Thursday, April 11, 2013

Animal Welfare Bill

The Animal WelfareBill is being debated in the Dail

Its nice to know who's saying what!

Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Report Stage (Resumed) (Continued)
Wednesday, 27 March 2013
Deputy Clare Daly:   I move amendment No. 13:

This is probably the most important amendment we have tabled to the Bill and the one that has received the most attention. That such a comprehensive animal health and welfare Bill is being put through the House today is a significant step forward. All of us agree that many of its provisions represent a substantial step forward in protecting animal welfare in the State. Against this backdrop, that hare coursing is excluded from the provisions of the Bill is a gaping anomaly and contradiction. In essence, we are recognising that the practice is inherently cruel but allowing it to continue. 

Ireland is one of the last remaining countries to allow hare coursing to take place. It has been banned in England, Scotland, Wales and, most recently, Northern Ireland. It is something a majority of Irish citizens in opinion polls and I consistently believe is an outdated practice with no part to play in modern Ireland. This is not just an opinion; it has been verified by what is taking place on the ground where the level of participation in coursing clubs has been declining dramatically in recent years. Each season the numbers involved are growing smaller. Census figures released in 1935 revealed that there were over 219 coursing clubs in Ireland. Today there are less than 90 and the figure is declining. It is a practice engaged in in about ten counties. The only area in Dublin in which it is engaged in is my constituency. 
Information circulated to all Deputies which shows that a very successful drag coursing event took place negates the traditional argument that people who love greyhounds will not have a chance to exercise their dogs and allow them to compete. That is nonsense. We do not need to allow hare coursing to continue for dogs to be exercised or compete. Successful drag coursing events held in Ireland prove this and negate that argument. The Minister must take this on board. Not allowing this barbarity to continue and replacing it with drag coursing would do far more for the tourism industry. 
During the years we have heard many ridiculous arguments justifying hare coursing, all of which can be defeated. We hear such nonsense that coursing clubs look after and protect hares. Let us be clear: hares are snatched from their environment and kept to be chased by dogs. They sustain massive injuries that I will not read into the record because we have done so before. That the organisers do not plan for deaths to occur which are an unfortunate by-product is not a reason to allow it to continue. 
I do not accept the argument that hare coursing is a traditional sport in Ireland. It was first introduced by British garrisons. The fact that something is traditional does not mean it is acceptable. Standards in society change and what was the norm can become unacceptable as time passes. In times past there were freak shows at which people with disabilities and those who looked different were paraded in the name of entertainment. The holding of such events today would be reprehensible. Similarly, activities involving wanton cruelty such as cock fighting and bear baiting which passed for sport 100 years ago would not be deemed acceptable by anybody today. All of the evidence shows that this is not a natural activity for hares which do not enjoy being chased. They are gentle animals which are under threat and whose numbers are in decline as a result of this activity. It is not acceptable that it should continue. Successive opinion polls show this is not a minority viewpoint. 

I am surprised that the Minister has continued to allow this cruel practice and excluded it from the provisions of the legislation because it is the one gaping anomaly that most citizens do not accept. Even at this late stage, I appeal to him to accept our amendment and allow us and coursing clubs to move on to develop the activity mentioned which involves no cruelty. Many people who consciously stay away might then return. We do not see this as in any way an attack on the rural way of life. The majority of people living in rural areas oppose hare coursing. I therefore ask the Minister to support the amendment.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan:   I am appalled that in the previous vote only 14 of the 120 Members in this Chamber today voted in favour of banning fur farming. When it became known in animal welfare circles that the Minister was working on this Bill, there was a great sense that finally we were going to do the right thing and that cruel practices such as hare coursing, the gassing of mink and the culling of badgers would finally be eradicated.
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan:  ]  I want to go back to the beginning of the Bill. In the Long Title, on page seven, it is definitely stated that the aim of the Bill is to prevent cruelty to animals. Under Part 3, which is entitled "Animal Welfare", on page 13, it is stated that a person who is in possession of a protected animal must ensure that the animal is treated in a manner that safeguards the health and welfare of the animal and does not threaten the health or welfare of the animal or another animal. Nobody can tell me that coursing is the sort of activity in which the welfare of the animal is not at stake and in which there is no cruelty.

I refer to an interesting quotation from a German philosopher, Immanuel Kant: "He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." Irish men are not coming across very well when we see the way in which animals are being treated in this country. I do not think it is doing our international reputation any good to be one of three countries that continue to allow live coursing. I understand that The Gathering has also removed hunting from its website. This was a golden opportunity to get rid of hare coursing. It is obvious that the majority of people in this country totally oppose it. I know that Deputies are annoyed by the volume of e-mails they receive on this matter, but this shows the extent of the support for putting a ban on coursing.

Damage is being done to greyhounds, who are gentle animals. They are being deliberately blooded and trained to do something that is against their nature. We know also of the damage to hares in the way they are netted, housed and used. There is also an increasing use of rabbits. Greyhounds have suffered injuries because they become frustrated with wearing the muzzle. As I said on Committee Stage, I do not advocate that muzzles should not be used. However, it is unnatural for the greyhound.

The Minister referred on Committee Stage to employment in the coursing industry. However, employment can be supported if drag coursing is introduced. Like Deputy Daly, I hope the Minister can consider its introduction. To have coursing events monitored by coursing clubs is not an adequate supervision and inspection system. The hares are injured during coursing. They are mauled and some of them have been killed either during or after the coursing. The hare is a sub-species of the mountain hare. There could be issues with regard to the survival of the species, which may become endangered.

My predecessor, the late Tony Gregory, tried to bring in a ban on coursing in the early 1990s but was unsuccessful. More than 30 years later, we are in the same situation. This is a cruel practice. If the Minister is concerned about animal welfare he will reconsider. Neither Deputy Daly nor I will give up the fight on this one.

Deputy Patrick Nulty:   I am happy to support this amendment. We had a discussion about language when dealing with the previous amendment. However, I do not think there can be much debate about this amendment. Hare coursing is deliberately cruel and unnecessary. As Deputy O'Sullivan has outlined, issues of employment can be addressed in other ways, such as by the use of drag coursing. It sticks out like a sore thumb in this Bill that the opportunity to ban coursing is not being seized. I wonder why it is not being seized. It is very ironic that in our vote on the previous amendment, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin all stood shoulder to shoulder. Not since before 1918 have the nationalist parties stood together so much to oppose progressive measures towards achieving animal rights. This is an opportunity for the Minister to redeem himself. I acknowledge the positive elements of this Bill but this provision is a significant anomaly. In failing to ban hare coursing we have failed to seize political responsibility and responsibility for the environment in which we all live on this island. It is a completely barbaric, unnecessary and unacceptable practice. It certainly does not represent the future of Irish economic and rural development. We should ban it outright today. I support the amendment.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:   I support the Minister and I rise to speak against this amendment. I come from a county with a proud coursing record and with long-established coursing clubs. Coursing is part of our heritage and our culture. It is fine to hear Deputies saying that any jobs lost can be replaced in other ways. It is difficult to create employment in these difficult times. The employment provided by the coursing and greyhound industry in Tipperary is indigenous employment, of the people, by the people. It is employment created by the money and initiative of the people themselves. It is created by their own kennels and by investment in breeding dogs. They nurture the greyhounds and the greyhound industry.

We had a very successful festival in Clonmel in February. On numerous occasions I have invited Deputy Clare Daly and Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan to come down to observe the festival. However, there are none so blind as those who will not see. I ask them to come down to see how humane coursing has become and how valuable the industry is to the county and to tourism. Only today I learned that hunting has been taken off the website for The Gathering. If that is the case, it is more the pity, is mór an trua é. It is part of our nature to hunt and fish and do coursing.

I was shocked to hear Deputy O'Sullivan say she was appalled at the result of the previous vote. Thankfully, we live in a democracy and we are entitled to vote. If, as has been claimed by my two colleagues, opinion polls have recorded a demand for the banning of coursing, why have those people not elected 100 Deputies to this House?

Deputy O'Sullivan referred to the e-mails sent to Deputies. Those e-mails are part of a concerted, organised and contrived campaign - a silly campaign, in my view. These are the same people who came to a coursing meeting in Clonmel a couple of years ago and cut the wire of the compound holding the hares. The hares ran out onto the motorway and were slaughtered. This was done in the name of animal rights. They were slaughtered and pulverised into the surface of the motorway. Those people were not thinking about the welfare of those animals. Some years ago, the same people put broken glass on the greyhound track. These are the people who talk about minding the delicate greyhounds. That glass was inserted into the track in order to do unmerciful damage to the feet of the greyhounds. These people need to get real and to stop the bully tactics. We are entitled to our indigenous industry. We are entitled to carry out and to participate in our sports, and more so when it is providing employment. The same applies to hunting. Anyone with a nag, a foal or a mare needs a stable, tackle, a horse box and the means to pull it. They will need to avail of veterinary services. We are generating an industry and we should be allowed to continue. If it does not suit the people in the Pale, that is fine. These people say that coursing was supposed to have been introduced into the garrison towns. If that is so, I say tough; it is something that we adopted. Everything British is not bad. People have got lots of enjoyment out of coursing and lots of jobs have been created out of it. It is an industry worth at least €6 million to the town of Clonmel. I invited the Minister to come to Clonmel but he was unable to come this year. His late colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Shane McEntee, God rest him, came to Clonmel last year. We cannot all live in glasshouses and say that this can be stopped. These are the same people who are looking for jobs here and jobs there. It is not so easy to create jobs. We used to have a flourishing greyhound industry in south Tipperary but it is not half as flourishing now. However, there is still a good residue of people employed and a good residue of spending around this industry. Let us accept the democratic will and the vote. I do not know what will be the result of the next vote; I can only account for my own vote and account for my own people in Tipperary. Some people were horrified because only 14 people voted against the closing of fur factories, which have created valuable employment in certain parts of the country. Let us get real. We cannot on one hand scream for more jobs and more industry while on the other hand banish an indigenous industry that is of the people, by the people and for the people. If we had more of that, we would not have half the unemployment we have.
[Deputy Mattie McGrath:  ] People are entitled to make and continue their efforts, but it sticks in my craw when they start moaning that only 14 voted one way while 100 voted the other. That is where I have the problem. Is it a democracy or not? Are we going to be led by so-called opinion polls which overwhelmingly say that coursing should be banned? Why is that not reflected at the ballot box?

We have to deal with this in the real world. Goodness knows, the people involved are burdened enough and we should allow them to enjoy their sport. If they want to breed and care in every way for their greyhounds and horses and to generate an industry and jobs for themselves and their families, are we going to stop them because some idealist says this is cruel? I have said it before and hate to revert to it, but some of the people who are anti-blood-sports are totally pro-abortion. I cannot get it into my little head how anyone can be of that frame of mind. That debate is coming down the tracks. They are unashamedly pro-abortion and anti-blood-sports. I rest my case.