Private Members' Business. - Control of Dogs Bill, 1986: Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 22 October 1986

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 114 No. 7

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

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  When one comes from artistic business straight on to the control of dogs it can create some problems in one's thinking. However, this legislation is important and earlier I was trying to outline how I felt the previous scheme of licensing dogs and collection of dog licences had been a failure simply because it gave the Garda Síochána responsibility for collecting dog licences and the owners of dogs never saw any value whatsoever in a licensing procedure which had no provision for stray dogs and dogs that caused damage to people's property, livestock and children. Humans have also suffered from stray dogs which were out of control. That is why the previous scheme was a failure. Some people — even people on the Animal Health Council — felt there should be no licences for dogs, that there should be no licences for cats, dogs, or any pet animals. To have a scheme which would effectively control stray dogs some system of funding would have to be available. The appropriate ministry to handle this would be the Department of the Environment. Local authorities are aware of the existing voluntary arrangements under the aegis of the ISPCA.

I come from a county which has made its own contribution to this problem. We allocated a capital sum of £40,000 to £50,000 to build a dog shelter. We provided the site for it and we handed over to the ISPCA the running, management and leasing of that premises. We also grant-aided them each year to try to carry out a limited form of dog control and control by wardens. That structure is there. I am glad this Bill is capable of complementing that structure and using it. If county councils feel they are unable to take responsibility for a dog warden system, it can be done in conjunction with the recognised agencies in the area already effectively producing a system of dog control.

[749] There are various items, sections in the Bill with which I want to deal briefly because submissions were made to me by various interested parties. I want to deal with those items rather than quote some of the statistics that I have from working with the Animal Health Council. I want to compliment the Minister's inter-departmental team on their expertise and knowledge in this area and their receptiveness to suggestions from many quarters including the Animal Health Council, the ISPCA and all the people involved in the whole area of dog management, ownership and control.

I come from a family directly involved in the industry. They have reservations that some sections in this Bill could be so interpreted or implemented to the letter of the law, so to speak, as to make the continuing ownership of dogs — and I mean responsible ownership of dogs — extremely difficult in rural areas in particular and, indeed, also in urban areas, when we consider sections that control the level of barking, whereby it is possible for one neighbour to take another neighbour to court about the level of noise or barking. I heard a complaint and I requested the planning officer to investigate it. He had to put a recording machine in the kennel to decide if there was a level of barking which justified the complaint. In regard to new regulations for the housing of dogs I want some clarification from the Minister in his reply and I will be dealing with this subject on the various sections. I want to ensure that no area of doubt will be left in the minds of people involved in this industry as to what we are about. No member of the public involved in the dog business — breeding, racing, canine clubs, the ISPCA or any other such responsible body — had any word to say against the concept of controlling unwanted dogs which create widespread havoc throughout the country, nobody objected to that concept. The Minister referred to the farming organisations. They have been in the forefront in the General Council of County Committees of Agriculture, for years in trying to make the various Departments get their act together at last and grapple with [750] this problem of uncontrolled dogs.

Let me deal with the problems that might arise with the local authority who will be the employer of the warden and will also be the statutory, planning office which will require the warden to inspect premises. At the moment there are many kennel premises of a very high standard. Generally people in that ownership bracket want to ensure that some of these dogs which are extremely valuable would be kept in the most hygienic and satisfactory housing possible with the funds available to them. A planning authority should take into account the differences in dog sizes, dog weights and dog breeds. Here the Bill talks about numbers. It talks about a number over five dogs. Anyone with six or seven dogs will be required by law to have a certain standard of accommodation for them. If we have five Irish wolfhounds and we have six chihuahuas or Pekingese, where do the numbers come into play then? The accommodation needed for labradors or greyhounds or Irish wolfhounds would be so much greater than for small pet dogs which are now very popular such as York-shire terriers and other such breeds. They represent a big export industry, one we must ensure is not interfered with in any way. The number of dogs might mean nothing to a planning authority. I think it will be imperative for the Minister when he is making regulations bringing some of these sections into force to have regard for the differences involved in dog sizes and pedigree. I also join with Senator Hussey in his very important point that when local authorities employ dog wardens they will have to be confident and trained to understand dogs, know how to handle dogs and take care of dogs. One of the submissions that has come through to us from the ISPCA is that there should never be a Bill initiated in the House that would be anti-dog. Nobody wants any level of cruelty to follow the detention of dogs or the seizing of dogs by wardens. Dogs must be handled with due care. Just because some owners have abandoned and ignored and left them to their own devices as regards feeding and so on, just because dogs are [751] strays, they need to be treated as humanely as possible. It is imperative that wardens have the competence and expertise to do that.

I am suggesting that local authorities be requested and directed by the Minister to initiate a training programme for people who will be employed. I can think of nobody better to be involved in that training than the ISPCA. The ISPCA, to their eternal credit, have been involved in this whole area of care of dogs, injured dogs and unwanted dogs, down through the years with no recompense from anybody with the exception of some local authorities, such as my own local authority, who have given them small grants to do the very important work they have been doing.

Training of the wardens will be vital. Reservations have been expressed to me by people who are involved with canine clubs about the right of a warden to enter on to property and seize a dog which, in his opinion, is a stray dog. Concern is being expressed by canine club members who hold and own the most expensive dogs. They do not want wardens who would not have a proper knowledge to go in and take dogs from them just because it might not be possible at that moment to produce a licence or if there was any doubt about a licence. They do not want a warden to go in, take away a very important pure-bred animal and lock it away in a dog warden's shelter for five or six days and have it mix with animals that may have all sorts of infection when infection is so important in the case of pure-bred dogs and the showing of dogs. It is important that there be a level of competence in dog wardens. I hope they would have regard for private property and would use this power of entry on to private property with caution.

Everybody accepts that the Garda Síochána with a search warrant have certain rights to enter into property in the interests of the public good but one would question the total power of a dog warden to enter on to property, particularly if in his opinion a dog was a stray dog, when it might have been that a child had [752] opened the gate and allowed the dog on to the road accidentally. They must have some balance in their attitude towards what is a genuine stray dog, one that should be taken off the road, and dogs which are pedigree and quite valuable.

There are some other sections in the Bill which have created concern in the minds of people who are experts in this field. Although I have relatives who are considered experts I certainly am not an expert. I would like to try to make sure the legislation is operable and will take account of the comments we will make on the various sections. People of a certain age are here precluded from owning dogs. It would not be possible for anybody under the age of 16 under section 4 to have a dog licence. In the area of pedigree show dogs there are sections involving junior handling competitions in which ten year olds and upwards have competed not alone in Ireland but internationally and successfully. One of the delights of these young people is the fact that they own the dog. I presume that by ownership a licence is required and that in certain categories one should have regard to people younger than the age of majority, the age of 16, and that it would be possible for the Minister to exempt certain categories which might include——

Mr. Hegarty: Information on Patrick Hegarty  Zoom on Patrick Hegarty  The parents' licence would cover that.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I am sure that the ownership is of paramount importance to the young person, that ownership is one of the ways of recognising that the dog is theirs, that they look after it, that they showed it and that they won, that it was their dog and not their father's. It is important that licence and ownership be distinct and separate if possible, particularly for that category that I am interested in.

There was a worry about the number of dogs and the fact that having over five dogs means certain requirements have to be met. I have outlined the requirements for planning and otherwise. I take it that the licence fee of £5 is for individual dogs [753] and that it is only when the number goes over 20 that one is required to take out a general dog licence of £100. Fears were expressed when the number five was used, that when there were more than five dogs it would cost £100. I tried to reassure the people that that was not the case.

The Irish Kennel Club which is a very important organisation already have certain standards laid down for ownership, registration, pedigrees and so on that they require their members to attain before they can show dogs. They deserve to be a category the Minister might consider under section 5 (h). The Minister might consider exempting that particular category of club, because of their expertise in this area and the work they have done already. There is another category which was mentioned by the sub-committee of the Animal Health Council as being worthy of consideration, namely, old age blind pensioners and so on. In the area of blind pensioners I am sure that they will be covered by the Irish Guide Dogs Association clause. These dogs even though they are with blind people are still in the ownership of this association. It is unthinkable that we should insist that the Irish Guide Dogs Association would have to licence each one of their animals.

Mr. Hegarty: Information on Patrick Hegarty  Zoom on Patrick Hegarty  There is an exemption for the blind.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  We hope it will be implemented. Some amendments to various sections have also been suggested. At this stage I will put them on the record so that before Committee Stage of the Bill there will be an opportunity to look at these submissions. They suggest that all dogs owned by the Irish Guide Dogs Association and any dogs trained by that association kept and wholly or mainly used for the purpose of guidance of a blind person or persons whose eyesight is so defective that he is unable to find his way about without guidance should be included. It is felt that that section should be in to ensure that this category is covered. They believe it is imperative [754] that this section be included to take cognisance of the fact that stray, loose and uncontrolled dogs can endanger and inhibit the safety and mobility of blind persons using a guide dog. The appropriate fine should be imposed on people who are found guilty of having stray dogs which could interfere with guide dogs. They also suggest that section 17 (2) (c) should be amended by the following:

That all dogs, the property of the Irish Guide Dogs Association shall have full right of access to all public buildings and places nationally, except in zoos or wildlife parks and such places where the common good of other animals could be interfered with.

This is not an unreasonable suggestion from them, that dogs should have access to public buildings. I would hate to feel this category of dogs which are for a very specific purpose were not exempted under the Bill, and would not have access to places such as this. Cognisance should be taken of the fact that they are a special case and special problems could arise if for some reason the Bill precluded them from entry into premises where they might cause a nuisance.

Old age pensioners need dogs, especially nowadays with the amount of infringement there is on their privacy, with the attacks on their privacy by vandals, and so on and for their own safety. Dogs are a reassurance to them. A dog is almost more important to them than an insurance policy. Paragraph (h) of section 5, which allows the Minister to specify other classes such as old age pensioners and other welfare recipients, should provide for a waiver of the licence fee. I am in favour of licensing every dog but there are categories in respect of which a waiver scheme should be brought in. I hope the Minister will consider this when he is replying to the various points made.

There are many other areas covered in the Bill on which reservations have been expressed. Pedigree dog owners have said it is impossible to have a collar on a dog at all times when the dog is under control. In other words, when the dog is [755] in its kennel it would be unreasonable to expect him to wear a collar. Apart from the discomfort to the dog, it creates damage to his coat and neckline. A certain amount of commonsense should be used by wardens, particularly if they walk in to inspect a number of dogs in any premises. I hope the Minister will take on board my comment about the level of accommodation required for specific sizes of dogs.

Section 19 (2) deals with owners of premises who have more than five dogs and provides that “such premises may not be used for such purposes as may be specified in the regulations unless such premises are registered with the relevant local authority.” I am hoping all existing premises will not be examined together with the result that half of them will be closed down. This would create widespread disruption in the dog industry. I would like new regulations to be brought in. The regulations should be reasonable ones which can be implemented. For all new applicants I would accept that, in order to comply with a planning regulation, certain specifications must be met in line with the breed of dog to be kept in them. The association are worried that if you suddenly apply for permission to have six dogs in a kennel in your private premises, either for sporting reasons or for showing as a hobby, the local authority might consider that particular private residence as a business premises for the purpose of rating. I do not think anyone would envisage that people who keep dogs for pastime or for purposes such as pleasure for their children, should be penalised by the rating authority saying they have not got a private residence and will be rated accordingly. I want to ensure that this kind of anomaly will not arise in the implementation of the various orders the Minister may make.

Generally speaking, the principle of the Bill has been accepted by all of us and by the industry in particular. They are worried about the rigid implementation of some of the regulations as they read them. For a layman the Parliamentary Draftsman's wording can [756] always be inhibiting and you have to explain to him how you would perceive it as a legislator. I have told people that the Minister, in rationalising much of the previous legislation in this area, had regard to the existing legislation and the new legislation we felt was necessary. The reality is that some of the previous legislation was never enforced by anybody and could not be enforced.

I hope that the kind of funding the Minister is talking about for the various local authorities will be generously used by them. If a local authority like my own make an effort to improve the service they already have and employ more than one dog warden — which I believe is totally ineffective in any county — that should be recognised. The Minister's speech referred to county councils and boroughs; there can be more and I think there should be more. The incentive should be there for more wardens.

If the legislation is implemented, as Senator Hussey stated, according to the letter of the law revenue can accrue which would allow for control over unwanted dogs and would give protection for livestock and so on. It would also provide a home for dogs over that period in which an effort could be made to trace the owners, and would mean that access would be available to people who want to report a dog that they have genuinely lost. If we implement the scheme in the spirit of the law, funds should be available to us and this would be an incentive to employ a sufficient number of competently trained people. I mention local authorities at county level; I take it that urban councils and other such small bodies will not necessarily be required to operate the scheme, that it will be confined to 27 county councils and city boroughs and that the Minister will not expect smaller town commissioners, urban councils or small corporations to implement this. Many of the problems are within urban areas but operation and administration at county level would be more efficient.

I hope that with the commitment the Department have given to this and with [757] the co-operation of all the various Ministers who have been involved in this so far — there have been so many that we would not get any one Minister to take responsibility for it — the Bill will be successful. I am glad the Minister has chosen the Department of the Environment. As a member of a local authority I feel that the mechanism is there to do it and I hope that when dogs are collected by trained wardens and have to be destroyed that will be carried out either under veterinary supervision or under the jurisdiction of a veterinary surgeon. We will be bringing in other legislation involving slaughterhouses which will require local authorities to employ a veterinary surgeon. I want to be satisfied that any destruction of dogs that takes place will be done in a humanitarian way and that it will be proper euthanasia, that there will be a commitment on humanitarian grounds to doing it properly. It does not always have to be a vet who does the job but I hope that if the wardens are doing it, it will be done under the direction of a veterinary surgeon, one that they will be taught how to give the injections, where they are intravenous or peritoneal. If done correctly the dog will not suffer.

Reservations have also been expressed about the actual spaying or castration of dogs if they are going to be given back to other people. It is imperative that that operation be done by a veterinary surgeon. I do not think anybody else would be competent to do it correctly. We should make that essential if we are going to give a dog back to somebody who assures us that he will be kind and give a good home to a stray dog and will deal with it properly so that it will not reproduce unwanted dogs and add to the growing problem of dogs wandering around our streets and our sheep farms causing great loss to livestock and to farmers generally.

The Bill will address some of the problems. It will need commitment from local authority members from all sides of the House to ensure that we grapple with this new challenge and employ competent people to do the job. I hope that the [758] genuine concern and interests of people involved in the professional dog industry will be taken into account and that they will not feel that this legislation penalises them. Up to now they have been the responsible people in the area of dog ownership. This legislation is directed at the people who have neglected their responsibilities. Responsible bodies may feel that they are going to be penalised with many new requirements. They may feel it is being unfair to them. We need to do a certain amount of PR work on this legislation. I hope that by the time the Bill passes through this House with the various amendments that have been suggested by various interests that it will have met the challenge that has been thrown down by various sections in society.

Again, I want to thank the Minister and his staff for the courteous way they have always listened to the problems we have had in this area. It is good to see the legislation before us for discussion at long last. I hope it will not be too long before it becomes law.

Mr. Fallon: Information on Sean Fallon  Zoom on Sean Fallon  I will be brief on this Bill. I would like to congratulate the Minister for sponsoring it. Obviously, it is a Bill that can be improved as a result of discussion in this House and when it has been discussed in the other House we may have a much stronger Bill at the end of the day. That is the intention of all legislation.

Section 15, probably as far as the local authorities are concerned, is the principal provision. It requires every local authority to employ one or more dog wardens for the purpose of the Act and to establish and maintain dog shelters. This section also authorises local authorities, with the consent of the Minister, to make arrangements with any person for the provision and maintenance of these shelters and to carry out the functions of detaining, disposing of and destroying stray and unwanted dogs. It also authorises the local authorities to delegate all or any of their functions under the Act, except the making of by-laws and the prosecution of offenders, to other local authorities or to [759] the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or with the consent of the Minister to a person connected with animal welfare.

It indicates in the legislation that local authorities can build shelters and receive a grant of 50 per cent of the capital cost. A figure of £40,000 is mentioned as being the kind of figure that would build a suitable shelter. I am not able to comment on whether that is correct, but it seems quite a low figure for a fairly large city or a large town. I should imagine that something more substantial would be required. The biggest problem I see is that while the Minister for Agriculture is sponsoring it, the actual implementation will be by the county councils, that is, the 27 local authorities and, I think, five borough councils. There is no mention, for example, of large urban district councils. I am wondering if they should be brought into it. If we take a town like Athlone, which is the largest town in County Westmeath and is 28 miles from the administrative seat in Mullingar, even one country warden would not be sufficient. In Mullingar there is a large dog population. In my own town of Athlone I have no hesitation in saying that it would be virtually impossible for a dog warden to control the number of stray dogs in the large housing estates. Perhaps urban councils might also be included in the Bill.

I support the view that this Bill is necessary. There is no doubt that stray dogs have caused much damage to sheep flocks and to the health of our population. They are causing car and pedal cycle accidents, not to mention attacking adults and children. With a dog population of 700,000 there is a need to tackle the problem and I support the view that something is being done about it. Having made that point, I again go back to the fact that it is going to be difficult for the local authorities to get involved and to provide funds.

I know there is an awareness that this might be in some way self-financing. If we examine the various Bills that have come before this House and the other House, for example, the Bills dealing [760] with litter, with casual trading and air pollution, we will see they were given to the local authorities to implement without one penny of cash being allocated for their implementation. The same will apply here. Even though there is provision for a self-financing scheme, as Senator Ferris said, it is going to require a very real commitment from the local authorities and from all connected with them such as elected members and staff, to have this Bill really effective. I praise the Minister wholeheartedly for endeavouring to bring it forward and hope it will be implemented. If it can be implemented, it would certainly solve many of the problems we have in regard to the dog population of this country.

There are aspects of the Bill I would like to comment on briefly. The role of the warden will be vital. Obviously he is going to be the key man in the same way as a traffic warden is in relation to traffic regulations. In my opinion he must be well trained, have an interest in dogs and know what he is about. He has to know how to handle dogs, be a man with a flair for dogs, one who probably has had dogs all his life and would, therefore, have some feel for the dog scene. His role will be important. How he is going to manage, I do not know because certainly the number of dogs in the large estates has increased out of all proportion over the past number of years. The number of licences on the other hand reduced to 85,000 and is a staggering low figure. There is room for improvement there.

The question of cruelty to greyhounds is something that deserves to be monitored. There is cruelty to greyhounds and to all breeds of dogs generally. Many people do not feed their dogs properly. Dogs sleep in gardens in hail, rain or snow. That kind of situation is not fair. Dogs are allowed to roam and get their food from the litter bins of the nation. That situation cannot be tolerated. If the Bill does nothing but stop that element of cruelty it will be worthwhile.

Reference was made to the ownership of dogs. I can understand the thinking on it. A parents' licence will suffice in the case of the under 16s. As Senator Ferris [761] said, children love to have dogs. I keep a few greyhounds. My own sons loved to have their own greyhounds in their own names. They were only 12, 14 or 15 years old but they took an interest in them. They would walk them and train them. It is a pity this cannot be done. Remember that this year a greyhound owned by a 15 year old boy from Limerick won an important race. It is something to consider. For the greyhound and the dogs that are shown there might be some other form of licence introduced separately and distinctly from the parents' licence. It would be a nice gesture. It is nice to have children interested in dogs. If they have a love for dogs at an early age it will stay with them for the rest of their lives. We are a nation of dog lovers. Everybody likes to own a dog. Every farmer in Ireland has a terrier, a Jack Russell or a sheep dog. He may not want them for his cattle or his sheep.

Senator Hussey referred to greyhounds. Farmers have an interest in greyhounds. It is a sideline for them and for many of them it is lucrative. There is nothing wrong with it and I think it is a beautiful pastime. Section 10 prohibits greyhounds in any public place unless they are being held by means of an efficient lead, a strong chain or leash. A person cannot be allowed to lead more than four greyhounds at any time in a public place. I agree with the figure of four or five or maybe even three. Dog owners generally would welcome it. My experience is that if a cat or a terrier meets one with four greyhounds it will be very hard to hold on to the four greyhounds.

I would also welcome regulations regarding a leash and a muzzle. Greyhound owners keep their dogs in kennels travelling to a race meeting. They will keep a muzzle on their dogs. The dog has to race with muzzle. Rather than lick himself during the day it is preferable that he should have a muzzle. There are many reasons why muzzles are kept on greyhounds. If a person is on the road with four greyhounds and if a cat or a terrier passes quickly, the nature of the greyhound is such that they are likely to [762] fight. Many of them are fiery and if they are not fiery one should be asking questions. Some of them are so fiery they will fight among themselves even though they are kennel mates or may be brothers and sisters. I should like the Minister to consider that point on Committee Stage. Not alone should they have leads on them but they might also have muzzles. I would recommend that for the dog's sake and for the person who is leading the dog. There is also the question of young schoolboys walking dogs. Many of them would not be able to control four greyhounds. I am wondering if the Minister should introduce an upper age limit or a lower age limit to take care of that section. It is something for consideration.

There are one or two sections that might not be workable. Section 11 says that members of the Garda can seize stray dogs. If we are going to have trained dog wardens it should be left to those people rather than to the gardaí. They have other important work. I cannot see the gardaí running out at night collecting dogs. That is not workable and I would like the Minister to consider that. The gardaí would not want that kind of work because over the years they have not been engaged in it. Up to now it was the responsibility of the Department of Justice to collect licences. The fact that we have had a reduction in ten years to 85,000 licences indicates that this scheme has not been successful. Hopefully, if the commitment is there it will be successful with the local authorities but it is going to be a very difficult task. I hope that the local authorities enter into the spirit of this legislation as the Minister would like them to do. As a local authority member I will encourage the employment of dog wardens and the building of shelters in many towns.

I congratulate the Minister in bringing forward this Bill although there are elements with which we might disagree. Senator Ferris referred to a waiver scheme for old people who are keeping their dogs at home. They see it as a protection and as an alarm system within their own homes. If a waiver scheme could be introduced to allow old people [763] to be exempt from having a licence it would be welcome. The Bill is welcome. I hope the commitment the Minister would like everybody to have towards the Bill will be there. Hopefully, it will be a success in the years ahead.

Mr. Hourigan: Information on Richard V Hourigan  Zoom on Richard V Hourigan  I should like to congratulate the Minister for his initiative in bringing this legislation to the House today. It has been long awaited. It is good to see it this far. Hopefully it will pass through this House and the other House quickly and be put into effect in good time before the coming season of sheep lambing. I appreciate that the Bill has wider and broader connotations than the protection of sheep. Nevertheless, it has a very big bearing in that area. When one mentions sheep it is no harm to remind ourselves that the estimated losses as a result of dog attacks and dog marauding on a per annum basis is something like £3 million per year taking into account the direct losses to sheep owners and the consequential loss in the thriving of the sheep and their progeny. We are talking about a loss of £3 million per annum. That is a very substantial figure in one sector of our agricultural economy in relation to the total sheep scene, which is worth something of the order of £54 million on an annual basis. Our sheep exports are to the value of £27 million mainly to France and the rest to Belgium, Italy and Germany. The other £27 million is in respect of the home market. We are talking about something very substantial in the sheep market.

The Bill has broader and wider connotations. It is to do with the protection of dogs. It has a major role in the matter of health and hygiene as it relates to humans. Anything that impinges on human health in any direct or indirect way or form is something we must be very careful about. We have accidents in the case of humans and the protection of other animals. A wide range of matter is covered in this Bill. The dog population need the protection of a Bill. Various [764] bodies have been discussing and proposing matters that have led to the situation today where the Minister has introduced this Bill. This happened as a result of very strong proposals and criticism from political parties, the farming organisations and the various persons involved in the animal welfare situation. It is relevant to note that in 1983 a very important inter-departmental committee was established under the chairmanship of the Department of Agriculture. The Departments of Justice, of the Environment, of Finance and of Health took part. That committee formed a basis for the various proposals in today's Bill. The Minister has had numerous consultations with that inter-departmental committee. That committee has had consultations with various bodies right through their time of operation.

Another body that is worthy of mention is the National Dog Control Committee which was chaired since 1979 by Mr. Larry Lenihan, former chairman of the IFA National Sheep Committee and a renowned chairman of COPA Sheep Committee, which is a farming organisation grouping within the EC. That dog control committee included farming organisation representatives, representation from Dublin Corporation, the Dublin Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Irish Veterinary Union and a number of other interested parties. That committee have worked hard and consistently since 1979 and have had made various submissions to various quarters. It is a fine achievement for that group, with others, to see the culmination of their work emanating in the form of this Bill.

Some persons will quibble and find some fault with certain aspects of the Bill. The only reservations I have heard expressed are from some persons in the greyhound industry. I believe that any reasonable assurances that are required by the greyhound industry vis-à-vis the housing of greyhounds or planning ought to be given. Appropriate amendments should be made on Committee Stage to accommodate any reservations that might come forward. The greyhound [765] industry is a multimillion pound industry. We must make certain that we do not set that industry back in any way.

The Bill embraces all existing legislation and consolidates into one statute all matters pertaining to dog control. This Bill will supersede and combine all legislation pertaining to dogs that exists over the past number of years. It will implement controls to eliminate the problems of dogs roaming the countryside and the streets of towns and cities. That is a major dimension of the whole situation.

We must bear in mind the whole question of attacks on human beings by dogs, particularly children. Unfortunately, there are all too many instances where children have been very severely attacked by dogs and mutilated in many instances. We have the whole question of environmental pollution of sidewalks, parks, beaches and other public places. Excrement from dogs has led to a very serious problem in many places.

Traffic accidents can be attributed directly in many cases to uncontrolled dogs. There is also the danger of transmission of disease, for example, rabies. Thankfully we do not have that disease in Ireland. With the various advances and the nearness of European countries there is always a risk that rabies could come to Ireland. It is something of which we must be mindful. Apart from rabies, we have other diseases which are a very serious health risk to children. There are other illnesses that lead to blindness. With the excrement from dogs on the streets and with children's normal habit of playing in the streets, there is a very high risk factor of salmonella and many other forms of infection with which young people can be contaminated. This would also extend to the adult population. All this is in the environment. One does not have to come in direct contact with the product itself.

Reference has been made to the number of dogs in this State. The general broad figure is that there is one dog to each five persons, which gives a rough estimate of approximately 700,000 dogs. [766] That is a substantial figure. While there is no official statistics available to confirm that this is the figure with regard to dog population, information has been compiled by various reputable bodies, including the Economic and Social Research Institute. The surveys indicate that 51 per cent of householders keep at least one dog, giving a minimum figure of half a million dogs. The real figure of dog population is somewhere between that number and 700,000. This highlights the importance of our doing something about the matter. It is an indication of the high dog population in Ireland. The number of the dogs licensed is something in excess of 80,000 which means that control is disappearing. Not long ago we had a couple of hundred thousand dogs licensed on a per annum basis. Now we are down to something like 80,000 dogs so there is need for control in that direction. At present any control of dogs is through the Gardaí. They are responsible for enforcing legislation. However, with the various other activities the gardaí are involved in such as the unfortunate escalation of crime, they have less time to engage in dog control activities. Therefore, I personally believe it is a very progressive step to have this area handled and operated by the Department of the Environment with suitably qualified persons of a nature and of a temperament to understand the management of dogs, who will apply good common-sense and not take every piece of legislation as it is written precisely as it is. There has to be a certain amount of latitude in this and a bit of commonsense must obtain. The Department of the Environment are a very appropriate body to have control of this legislation and of its implementation.

I make reference to the inter-Departmental committee set up in 1983, which included five major Departments. That committee, which took many of their proposals from the National Dog Control Committee, are to be complimented for their very concrete and positive approach to this Bill. They have set out much valuable information that is as relevant today as the day it was written. The main [767] recommendations of that committee are worth recalling.

The committee's report stated specifically that statutory responsibility for dog control should be transferred to the main local authority bodies, county councils and county borough councils, who should be given the option of administering a scheme for dog control, in co-operation with other bodies, for example, the ISPCA. Dog control officers should be appointed who would take over the duties of the Garda as laid down in existing legislation, but the Garda should retain their present powers of seizure etc. That is one point on which I would agree with the last speaker, Senator Fallon. Once there is a scheme in operation it must be operated by one Department and one set of people. If you have joint responsibility it does not help because there can often be duplication and things do not get attended to.

The Departmental committee also made reference to the revenue from dog licences and suggested it should be made available to the local authorities for the administration of the scheme. The power to determine the fee should rest with the Department sponsoring the legislation, which is the Department of the Environment in this case. Responsibilities of dog owners should be clearly stated and extended in legislation, and penalties for serious offences, such as permitting dogs to attack people, should be made more realistic. We have that clearly and specifically included in the Bill.

Reference is made to existing provisions covering the shooting by farmers of dogs worrying livestock. The committee suggested that this should be amplified and strengthened. Here there may be problems of definition about dogs that are attacking livestock, whether they ares sheep, cattle, horses or whatever. While it is very easy to identify those and to have them destroyed, the provision in the Bill on dogs that are about to attack livestock is a hard one to define. I appreciate that a dog that is about to attack is already outside the law because it has strayed away from its home [768] environment, but I would question the part of the Bill that defines the dog that is about to attack livestock. It is very difficult to decide.

Though I disagree with various points in the Bill about dog control, I agree with one, the identification of offending dogs. I believe that every dog must be identified. I do not think that high class dogs, if you like, could be accommodated under the scheme: If a collar does some irresparable damage to their physical characteristics, as Senator Ferris has said, there is no reason why such dogs should not be allowed to have their collars off for certain times of the day because they would be in strict quarantine; they would not be roaming around. That apart, dogs should wear collars, and owners should make certain they wear them. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that dogs can be traced.

Another requirement is that a dog will be in its home patch at all times. It is very difficult for people in the countryside to make sure that the dog will go on the public road. That is very difficult, because if one takes any homestead in the country a dog would be in the habit of going out the gate harmlessly—not to be encouraged, I hastly add. The provision in the Bill to implement this might be difficult to enforce.

The Act would be easier to implement if all dog owners would help the enforcing officers of the Department. We have a vast increase in dog numbers and they are likely to increase further because of the vast number of stray dogs, dogs that have not been spayed or operated upon in any shape or form. We are going to have a massive explosion, and have had a massive explosion in my estimation in numbers of dogs. For that reason there must be a very vigorous campaign to tackle not just privately owned dogs, pet dogs or sheep dogs in farms, or greyhounds or whatever, but all dogs roaming around.

As anybody with experience of livestock will be aware, it is when dogs congregate in numbers that they do harm. Single or perhaps two dogs might do little or no harm, but when dogs collect in [769] numbers it is unbelievable what they will do, not alone to flocks of sheep. They will attack herds of cattle and cows and horses as well. That is something we must be very mindful of. We could have a very real problem developing along these lines.

I spoke earlier of the high losses we are suffering in sheep. We are also suffering losses in cattle. Figures are not available for them. There are various instances of abortions in bovines being caused— premature births I should say more than abortions per se— by chasing dogs. The inter-departmental committee referred to the problem I have just talked about, the numbers of dogs and the fact that more and more dogs are likely to appear on the horizon in the not-too-distant future. We have legislation which deals with dog control but we have not seen that applied or implemented, and I would like to see it implemented. I have made reference to the two bodies I would regard as being, if you like, the main instigators in bringing this legislation forward, They enjoyed the full co-operation of the Minister for State, Deputy Hegarty, in crystalising their various proposals and thoughts. It has been a very forward step and, indeed, knowing that this committee sat in 1979 and this is in 1986, it is quite a long time ago.

This Bill has, as its main purpose the consolidation, amending and extending the law relating to the control of dogs. Much of that is there, but we have to put the various pieces together in one Act. It is proposed quite clearly in the Bill that to achieve these purposes the effort will be mainly by devolving responsibility for the control of dogs to the major local authorities, requiring those authorities to employ dog wardens, empowering dog wardens to seize stray dogs, and providing that dogs at all times be kept under control. The local authorities will be authorised to delegate their dog control functions to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or to other bodies connected with animal welfare.

With regard to finance, under the Bill dog licences will be collected by the local authorities for the purpose of providing [770] revenue to meet the costs of implementing the controls. In the first instance, some funding from the Exchequer will, of course, be required but it is estimated that when revenue is realised the service should be self-financing is most local authority areas. The potential is rockoned to be somewhere of the order of £2.5 million. The actual dog licence revenue for 1985, was £0.4 million. That reflects very clearly the failure of a large number of people to license their dogs. The Exchequer aids for the local authorities for dog control, it is estimated, will be of the order of £125,000 in 1986.

I do not know whether that will be the case: it will depend on how quickly this legislation gets through.

However, that would seem to be the starting off figures—the Ministers may have some comment on that. It is likely that further charges on the Exchequer will arise in 1987 and 1988. That is very understandable because the figure of £2.5 million is not going to be reached in the first or second years. There will be at least one dog warden employed by most of the 32 local authorities involved, but it is expected that as revenue increases additional numbers could be employed.

There are detailed provisions in the various sections of the Bill. I do not propose to go though these sections because other Senators want to speak and I will not deny them that opportunity. The Bill as it is is something I wholeheartedly support, but I would say to the Minister there are certain matters that may not yet have been brought to his notice fully, particularly by greyhound owners. Having regard to the importance of that industry to our economy, their reservations should be accommodated.

Apart from what, I would see no major problem with the Bill, though there are some provisions that may be very difficult to interpret. The various parties that have contributed to bringing this Bill before the House are indeed worthy of congratulations and thanks for their initiative. I pay tribute to the Minister and congratulate the people who worked diligently and hard with him in bringing this legislation before the House. I expect it [771] will have a speedy passage in this House and the Dáil.

Mr. Quealy: Information on Michael A Quealy  Zoom on Michael A Quealy  Like other Senators I welcome the Bill. I am delighted with it because it is not before its time. Every county council and committee of agriculture in the country have sent resolutions to Ministers for Agriculture requesting a Bill like this. In County Waterford we sent several motions from the committee of agriculture over the years but the replies we usually got were that it was the responsibility of some other Department. We were told it might be the responsibility of the Minister for Justice or someone else and we were fobbed off.

I congratulate the Minister for bringing in the Bill. It is a fairly comprehensive way of dealing with the problems we have, especially in County Waterford. There are 450 sheep farmers in the county with about 50,000 sheep. I received figures recently that 87 flocks were attacked last year by dogs. Almost one fifth of the flocks in the county. Not alone was visible damage done by the savaging on the animals but damage was inflicted that was not seen at the time. It was estimated that up to 30 per cent of lambs may be lost in the flocks that were mauled and savaged by the dogs. The cost factor involved for farmers to protect their flocks against dogs can be exorbitant. The only sensible way for them is to erect electric fences, which cost from £30 to £100 an acre.

I hope that when this Bill is passed the wardens will be vigilant. I know it will not do away with the problem altogether, but I hope it will reduce the numbers of attacks on sheep flocks and give more confidence to farmers to buy sheep. Sheep are now being looked on as an alternative enterprise in view of the milk super-levy, but farmers who see the damage that can be done by dogs will be very reluctant to but sheep, especially within five or six miles of towns. Dogs come out in packs from towns and cause a lot of damage. I am pleased with section 25 which provides for the shooting of dogs where they are seen to be moving [772] in on sheep and about to attack them. Previously a farmer could be prosecuted for shooting a dog that had done thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Some local authorities have already provided shelters and dog wardens. This Bill will give them more effect. Previously a dog warden had not much confidence in the powers he had: he was only driving around hoping to be handed over unwanted dogs. Now he will have power to impose on-the-spot fines and be able to pick up dogs. This is a definite step in the right direction. I welcome the Bill and hope it will pass through as speedily as possible.

Mr. McMahon: Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  This Bill has been awaited by many people thoughout the country for many years. I was interested to hear some previous speakers complimenting people for bringing it forward. Many of us who have been interested in seeing some control of dogs would feel like uttering other words today. We have lagged behind other European countries with regard to the control of dogs. It is not that attention has not been drawn to it. Perhaps the lobbying of the various Departments was not done as effectively as other pressure groups who lobby to get effective legislation.

When I became a public representative one of the first motions I put down at the county council urged the Minister responsible, as we thought at the time, to bring forward legislation with regard to the control of dogs. At that time, in 1965, I was appointed to the county committee of agriculture, where I raised the matter on numerous occasions in that and subsequent years. It was pressure, with all due respects to my county colleagues, from the Dublin County Council that brought about the regulation whereby it was required that a dog should wear a label on its collar and that each dog should wear a collar. That regulation was welcomed by those who were suffering as a result of dog numbers, not only in farming circles but in many built-up areas in my constituency where there was a major problem, and not from marauding dogs only. We had many instances of, to [773] put it mildly, dogs being a great nuisance in built-up areas.

In 1965 and 1966 many motions were passed by Dublin County Council and Dublin Committee of Agriculture. We believe it was as a result of that pressure that the regulation was brought in. It proved to be effective for a very brief period and reduction in dog numbers was noticeable for a time. It was found that the collar makers make a fortune in the manufacture of dog collars and metal labels but from speaking to those in the trade I know that they scarcely ever get a request for a dog collar now. When I was looking for a dog collar last year I was told that the production of dog collars had almost been eliminated because people do not put collars on their dogs any more. The regulation was never put into effect by the authorities.

Those people who went to the trouble of labelling their dogs believed they were the fools because many of their neighbours never went to the trouble either of licensing or collaring their dogs and they were never prosecuted. It was a regulation that was shortlived as far as the prosecution of dogs owners was concerned. After a year or two we saw resolutions coming not only from County Dublin but from many other counties and, in particular, from County committees of agriculture. Many committees were set up in an effort to bring forward legislation for the control of dogs and I served on one of those committees. When we were received at county council and departmental level, I was surprised to discover that nobody seemed to be prepared to take responsibility for the enforcement of the licensing of dogs or for up-dating the legislation. At one stage we were sent from one Department to another—as far as I can remember, we were sent to four different Departments. It became a bit of a laugh when one got involved in any discussion with regard to the control of dogs or the nuisance they caused. At local committees I felt like a fool on many occasions. I got varying explanations from Departments but none seemed to be in a position to take responsibility for proposing legislation or [774] for bringing any suggestion to Government to control dogs.

We hear a lot about marauding dogs which cause huge losses to farmers, particularly those in close proximity to towns and cities. The extension of Dublin city suburbs with the consequent increase in the dog population gave problems to farmers. Senator Quealy a few months ago suggested sheep as an alternative for farmers. It has long ceased to be an alternative for farmers in the area of County Dublin because, despite the economics a Dublin farmer who contemplated changing from one kind of farming to another could never consider sheep production because of the danger from dogs.

On reading the Bill and the explanatory memorandum I am not clear if this legislation will be as effective as the Minister of State indicated in his introduction of the Bill. It is unclear where the ultimate responsibility will lie and I ask the Minister to consider this carefully.

We have waited a long time for this Bill and it should receive the widest possible debate and consideration by all Senators, and by the Dáil. It should not be rushed through the Oireachtas on the basis that the country is screaming for such measures to be taken. I was one of those who was loud in voice, over the years to have this legislation brought before us.

The explanatory memorandum states that at least one dog warden will be employed in most of the 32 local authorities involved. If that means that some local authorities will not appoint, or are not obliged under the Bill to appoint, at least one dog warden then the Bill does not go far enough. Having waited so long for such a measure, the Bill should apply uniformly throught the country. I could claim there is a greater need for it in County Dublin, and I am sure a case could be made on those lines. However, the same regulations and controls should apply in County Leitrim, Galway or Donegal as in Dublin, Cork or Limerick. My reading of the Bill is that local authorities will not be obliged to appoint dog wardens.

My local authority, after a lot of pressure [775] and a lot of clarification from Government Departments, appointed a dog warden. Recently we appointed a second one and we are now in the process of investigating the possible appointment of a third dog warden. We, and indeed all local authorities, had the power to do that. Taking into consideration the number of representations made at all levels to have dog wardens appointed, it is rather surprising that local authorities have been so slow in the matter.

I mentioned the explanatory memorandum because I have seen over the years the reluctance of some local authorities to take what measures they could to reduce the dog population or to control the activities of dogs. If we had that reluctance over those years despite the many protests and the strong representations made, it is reasonable to assume that local authorities in the future will not appoint dog wardens if there is a way out of it. To say that at least one dog warden will be employed in most of the 32 local authorities involved is extremely weak. Every local authority should be obliged to appoint at least one, and indeed all the dog wardens necessary to enforce this legislation.

There are a number of other sections on which I will question the Minister on Committee Stage. One section provides for the licensing of dogs in one local authority and requires that the owner of a dog must licence his dog also in another local authority if he has homes in the areas in question. The Minister assures me that that is not the case. I will read the section again and perhaps we can tease it out on Committee Stage of the Bill.

I am glad to see the legislation coming forward, even if it is ineffective in some areas, if it is effective in the major areas we will have made a contribution to a better standard of life not only for farmers but for many other people. There have been many instances in my area where parents refused to send their children to school or to the local shop, simply because of the nuisance and the danger from dogs roaming the streets. One evening in September, as I was coming home [776] at about 9.30 p.m. I counted 13 dogs in a pack of dogs adjacent to my home town. I do not have to elaborate on the danger. Dogs that are uncontrolled and out in packs at night can do enormous damage to farming stocks.

On several occasions I approached the local Garda with a view to having stray dogs taken into captivity. The gardaí were unwilling and in many instances unable to collect the stray dogs. I did not blame them. Nobody seemed very interested in enforcing the legislation. In my area less than quarter of the dog population is licensed. It is a legal requirement that every dog should be licensed, yet people do not bother to license a dog and they are not prosecuted. How can we expect the Gardaí to capture stray dogs. I would not blame the garda for doing little or nothing about it. When one considers the agitation and the delay with regard to bringing in a proper Control of Dogs Bill one could not blame the Garda or any other authority for not being terribly interested.

I am glad to see that the cost of the dog licence is not being increased. Many of those who have been quite active in seeking this legislation, were advocating that to increase the dog licence could be the answer to the problem. I never saw that as the answer to the problem, because only those who license their dogs would be penalised. Those who do not license their dogs would not be at a disadvantage because of any increase in the cost of the dog license.

I am not sure how the financial aspect of the Bill is going to operate. The Bill states that some State finance will be available to the local authorities to put the measures in the Bill into operation. This will be short lived as it is expected that it should be self financing. If these regulations are put into operation, there will be a great reduction in the dog population which naturally will result in a great reduction in the number of licences required. Although effective licensing laws will increase the income, the income will not increase sufficiently to give adequate finance to local authorities prepared to carry out the measures in the [777] Bill in the manner in which it is intended, so that they would be effective in the control of the dog population. The Minister should give greater confidence to the local authorities by ensuring that sufficient finance will be available to adequately control dogs even if the income from the licensing of the dogs is inadequate. There will be a fair amount of expense involved here. In some counties where they have made little or no preparation for the control of dogs, it will entail the setting up of dog quarters of pounds. That is a very expensive business today. There is also the expense of dog wardens and the supply of the necessary transport and equipment for the capture and control of dogs. It will cost more in some counties than in other counties. The Minister should assure us that there will not be a shortage of money for this purpose, so that no area will find itself with unlicensed, uncontrolled dogs simply because the money was not provided by those who are licensing their dogs. If we have a continuation of the unlicensing of dogs in some areas, it will further reduce the money available to carry out the measures in the Bill.

I will have more to say on this on Committee Stage when I have had a further opportunity to study the Bill. My first reading of the Bill indicates that most of the measures proposed in it, are to be welcomed, but there are a few passages in the Bill which need further consideration, so as to ensure that we do not at this stage take measures that would unnecessarily penalise dog lovers or those who have in the past always controlled their dogs, and who have licensed them. These people should not be penalised unnecessarily simply because we have very many people who are not prepared to follow suit, but who have a dog for their children, to get them used to having an animal, or for the sake of letting their neighbours see that they have a dog or for protection. While we are out to control dogs, we should have due consideration for those who have at all times controlled the dogs in their charge.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Like previous speakers [778] I welcome this long awaited Bill. Previous legislation on dog control is outdated. That every dog was entitled to a first bite was very unfair to the unfortunate victim. The fact that this legislation removes that is most welcome. It also brings our legislation on dog control into line with that in Northern Ireland.

The Bill is an attempt to consolidate all matters relating to dog control, and I hope it will eliminate the problem of dogs roaming the countryside and the streets of towns and cities and beaches. Roaming dogs have been responsible for much damage to persons and to livestock. Attacks on children and old people by uncontrolled roaming dogs are rather widespread nowadays. Their owners do not have to take responsibility for their actions. Apart from that, the aspect of dogs polluting the pavements, parks and beaches, is detrimental to the concept of cleanliness and to tourism. Also numberous traffic accidents have been attributed to uncontrolled dogs. I am sure all of us have had this experience over the years.

An even greater risk is the health risk. Dogs are well known to be transmitters of diseases. Quite recently, a friends of mine was on holidays in Greece and was bitten by a dog. He is still under observation because of the fear of rabies. His right hand was paralysed after the bite from the dog. These are considerations to be taken into account when considering this Bill.

Up to now the responsibility for the enforcement of dog control was with the Garda. In fairness to the Garda Síochána, they have more pressing responsibilities at the moment, when we take into account the increase in crime and other forms of lawlessness. It was hard to expect them to seek out unlicensed dogs and pursue them vigorously. For that reason it is a good move to give responsibility to the local authorities and to appoint wardens. The employment aspect of it alone must be welcomed. It is also welcome that power is given to the local authorities. It is a further step in the devolution of powers on the local authorities by our Government. I am also glad that the Irish Society for the Prevention [779] of Cruelty to Animals are involved and are being recognised because dog control legislation could not go ahead without their full co-operation. I compliment them on the great work they have done as regards wandering animals up to now. Indeed, they seem to be the only people who would take in wandering animals or injured animals. They must be complimented for this.

I am also glad that it is the intention to provide the local authorities with the necessary funding in order to get the whole process off the ground. It seems a very good idea, on paper, to appoint local wardens. Nevertheless, unless the local authorities have the necessary funds available to them I doubt if the legislation could be properly implemented. I am glad that it is the intention of the Department of the Environment to make up any shortfall that may arise in the local authorities as a result of the implementation of this legislation.

Senator McMahon referred to the fact that at least one warden would be appointed for each local authority. If we are going to depend on just one dog warden in each local authority to implement this legislation, it will take a very long time to become effective. For each of the areas within the local authorities, a case could be made for the appointment of a warden. If we are promotion the idea of licensing every dog and this legislation is not properly implemented so that some people are avoiding responsibility then those who accept and abide by the legislation will be very disappointed.

Section 8 proposes that the present rate of £5 for a dog licence be retained. Perhaps the licence fee could be increased but include an insurance premium to cover any victim of a roaming dog. In the USA, they have an insurance premium on the dog with the licence and they have a ceiling of £50,000 on the amount that can be claimed. A case could be made for having such a provision included in our licence.

Section 10 specifically mentions greyhounds in public places. In North Kerry, [780] where greyhounds are very common, greyhound owners are very concerned that they were singled out and are quite worried about the implications. Some of their representatives have voiced concern about the implications of this section for the greyhound industry as a whole. I cannot see any danger to greyhound owners, but it is an argument that has been put forward at national and at local level regarding this Bill. I should like if the Minister would clarify further the fact that greyhounds were singled out, if he could give some assurances to the greyhound owners that it is not the intention to prohibit the training of greyhounds in public parks within towns or cities where greyhounds owners have no other place to exercise their dogs. Will they be allowed to run them in the parks? It is stipulated in the Bill that greyhounds will have to be on lead all the time. Does that mean that the owners cannot gallop them out in the parks? I would like if the Minister could clarify that point.

Another fear that has been raised is that the powers of dog wardens are rather vast and people are afraid of invasions of privacy. I would like the Minister to comment on that point. This is a very good Bill. It will serve to control the dog population in this country.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Daly): Information on Jack Daly  Zoom on Jack Daly  I am sorry to interrupt but could the Leader of the House indicate if we are to adjourn this debate as agreed or is it proposed to finish Second Stage tonight?

Professor Dooge: Information on James CI Dooge  Zoom on James CI Dooge  I do not think it was anticipated when we made our order today that we would take as long as three hours on the Committee and other stages of the Metropolitan Streets Bill and I had envisaged that this Bill would be finished by now. I do not know how much eloquence Senator Deenihan has left. Senator Browne wishes to speak for ten minutes. We are facing into a situation where we could by the expenditure of a further 20 or 25 minutes dispose of Second Stage of the Bill but I am in the hands of the House and in particular of the Opposition.

[781]Mr. T. Hussey: Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  I have no objection to proceeding with Second Stage up to 10.30 p.m. but not beyond it.

Professor Dooge: Information on James CI Dooge  Zoom on James CI Dooge  Not beyond it.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  The Bill is most welcome among the general population and the agricultural community in particular.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  The good news is that I will make my ten minutes into five minutes if that makes everybody happy. I would like to welcome the Bill because despite any difficulties there may be in the implementation of it and some of the regulations for the vast majority of people who come from the country and who have to look at sheep and lambs being mauled and killed, this Bill has to be welcomed and it will do an immense amount of good. I am sure that has been mentioned by several speakers already today but it is something that has to be repeated because nothing is as horrible as to see the carnage of sheep. I welcome the provision that a person is entitled to shoot a dog who is harrying sheep or cattle. You cannot go around saying to a dog. “Excuse me, what is your name and where do you come from?” If, in the meantime, he is going to kill three or four lambs. It is time the owners of animals were allowed to protect their animals and dogs should not be straying on to farmland where there are lambs. It is criminal for dog owners to have them rambling around the place in the middle of the lambing season.

Senator Deenihan mentioned greyhounds. Having slightly more than strong connections with the greyhound industry, I would like to make a plea for greyhound owners. I do not know what the definition of a public place is but I know the seaside is often a very suitable place in hard weather. Greyhound owners can go to the seaside and gallop dogs on the wet sand where they are very safe. If people are there are they automatically in a public place and, if so, will that practice be banned? It will mean a lot when the coursing season comes after Christmas. In the middle of a dry summer when the [782] ground is very hard for racing dogs the seaside is used a lot because they are not in danger of damaging their toes.

The other point is the question of an owner being able to lead only four greyhounds. I can accept the logic of that in normal circumstances but often people go to tracks with dogs and, for some reason, they may have to go some place else to get cards. How rigid a regulation is this? I can see that four dogs is enough for any one person leading them but there are situations where if the regulations are enforced in a very strict way it will be very unfair to greyhound owners.

I welcome the idea of getting dog licences in advance. We have heard so often down the years about dogs being given as Christmas presents and they finish up as monsters because they are let loose. It is sad to see a stray dog hungry and worn out. The idea of making people get a licence in advance is a very good one although I am sure it will be abused if there is not strict enforcement. If the Bill is not enforced we are only bringing the law into disrepute. The Bill says that licences need not be got for pups up to four months. I do not know whether four months is old enough because often pups are kept for six months before they are transferred to somebody else. It could be tight enough as far as the age is concerned. Wardens are very important. In Carlow we already have a warden system set up with the help of the IFA and the council and it has played a very important role. The extent of their powers is something that has worried many people. They feel that wardens have more power than the Garda. Maybe it is a way of showing that we are serious about tackling the problem that they are being given the power to follow up any leads they want to follow or any suspicions they have. It is a question of how it is handled. If they abuse their power we will have a bad reaction and if they have commonsense and use it carefully we will not have any real difficulty. On paper it looks as if it could cause a problem.

I will deal with two more aspects of the Bill. I am glad to see that the Minister has covered the problem of barking dogs. [783] It can be a nuisance for neighbours if somebody has a dog and he decides to become musical once the dark sets in and howls all night. This creates a problem: people do not want to fall out with neighbours but there are provisions in the Bill in this regard. I wonder about the keeping of Alsations by people who have no real need for them. These animals are so vicious. I hope we will have some control over them because while they are guard dogs in their own place they often ramble on to roadways. They often follow children cycling. It is very dangerous. There will be a lot of things to be said on Committee Stage.

I am delighted this Bill has been introduced because no matter what flaws it has, overall it is good.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. Hegarty): Information on Patrick Hegarty  Zoom on Patrick Hegarty  I would like to thank the Members of the House who contributed. It is gratifying that the Bill has met with such a warm reception. There is a universal feeling throughout the State that the menace of loose dogs has to be tackled and that the Bill provides a practical commonsense approach to the problem.

The essence of the Bill is the devolvement of responsibility for dog control to the major local authorities, who will be required to employ dog wardens and erect dog shelters; dogs will be required to be kept under effectual control and the dog wardens will be obliged to seize stray dogs. A somewhat similar scheme of control was introduced in Northern Ireland by The Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order, 1983 and is operating quite successfully at District Council level. In fact in the first year of operation, 1984, the number of dog licences issued was almost double the number of two years previously and at 86,000 was greater than the number issued here in 1985 (80,400). I am aware that there is widespread failure to take out licences. It will be in the interests of the local authorities to maximise revenue so as to meet the operational costs involved in dog control by ensuring that every dog within its area of [784] jurisdiction is licensed. I expect, therefore, to see a dramatic rise in the number of licences issued when the Bill is in operation.

The welfare of the dogs concerned in these controls must not be overlooked and I think that the special position accorded to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals and other welfare agencies in the Bill will ensure that such will be the case. Out of the 12 dog control schemes already being operated in local authority areas, 10 are being operated by the ISPCA under local arrangement. It is the intention that particular care will be taken in the selection and training of dog wardens. Furthermore, veterinary inspectors are employed by each local authority and any veterinary expertise that will be required in regard to humane destruction, dealing with sick animals or welfare will be available.

At this point it is appropriate to pay tribute to the wonderful work for animal welfare being carried out by the ISPCA and other welfare agencies. Undoubtedly the stray dog problem would be an awful lot worse were it not for the trojan work done by these bodies down the years.

Valuable experience is being gained in the day to day operation of controls where schemes are already being operated. Generally the wardens are equipped with radio-controlled vans and respond to calls for assistance and visit fixed locations at regular intervals. In my own county of Cork, a service has recently been inaugurated and the warden visits the livestock marts throughout the county at regular intervals where he collects unwanted dogs. He is very much in demand. It has been found that in some cases the reasons for handing over dogs are financial. This is not surprising when one considers that large dogs may consume £7 worth of food in a week. In other cases, the dogs are creating a nuisance in their areas and the owners have been persuaded by neighbours to dispose of them.

Senator Hussey referred to the lack of enforcement of the existing law in regard to dogs, the low level of licensing and the [785] failure of people to put collars on their dogs. He asked how local authorities will be successful in collecting fees when the Department of Justice failed. My answer to that is that there will now be dog wardens fully occupied with dog control whose sole function will be the operation of the Bill, to collect licence fees and on the spot fines also. The Senator also made the point that one dog warden is not sufficient in any one area. A minimum of one per area will be provided. He said the Department of the Environment will continue to support local authorities after enactment. It will be a matter for the Government of the day to determine how long this should continue. I agree with Senator Hussey when he suggests that the training of wardens will be important. I would expect that the Minister for the Environment would take this in hand, particularly the suggestion that the ISPCA would provide such training. It would not be appropriate to legislate for this. It is something that can be done administratively. There is no need to set a date for recruitment of wardens. Fourteen local authorities have already got dog control schemes in operation and others are very advanced in doing the same thing. There will be a statutory obligation on local authorities to operate the legislation on commencement.

Senator Hussey also requested a provision for compensation of farmers suffering losses from attacks by dogs on their sheep flocks. Section 21 of the Bill provides a remedy for that situation in that dog owners will be liable for damages for these losses. On the question of greyhounds I am not convinced that we should set an age limit of 16 for persons walking greyhounds. It is not the actual age of the person that is important, it is the individual's ability to control dogs. Children differ considerably at that age in size and strength and I would not like to impose an arbitrary limit in that area. The Senator also thought that seven days was too long for keeping a seized dog before being disposed of or given to somebody else. I am not rigid about this and will have another look at if before [786] the Committee Stages.

I would like to pay tribute to Senator Ferris and his colleagues on the Animal Health Council for their input into the formulation of this legislation. I am glad to hear his account of the operation already employed in South Tipperary for the control of dogs. The Senator asked for clarification of the measures about housing of dogs. It is provided for in section 19 which provides for regulations to be made governing the keeping of dogs for particular purposes. There will be no question of seizing a dog which is not licensed. The power of seizure relates to stray dogs only. Stray dogs must be dealt with as defined in the Bill. The wardens will act with tact and are acting, that is the important thing. It is not purely a hypothetical situation. The wardens are already there and are acting with tact and commonsense and will not take every dog in sight.

The Senator's points about the Irish Kennel Club, old age pensioners etc. have been noted. If a dog interferes with a guide dog it has to be presumed that the dog was not kept under effectual control and that an offence was committed.

Senator Fallon made the point that urban councils should be an entity in their own right from the point of view of administering the scheme. We decided to confine it to the five corporations and the counties. Urban councils might not be able to generate sufficient income to operate the service. The larger local authorities have been selected to do the work. There will be nothing to prevent the county councils from placing a warden in a large urban area such as Athlone.

The muzzling of greyhounds is a matter best left to owners who would know which dogs to muzzle. Veterinary opinion in my Department is not in favour of making the muzzling of dogs compulsory unless absolutely necessary. Gardaí will retain the right to seize dogs because there may be occasions when such would be necessary, for instance, strikes by wardens, severe attacks by dogs, dogs being taken off fishing boats at ports and so on. We need that in the Bill.

Regarding Senator Ferris's question [787] about access to public buildings this is not a matter appropriate to the Bill. The wearing of collars by dogs is a requirement under the Dogs Order, 1966 and it is intended that new regulations will be made under the Bill to cover the same. Consultations with appropriate bodies will be possible and the question of the irritation and so on caused by collars can be looked at when this is being done. The question of the rating of premises is not a matter for the Bill. Nothing in this Bill changes the situation.

The humane destruction and slaying of dogs are matters which will have to be carefully handled and the Senator's views are noted. Senator Ferris also made the point about the child being the proud owner of a dog. The child can still be the proud owner of a dog. The parent, however, will take out the licence.

Regarding Senator Hourican's comments there need be no worries in the greyhound industry as to what is in the Bill. The greyhound industry is well regulated and does not give rise to problems of control. For instance, I would deem dogs taking a run and controlled by the handlers whether on a beach or in a field, as being under control by the owner. I know enough about it to know that they are under control. I would hope that the introduction of the new controls will be reflected very soon in an increase in the number of licences, a matter which was also worrying Senator Ferris. The phrase, “about to attack” was mentioned by a few Senators. That is included because at present a dog has to be actually worrying sheep or any other animal before it can be shot. It seems a pity to have to lose a sheep before you can shoot the dog.

No farmer or landowner that I know will go out and shoot dogs arbitrarily. Obviously if a dog is hunting his sheep he is entitled to shoot the dog. That is the position at the moment. It was thought advisable to widen this to protect a farmer who shot a dog which was roaming around his sheep. Senator Quealy made the rather dramatic point about 87 flocks attacked last year in his own area. He made the point about the damage caused [788] to the flock of sheep that does not show up until lambing time. He said this Bill will restore some confidence to sheep farmers especially in the hinterland of the cities, the Dublin and Wicklow areas and the areas around the city which are traditional sheep areas.

Senator McMahon made a number of points about the effectiveness of the Bill. He said that at least one, but maybe more, county councils might opt out. The reason we put it in in that fashion is that, for instance, Waterford Corporation might join with part of the county to appoint one warden for a particular area. In practice, as it is emerging, one can be assured that there will be a good supply of wardens because without them it would not be effective.

Finally Senator Deenihan referred to dog control in the north. That is an area where it has been 100 per cent successful. We studied it and it is working very well. It is self-financing. It is demanded by people in both town and country. Our cities are being fouled and this is causing quite a problem for our corporations. It is a serious worry to farmers. He paid some fulsome tributes to the ISPCA and made a very interesting point about insurance and tax. I do not know about that though.

Senator Browne mentioned the wardens' powers. They will have ample powers to do their job. They will be chiefly concerned initially with picking up stray dogs. That will ease off after a while. Where they are operating they have developed a very good relationship with local authority people, with farmers, with farming organisations. They do a lot of night work, lectures etc. They do a lot of positive work as well in helping people to control their dogs. He also made a point about the greyhound industry. I would like some members or representatives of the greyhound industry to come along and talk to me. I would hope to be able to re-assure them.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman:  When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

[789]Professor Dooge: Information on James CI Dooge  Zoom on James CI Dooge  It is proposed to take Committee Stage on Wednesday, 5 November 1986.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 5 November 1986.


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