Thursday, 16 December 1993
Seanad Éireann Debate
The amendment suggests that mechanical hares be used at coursing meetings. I am not quite certain how this would work. However, Senator Norris must have some experience of meetings which were satisfactory where mechanical hares were used, otherwise he would not be in agreement with the amendment. Sadly, have no experience of the use of mechanical hares at coursing meetings. It may be equivalent to a drag hunt. The Minister might consider the use of mechanical hares if it is feasible. It should not be beyond the ingenuity of mechanical engineers to produce such a hare and there may be prototypes available.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. O'Shea): Some work has been done to produce a mechanical hare. They may work on a level surface but there could be difficulties on an undulating surface. The Government has decided not to ban coursing, so on that basis I cannot accept the amendment.
Mr. R. Kiely: I oppose the amendment. Mechanical hares have been used in other countries and have not proved successful. A live hare must be used. As I said on Second Stage, if the hares are good and are properly controlled there should be no problems with coursing. I am sorry Senator Norris is not here because this amendment will be killed more quickly than the hare.
Mr. Dardis: I am puzzled by the amendment. When Senator Henry was speaking I had visions of a man on a bicycle pulling a stuffed rabbit with a piece of string. Senator Norris may not be aware that a hare does not run in a straight line and that would make matters difficult.
 I wish to clarify one point. Senator Norris seemed to suggest I favoured hare coursing, but that is not the case. I am certainly concerned about the decline in the greyhound industry and attendances on tracks, but that is not to say I am in favour of hare coursing. The two subjects are separate.
Mr. Dardis: I made the same point on Second Stage. I am prepared to accept that the present Minister's credentials are good and he has made a determined effort to deal with this problem, but the word “may” leaves far too much latitude. The public expectation is that muzzling will occur and the Minister will ensure that, but the section leaves too much discretion.
Mr. Naughten: I said earlier that the Irish Coursing Club would encourage the use of muzzles. We must do everything possible to ensure that the body regulating the sport helps eliminate the killing of hares. No one in this House wants to see hares killed if it is avoidable. The controlling body should ensure the muzzle is used. The Bill provides that the Minister “may” rather than “shall” intervene if the club is not doing that. I have no difficulty with the current wording. We must encourage the club to provide  maximum safety for hares in live hare coursing.
Mr. R. Kiely: Like Senator Naughten, I have no problem with the use of the word “may”. On Second Stage I expressed reservations about muzzling. If coursing meetings were properly run there would be no need for it. I oppose the amendment.
Dr. Henry: There is far too much self-regulation in the Bill. This provision weakens the legislation. The public think the Minister's intention is that muzzling will be obligatory, not that he will rely on the Irish Coursing Club to use muzzles and follow it up if it does not. It will be easy to monitor closed coursing meetings. It will be different with open coursing meetings, which are arranged at short notice and irregularly. It is not clear how they will be inspected. Not using the word “shall” weakens the measure enormously.
Mr. Dardis: The Minister has discretion under six other subsections of this section, not just the muzzling provision. I sympathise with Senator Naughten's call for self-regulation. Unfortunately, the history of the Irish Coursing Club suggests it was indifferent if not hostile to the clear signals coming from the public. There was little desire on its part to regulate the sport. It was only as a result of Deputy Gregory's Bill that a degree of regulation was introduced.
Mr. O'Shea: The issue here is whether the Minister should have discretion in making the regulations. I believe he should have that discretion and I have not heard any argument which convinces me to the contrary. Most Acts passed by the Oireachtas in recent years have allowed Ministers to retain discretion. It is important to have that in Bills such as this which provide for an evolving situation.
 I reached an agreement earlier this year with the Irish Coursing Club about experimenting on muzzles and this anticipated the legislation. For the welfare of both hares and greyhounds it is important to use the correct muzzle. It is also important to provide the correct veterinary and other necessary controls.
My Department has a monitoring committee which is attending all coursing meetings this year. I believe it missed one meeting. At the end of the season, when we have received data from all the meetings, it is our intention to review that information. We will then decide on the best course to give effect to the commitment to eliminate the kill which was given to the Dáil by the Minister, Deputy Walsh, and myself.
This provision is not new in legislation and I believe it is necessary because the Minister needs to have flexibility. I can give a commitment to the House that the requisite regulations will be introduced as speedily as possible. We have to do it properly and we have not yet identified the type of muzzle most appropriate in this case. All courses, as of next season, will feature muzzles.
“(vii) the supervision by a veterinary surgeon or Wildlife Officer of the release of the hares into the wild (and not on the preserve of any coursing club) after each Coursing Meeting, having been marked so that they may not be recoursed,
We should have modern day electronic marking of dogs, which would be an excellent idea. The same marking could be done for hares so no one could say that the same hares would be caught and recoursed. We should not leave ourselves with regulations which are open to claims  of being inadequate as soon as they are introduced. I would be grateful if the Minister would try to make this happen.
It is important that coursing clubs hear what Senator Norris is trying to say on this matter — of course Senator Norris would never try to talk; he would always talk. Senator Norris is anxious that there should not be such a high level of self-regulation. The releasing of coursed hares should be done outside the territory of the coursing clubs and it should be supervised by a Minister's agent, who could either be a wildlife officer or a veterinary inspector. As I said earlier, this is not an attack on the integrity of any veterinary officer who might be there in his auspices as a member of the coursing club, but it is wiser not to have a conflict of interest in these areas.
Mr. Dardis: My point is slightly different to that of Senator Henry. At the conclusion of Second Stage the Minister may have referred to a query I raised. If he did refer to it, I would be grateful if he would repeat it. My point concerns the supervision by the veterinary surgeon and about how that person is appointed. Who is the agency that appoints that person? Are they an agent of the Department or of the coursing club? My concern is that if the coursing club is the appointing agency, they can be selective in the surgeon they choose.
Mr. Naughten: I referred to that matter as well when I made my contribution and the Minister, in his reply, probably omitted it. The point raised by Senator Dardis is a valid one. Senator Henry made a similar point. It would be important from everybody's point of view to have an independent veterinary officer. Bad publicity was generated last year when unfit hares were raced. It is important that the veterinary officer examining the hares would carry out his job in a fair minded way. Therefore, the question of who appoints them is an important one.
Mr. O'Shea: We are referring to areas which will essentially arise in the context  of the regulations and our experience during the year. In a direct answer to Senator Dardis, the Bill makes no provision in relation to the appointment of veterinary surgeons. However, it is the intention that the regulations will require the ICC to hire veterinary surgeons from the private sector. I have problems with the tenor of some of the contributions which seem to infer in some way that some veterinary surgeons might act in a less than professional way. It is regrettable that this type of comment should be made.
Mr. O'Shea: Essentially, the regulations are flexible and provide for the ICC to hire the veterinary surgeons from the private sector. Some measure of monitoring will be carried out by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. I am not in a position to say anything about the extent and form that will take at this time. I ask the Senators to bear in mind that trials are going on at the moment, both in terms of the muzzling and new regulations on the veterinary side. We need the opportunity to review all of these results at the end of the season and to introduce the best possible regulations to achieve the objective that both I and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Walsh, gave a commitment to in the Dáil.
Dr. Henry: I said twice that I did not say in any way that any veterinary surgeon connected with a coursing club would act unprofessionally. It is important, and I know this is a professional matter, to avoid a conflict of interest. I brought up a similar matter concerning doctors in casualty departments under the Road Traffic Bill and this is also relevant for the patient and the police. It is hard on the professional person if they end up in any situation where there may  be even a suspicion of a conflict of interest. Not for one moment would I suggest that any member of the veterinary profession would behave in this manner, but it is always wiser to ensure that they cannot be in conflict.
Mr. Dardis: I would not like to suggest that veterinary surgeons would not abide by their professional standards either, but there can be a wide interpretation within those professional standards. If there is a vested interest, it obviously colours one's attitude. That is not saying they would lapse from their professional standards, but there is a lot of scope for it in there.
Mr. R. Kiely: From my experience of veterinary surgeons and those in the medical profession — and I have had dealings with many of them — they would abide by the ethics of their profession at all times. I would not have any worries about the appointment of any veterinary surgeon.
Mr. O'Shea: The points made by the Senators will certainly be borne in mind. I accept in good faith that there was no bad reflection meant on the professional integrity of any members of the veterinary profession.
Mr. Dardis: Could the Minister clarify for me what section 4 (1) is supposed to mean? What is the Minister doing there with this subsection? I get suspicious when I see these sort of phrases in Bills.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (Mr. O'Shea): I thank the Senators for taking part in this debate. There was a high level of constructive and concerned comment in relation to the greyhound industry. I look forward to coming back to the House in the new year with the more substantial legislation on the industry.
Mr. Dardis: I thank the Minister for the way he guided the Bill through the House. I trust we did not hold it up unduly. I hope the Minister will be in a position to regulate and improve the industry in the way we all hope it can be regulated and improved.
Mr. Naughten: I endorse Senator Dardis's sentiments. I hope this Bill will make a contribution to protecting the hare in live hare coursing. That is one of the Bill's important aspects, while the setting up of the new board will play a major part in revitalising the industry. We look forward to additional legislation.
Dr. Henry: I also thank the Minister. I know he is interested in the greyhound industry, as I am, but it is most important that we look at the industry carefully to ensure that one side of it is not seriously damaging the other.
Mr. Wall: I compliment the Minister. I am sure the Bill passed today is a step in the right direction. The Minister has a major interest in the greyhound industry, as many of us do, and I look forward to the subsequent Bill that will deal with the greyhound industry in greater depth. I have no doubt that the work done today, and the work that will be done in the future, will ensure a growth in the industry of which we can be proud.
Mr. R. Kiely: I endorse the previous speaker's sentiments. I hope this Bill will improve the greyhound industry which is vital to the economic and social life of this country. We should not get emotional about aspects of the industry. We should ensure that whatever we do will be for the betterment of the industry, especially for the people involved in it.
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