False animal cruelty claim by Andrew Doyle TD

1 Dec

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Andrew Doyle TD has farcically thanked the Irish Greyhound Board for “their valuable contribution to animal welfare” and made the outrageous claim that the government “does not tolerate any instance of animal cruelty”.

Deputy Doyle’s claim is false and won’t fool anyone who is aware of the government’s shameful refusal to outlaw hare coursing, foxhunting, digging-out/terrierwork, fur farming, puppy farming, etc. His reference to Bord na gCon and animal welfare is similarly laughable given that the greyhound industry is inherently cruel, with an estimated 10,000 greyhounds destroyed every year when found to be too slow to win races. Recent revelations in the media have also highlighted the cruel doping of dogs, injuries to dogs at tracks and the appalling export of greyhounds to countries with no little or no animal welfare.

In his speech, Deputy Doyle attempts to present foxhunting and hare coursing as activities which “avoid wilful or unnecessary cruelty” – again, contrary to the facts which are that both of these bloodsports are intrinsically cruel. Foxes are chased to exhaustion and ripped apart by packs of hounds. Foxes who try to find refuge underground are attacked by hunt terriers, dug out of the ground and thrown to the pack of dogs. In hare coursing, hares are forcefully snatched from the wild in nets, kept in captivity and used as live bait for greyhounds to chase. Foxhunting and coursing are so undeniably cruel that the government had to specifically exempt them from the Animal Health and Welfare Act to allow those involved to continue their animal abuse without fear of prosection.

Transcript of Andrew Doyle’s speech:

Andrew Doyle TD (Wicklow, Fine Gael)

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter of animal welfare in the House. First, I wish to emphasise the Government’s commitment to animal welfare and to reiterate that this Government does not tolerate any instance of animal cruelty. There is no doubt that there is greater engagement than ever by the public at large with issues relating to animal welfare. This public interest has been given concrete expression in the Animal Health and Welfare Act which was adopted by the Oireachtas following extensive and positive debate. The Act provides a modern and robust framework for dealing with animal welfare-related issues. I want to focus tonight on the significant progress that has been made in recent years in the area of the welfare of animals.

In particular, I am very glad that the Deputy’s motion acknowledges the progress that the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 has brought about. That Act updated and replaced around 40 items of primary legislation in the area of animal welfare and health back to over 100 years. The Act changed the basis upon which animal owners must treat their animals. It enshrined the principles of the five freedoms for animals. They are freedom: from hunger and thirst, from discomfort; from pain, injury and disease; to exhibit natural behaviour; and from fear and distress. These requirements are a fundamental shift in the way that this issue is dealt with under the Irish legal system. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 is designed to allow intervention in a much wider range of cases than previously possible. As a result, minor cases can be tackled before they escalate and the Act is a vehicle to encourage and educate animal keepers. In the past, the Protection of Animals Act 1911 was the only recourse available and could only be used where significant suffering had occurred. This new approach means that we will be be able to tackle problems while they are relatively minor, making the risk of escalation much lower.

Enforcement is a complex issue and one which needs to be examined in detail. This is another progressive aspect of the Act, in that it does not just focus on prosecution, which is only appropriate in cases where there have been serious welfare issues that can be clearly demonstrated to the courts. The new enforcement approach reflects the need to intervene as early as possible in animal welfare situations. The Act provides for animal health and welfare notices to be issued by authorised officers. This means that minor situations can be addressed at an early stage and that encouragement, guidance and best practice are introduced rather than just punishment. In terms of actual prosecutions, 35 cases have been successfully prosecuted in recent years, with a further 26 in various stages of preparation with a view to prosecution. Furthermore, the Act contains provisions whereby individuals who are convicted of serious animal welfare offences the courts may ban them from keeping animals, or indeed restrict the numbers of animal they may keep. In some cases, welfare issues are due less to innate cruelty than to the animal owners’ capacity to care for his or her animals being overwhelmed. This provision therefore allows for cases where an individual’s mental well-being is best protected by allowing them to continue to keep a fewer amount of animals.

The provisions of the Act are enforced by authorised officers of my Department, An Garda Síochána, Customs and Excise, the ISPCA and the Dublin SPCA. This co-operation with other organisations has been a major departure under the Act and the arrangement has been working well. Individual officers of the Turf Club and Bord na gCon have also been authorised by the Act. I would like to express my thanks to these bodies for their valuable contribution to animal welfare.

The Animal Health and Welfare Act has been well received both upon enactment and as it has been rolled out and implemented. All of our major animal welfare NGOs and stakeholders have seen it as a major progressive improvement in the area. In addition, the Act sets out clear legally enforceable parameters relating to activities such as hunting and coursing which must occur in a lawful fashion that avoids wilful or unnecessary cruelty.

The actions taken by my Department to protect animal welfare go beyond mere legislation, however, notwithstanding how progressive and flexible that legislation may be. For example, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council, is a multi-stakeholder group that meets on a national and regional basis and includes representatives of farmers, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and animal welfare organisations. This advisory council has been very successful, in its regional forum, in acting as an early warning system. Similarly, where natural and weather events have led to problems in certain locations, my Department has acted quickly and effectively to bring about emergency supplies of feed to particular premises where feed has been an issue. Since 2011, over €11 million in total has been provided in ex gratia payments, reaching approximately 140 animal welfare organisations throughout the country annually.

Monitoring of animal welfare has been raised in this debate. Such monitoring occurs on a number of levels and forums. On the farm side, cross-compliance inspections by the Department flag up welfare issues and departmental veterinary staff carry out regular inspections. In the context of monitoring, the increased awareness of animal welfare means that the issue is something that can be raised whenever it occurs and this has been facilitated, in particular, by the animal welfare helpline that my Department has had in place for some years now. This helpline, lo-call 0761 064408, along with a dedicated email address, AnimalWelfare@agriculture.gov.ie, facilitates the reporting by members of the public of any suspicion of poor animal welfare or animal cruelty taking place whether within the realm of a farming situation, a sporting or recreational activity or indeed, in a public place or an urban setting. All calls received are treated in confidence and are followed up by authorised officers. Similarly, there are a variety of people involved with animals, all of whom are aware of welfare issues and who can flag them up, as and when they arise. Officers of my Department, officers of the ISPCA and the Dublin SPCA, local authority vets, dog wardens in dog pounds, and of course members of the public and animal welfare NGOs all play a role.

I am also bringing forward a new greyhound industry Bill in the autumn which addresses the governance of Bord na gCon, strengthens regulatory controls in the industry, modernises sanctions and improves integrity with a view to building a reputation for exceptional regulation in the sector. The draft general scheme of the Bill has already progressed through the pre-legislative scrutiny phase and a memorandum will go to the Government in the coming weeks requesting approval to publish the updated general scheme and to submit it to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel for drafting.

In conclusion, there is a great deal of agreement on this issue. Animal welfare is an important issue. There have been huge improvements in the legislative and non-legislative regime that have brought about a change in attitudes in this country. The few individuals who do neglect and abuse animals find themselves more likely to be punished than ever before, which is as it should be. Early education, understanding and awareness continue to improve and raise standards of animal welfare in this country. In view of the many positive developments taking place in the area of animal welfare, I commend the Government’s amendment to the House.

Read a full transcript of the debate at
https://www.kildarestreet.com/debates/?id=2017-10-03a.478

Watch the full 2-hour Dail debate at

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