I read today that RISE which are the group representing the Ward Union Hunt spent 100k on their PR campaign before the wildlife amendment bill. In my view they got poor value for money. Not once in the months of publicity did we hear figures on exactly how many jobs depend on the Ward Union or just how much in tourist revenue does the Ward Union generate each year?I expect the outlawing of the live chase will not greatly inconvenience the ward union in reality as the hunt will continue in drag form which the vast majority of riders to hounds will equally enjoy. I believe that in a few years time we will marvel that it was ever legal to chase a 400 kg farm animal across suburbia with horses and dogs.
The shadowboxing of back bench TDs purporting to represent " Rural Ireland" will gather pace over the next few days as the government seek to pass a piece of legislation known as the puppy farming bill.
This bill will enforce an annual fee of 400 euro on breeders owning six or more bitches of breeding age.Local Authority Vets will be regulated to inspect licensed dog breeding premises annually or as warranted. Bitches will be restricted to three litters every two years. All pups will be microchipped by law. As I write there are indications that greyhound premises may acheive an exemption. This would be bad news as Vets and others in the animal industry know that the greyhound sector has a significant over production problem. The effect of traceability, regulation and a registration cost would be a reduction of puppy numbers at the cheaper end of the market which is where overcrowding and animal welfare issues are most likely to arise.
It is convenient for FF rural TDs to characterise animal welfare bills as part of a Green agenda or Green conspiracy. In fact this Dog Breeding Bill was put together in 2006 by Dick Roche in the previous Fianna Fail government working with the ISPCA, Veterinary Ireland and the Dept of Agriculture. My own profession want puppy farms reduced in number and size and subject to inspection. The desired end product will then be a healthy, well socialised pet with fewer genetic defects. A reduction of puppy numbers will be an important side effect of regulation in a country where over 10000 unwanted dogs are euthanased in council pounds each year.
Mattie McGrath reckons the Greens want to ban "the pussy cat from catching the mouse". Mattie is the one playing Cat and Mouse as a game of party politics. The real underlying issues are discontent with An Taoiseach's appalling retreat over the last couple of years into morose pedestrian communications, the government press office's bull in china shop relations with journalists and Fianna Fail members' real hunger for clear out and clamour for reform of party culture. Foremost though in Mattie's intentions will be the tight rope between clientalist management of his Tipperary voters and not burning his bridges completely within his party machine.
The loudest opponents of the dog breeding bill are hunt kennels and the greyhound fraternity. Hunt kennels are loss-making and rely on membership subscriptions. Traditionally kennels provided farmers with an essential service of fallen stock disposal. This source of revenue has now declined prompting hunts to seek exemption from the costs which are central to this bill. But microchipping can be done as cheaply as tattoeing. If this bill allows exemptions then we may as well admit loopholes.
Greyhound racing is seen as the poor relation of horse racing. As such it is heavily subsidised by government and no doubt this group will plead the poor mouth in the houses of the Oireachtas this week. However any insider will tell you the breeding and sale of greyhounds remains a thriving cash based trade. Declared revenues within this industry are only the tip of the iceberg where pups travel between UK and Ireland on pound note transactions. Bord Na gcon have their PR people but it is notable that there is an absence of greyhound trainers or breeders sticking their heads up to plead penury. This sector may acheive its exemption but is in fact best able to pay the modest levies proposed.
The greyhound racing industry would benefit most from Local Authority regulation for a number of reasons. DSPCA survey showed that of over 10000 dogs destroyed in council pounds in 2009, 10% were greyhounds. There are too few outlets for unwanted greyhounds which have retired or are simply too slow. The best remedy to oversupply is to discourage breeding from poorer quality bitches by imposing a cost and an inconvenience.
I and my colleagues hope this bill is passed in its entirety. Our current laissez faire animal legislation is anachronistic. In common with the now outlawed spectacle of riders on horseback following dogs in pursuit of farmed deer across suburbia I believe we will marvel in a few years time that anyone who saw fit was allowed to breed and sell dogs without regulation or licence.