- Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of dog breeding establishments registered; the number inspected in 2018 and to date in 2019; the number that required follow-up inspections; the number of fixed payment notices or improvement notices served by type; the number of closure notices served during that time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15204/19]
The last time I asked a question on the inspection of dog breeding establishments and the welfare of dogs, the Minister said the guidelines were being published last year, following a long consultation, and that they would come into effect in January 2019. He said there were 248 registered breeding establishments in 2016 and 258 in 2017. What is the up-to-date position on the guidelines and the number of establishments now?
Each year my Department publishes statistics covering a range of the dog control responsibilities of local authorities. These include statistics in respect of their work on dog breeding establishments. Local authorities are responsible for registrations, inspections and issuing fixed payment notices or improvement notices in relation to these establishments.
Statistics for 2018 are currently being collected from each of the local authorities and, when checked and verified, they will be published on my Department’s website. I plan to publish the 2018 statistics by the end of June of this year. Similarly, statistics for 2019 will be published when available in 2020. The statistics for 2017 and earlier years are available on my Department’s website.
At the end of 2017 there were 258 dog breeding establishments registered. Approximately one third of these were commercial establishments, with the remainder including boarding kennels, animal welfare shelters and hunt clubs. A total of 275 inspections were carried out in total in 2017, with four improvement notices and two fixed payment notices issued. Further information is also available on the Department’s website.
I welcome the fact that the Minister is publishing the 2018 statistics in June. How many people have been prosecuted and convicted for breaches of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010 to date? The 2017 figures showed there were 2,176 on-the-spot fines issued under the Control of Dogs Act and 766 were paid, with 191 prosecutions and 99 convictions. What happened to the remainder of those fines?
We still hear incredible horror stories, a number of which come before the courts. There was an incident in Roscommon a few years ago and a few months ago, at a registered establishment, somebody was prosecuted and committed to prison for a number of years for gross cruelty, as well as being banned for life from having dogs and horses.
Do we not need a more vigorous regime? I asked the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Ring, about this on a previous occasion. It is very unusual to have three Government Departments regulating it, in the shape of the Department of Rural and Community Development under the 2010 Act, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Is there some area in which we could move forward and have better invigilation of these establishments?
The Deputy is right. Last Monday week I visited an animal shelter in Tipperary on my way back from a meeting of the Atlantic Economic Corridor, AEC, task force in Tralee. When one meets people who care for animals one realises what is happening. It was a first-time experience for me, even though I am from rural Ireland where we love our dogs and our pets in general. The legislation is being reviewed and the guidelines came in on 1 January.
Many comments were received by the Department during the consultation process but could not be addressed within the guidelines. The comments necessitate that my Department look at the legislation and that is what we are doing at the moment. The Department will consider the submissions as it looks at the legislation. Many respondents suggested changing the definition of a dog breeding establishment to refer to three, rather than six, breeding bitches while others said the current definition covered hunt clubs and other things, which may not be appropriate, and non-compliance was mentioned by others. There has been a plethora of submissions, which are very good and very important and which we would not have been able to cover in the guidelines. We hope the legislation process will be ready to be brought to the Chamber before the end of 2019.
I thank the Minister for his thoughtful reply. When the Minister returned to Government he made a commitment to meet animal rights advocates and representative advocacy groups. Has he already met that commitment or does he still intend to do so? I am aware that he has been listening to submissions. Section 9 of the 2010 Act provides for the registration of the establishments of breeders and the Minister made an interesting point about the number of breeding dogs that should be registered. What about those who are operating under the radar? I have a rural background so I totally understand the concerns people have about all farm and companion animals. There is a provision for unannounced inspections but, given the cases that have come before the courts, there is still grave concern. We export many dogs to the UK and I do not know whether the Minister has had any liaison with the UK Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Michael Gove. He said he was going to introduce new legislation on this.
Dogs Trust Ireland, a distinguished advocacy group, stated in February that it had received requests from nearly 400 people to surrender their dogs after Christmas. Are there any measures the Minister can take to deal with people buying dogs for children and surrendering them within a week or two?
Absolutely. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan brought in a number of people here who are involved in this area. I met with them and it was one of the more positive meetings I have had in a long time. They had fundamental issues which they wanted to see addressed and they came to help to do that. I gave them a commitment and I visited Tipperary after that meeting. It is a problem and a lot of things are not right, including the sale of pups online. We have to look at all of this in the context of legislation and we are working on that at the moment.
Deputy Broughan referred to the surrendering of dogs in January, February and March and I urge anybody who considers buying a dog for Christmas or a birthday to ensure there is a place for the dog and that all the necessary socialisation is provided for, meaning he or she is not locked up all day because that is cruelty in its own way. We have a lot of dogs and their licensing and chipping is a huge area at which we are looking in the legislation.