Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 773 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív] If one tried to ban it one would only drive it underground. There is a balance to be struck and it is important we strike it in the right place.

I have received thousands of e-mails from people opposed to fur farming. I would prefer if thousands of people did not send me the same emails which I have to delete because they block up my in-box. I would like to hear the argument as to why fur farming is so different to cattle farming. Many of the shoes we wear contain leather. We must decide where to draw the line. I have not yet heard any overwhelming argument that fur farming is significantly different than chicken, pig or any other type of farming in which an animal is killed in a humane manner. From my reading of the Bill, the Minister is silent on that issue and does not propose-----

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney We have done a separate review on fur farming, the details of which I can give to the Deputy. We will not ban it but are putting in place tighter regulations which may include random inspections.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I am not against regulation, inspection, high standards and so on.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The intention is not to ban it.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I presume the Minister would agree that an outright ban is not warranted. The logical extension of that would be, because we would not be killing cattle and so on, our ending up in a place that would destroy the economy. We should instead ensure that each type of farming is done in a humane way.

I listened to what the Minister said about tail docking and such practices. I take it that the measure being introduced will ensure the benefit outweighs the damage caused. For example, everyone would argue that dehorning of young cattle is anti-cruelty because the horns of the cattle can be dangerous to man and beast. It is allowed, therefore, despite it being an unpleasant task. Two people having a harmless row is often referred to in the Irish language as cath na mbó maol, which when translated means the battle of the two dehorned cows. Cattle without horns do not do any damage. It was recognised in older times that dehorned cattle are a lot safer than horned cattle. While these are issues that need to be teased out, the Minister is on balance going in the right direction.

I understand that the farming organisations have raised issues in regard to the inspectorate and welfare organisations. This matter can be teased out further on Committee Stage. Having spoken to the Minister's officials, whom I thank for their briefing, I recognise that there is a need for appointment of authorised officers in urban areas. It is reasonable that authorised officers be appointed where there are no departmental veterinarians or infrastructure. Unless someone proves otherwise, what the Minister is proposing to do appears reasonable.

I support the introduction of a graduated system of fines, including a warning, an on-the-spot fine followed by a more serious fine. I understand that the ultimate sanction will be indictment. However, everything must be proportionate. It is important that we do not provide in legislation for prosecution of minor offences where an easier way of addressing the offence is available. I like the idea of a summary or on-the-spot fine which is equivalent to a parking ticket. Where a person is guilty of more serious transgressions the matter can be taken further. That is reasonable.

I listened with interest to what the Minister had to say about the eradication schemes and money. As I understand it, what is currently provided for will continue but that where a person cheats the system he or she will not be entitled to money. Also, any person who induces a disease or who tries to interfere with a test would not be entitled to compensation from the State. I would have thought that was obvious. I agree with it.

The Minister spent a great deal of time speaking about the codes of practice, which is an interesting concept. Legislation when enacted can be a blunt instrument in the courts. If I understood the Minister's officials correctly, we are now providing for three levels of law, namely, primary statutory law, statutory instruments and the codes of practice. The first two are viewed as the letter of the law in the court. In regard to the code of practice, a person who wishes to take a prosecution would have to find some element of the law, either regulation or primary law, under which he or she could prosecute the offender but that in prosecuting under that section of the Act, the code of practice could be taken into account by the judge. However, it does not have the force of law on a word for word basis in the same way as do the other two aspects. A judge could take it into account when informing a judgment as to what the statutory law means. It is worth a try as it makes a great deal of sense. As I stated earlier, one of the problems in drawing up legislation is that it is hard to foresee every circumstance. I presume the judge looking at the code of practice would look at the common sense meaning of the word rather than the literal meaning of the law and that is the idea.

It is important codes of practice are simple. I agree with the basic approach being taken. I am sure we will have an interesting debate on this issue on Committee Stage. However, this measure will be of assistance. Some of the farming organisations have expressed the concern that this would have a big impact on farming. I presume they will be involved in drawing up the codes of practice and that the codes will basically be good farming practice and a common sense approach to looking after animals well. This is worth discussing. If the choice is going down the codes of practice route or statutory instrument route the code of practice route provides more common sense flexibility.

Ministers are provided through primary legislation with the power to make regulations. I am not against that because the world has become a lot more complicated. If we did not do so all the Acts of the Oireachtas would be getting wider as people require more and more detail. We live in a much different world than 30 or 40 years ago. I believe that now that we have a good committee system it should become the norm rather than the exception that Ministers would refer proposed statutory instruments to the relevant committees with whom they should be willing to debate them prior to their being signed off in this House as regulations. What normally happens is that the Minister signs the regulation, following which there are 28 days during which the Dáil may object but the reality is, given the number of members of Government versus the Opposition, that does not happen.

I recall that on the first occasion I introduced regulations under the Acht Teanga I encountered some difficulty. On the second occasion, I brought the matter before a committee. We debated the matter at length during which time Members came up with some suggestions and I made some amendments.

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