Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009: Second Stage (Resumed)

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 715 No. 2

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Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Deputy Paul Gogarty: Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  I propose to share time with the Minister of State, Deputy White, and Deputy O’Donoghue.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  That is agreed.

Deputy Paul Gogarty: Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  I welcome the Bill. Various amendments have been proposed and, to be frank, I do not care whether the provisions are inserted in this Bill or in the Greyhound Industry Act 1958, so long as they are put through. In the debate on a Private Members’ motion last December, Fine Gael’s Front Bench spokesman, Deputy Coveney, alluded to the issue of regulation thus:

The Taoiseach has acknowledged the regulatory failures that have occurred within the banking sector and the Office of the Financial Regulator. That is why new measures have been introduced in those areas. However, when it comes to the legislation before us today, it seems we have learned absolutely nothing.

Thus far in the debate in this House and in the media we have had the alarming spectacle of some Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies speaking about the dangers of over-regulation of the greyhound racing sector. There seems to be an arrogance in the higher echelons of the greyhound sector, no more than in the banking sector, that seeks to tell others to butt out because they know nothing about it. That is that attitude which led to the systematic failure of the banking system. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, in proposing this legislation, which deals primarily with puppy farming, is seeking to ensure that dog breeding is properly regulated and monitored and that shoddy practice is no longer given the nod and the wink.

[396]As far as animal welfare is concerned, both Bord na gCon and the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, seem to be untouchable enclaves. There is no regulation other than self-regulation, and that is a dangerous thing as events in the Catholic Church and in the banking sector have shown. If people are doing good work within the sector, they should have no fear of regulation. The genuine concerns of Members have been recognised by the Minister in his amendments. I am pleased there seems to be a consensus emerging that those amendments are satisfactory. As I said, I do not care whether it is through this Bill or through legislation that is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that regulation is introduced.

My colleague, Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan, tabled the same parliamentary question earlier this year to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister at what was then the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, asking, in each case, whether that particular Department was responsible for overseeing the welfare of greyhounds. Her question requested the number of kennel inspections carried out by Bord na gCon in the last five years, the number of licences revoked and so on. This information should be readily on record under the 1958 Act. However, the question was disallowed on the basis that the inspection of kennels is part of the functions of Bord na gCon and is not an issue for which any of the Ministers concerned is responsible to Dáil Éireann. In other words, nobody is responsible.

The 1958 Act, as it currently stands, does not regulate. Whether through an amendment to that Act or the measures in this Bill, provision must be made for the regulation of the industry. All dogs have a right to a basic quality of life. There are no kennel inspections of the greyhound breeding industry, and that must be rectified. I hope that through the amendment of the 1958 Act, as proposed by the Minister, proper regulation will be instated. I particularly welcome the legislation in terms of preventing and monitoring the inhumane treatment of puppies that has given this country a bad reputation throughout Europe.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Mary Alexandra White): Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  I welcome this Bill. For us in the Green Party it is a legacy issue from a former Fianna Fáil Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Dick Roche, who tried to introduce the Bill some years ago. It is an extremely important measure to protect animals and to regulate an industry that contains sinister and shady elements. As a frequent hill walker in the Blackstairs Mountains and along the River Barrow, I have often come across sacks of dumped puppies, many of them greyhounds. It is an appalling practice. I hope this legislation will curtail the incidence of abuse and maltreatment of dogs.

It is important that the greyhound industry be regulated. The proposed amendment is acceptable because it ensures the regulation of the industry will not be simple self-regulation. We all know from the revelations in the banking industry in recent years that where there is no significant external regulation of an industry, malpractice and abuse will set in. Perhaps that is human nature. The proposed amendment regarding the inspection of greyhounds allows for local authority inspectors to inspect and enforce standards, and that is vital.

I propose to highlight to the House the continuing hypocrisy of the Labour Party on current animal welfare issues and its total fear of taking a brave stance on any difficult issue.

Deputy Paul Gogarty: Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Go easy on them.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White: Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  The party has completed a three-point turn on the issue of stag hunting. It first indicated implicit support for the measure and a demand for it to be published, before deciding to vote against it because of a fear of unpopularity in rural Ireland, and then, finally, came the announcement that it would not repeal the ban in government. It [397]went further last weekend when it signalled conditional support for the Bill, with Deputy Ciarán Lynch announcing that the Labour Party would vote for the Bill provided those changes his party had been calling for since it was first introduced are made.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch: Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  We were right to do so and now those changes have been made.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White: Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  Let us look at the party’s record in the Seanad on this legislation. On the fundamental issue of the definition of a breeding bitch, the Labour Party voted with Fine Gael on the proposal to amend the definition to include animals over two years of age. Such an amendment would have been anathema to the objectives of the Bill, as the Labour Party knows, yet its Senators voted for such an amendment. On other substantive amendments, the Labour Party voted against the advice of the Dogs Trust and the ISPCA on what is best to ensure welfare for dogs. This all points to one reality: the party is like a dog with its tail spinning in all directions. It does not know which way to turn. However, I am pleased that at the final hour it has followed the conscience of Deputy Broughan in supporting animal welfare legislation.

This Bill provides for strong protection for dogs in dog breeding establishments. It is supportive of rural Ireland. It protects animals and does nothing to threaten rural pursuits or industries. It will ensure animals in these domains are treated well and help to ensure a positive reputation for our greyhound and dog breeding industries abroad. As a complete non sequitur, I refer to Sir Robert Falcon Scott who tried to get to the South Pole but was beaten by the Norwegians, Amundsen and others. It is now said in historical footnotes that if he had remembered to bring worming tablets for his dogs, the entire history of polar exploration would be different.

Deputy John O’Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I have no intention of delivering a dissertation on pluralism or of pluralists, but it is necessary that I refer to these matters given that there has been an attempt in recent months by self-styled pluralists to hijack this debate. It is instructive in this respect for the House and the people of this country to recall the father of Irish pluralism, a man described by one historian as “an Irishman who strolled across the pages of European history as a colossus”. Daniel O’Connell was in love with hunting and once said, speaking of hares and beagles: “The hares are strong and numerous and I hunt every day with nine couples and a half of the first and best beagles in the world, beyond the reach of politics.”

O’Connell’s pluralism is quite different to the self-styled mutterings of so-called pluralists which emanate from the cappuccino bars of Dublin 4.

Deputy Paul Gogarty: Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Where is Dublin 4?

Deputy John O’Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  O’Connell’s pluralism is far different to the type of pluralism that sometimes emanates from Donnybrook. We should distinguish between pluralists and tut-tuters; between pluralism and tut-tutism. There is no greater illustration of tut-tuters and tut-tutism emanating from the establishment at Donnybrook than the pictures shown on our screens last week of the most unfortunate greyhound in the whole world; they must have searched the earth for it. There it was on screen with ten saplings suffering.

All that was missing from the screen was the indignant voice-over of Seán O’Rourke. One must make the observation that RTE was doing what RTE does best, that is, present the exception and pretend that exception is the rule.

Naturally, this is a feature of tut-tuters and tut-tutism in Irish society. I regret to say it is not confined to the cappuccino bars in Dublin 4, which McCreevy described correctly as a state of mind, not a geographic place, for fear anyone should take offence, or to the hallowed halls of Donnybrook. Unfortunately, tut-tuters and tut-tutism have also emerged in this House of late.

[398]I regret to state that it has emanated from the Leas-Cheann Comhairle’s political party. We have seen Deputy Gilmore, a scion of Sinn Féin, Official Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin The Workers Party, The Workers Party, New Agenda, Democratic Left, which was involved in the reverse takeover of the Labour Party, speak out against blood sports. Then we witnessed the voice of Deputy Penrose strongly defending the rights of rural Ireland. Then we heard the calmer voice of Deputy Ciarán Lynch putting what I can only describe in Corkonian terms as “a bob each way”. Naturally, this should come as no surprise to anyone in the House. The truth is we do not know where the Labour Party stands on banking, education, job creation, transport, rural issues, water charges or even on the Croke Park deal, not to mention health.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White: Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  Hear, hear.

Deputy John O’Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  If I may be excused the analogy, Deputy Gilmore reminds me of a gadfly around the tail of an old cow. He circles, one does not hear him, sometimes he might land but one does not see him land, but all the time one knows he is there and, in the final analysis, one will never quite know what he is up to, where he is going or how he will get there.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Philip Hogan  Zoom on Philip Hogan  God deliver us.

Deputy John O’Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  That appears to be a very popular stance to take in modern day Irish politics. It amounts to tut-tutism by the finest tut-tuter in the House and I am certain that a man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Fully two minutes remain before I call the Minister. I call Deputy Seán Sherlock.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  The Labour Party seeks, by way of amendment, to ensure the Act does not apply to any matter regulated by the Greyhound Industry Acts 1958 and 1993. We believe strongly that if we are to support the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, it must be on the basis that there is a clear and unambiguous attempt by the stakeholders in the greyhound industry in conjunction with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure the code of practice put in place to ensure the welfare of the greyhounds is maintained.

I speak on behalf of the smaller breeders; these are the people I represent. The situation at present is such that when one visits a stud dog with a bitch with the intention of breeding a litter, the fact is publicised in the sporting press immediately. When pups are born one notifies the ICC, Irish Coursing Club, within 14 days. Details of date of birth and size of litter are published in the sporting press. The bitch can be inspected anytime during this period. The control steward inspects the pups and takes a DNA sample. At 12 weeks old, the control steward tattoos the full litter on both ears; the left ear with a personal identification number and the right ear with the litter number. Before they are 12 months old, the pups are officially named and their markings entered into their identity cards. These are the current procedures as they stand.

I am in favour of field sports and coursing and I have been at greyhound meetings. The people I represent are those who rear pups. They do not consider that the establishments or kennels they have are dog breeding establishments. They are genuine people who have a genuine regard for field sports and for the welfare of the animals they keep. For the most part, they are not in it for the primary motivation of profit, in the sense of developing breeding establishments. The gain for such people is a potential win at such a venue as Clonmel or Youghal and for the love of the sport. There is no fiduciary gain for the most part. Most of these people have been involved in the sport at an intergenerational level. If a book were kept of their expenses, one could be guaranteed that they have made a loss during the years they have been involved in the sport. The primary motivation is not profit but a love of the pursuit [399]of the sport. It is genuine and integral for these people. It is an affront to insult these people with some of the language I have heard from various sides of the House and we must speak for them. We wish to speak for them in a modest and reasonable way.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley): Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  I thank all Deputies for their varied, interesting and, for the most part, positive contributions to the debate in the House. It is clear many Deputies have experience of greyhound ownership. Some, such as Deputy Joe Carey, have had more success than others. I am confident the Bill, as amended, will safeguard the welfare of dogs in all dog breeding establishments. It will ensure a thriving greyhound industry over time and create employment by enhancing the standards and reputation of dog breeding in Ireland.

Every Member will be aware by now that I have proactively engaged with stakeholders and Members with a view to addressing any fears the proposed legislation might raise for various interest groups. More than 650 submissions were received after the publication of the report of the working group. The working group was established by my predecessor, Deputy Dick Roche, in 2005, a point that has been overlooked by many in the course of this debate. Its terms of reference were to examine the current positions regarding the management of kennels and to make recommendations for such improvements. Therefore, greyhounds were always considered to come within the remit of the terms of reference. To underline this fact, the Irish Greyhound Board was represented on the working group and has been consulted extensively since then. Senior officials from my Department have met the Irish Greyhound Board and the Irish Coursing Club on several occasions recently and have met the Dogs Trust and the Irish Kennel Club.

In particular, the Irish Coursing Club has played a constructive role in the development of greyhound welfare and has engaged positively and openly during the course of the debate. As a result of these engagements, I will detail amendments to address concerns relating to inspections, finance, the powers of authorised persons, breeding limitations, micro chipping and the effects of implementation. I believe these amendments will allay successfully the concerns of the stakeholders involved. I welcome the expressions of support for the Bill made in this House last Friday. In particular, I thank Deputy Ned O’Keeffe for his forthright views. His support for the Bill and the coalition are welcome. His observations regarding the conduct of State agencies during the debate are astute and merit further consideration.

The definition of a dog breeding establishment was specified by the working group appointed by the former Minister, Deputy Roche, as being based on the number of female dogs on the premises with breeding potential. The working group included veterinary representation from Veterinary Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Louth County Council and the ISPCA, and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There was no shortage of veterinary expertise in the group, which developed the definition of a dog breeding establishment which is, I believe, clear, unambiguous and, as such, will aid enforcement.

The group noted the difficulties experienced in the United Kingdom with definitions based on breed which have become unenforceable. I acknowledge that the estrous cycle ranges from six to 18 months depending on the breed of dog, but a working group definition was required to ensure that all bitches capable of breeding were included. Therefore, they set “four months old and capable of breeding” as a definition of a bitch. I have indicated that I will modify this to “six months old and capable of breeding”. However, I reiterate that this is not a marker for when to start breeding.

I highlight that the Bill allows three litters in any three years, thereby providing a dog breeder with the flexibility to determine a bitch’s potential prior to commencing breeding. Concern has been expressed regarding the impact the Bill might have on the casual breeder with only a few pups. Establishments with less than six bitches of six months old and capable of breeding will [400]not be affected by the Bill. If a bitch produces a litter of female pups, the breeder has six months to consider what to do with them before they become reckonable for the purposes of the Bill. Sterilised or spayed bitches are not capable of breeding and are not reckonable for the purposes of defining a “dog breeding establishment”.

I have extended the fee bands in order that an establishment with up to 18 bitches aged over six months and capable of breeding will only pay €400 registration. That is not a high fee when one thinks of the production that can be achieved from 18 bitches and the market value of a good pup.

Inspection by a local authority veterinary officer will be a prerequisite for the issuing of an improvement notice. A dog warden will not be authorised to issue such a notice. This will reassure those who question the objectives of certain dog wardens. Dog wardens, in turn, will be reassured by the provision that they be accompanied by a member of An Garda Síochána as necessary.

We will shortly commence Committee Stage, on which I will outline the full set of amendments that will strengthen the Bill in terms of its general acceptance and address the concerns of stakeholders, including the Irish Coursing Club, the Hunting Association of Ireland and the Dogs Trust while ensuring local authority veterinary and dog control staff have workable legislation to safeguard the welfare of dogs. The legislation is about the welfare of dogs. I thank the Members who contributed and I very much thank my civil servants for all their work. I look forward to a good debate on Committee and Report Stages.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 94; Níl, 50.

Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Ahern, Bertie. Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Ahern, Michael.
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Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Pat Carey and Paul Kehoe.

Question declared carried.

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