked in terms of its physical dimensions, providing no opportunity for the owner or operator to expand in order to meet the regulations as laid down by the local authority?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  The period of 21 days was decided upon as the timescale for making improvements and that timescale was acceptable to the trade in our discussions with them. It is a reasonable period, whether the person decides to contact his local representative or the Department or his legal representative. In the case of a personality conflict, it has always been the case that if a person makes contact with the Department regarding a difficulty with a local inspector, a senior inspector is sent to the premises to see that everybody is getting a fair deal. I am certain that would be the case under this legislation.

There will be a standard for premises throughout the country which will mean that slaughtering and processing will have to be carried out under hygienic conditions. If the premises is too small in area and cannot be extended, the proprietor will have to relocate in order to have adequate space to carry on the business of slaughtering and processing in accordance with the provisions of this Bill.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  If it is decided that relocation is necessary, this will be the death knell for the operator for such an abattoir. The reality is that it will be virtually impossible for a self-employed person to satisfy local authority requirements, apart from the veterinary and hygiene [907] requirements, in establishing a new abattoir elsewhere. He would not get planning permission.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I generally welcome the inclusion of these subsections on the basis that the licence holder will be given at least 21 days notice of the Minister's intention to revoke a licence. That does not apply to a permit holder. That will obviously create greater difficulties in the interim period because 21 days might not necessarily be a sufficient time to bring the premises up to proper standards. However, a licence holder who has previously been granted a licence should be in a position to maintain these premises in proper order and 21 days notice should be sufficient to get things right if there has been some kind of setback.

Amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  Amendments Nos. 8 and 15 are cognate and may be taken together, by agreement.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I move amendment No. 8:

In page 11, subsection (2), lines 35 to 37, to delete paragraph (c) and substitute the following:

“(c) if, at the date on which such application is made, the premises to which the application relates are used as an abattoir, whether such premises may, in accordance with the provisions of this Act, continue to be so used.”.

These two amendments are concerned solely with tidying up a certain vagueness in the subsections to which they relate. Regarding amendment No. 8, the position is that subsection (2) (c) of section 14 as it stands could be defective in that it might imply that a premises which heretofore was not being operated as an abattoir could be allowed to operate as such while the applicant for a licence was appealing the Minister's decision not to grant him one. This would be especially true in the case of a greenfield premises [908] in respect of which application is made for an abattoir licence but refused. Accordingly, this amendment clarifies the situation in the case of abattoirs. Amendment No. 15 does likewise in the case of knackeries.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I refer to the question of kennels which will come within the provisions of the legislation. Kennels will be subject to the usual inspections and the usual conditions will apply in relation to the disposal of animals and animal offal. Does the Minister foresee any difficulty in relation to the operation of kennels and the greyhound industry?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  My information is that if knackeries are operated to cut up meat and provide it for kennels they come under the provisions of this legislation. If the Deputy is referring to kennels where feeding is carried out, then public health legislation would be applicable and it would not be a matter for this legislation. This Bill is concerned with abattoirs and knackeries where meat is being cut and provided for kennels.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  It does not apply to large kennels which might not themselves operate a knackery for the disposal or sale of animal offal to other kennels but might provide for their own uses. Am I to understand that such kennels will provide for their own uses without coming under the aegis of this legislation?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  Yes. I direct the Deputy's attention to section 2 (1) (c) which refers to kennels where dead animals or parts thereof are fed to hounds.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I was thinking about that section when I raised the question. There is an established practice in some parts of the country whereby large kennels collect dead and worn-out animals and have them slaughtered on site and disposed of to their packs of hounds. I know that regulations under the Public Health Act apply as well as the legislation covering the diseases of animals. It could happen that a difficulty would arise in a very [909] large scale operation where the operation might run counter to what is considered under the terms of the section referred to. What I am saying is that you could have very large kennels operating on a comparative scale to an established and licensed knackery and the same standards might not necessarily be applied.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  That type of establishment will come under the provisions of section 2 of this Bill where a knackery will mean any premises used as kennels where dead animals or parts thereof are cut up and fed to hounds. That certainly comes within the ambit of this Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 14, as amended, agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  Amendment No. 9 has already been discussed.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I move amendment No. 9:

In page 12, lines 1 to 10, to delete subsection (2), and substitute the following subsections:

(2) Before revoking an abattoir licence pursuant to this section, the Minister shall, by at least 21 days notice in writing, notify the holder of the licence of his intention to revoke the licence and of the reasons therefor.

(3) Whenever the Minister decides to revoke an abattoir licence pursuant to this section, he shall, by notice in writing, notify the holder of the licence—

(a) of his decision and of the reasons therefor, and

(b) of the time limit within which, and of the manner in which, an appeal against such revocation may, pursuant to section 16 of this Act, be made, and

[910] (c) whether the premises concerned may, in accordance with the provisions of this Act, continue to be used as an abattoir.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 15, as amended, agreed to.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I move amendment No. 10:

In page 12, subsection (2), lines 22 and 23, delete paragraph (b), and substitute the following:

(b) if an appeal is made, until it has been considered first by an independent tribunal, and then if necessary until such time as the appeal is first mentioned in the Circuit Court.

I ask the Minister to consider this amendment because in the event of the appeal being won in the Circuit Court on the basis of evidence offered it would be detrimental to a person's business if they had to go to the Circuit Court to prove they were in order and correct notwithstanding the reports of the veterinary officer. I am saying an independent tribunal could make a quick decision which could then proceed to the Circuit Court if the Minister thought necessary.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  This amendment proposing the establishment of an independent tribunal to hear licence appeals, in the first instance may be ultra vires. My colleague Deputy O'Keeffe would know more about that than I. However, I know what Deputy McCoy means as this proposal was debated comprehensively in the Seanad on Committee Stage. As I mentioned earlier when introducing amendments Nos. 7 and 9, the trade were concerned about being immediately catapulted into the Circuit Court once a licence was either refused or revoked. I re-examined the appeal provisions in the Bill and came up with the 21 days valley period povided by [911] those two amendments to allay such concerns. These would provide for an informal type of appeal to proprietors prior to any involvement of the Circuit Court. The trade, I am glad to say, welcomed this proposal. I do not think it would be in the best interests of either the trade of the Department to seek yet another buffer by way of an independent tribunal. If we were now to add another stage in the appeal process we would probably end up with the most elaborate licensing appeal system in the world. This would be in nobody's interest, neither the butchers, the consumers nor the licensing body. Moreover, the constitution of an independent tribunal would prove contentious, if not extremely difficult, having regard to the existence of three separate trade organisations in the long tradition of having several trade organisations for many matters in this country. A further consideration would be the suspect legality of any decisions handed down by such tribunal given the role to be played by the Circuit Court on appeals thereto. All in all, I believe there is no merit in providing for an independent tribunal for the reasons mentioned and particularly having regard to the new provisions contained in sections 14 and 15.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  Taking into consideration what the Minister has said, I appreciate that he is aware of the concern which I have for self-employed people in such a situation. I am happy to accept, in good faith, that the amendment which he has proposed adequately takes care of this task.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 16, as amended, agreed to.

Amendment No. 11 not moved.

Section 17 agreed to.

Sections 18 and 19 agreed to.

[912] SECTION 20.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I move amendment No. 12:

In page 14, subsection (1) (c), line 48, after “place”, to insert the following:

Provided that such times are reasonable and will not interfere with the business of the abattoir owner.

This amendment is self-explanatory. Its objective is to ensure that the abattoir owner is not precluded from operating his business in the way he is used to and which is necessary for him to make his living.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  On that proposal, I was approached by the butchers group who expressed the kind of things that have been mentioned by Deputy McCoy. They are concerned that there would be an amendment to this section. The proposal they made to me was that it should be on the following lines, “provided that such slaughterings can be carried out at such times as shall be approved by the local authority having regard to good business practices as is customary in the area except in the case of sick or injured animals.” I did not put down an amendment along those lines because I did not think it would be effective. The spirit behind the amendment is one with which I agree. It is important that the Minister should set these concerns at rest. It may not be that easy to implement effective regulations which would take on board a thought of that kind. The Minister should be aware that there is a genuine concern on the part of the trade on this issue and it is important that he would allay those fears and concerns at this stage.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  Uncontrolled slaughterings at abattoirs throughout the country leading to loose veterinary examination of animals and meat would seriously undermine the provisions of the Bill. Thus, it is necessary to regulate slaughtering times. In this connection the [913] regulations will provide that local authorities, following consultation with abattoir licence holders — I want to stress that the local authorities will always have consultations with abattoir licence holders — will then go on to fix the days and times during which slaughterings may take place. This amendment would unduly restrict local authorities in making such arrangements as it could render the fixing of slaughtering times well nigh impossible, particularly if some abattoir proprietors choose to be difficult or uncompromising in the matter. I want to assure the Deputies and the House that sifficient flexibility will be contained in these regulations to satisfy the needs of the proprietors of premises and I expect that local authorities will, in the ordinary course, have regard to local business practices in their particular areas when arranging the times.

In this connection where fixed slaughtering times are currently in operation, the Department are not aware of any problems having arisen. Moreover, the Department recently discussed in depth the draft regulation on slaughtering times with the Irish Domestic Meat Traders Association. That body are satisfied with the consultations which have taken place and with the provisions and arrangements by local authorities. I do not envisage any departure from those good relations and I do not see the necessity for this amendment.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  Perhaps I require clarification from the Minister. This Bill is aimed at butchers' abattoirs which are located mostly in towns throughout the country. As everybody in the trade knows, virtually all butchers do their slaughtering within hours of each other. They slaughter at a particular time for the days on which they do their best business and these times are common to them all as are the times on which they do their slaughtering for the days on which their business is slack. I cannot see in local authority areas where there are many independent abattoirs how the inspectors are going to be able to attend at all of [914] these abattoirs. In some of these only a couple of cattle are slaughtered each week and this slaughtering has to fit in with the operations of the butcher in question. That is the concern I am trying to project to the Minister for State. It is not as simple as making arrangements, we are talking about a one-man band. It is not as simple as dealing with a corporation which employs many people. Naturally, people are concerned that a traditional business will now have to be turned around to suit the inspectors for whom the traditional businesses will have to come up with the money to pay the fees.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  As I said in my initial reply, draft regulations fixing these times were discussed in very great detail with the trade and I want to assure Deputy McCoy and the House that sufficient flexibility will be contained in the regulations to satisfy the needs of proprietors and that business practice in particular areas will be taken into account in arranging times. I can give an absolute assurance on that. In the negotiations with the trade the Irish Domestic Meat Traders Association were, as I have said, quite satisfied with the consultation provisions contained in this legislation.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I am prepared to accept the Minister of State's assurances in this matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 20 agreed to.

Sections 21 to 27, inclusive, agreed to.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I move amendment No. 13:

In page 17, subsection (2), line 31, to delete “two” and substitute “four”.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 28, as amended, agreed to.

[915] SECTION 29.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I move amendment No. 14:

In page 17, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following subsection:

“(2) Whenever the Minister considers it proper to refuse an application for the grant or renewal of a knackery licence, he shall, by at least 21 days notice in writing, notify the applicant of his intention to refuse the application and of the reasons therefor.”

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I move amendment No. 15:

In page 17, subsection (2), lines 44 to 46, to delete paragraph (c), and substitute the following:

“(c) if, at the date on which such application is made, the premises to which the application relates are used as a knackery, whether such premises may, in accordance with the provisions of this Act, continue to be so used.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 29, as amended, agreed to.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I move amendment No. 16:

In page 18, lines 11 to 20, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following subsections:

“(2) Before revoking a knackery licence pursuant to this section, the Minister shall, by at least 21 days notice in writing, notify the holder of the licence of his intention to revoke the licence and of the reasons therefor.

(3) Whenever the Minister decides to revoke a knackery licence pursuant to this section, he shall, by notice in writing, notify the holder of the licence—

[916] (a) of his decision, and of the reasons therefor, and

(b) of the time limit within which, and of the manner in which, an appeal against such revocation may, pursuant to section 31 of this Act, be made, and

(c) whether the premises concerned may, in accordance with the provisions of this Act, continue to be used as a knackery.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 30, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 31 to 33, inclusive, agreed to.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I move amendment No. 17:

In page 20, subsection (1), to delete lines 32 and 33, and substitute the following:

“(1) The Minister will forthwith in relation to knackeries, make regulations in respect of all the following matters—”.

The Bill as framed says that the Minister “may, in relation to knackeries, make Regulations in respect of all or any of the following matters...” I ask him once the Bill becomes law to make those regulations as a matter of course.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I can assure the Deputy that regulations will be made forthwith following the passage of this legislation. In fact, discussions are already taking place. The whole purpose of this legislation is to raise standards. Therefore, the aim of this amendment would seem to be adequately covered by the section as it stands. Deputy McCoy seems to be concerned that regulations will not be made to control the activities of knackeries given the non-mandatory nature of the introduction to the section. I can categorically assure the House that regulations will be introduced on foot of this [917] section. As I have said, work has already begun on their preparation as regulations will be required in connection with the licensing of knackeries. In making provision in a Bill for regulations it is usual to use the word “may” and in this connection I refer the Deputy to sections 9, 10, 20, 24, 25, 39, 40, 44, 56 and 61 where the word is also used. Accordingly, there would seem to be no need for this amendment.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I accept the Minister of State's assurances. I suggest he might agree that the word “may” could be misleading, particularly when he means “will”.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  Sea.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I will not be pressing the amendment.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  We have gone very quickly through sections 21 to 34 which all relate to knackeries. As a matter of interest, I have not been approached by any national association of knackers if such an association exists. What is the reason that all of these provisions in relation to knackeries seem to arouse no controversy?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I want to assure the House that we are quite serious about the activities of knackeries. In the past food from knackeries may very well have got into the human food chain. This is a very serious matter and there is going to be no nonsense nor delays in bringing regulations under this Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 34 agreed to.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  In view of previous assurances given by the Minister of State I will not be pressing amendment No. 18.

[918] Amendment No. 18 not moved.

Question proposed: “That section 35 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  This section provides for the appointment of veterinary inspectors in each functional local authority area and that raises the question of the public service embargo. Can the Minister of State tell us, in the light of the operation of the embargo at present, how he believes that local authorities who do not have a full-time veterinary inspectorate at this stage will be accommodated to enable them to make such appointments?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  As I said earlier in relation to another section, I have been advised that the terms of the embargo will not apply to the 23 local authority areas which do not have full time veterinary inspectors at present. The fact of the matter is that the implementation of the provisions of this legislation will have to be self financing and the embargo will not apply.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  Vast discrepancies could arise in the number of staff required to police the Act given the number of abattoirs in the various counties. As a result, there could be a vast discrepancy in the number of employees required by the various local authorities. Could a situation develop where it might not be self-financing? This could be covered in a subsequent discussion. There could be a case where the number of abattoirs or the number of cattle slaughtered would be so low that the revenue gleaned under the legislation would not be sufficient to meet the financial requirements imposed on the local authority. Does the Minister anticipate any problems along those lines?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  As I said in relation to licence and inspection fees, the costs imposed by this Bill would have to be self-financing. Self-financing is becoming a feature of administration these days. If the fees in question do not measure up to what is required, then it will be for the [919] Minister of the day to come back to the House and look for an increase to cover the cost involved.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 36 to 38, inclusive, agreed to.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I move amendment No. 19:

In page 23, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:

“(i) an appeal by the licensee to a recognised independent body against a declaration by a veterinary inspector that a particular consignment of meat is unfit for human consumption.”.

In framing this amendment I was conscious of the fact that at times without specific analytical facilities being available to a veterinary inspector when he calls to an abattoir or a butcher's premises, a dispute might arise. I am seeking to protect the good name of the butcher where an inspector declares a consignment of meat on the premises to be unfit for human consumption. This is a very important point when it comes to the goodwill of the business. It can hurt a person if a veterinary inspector declares meat unfit for human consumption. I do not mean to suggest that each and every such declaration would lead to an appeal to an independent body, but from time to time disputes will arise. It is to prevent those disputes from growing into confrontations or subsequent legal action that I ask the Minister to consider including a right of appeal in this legislation.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  There is concern about possible peremptory, unfair or unjust decisions being made by veterinary inspectors. Most people accept that the majority of members of the veterinary profession are very objective and no difficulties would arise from their decisions, but human nature being what it is there are bound to be odd occasions [920] when bad blood could arise — to coin a phrase — between the butcher and the veterinary inspector. I know the vagaries of human nature cannot be accommodated totally in official regulations and I appreciate the difficulties of establishing a further appeals procedure, but could the Minister satisfy us that the regulations ensure that if such a situation arises, the butcher or abattoir owner will have some redress and that he is not at the mercy, on that odd occasion, of the bad penny who might have a set against him? If that concern could be put to rest, we would all be far happier. It all depends on what is in the regulations.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  This amendment proposes to allow an appeal against condemnation of meat by a veterinary inspector. Such provision would make life intolerable and, for the inspectorate, it would be almost impossible to carry out their duties and functions under the regulations as every condemnation would be likely to be appealed. Moreover, it would prove to be entirely inoperable given the perishable nature of the product and that meat goes off very quickly. It would create delays and add to expense, most of which would have to fall back on the trade itself. The adjudication of the fitness of meat for human consumption by local authority veterinary inspectors has not proved to be a problem in the past.

In discussions I have heard of no instances where a veterinary inspector's adjudication was causing a problem. Meat condemnations, mostly of offals such as livers, have been taking place at domestic abattoirs. It is hard to see why this matter should become a problem now or in the future because, to my knowledge and to the knowledge of my Department, there has been no problem in the past because meat is either fit for human consumption or it is not. That is a simple standard and no butcher could disagree with it.

In most instances the reason for condemnation will be readily visible to the naked eye. Furthermore, the primary reason veterinary inspectors alone are [921] being given this responsibility is that they will be the best qualified and most experienced in determining the fitness or otherwise of meat for human consumption.

I might add that no such provision exists for the export meat plants and the absence of an appeals procedure has not proved to be a problem at these plants. As the House will be aware, the vast bulk of slaughterings are conducted at these plants with a correspondingly higher rate of condemnations than would be the case with local abattoirs.

The condemnation in whole or in part of a carcase could deal a heavy blow to a small producer, and I accept that. For that reason I am confident that individual veterinary inspectors would prove to be absolutely objective and impartial in their determination of the fitness or otherwise of meat for human consumption. Where there may be doubt and further testing is necessary, section 36(4) and subsections (2) (e) and (2) (g) of this section provide for laboratory tests to be conducted by the public analyst or the State Laboratory. I will closely monitor the operations of this Bill as to returns to be made by local authorities under section 60 of the Bill. I would particularly draw Deputies' attention to section 60 (3) (b). On a regular basis I will have available to me up-to-date information on meat condemnations nationally, including the reasons for such condemnations. It will be open to me to investigate anything that may give cause for concern.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  This amendment relates to the regulations for abattoir operations which provide for general hygiene and inspection of meat at any time other than a post mortem examination. It is simplistic to suggest that there would be contention at all times between a veterinary or public health inspector and a butcher. The reality is that a butcher depends on selling his meat to the public and he is immediately tied to the quality of his meat. It is not a question of trying to sell unfit meat to the public but there is a question which may arise from time to time that meat which an inspector might [922] consider unfit for human consumption may not be considered unfit by the butcher. I take the Minister's point that there is a provision, even if it is not in the Bill, for further testing and checking to verify an inspector's decision. This is what I am really getting at in this amendment. There should be a provision for a dispute arising. It is not a question of trying to hoodwink the public with substandard products or of trying to disagree with a veterinary surgeon as to his professionalism at the post mortem stage. A dispute could arise as to colouration, for instance, and a consignment of meat could be condemned by the public health inspector, and it could have been normal in the tradition of that person's operation and his customers would never have found the meat off-putting. After all a person engaged single-handedly in business has an obligation to the public and if he reneges on that obligation he will immediately lose his business.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  The amendment is not required because the reason for condemnation will be readily visible to all concerned. Section 36 (4) provides for further testing to be carried out. I will be receiving returns under section 60 of the Bill on a regular basis. I will have up-to-date information on meat condemnations throughout the country and if there is cause for concern I will take action then. Meat inspections have been going on down through the years without causing a problem. Neither individual proprietors nor the trade organisations or associations have found difficulty with this provision. They are quite satisfied with the competence, the objectivity and the impartiality of veterinary inspectors in relation to meat condemnation.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I am not calling into question the competence or objectivity of veterinary inspectors nor do I question the thrust of this Bill in this subsection. I accept that the Minister is prepared to examine the situation by way of further tests where disputes arise. I will not press this amendment.

[923] Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 40 stand part of the Bill”.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  On Second Stage I raised some issues in relation to the health mark. The Minister in his Second Stage reply clarified some of the points I raised in relation to the stamping of carcases but my suggestion as to the use of an ultra-violet stamp because otherwise the stamp could be unsightly on the carcase, and make it unmarketable, was not dealt with. I know that ultra-violet stamps are used on people for instances at dances where they use a pass-out arrangement and stamp the back of somebody's hand if he leaves the dance and wants to return later on. Is there a similar type arrangement that could be used for a health stamp on a carcase rather than having an unsightly mark on the carcase. Perhaps the Minister would take that on board and incorporate it in the draft regulations.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I will certainly look at this matter as the design of the health marker has not yet been decided upon.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 41 to 43, inclusive, agreed to.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I move amendment No. 20:

In page 26, lines 40 to 44, to delete subsection (3), and substitute the following subsection:

“(3) The Minister may, by regulation, vary the table to subsection (2) by the addition to or the deletion from the animals specified therein of such animals as he considers necessary or by the provision of a fee, but may only [924] vary the specified fee in respect of each type of animal by reference to the index of inflation.”.

We referred to the indexing of inflation and the Minister refuses to accept that. In relation to this amendment I am quite prepared to drop the indexing to inflation part of it. The section as it stands says “may only vary the specified fee in respect of any animal”. I would ask the Minister to change that to “in respect of each type of animal”.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  The veterinary inspection fees on slaughterings provided for in section 44 are intended to provide a self-financing basis for the local authority veterinary staff, which will be necessary to operate the Bill's controls and shall be determined solely on that basis. I cannot therefore accept Deputy McCoy's amendment seeking to index-link any variation in these fields. His amendment begs the question as to what constitutes indexing to inflation. There are other equally important reasons for rejecting the underlying theme of this amendment. The rates set out in the section are the same as those currently applicable at the export plants whose inspection fees are not index-linked. Those fees were last increased as far back as 1984. The separate index-linking of fees for domestic abattoirs could give rise to an anomalous situation between the home and the export sectors. More particularly, the cost factor would be lost sight of. The fees are there to ensure that this scheme is self-financing and that local authorities will have an adequate amount of finance to cover the cost of inspections under this section.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  In framing this amendment, we have had to take into account the position that arose when the Government doubled the disease eradication levy in one fell swoop. People are naturally worried that such a thing could arise again in relation to inspection fees which are being proposed in this Bill.

[925]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  Are you pressing this amendment?

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I am not pressing the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I move amendment No. 21:

In page 26, subsection (3), line 44, after “animal”, to insert “Provided that such variation does not result in a loss of revenue to the Local Authority”.

In relation to the table to which this amendment refers, I take into account the Minister's response to the last amendment and accept it. However, if one considers future developments and takes into account developments in relation to similar legislation in the past, one could foresee a situation in which the scale as set out could be monitored by the Minister — and rightly so — to ensure that the trade is protected. However, given the present straitened financial position of the various local authorities, after a period of time has elapsed the local authorities, as agents for the Department in this and other legislation, could find themselves suffering a loss, in other words, incurring responsibilities, being forced to enforce legislation which, in turn, imposes upon them a liability other than provided for in the Bill. There are countless instances that members of local authorities can readily recognise where they, acting as agents for Government Departments, implement various Acts of the Oireachtas and take upon themselves responsibilities for so doing, incurring quite an amount of financial liability which is not provided for by this House when passing the legislation. I am not suggesting that a change should be made whereby the trade should carry the responsibility, because the trade needs to be protected, for two reasons: first, in the present financial situation prevailing in local authorities, the tendency could well be, if the Minister did not have the right to make regulations in relation to the [926] table, at Estimates time to increase the fees on the table to such an extent that the trade would not be able to exist.

We could not allow that to happen and, rightly, the Minister has those powers. On the other hand, because of the exercising of the powers, the local authority could find themselves operating the legislation at a loss to themselves. It is no news to the Minister that local authorities operate roughly 300 Acts of the Oireachtas, in many of which they have no direct function other than as agents for various Government Departments. The number of Acts that local authorities are now forced to implement is increasing with each year because of the need to have a certain amount of autonomy among local authorities and a local inspectorate readily available. Obviously, that is desirable and to be encouraged. There is also, however, the generally accepted development of a trend whereby the authorities and various county managers within the local authorities rightly bring to our attention that they now find themselves working for State agencies and not receiving remuneration. Our amendment states: “Provided that such variation does not result in a loss of revenue to the Local Authority”. In other words, the Minister could vary the table upwards or downwards as the case may be, given particular pressures that might arise at a particular time, but if he were to reduce the table, does he envisage his Department perhaps being able to subsidise the system in order to ensure that both local authorities and the trade are fully catered for?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  There is a number of problems associated with this amendment and I have gone into very deep research on this. In the first instance, it is somewhat ambiguous. Secondly, the amendment is defective. The word “revenue” could be construed to mean many things. I decided to refer to my dictionary definition of the word “revenue” and found that it means income derived from any source. Deputies will agree that this [927] interpretation would be highly inappropriate and could lead to all sorts of difficulties. Furthermore, there is a problem with the words “local authorities”. There will be 32 individual local authorities involved in the implementation of this Bill, including the collection of the veterinary inspection fees payable at slaughterings provided for by this section. Any variations in these fees could prove inoperable if it were possible that even one of these local authorities could claim that they would either suffer or continue to suffer a loss of revenue arising from such variation. In other words, the amount of the variation proposed might not satisfy the condition that this amendment would impose for each and every local authority.

In 1986 the Department of Agriculture and Food conducted an extensive survey in estimated cost to local authorities of this legislation. At this stage it is as well to remind the House that supervision of abattoirs and slaughterings is not new to local authorities. They have exercised this function since the last century. Moreover, the costs associated with such function have been borne by local authorities down through the years without any receipts accruing to them from slaughtering inspection fees.

The major cost under this Bill will arise for the 23 local authorities who will be required to employ a whole-time veterinary inspector. Such cost is estimated at £0.6 million annually. The estimated revenue to accrue to local authorities from the fees under this section will be of the order of £1.4 million annually. The balance in receipts of £0.8 million will enable local authorities to provide such back-up services as are necessary, as well as covering the remuneration of the corps of part-time veterinary inspectors employed by local authorities. The cost of the latter is estimated at £0.4 million annually. Accordingly, for the first time ever the local authorities' veterinary service is being placed on a sound financial footing and the control measures in this Bill should prove to be self-financing.

However, if it is found necessary to [928] increase the rate of fees at some future stage to keep in line with costs — and I would hope that there would be no need for increase for a considerable length of time — the regulations so proposing and thus provided for in subsection (4) to the section will have to be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister concerned in introducing such legislation will have to justify to the satisfaction of the Houses that the increases being sought are necessary. For all those reasons I cannot accept this amendment, as local authorities for the first time ever are being put on a sound financial footing as far as veterinary inspectors are concerned and if local authorities from time to time require an increase in fees to cover the cost of implementation of the regulations under this Bill, then it will be a matter for the Minister of the day to bring the matter to the Houses of the Oireachtas to seek an increase. As I say, I hope that that would not happen for a considerable time. I have given an outline of the revenue required and the costs involved and the situation is adequately covered under the regulation as it stands.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I accept the assurances of the Minister. In relation to my definition of revenue, it is defined under the City and County Management Act which applies to all members of local authorities; if a proposal is made, the end result of which is a reduction in revenue, or where it has not been provided in the Estimates, obviously a surcharge would apply. That regulates very tightly the activities of local authorities in relation to such matters. However, I accept the Minister's assurances and withdraw the amendment.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  In relation to the obligation to appoint at least one full-time veterinary inspector, is it envisaged that the full-time veterinary inspector will have the assistance of what are now known as part-time veterinary inspectors who also have private practices, or is it envisaged that there will be meat inspectors so trained rather than veterinary inspectors?

[929]Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  It will depend on the size of the local authority. For example, we have more than one full-time veterinary inspector along with a number of temporary veterinary inspectors.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  Is it intended to have inspectors other than qualified veterinary inspectors for meat inspection?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  Meat inspection will be carried out by veterinary inspectors.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Am I to take it that amendment No. 20 is being withdrawn?

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  Yes.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 44 agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 45 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  I have a concern about this section which has not been highlighted in the debate so far. Section 45 deals with the payment of fees and the fee falls due when an animal is slaughtered in the abattoir and must be paid to the local authority within 28 days of the end of the month in which it fell due. Then section 46 provides for the recovery of the fees as a simple contract debt.

Section 45 (4) provides that anyone who contravenes this section is guilty of an offence. In other words, if a person is a day late with payment, he is automatically guilty of an offence. To give an extreme example, somebody who slaughtered a pig one month, and the following month was a day late in sending in his return of 75p, would find himself liable to be charged before the District Court or on indictment, possibly fined £10,000 and sentenced to three years imprisonment.

I realise that the local authorities have to be given a reasonable opportunity to get in the money due to them, but this is [930] taking it to the fair, if I may coin the phrase. I want the Minister to justify the need to create an offence under section 45 as opposed to the entitlement of the local authority to recover the fee for killing the pig as a simple contract debt as provided in the next section.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  In respect of section 45 (4), any person who contravenes the provisions of this section shall be guilty of an offence. This makes it an offence to fail to comply with the provisions on the payment of fees.

I want to give an assurance to the House that this subsection will be implemented with discretion. There are always a number of days grace, perhaps longer, to allow people in extreme cases to make payment. There could be extreme cases with people not paying fees for up to two years, while people paying on time and complying with the regulations are getting no benefit. So this section is important to ensure that fees are paid, and paid within a reasonable time.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  This raises another issue. The section means that the butcher or abattoir owner is automatically guilty of an offence if he is a day late in paying his fees for killing a pig. Who takes the decision to prosecute, the Minister, the Director of Public Prosecutions or the local authority? This is a serious issue. We are talking about the creation of an offence out of what could be a very nominal matter indeed. The Minister should think about this.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I am advised that the local authority would take that decision as the fee has to be paid, in the first instance, to the local authority. I would draw Deputy O'Keeffe's attention to the fact that the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act and the Coras Beostoic Feola Act, where similar fees are payable, have the same provisions. In any of those it has not been brought to my notice that any undue hardship is being caused by those provisions.

[931]Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  I do not accept that merely because there is a precedent in other statutes that these draconian powers should automatically be inserted into the legislation that comes before this House. There is a need to justify such powers. The example I quoted was somewhat extreme, but, in effect, this is a possibility. I suggest that the Minister consider this. There is a reasonable case for saying that under section 46 there is enough power for the local authority to recover their fees in the District Court in the normal way rather than making an offence out of something that might be quite trivial.

Section agreed to.

Sections 46 and 47 agreed to.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I move amendment No. 22:

In page 28, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following subsection:

“(2) A person applying for registration of more than one premises in any register kept in pursuance of this Part of this Act shall not be liable for a fee greater than £1,000.”.

I discussed this one with the Minister. Originally I had thought that in the case of a multiplicity of abattoirs or slaughterhouses it could impose a certain degree of hardship on applicants. But given that these applicants will have access to the kind of funding that was not available to those catering for the domestic market, I feel that the amendment may not now be as valid as it would have been if our other amendments had been accepted.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 48 agreed to.

Sections 49 to 52, inclusive, agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 53 stand part of the Bill.”

[932]Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  I have some concern in relation to the position of authorised officers and the very draconian powers which it is proposed to give them under the Bill. I am anxious to know how many such authorised officers the Minister is proposing to appoint under section 53. Secondly, how many does he expect the local authorities will appoint? I would like a general picture as to who these authorised officers will be and the outline of their work. I will then come to the question of powers given to them. What is the reason for these authorised officers and what will they do?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  This section provides that both the Minister and the local authorities can appoint persons to be authorised officers for the purposes of the Bill. It is envisaged that the Minister's authorised officers would be involved solely in the annual licensing of abattoirs and knackeries. Such authorised officers would be Department veterinary inspectors, drawn from the meat export plants who in slack periods at those plants would conduct the annual licensing operation. Certain administrative personnel involved in licensing and the maintenance of the central record of licences may also be required to be made authorised officers.

Persons appointed by local authorities to be authorised officers for the purposes of this Bill will be, in the main, the veterinary inspectorate corps. In a small number of areas environmental health officers from the health boards are engaged on an agency basis by local authorities to assist their veterinary inspectors. Such officers may, too, be authorised, as would lay assistants and certain administrative personnel. In addition, where, for instance under the provisions of section 35 of this Bill, two local authorities pool together for the purpose of providing the whole time veterinary inspector required, such inspector would be appointed by each of the authorities concerned to be an authorised officer. Local authority authorised [933] officers will be concerned with the supervision of slaughterings, detection of unlicensed premises and unstamped meat, collection of slaughtering inspection fees and supervision of knackeries.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  My concern relates more to the draconian powers of the authorised officers which are dealt with under the next section. On that basis our more correct procedure would be to let this section through and to raise that point on the following section.

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 54 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  I sometimes wonder whether the general public or indeed all the legislators realise the kind of draconian powers that are given to various people under the legislation that comes before this House. We have had the background from the Minister as to who these authorised officers will be. Under section 54 they will be entitled, I presume without warrant — the Minister might confirm that in his reply — to kick down the door and enter any premises which is being used or which they reasonably suspect is being used as an abattoir or a knackery. They will have powers in relation to vehicles which they have reasonable suspicion are being used in connection with an abattoir or a knackery and they will have powers in relation to the taking of copies, or the removal of any records found on such premises or vehicles. There is need for the Minister to fully justify in a democracy the provision of such draconian powers to people who will be officials of his own Department or of local authorities. It is necessary to justify any diminution of civil liberties. This section proposes to give powers to authorised officers without any need, as far as I can see, to go to a District Court or even a peace commissioner. The Minister will have to justify the need for [934] such powers on the basis that the civil liberties of those involved in the trade will be restricted and limited by the giving of such powers to authorised officers.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  Like my more legally minded colleague, I have some reservations about the powers conferred on the authorised officer. For instance, section 54 (1) (a) and (b) states: “enter, by force if necessary,...”; paragraph (c) refers to the production of records, and paragraph (d) states: “take copies of, or remove, any records....”. If those powers were to apply to the implementation of various other Acts of the Oireachtas affecting the citizens there would be somewhat more reservation expressed by the community. I know there are good reasons for having that section — for instance, if an illegal abattoir or knackery exists, obviously in order to ensure that standards are kept the Minister and/or his agents have the right to gain access in order to protect the public interest. By the same token they should also have due regard to the civil rights and liberties of the people they are dealing with.

I would like an assurance from the Minister that no extraordinary force would be used in order to gain access to premises which would result perhaps in bringing the legislation into disrepute, and that force would not be used too widely. The interpretation of the Bill should not be too broadly based. Paragraph (a) states: “enter, by force if necessary, and inspect any premises which is, or which he reasonably suspects is, being used as an abattoir or as a knackery”. The same applies in relation to transport vehicles. I hope the powers under the Bill will not be extended beyond that for which they were intended.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  Of course I can give an assurance that the Bill will not be used in any draconian way or beyond what is necessary to implement its provisions. On the ground of experience it has been shown that physical threats to local authority officers investigating illegal slaughterings are fairly commonplace and this [935] was brought very graphically and starkly to the attention of the country recently when this kind of cowboy behaviour took place. It is only in such situations that these powers will be implemented. Already, under the provisions of section 36, a veterinary inspector has been granted power to enter and inspect any abattoir or knackery. We are here talking about a marginal number of abattoirs, knackeries or people involved in activities which have to be terminated.

Section 54 (1) (a) gives power to an authorised officer of a member of the Garda Síochána to enter any premises at any time which either is or which such officer has grounds for believing is being used as an abattoir or a knackery. The stipulation of “by force if necessary” will cover circumstances in which, for example, a lock may have to be broken to gain entry, particularly where an unlicensed premises may be concerned. Without such stipulation powers of entry to premises would be severely restrained, that is, it could be successfully claimed by a proprieter that an authorised officer or member of the Garda Síochána had no power or right to use force in order to gain access. Under subsection (1) (b) the powers of entry and inspection contained therein complement those contained in subsection (1) (a). Trucks, vans and containers are part and parcel of the meat trade. From time to time an authorised officer will need to check out the condition of such meat and vehicles and, moreover, the condition and legality of any meat contained therein under subsections (1) (c) and (d). In the case of a licensed premises the provisions of section 59 of this Bill place an obligation on a licence holder to keep records of all animals slaughtered or handled on the premises. The checking of such records by an authorised officer will be necessary from time to time to ensure that all animals or carcases are accounted for. This would be necessary particularly in the case of detection of illegal slaughterings or falsely-stamped meat. It may also happen, for instance, that records of van sales of meats would far out-weigh the [936] number of animals slaughtered at an abattoir from which such meat originated illegally.

Sections 18 and 33 of the Bill confer powers on an authorised officer to suspend operations of an abattoir or knackery where there is grave and immediate danger to public or animal health, or both. To ensure absolute objectivity in the exercise of this power the provisions of this subsection will allow certain authorised persons only to be suspensory officers. In this connection it is envisaged that the power would be confined by local authorities to their whole time veterinary officers.

I can assure the House and Deputies opposite that no draconian measures will be taken under the provisions of this section, rather only those that are found to be necessary. But it should be remembered that we are dealing with people who are not exactly the essence of propriety nor gentlemen. As I have said, physical threats to authorised and local authority officers investigating illegal slaughterings are fairly commonplace. I am satisfied that the provisions of this section are necessary to put a stop to this illegal, very dangerous practice, dangerous to human or animal health, or both. I am satisfied that, without the powers contained in this section, it would be quite impossible to implement these regulations.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  It has taken the Minister some time to justify the provisions of this section and explain them. To put my mind further at ease perhaps he would clarify something for me: the civil liberties of those being limited by the provisions of the section essentially are those who are involved in the trade, the butchers and abattoir owners. Are the members of the Irish Master Butchers' Federation fully aware of these powers? Have they been discussed with them and are they perfectly happy that this type of provision is necessary?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  In the ongoing and long discussions taking place with the trade in relation to the provisions of the Bill generally it was gratifying to find that [937] there was pressure being brought to bear on the political head of the Department of Agriculture and Food and their officials to expedite the passage of this Bill and to raise the standards of hygiene and quality in relation to the meat industry generally. They did not raise any objection whatsoever and had no difficulty in relation to the provisions of this section or indeed any other. Rather it was thought the Department or their officials could facilitate the trade. I should say that we have bent over backwards to do so.

Very stringent regulations will be introduced under the provisions of this Bill. I should say that the trade are pushing for and insisting on the highest standards and they have no difficulty in relation to the powers to be vested in authorised officers under the provisions of this section. They have made the point to me that those who might be termed generally as cowboy operators bring the trade generally into disrepute. Several Members of this House have made the point that 99 per cent of proprietors and people involved in abattoirs and the meat business have a long-standing tradition, usually a family one of which they are very proud. They are outstanding citizens in their own right and want to have the reputation of the best of them established as the norm. It is their belief that the activity of a very small number, bringing the whole trade into disrepute, should be discontinued.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  With some reservations, particularly on the basis that the trade themselves accept these restrictions of what will be effectively their civil liberties, I will withdraw my objection and let the section through.

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 55 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  Can the Minister tell [938] us what is the purpose of this section? It is not quite clear.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  This section constitutes a standard provision governing payment of fees and compliance with the provisions of an Act or regulations relating to business undertakings. It is based on section 17 of the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act, 1979. In the context of this Bill it may prove to be useful in the case of wholesale slaughtering establishments operating as limited companies. The specific exclusion of a local authority from its provisions is necessary to avoid any ambiguity.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 56 agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Here we have two amendments, amendment No. 23 in the name of Deputy McCoy and No. 24 in the names of Deputies J. O'Keeffe and Durkan. I observe that the amendments are related and suggest that they be debated together by agreement. Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I move amendment No. 23:

In page 33, lines 31 to 33, to delete subsection (2), and substitute the following subsection:

“(2) Summary proceedings for an offence under this Act may be instituted within six months from the date of the offence.”.

The Minister will understand the import of my amendment. It is the natural concern of those in the trade operating in a legitimate way that, where an offence has been proved to the satisfaction of inspectors, proceedings would be instituted within six months rather than two years as is stated in subsection (2). The thinking behind this amendment is that, to a certain extent, there is a two-year period or interval in which an impending prosecution would allow [939] somebody to operate in the meantime. Very often, after two years it is very hard to prove a case. For this reason I ask the Minister to accept the amendment in good faith as it is meant to give better effect to the provision he is making to prosecute offenders under the Bill.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  The Minister will have a job convincing me that the two year provision should stand. When I practised as a lawyer the normal time in a District Court for any statutory offence was a six months period within which the summons had to be issued. It is putting all the cards into the hands of the officials and letting dust gather on them for two years before a summons is issued. That is unacceptable and there is no justification for it.

A variety of offences are specified — some quite serious — and the offenders should be prosecuted without any lethargy on the part of the officials. If people are involved in breaking the law they should be hauled before the courts at the earliest possible opportunity. There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied and justice would certainly not be done if a file was lying in a Department for two years before someone is prosecuted. I hope we will rethink this matter between now and Report Stage. Under the Bill as it stands, a butcher who killed a pig and who neglected within the following month to send on the fee of 55p is guilty of an offence which could be hanging over his head for two years. I know it is an extreme example but it could happen.

It is clear that the sooner these matters are brought before the courts the better for everybody, especially witnesses, whose recollections would be fresh if the matter was brought to court speedily. I am a bit rusty in regard to the law as I have not practised for a while but I think I am correct in saying that if the matter is serious there is no time limit and it can go on indictment. Therefore, the Minister is not justified in saying that a serious matter might escape prosecution because of files not being completed. I strongly [940] urge the Minister to take on board the points raised by Deputy McCoy and myself. The simple amendment in the names of Deputy Durkan and myself is the answer — substitute “six months” for “two years”.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I support the views expressed by the last two speakers in relation to this section. The authorised officer mentioned in various other sections of the Bill could ultimately be the person or persons to take a prosecution and they would have a very accurate, documented account of the situation prevailing at the time of the alleged offence, whereas the person who allegedly committed the offence might not have such a well documented report of what happened two years later.

The amendment seeks to institute proceedings within two years but it does not necessarily mean that those proceedings will be concluded within that time which, in turn, could involve the whole system in extraordinary and unnecessary expenditure, bureaucracy and overlapping of various functions. It could also bring a burden to bear on the enforcing authority — in this case the local authority — and the judicial processes whereby there could be a long drawn out argument two and a half or three years after the event as to the exact nature of the alleged offence. On the one hand you could — rightly — have a well documented report from the officer who carried out the inspection because, naturally, they are expected to write a report on the day the offence occurred which would be ultimately submitted in court and placed against the recollection of the person who, allegedly, committed the offence.

What I am suggesting is probably an extreme extension of the situation which might develop but in the case of a personality clash between the authorised officer and the slaughterhouse operator, memories could become impaired if the institution of proceedings was delayed for two years. A move towards the six months mentioned in the amendment would be beneficial.

[941]Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  It is my wish under the Bill and regulations that proceedings could be instituted without delay at the earliest possible time. I previously considered a reduction of time when it was put to me but I found that in certain circumstances perhaps a reduction to six months might limit prosecutions. I have in mind a situation where extensive investigations might prove necessary in detecting the supply source of an illegal consignment of meat or the stamping instruments. Such investigations initiated by one local authority could perhaps straddle and involve other local authorities. On completion of the investigations, a local authority could find their intended prosecution stymied by a statutory bar of six months.

That is why I am concerned that the period of six months might let certain people off the hook. This would not be in anybody's interest, least of all the consumer and indeed the bona fide trade. The provision allowing prosecutions to be conducted up to two years after the date of the offence is standard in relation to other legislation in the agricultural area, including Acts which have a bearing on abattoirs, for example, the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966, TB and brucellosis eradication schemes, the CBF Act of 1979, and the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act, 1979.

Experience under the disease eradication schemes has shown that the two years currency for instituting proceedings under those schemes has proved to be very necessary. I am prepared to ask my officials to review this matter and, perhaps, before Report Stage we could reach a compromise. We do not want to allow matters to drag on and the legislation to become dust filled. The idea behind suggesting a period of two years was to ensure that nobody escapes the net. I take the point raised by Deputy O'Keeffe that indictable procedures may be instituted at any time and that the restriction on time applies to summary proceedings only. I have an open mind about this but it is important to stress that the intention is to ensure that those who [942] are involved in illegal transport or processing of meat are dealt with. The term of six months was too short. I expect that proceedings will be instituted well within the suggested time limit. However, in cases where indepth investigations involving several local authorities have to be carried out more than six months may be required. I will discuss the matter with my colleagues to see if we can agree on a more appropriate time scale.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  The Minister of State has made a gallant attempt to justify the two year period but it appears that he has only gone half of the way towards meeting our wishes. If an offence is serious it can be prosecuted on indictment at any time. We must remember that we are dealing with minor offences which can be dealt with by way of summary jurisdiction before the District Court. In my view the Minister has not justified the need for a two-year period. However, he has opened the door in regard to a compromise on this. This is not a political issue and we are all trying to ensure that a fair balance is struck and that an effective piece of legislation leaves the House. I should like to respond to the Minister's last comments by indicating that there may be some justification for allowing his officials a little more than six months to complete their investigations. It may be that it would be better to meet us half way. If the Minister introduced an amendment on Report Stage specifying a 12-month period rather than two years we would be satisfied. In my view 12 months would be ample time to complete even the most difficult investigations.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  I agree with the suggestion put forward by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe that we should divide the difference between us.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I will have the matter reviewed and if it is felt that 12 months would be a reasonable period I will introduce an appropriate amendment on Report Stage. In my discussions with Deputies McCoy, O'Keeffe and Durkan [943] we may agree that a few months plus or minus would be more appropriate and in that event I will move an amendment to that effect on Report Stage. I do not have any hard and fast view in regard to this except that I want an effective section to deal with the problem.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 24 not moved.

Sections 57 to 60, inclusive, agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 61 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  This section provides for the making of regulations by the Minister in relation to the construction, lay-out, water supply and equipment for premises used as abattoirs or knackeries. I am interested in abattoirs. In an earlier response to one of my questions when we were discussing the physical limitations of an abattoir by reason of it being landlocked and so on and also taking into account the regulations in relation to the abattoir's operations with butchers preparing meat for deep freezers and others engaged in the processing of offals, the Minister said that abattoirs involved in such activities would have to be resited. He said that the resiting of the abattoir would be subject to planning approval. Such a process will involve the owners of abattoirs in purchasing expensive sites away from residential areas and in the construction of suitably adapted premises. They will have to ensure that the new site for the abattoir is far removed from housing estates but such sites are always a distance from sewerage systems. Local authorities will expect such people to instal effluent treatment plants and there will have to be strict compliance with environmental laws which apply to the discharge of effluent into rivers and streams. In order to comply with these regulations, which are 20 parts per million BOD and 10 parts per million suspended [944] solids, abattoir owners will have to make huge investments in plant. I have no doubt that they will find it more expensive to comply with the environmental regulations in relation to emissions from such plants than to construct the new abattoir. In my view some of the provisions of the Bill will spell the demise of a number of family businesses that are now operating in a correct way. They will find it impossible to operate within the provisions of the Bill in that they will not be able to resite the abattoir and comply with local authority regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 62 agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 63 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  Earlier we raised questions about the devolution of power and about positive confirmative orders of the House being necessary. If those points were taken on board on Report Stage, there would be need for a minor consequential amendment to section 63.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 64 to 67, inclusive, agreed to.

First, Second, Third and Fourth Schedules agreed to.

Amendment No. 25 not moved.

Title agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Leonard): Information on James Leonard  Zoom on James Leonard  When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  Not earlier than next Tuesday, by agreement with the Whips.

Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 1 March 1988.


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