Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 47 of 2 October 2019, the way in which he, as Minister with responsibility for animal welfare, can address the issue of horse-drawn carriages from the welfare perspective as highlighted by many groups that care for horses; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: This question follows on from one I submitted earlier this month to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. As the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is responsible for animal welfare, I ask him to address the issue of horse-drawn carriages from the perspective of the welfare of the horses involved. This issue has been highlighted by many animal welfare groups.
Deputy Michael Creed: Licensing of horse-drawn carriages comes under the remit of the local authority concerned. The welfare issues relating to horses involved in drawing carriages continue to be carefully monitored by my Department and the relevant local authorities.
My Department devotes considerable resources to protecting animal welfare and dealing with breaches of animal welfare legislation. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 has modernised the legal framework relating to the welfare of animals. Sections 11 and 12 of that Act contain the main provisions relating to the welfare of and cruelty to animals. Section 11 provides that a person having an animal in his or her possession or control must safeguard and not threaten the health and welfare of that animal. Section 12 provides that it is an offence for a person to cause unnecessary suffering, endanger, neglect or be reckless regarding the health or welfare of any animal.
In order to ensure its effectiveness, the legislation provides for increased levels of penalties for offences committed under the Act. For major cases taken on indictment, the maximum penalty has been increased from €100,000 to €250,000, with a maximum custodial sentence of five years imprisonment. Section 58 also provides that a person convicted of an offence under the Act may be disqualified from keeping, owning or working with an animal.
My Department’s work on animal welfare is further underpinned by the operation of the animal welfare helpline, along with a dedicated email address. The hotline exists for the reporting of specific incidents relating to animal welfare which come to the attention of members of the public. All calls received are treated in confidence and all complaints are investigated and followed up. Persons having concerns about the welfare of any animal may report their concerns in this way or directly to any of my Department’s regional offices. There have been 89 successful prosecutions taken nationally since enactment. Summonses have issued in a further 21 cases which remain before the courts.
In terms of resources devoted to the enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare Act, in addition to staff employed by my own Department and by local authorities, a number of officers of certain NGOs have been given authorised officer status under the Act and this has facilitated the more effective enforcement of the legislation. Under the Act, departmental staff, members of An Garda Síochána and 13 officers of the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, DSPCA, and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, are authorised.
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: I thank the Minister for his reply. A couple of months ago, Deputy Joan Collins and I met a delegation of horse-drawn carriage drivers and their animals on Merrion Square. They brought to our attention a number of outstanding issues, one of which is the licensing system, which does not come within the remit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. They spoke about a vacuum in terms of who is responsible for what, the fact that a number of Departments are involved as well as the local authority, and that the welfare of horses is being neglected. Where is the system for inspecting these horses in order to ensure that they are suitable for drawing carriages? We know that children are operating some of these carriages and that some of the horses are not licensed. I understand that Dublin City Council, DCC, has a vet on contract to assist with horse licence inspections but this does not involve a health check of the horse or a check of its suitability for drawing a carriage. Some horses are brought to Dublin from the countryside so the DCC vet does not know anything about them or from where they have come. While the Act is on the Statute Book and restrictions are in place, this area is not being carefully monitored. We know from animal welfare groups that some horses are being neglected. Under the Control of Horses Act, how much engagement is there between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and An Garda Síochána, particularly the officers at Pearse Street and Kevin Street stations who are responsible for the horse-drawn carriages that operate in Dublin city centre?
Deputy Michael Creed: I am not sure that the welfare of the horse is impacted upon by the identity of the licensing authority. On Saturday, 12 October last, an inspection was conducted by a veterinary inspector of my Department on eight horses attached to carriages close to the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’ Gate. These horse-drawn carriages are part of the landscape of Dublin and they enhance the tourist experience, provided they are properly regulated and monitored. The inspection of the horses and carriages parked outside the Guinness Storehouse found that all eight horses had passports. All of the horses were well groomed, well presented and shod. They appeared in excellent condition and were well cared for. The people in charge of the horses were reported as capable, knowledgeable and in control of their horses. The veterinary inspector reported that a number of such visits had taken place in the previous 18 months, adding that the general welfare of the animals had been good, with no welfare concerns identified.
The Deputy spoke about issues brought to the attention of herself and Deputy Joan Collins. As already stated, any incidents giving rise to concern can be reported via a hotline in my Department. Staff will be happy to follow up on any specific inquiries. The most recent inspection carried out by staff from my Department found that one particular group of urban horse-drawn carriages reported well on horse welfare grounds, which is welcome.
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: We met very responsible drivers who were concerned that because of the vacuum caused by the licensing issue, the other issues relating to welfare were being neglected. I accept and welcome what the Minister said about staff of his Department inspecting the horses outside the Guinness Storehouse. It was brought to my attention that an individual phoned the Department and reported concerns about a very underweight, underfed horse, giving the animal’s location. A few days later, the same individual received a phone call from someone in the Department who wanted to know the location of the horse, even though all the details had been given previously. That said, it is good to know that the inspection to which the Minister referred took place.
These horse-drawn carriages are a tourist attraction but tourists getting into the carriages do not know if their drivers are licensed or if there are animal welfare concerns arising. If they do have animal welfare concerns, to whom should they directed them? The DSPCA and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine only operate on a Monday-to-Friday basis. The Minister referenced a helpline but the problem is that his Department and the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána and the local authorities are all involved. When that happens in any area, it is a disaster.
Deputy Michael Creed: I acknowledge that there is some legal confusion as to who is responsible for licensing but I am pretty certain it is not my Department. However, I accept that we have the primary responsibility for animal welfare. As I said already, I do not think that the horses are too preoccupied about who is the licensing authority as long as any welfare issues are dealt with properly. That is the job of departmental officials and under the legislation, of authorised officers, including members of An Garda Síochána, the DSPCA and the ISPCA. The resolution of the issue regarding the appropriate licensing authority is a matter for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and DCC.