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The ISPCA has welcomed animal welfare commitments included in the new Programme for Government

The ISPCA has welcomed the animal welfare commitments included in the Programme for Government published yesterday (Monday 15th June) including the commitment to double the funding for animal welfare organisations who carry out vital work rescuing, rehabilitating and responsibly rehoming dogs, cats, horses, donkeys and other animals.

We would like to thank the Green Party, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail for including a progressive animal welfare programme and we will work with the coalition government to ensure that these commitments are delivered. While there are many positives for the welfare pet animals, equines, farm animals and wild animals (see below) we are disappointed that prohibition on hare coursing and live exports to non-EU countries were not included. However, we realise that the commitments are a compromise.

On pet animals, the ISPCA is pleased to see a commitment to promote responsible pet ownership. This could be done by introducing a responsible pet ownership module to the national school curriculum. We are also pleased to see a commitment to ensure the robust enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare Act and a review of the sentencing regime underpinning the legislation. Ireland has some of the toughest penalties for animal welfare offences in the EU, but penalties handed down by courts have been inconsistent and do not act as a deterrent. ISPCA Inspectors are authorised officers under the Animal Health and Welfare Act and deal with horrific cruelty to animals on a daily basis. We hope to see proper funding of the ISPCA Inspectorate to allow the ISPCA to recruit a sufficient number of Inspectors to be able to cover the whole country as recommended by the Joint Agriculture Committee in 2016. We are also pleased to see a commitment to robustly and consistently enforcing the Dog Breeding Establishments Act. While we do not want to tar all dog breeders with the same brush, there are a significant number of rogue breeders in Ireland who do not come up to acceptable animal welfare standards and who use dubious selling techniques to fool unwary consumers. While we would like to see a national, independent inspection regime for dog breeding establishments we are pleased that a review of the dog breeding legislation is already under way and we hope to see the legislation strengthened as a result.

On ‘exotic’ pets, we are pleased to see a commitment to regulate the keeping, breeding, sale and supply of ‘exotic’ pets. The ISPCA believes that the species that can be kept in a domestic environment should be restricted based on the welfare needs of the animals, the risk to public health of dangerous species and the risk to the environment if exotic species are deliberately released when they are no longer wanted or have grown too big, or if they escape. We believe that some species that have complex welfare or social needs, such as monkeys, should never be kept as pets and that this should be prohibited without delay.

On equines, we welcome the prioritisation of equine welfare based on a robust traceability system, building on existing inspectorate supports across the country and ensuring a consistent approach to dealing with horse welfare issues across local authorities. We also welcome the commitment to develop additional urban horse welfare programmes, working with local authorities, charities and community stakeholders to provide stabling facilities and educational programmes. We hope this will encourage more equine owners to take full responsibility for their animals.

On farm animals, the ISPCA welcomes the commitment to uphold the EU Pigs Directive. Of the 3.7 million pigs reared and slaughtered annually in Ireland 99% are reared in indoor intensive units – 95% have their tails cut off to prevent biting, despite this having been prohibited under the Pigs Directive since 2008. We also welcome commitment to support the development of high-welfare outdoor-reared pig and poultry sector. The ISPCA is currently working with relevant stakeholders, including the Department of Agriculture to introduce high welfare labelling for outdoor reared pigs. With regard to poultry, the ISPCA is calling for cages for laying hens to be phased out by 2025 in line with EU wide campaign. Currently 1.8 million laying hens in Ireland (54% of the total) are kept in cages for their entire lives. We would also like to see a move towards only higher welfare broiler types being used and a phase out of fast growing breeds which have low welfare. We believe all farm animals should have a good quality of life and a life worth living.

On live exports, the ISPCA would like to see a ban on live exports to non-EU countries where animal welfare legislation is poor or non-existent and where handling and slaughter practices are inhumane. We are disappointed that this will not be addressed in the Programme for Government.

On fur farming, the ISPCA welcomes the commitment to immediately introduce legislation to phase out fur farming as promised by the previous government. Fur farming is cruel and can never provide an appropriate environment for mink which are essentially wild animals with welfare needs that cannot be provided on an intensive fur farm. Farming animals for an unnecessary luxury product is not acceptable.

On wild animals, the ISPCA welcomes the commitment to roll out the badger vaccination programme and bring to an end the cull of badgers which has been going on for several decades. However we are disappointed that hare coursing will not be prohibited, despite a Red C Poll showing that 77% of Irish Citizens would like to see an end to this outdated practice. A recent study showed that over a four year period 75 hares were killed during coursing events or so seriously injured that they had to be euthanised by a veterinary surgeon. A further 21 died of unknown causes while in captivity. At the very least the ISPCA believes that further research is required to determine the impact of coursing on the welfare of individual hares and on hare populations.

On greyhounds, although we would rather see an end to greyhound racing, we welcome the commitment that future funding of the greyhound sector is contingent on a guarantee of welfare standards being upheld on an annual basis. However, we are concerned that the welfare commitments published in 2019 by the Irish Greyhound Board will not address the real problem which is the over production of greyhounds. Welfare standards should be independently determined and independently monitored. More needs to be done to stop Irish greyhounds being exported to countries with poor animal welfare records.

We realise that the three parties have different priorities and these commitments represent a compromise. However, we will continue to work with all decision makers across the political spectrum on controversial issues including hare coursing and live exports.

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