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Greyhound Industry (Continued)

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 984 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle] These regulations will support the board in its ambition to establish and maintain a new comprehensive tracing database for racing greyhounds and will provide greater powers to deal with areas such as anti-doping, integrity and sanctions, the need for which has only been further underlined by what we saw recently. It is deeply frustrating that the breaches of animal welfare that were highlighted by RTÉ have come to light in the year that saw the largest ever allocation of funding, of €2,751,000, to animal welfare organisations. A total of 108 organisations are benefitting under these arrangements and I appreciate the valuable work these organisations do to protect the welfare of animals on a daily basis. An animal welfare lo-call helpline is in place, along with a dedicated email address, which facilitates the reporting by members of the public of any suspicion that animal cruelty is taking place. All calls received are treated in confidence and are followed up by authorised officers of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I urge anyone who has witnessed a breach of animal welfare rules to use this facility.

I take this opportunity to highlight some of what has been achieved for animal welfare by this Government. The Government has demonstrated a strong and consistent record regarding the enforcement of animal welfare rules, including the review of 100 years of animal welfare legislation, leading to the enactment of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. Since then, a total of 73 successful prosecutions have been taken under the Act, with a further 30 prosecutions for welfare abuses currently being processed. The use of wild animals in circuses was banned in 2017 and this week, the Government has taken the decision in principle to ban fur farming over a phased period. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, will bring forward the general scheme of a Bill to the Government to provide for this ban without delay.

I stress that the Department does not issue certificates for the export of greyhounds to China or Pakistan and no certificates have been issued for the export of greyhounds from Ireland to either of those destinations since I was appointed as Minister of State. I can also confirm that the Department is engaging in a review of the licensing conditions in knackeries, with regard to the practices seen on RTÉ's "Prime Time Investigates" programme. All allegations will be examined to determine the appropriate actions needed. I also understand that coursing activity on Whiddy Island will be investigated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, and will be pursued by the relevant authorities. I fully understand and empathise with the views and concerns of members of the public and their response to the contents of this programme, which undermined our deeply felt national attachment to the care and welfare of all animals. In recent days, Bord na gCon, the IGB, has published the first steps of its action plan to strengthen traceability, re-homing and welfare standards by improved regulation, more inspections and the use of greater resources in these areas.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I thank the Minister of State.

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle One minute.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy In all fairness-----

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle I will be visiting the headquarters of Bord Na gCon shortly to meet with its chair and board members to discuss welfare standards in the industry. In addition, I will discuss the swift implementation of the board's action plan, with a view to identifying what further tangible measures are required to address the serious public concerns raised in this programme.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I want to point out to the Minister of State that there is a time slot, and it is up to the Chair to tell him when that time is up.

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle I appreciate that, but this is an important issue and I feel strongly about it.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I know it is important but the other Deputies had to share far less time, so I want to be fair to everybody. The Deputies have a minute each to respond, starting with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan My first question is why the Minister of State, the IGB, and the Department had to wait for this programme to air. We were telling them all this already. Italy and France have banned the export of their dogs to countries like China, the US and Australia, and commercial airlines will not take greyhounds if they know that is where they are going.

I refer again to coursing. My Bill to ban live hare coursing was defeated, but it was based on the same evidence of what is going on that we saw on "Prime Time Investigates" the other night. We have seen appalling injuries inflicted on hares as well. It was said that it was better to have coursing licensed, but we all knew there was unlicensed stuff going on and the programme also noted that a number of people from the licensed coursing clubs were attending those meetings. There was a big hoo-ha about the Government funding granted to the FAI and Repak, but why is the same standard not being applied to the IGB and the amount of funding it is getting? The funding should be withheld until these particular issues are addressed. We are not dealing with it because they are animals. The IGB was aware that injured dogs were being forced to run in races and were being given morphine so they could run. This industry is an absolute disgrace.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I am appalled by the Minister of State's response, because there is no urgency in what he is saying. We knew this was taking place. The Minister of State and the Minister behind him have known for a number of years about the greyhound industry and the treatment of hares in hare coursing. Steps have to be taken, clinically and quickly, to show the industry that these practices will not be tolerated at all. We are talking about 6,000 greyhounds being brought to knackeries each year, and being beaten to death because they cannot run fast enough. This is not livestock: these are animals that should be treated with respect. I am asking the Minister of State to tell the Irish greyhound industry immediately that its funding will be stopped if these issues are not dealt with. We should only issue passports to greyhounds going to countries with welfare conditions of a standard as high as our own and that should be double-checked. Licences for hare coursing and netting should be stopped immediately until they are investigated. These sorts of things, and not the weaselly words I have heard from the Minister today, will have an impact. It is not good enough.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy I agree that it is not good enough. The Minister of State has expressed his deep concern at the issues that have been highlighted. However, those issues have been highlighted for years and it should not take an RTÉ exposé to make people aware or suddenly make the Government concerned. I have a letter here from 2016 that outlines these precise issues, which the ISPCA, Dogstrust Ireland, the Irish Blue Cross, and The Irish Council Against Blood Sports have also raised repeatedly. These issues have been raised repeatedly in this Dáil as well. The idea that the Minister of State did not know about it until it was on RTÉ is simply not credible.

The Minister of State stated that the Department does not issue certificates for the export of greyhounds to China or Pakistan. However, the Minister of State knows that greyhounds are first exported to the UK and then exported to those countries from there. The Minister of State and his Department know who is involved in that, because particular people are going around buying up greyhounds specifically for export to those countries.

I refer to knackeries. A knackery belonging to John Styles and his daughter featured in the RTÉ programme. He stated recently that he would not shoot any more dogs, which is an admission that he has done so in the past. The funding should be cut.

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle I appreciate the Members' contributions. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, in fairness to her, participated in the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 and the record will show that she commended me on my ongoing efforts to bring that legislation forward, almost three years to the day since I was appointed Minister of State. I set about modernising the regulations around greyhounds-----

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins The only regulations-----

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle I did not interrupt the Deputy when she was speaking. I am sincerely trying to bring this industry into focus and into shape. I will be meeting the chair and board members of the IGB this week to go through its action plan and to see to its immediate implementation.

Italy has banned the export of dogs to China and so on and while we could do that too, unless every country we export to that has good welfare standards adopts the same approach it will not be effective. We cannot control what happens in the UK on our own, but we can work with it and re-emphasise the need for it to have stricter controls on how animals exit the country. If every country in a community, such as the EU 27 plus the UK, has the same ring of steel around their exports, then no dogs will end up in countries such as China or Pakistan. We cannot do that unilaterally. We need co-operation and that is why we need to engage with the international greyhound forum to make sure that becomes a reality.

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