Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill 2004: Second Stage
Tuesday, 22 March 2005
Mr. Boyle: I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This is an Act to prohibit the keeping of animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur. I wish to share time with Deputies Eamon Ryan, Cuffe, Ferris, Finian McGrath and Cowley.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Boyle: Private Members' time performs an important function in the House. It gives the Opposition an opportunity to do many things. Mainly, it is used to keep the Government in check by raising motions of concern and making the Government answer for the policies it pursues. However, it has a secondary and more important aspect in that it allows Opposition Members to present legislation which they would present if they had the opportunity to do so in Government. The House has the opportunity to give full consideration to such legislation.
More often than not the Green Party has chosen to introduce legislation when it has had Private Members' time in the House. This is the eighth occasion it has had this opportunity since the general election in 2002. On only one occasion did we choose not to present a Bill in the House and on that occasion we moved a most justified vote of no confidence in the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He remains in the Cabinet and is now wreaking havoc in another Department, which we also oppose.
Nevertheless, a putative legislative programme from the Green Party and what it would like to implement should it be given the opportunity after the next election of participating in Government is seen in the seven Bills it has presented to date. There was a waste management Bill, a national transport authority Bill, a planning and development Bill relating to social housing, a broadcasting Bill which dealt with children's advertising, another planning and development Bill which dealt with open spaces and rights of way and a community development Bill.
The Bill before the House seeks to put into law the important principle that the practice of fur farming is inconsistent with ethical agricultural behaviour. It is presented now because, fortunately, fur farming remains a nascent industry in this country. It involves six farms that breed mink and one farm that also breeds arctic foxes for no other reason than the animals should be killed and their pelts sold.
The Bill does not seek any prohibition on the sale or distribution of fur. Consumers make those choices and, generally, they do not choose fur. Several chain stores have already made a decision not to stock such products. There was an incident in Dublin Airport a number of weeks ago where two such garments were made available for sale. They were immediately withdrawn because of public reaction. The most recent opinion poll conducted in Ireland showed that almost two thirds of voters believe fur farming is a practice which is inconsistent with normal agricultural practices and should be discontinued at the earliest opportunity.
As this Bill deals with a point of principle, we hope the Second Stage debate will give all Members an opportunity to accept it as a general principle and allow it to proceed to Committee Stage, where amendments can be made to improve it. There are restraints on Opposition Members to propose legislation that would impose a direct cost on the State. As a result, legislation such as this needs to proceed to Committee Stage, where amendments can be put forward by the Government to strengthen it. Other Members might argue that they agree with the principle of the Bill but would like some form of time mechanism put in place. That is something we are willing to discuss and examine critically on Committee Stage.
One of the stronger selling points of this legislation is that similar legislation is already in force in Britain and Northern Ireland and in countries such as Austria, where public debate and parliamentary representatives have chosen this route. In the past, there has been a reluctance in this House to pass innovative legislation. That stage has now passed, however, with the introduction of the smoking ban. We have shown that we no longer need to wait for hundreds of countries to pass certain legislation before we decide to react. We can be leaders in the global debate on this issue. I hope the Government will look favourably on the Bill.
My colleagues will discuss the economics of this issue. It involves a small number of farms, employing a small number of people. The legislation in the United Kingdom, which was a government Bill, provided for a compensation package to be paid to those who engaged in what was, prior to the legislation being passed, a legitimate business practice. Again, if the Government favours allowing this Bill to proceed to Committee Stage, the Green Party would be prepared to accept such a provision. However, the economics in terms of the value of fur farming to the Irish economy will be undermined by later contributors.
Another reason for introducing this Bill is the ramifications of the existence of this industry for the practices it facilitates under the wider heading of animal welfare. Huge issues relating to the economy, hunger, poverty and wealth disparity are the bread and butter issues of politics. Animal welfare issues tend to be put on the back burner. However, their importance to the public is often higher than members of the political system are prepared to admit. Animal welfare issues rate highly with the Green Party. That is the reason why, on one of the rare opportunities we have to introduce legislation in the House, we have chosen to argue for this Bill.
Animal welfare considerations are the focus of groups which have campaigned long and hard for this legislation. These groups include Compassion in World Farming and the Alliance for Animal Rights. The same debate has taken place in other countries and groups that were successful in those debates are offering their advice on how legislation was passed in those countries and why such legislation should be on the Statute Book in Ireland.
The support we are seeking is an acknowledgement that, in principle, the concept that animals that are not part of the food chain should be kept in cages that are little bigger than their body size is an unacceptable agricultural practice in the 21st century. Not only should we try to get rid of this practice, we should encourage the diversification of agricultural practices, given that there are wider issues to be discussed in the context of CAP reform, under which there is a need to move towards other agricultural practices. The Green Party says they should not include fur farming practices, either now or in the future. We must discuss how those engaged in agriculture can better meet the needs of agriculture itself, the wider needs of the Irish economy and particularly the opinions of Irish society.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: This is not a small Bill. One need only imagine 150,000 creatures. Would they fit in cages in this building? Would they fit into the House as they are about to be slaughtered? These 150,000 untamed creatures are kept in cruel conditions and are killed and sold for roughly €10 each. These creatures are living in what can only be cruel conditions for this supposed economic return. I will be interested to hear the Government's argument on this - it is a pity the Minister for Agriculture and Food is not here to argue the point; I hope she will be here tomorrow evening. It may well argue that it provides jobs, but it is clear that the number of jobs is limited - maybe about two to three people on each farm and some seasonal workers who have the woeful task of slaughtering these animals. This is not clever, profitable or right. People argue that we can do this in a way that is less cruel by having larger cages. I am told that in catching a mink or a fox, one can only have a cage as long as one's arm. If it is bigger than that, it is impossible to catch and kill the animal. That will always be uneconomic and wrong.
This is occurring in those parts of the country that are most economically disadvantaged, thanks to the Government. We have just had a debate about the huge imbalance in the development of this country. We all want to see jobs in farming. The Green Party and farmers will be united in the future in developing our resources. Instead of grabbing into a cage to get an animal, we will be lifting wood off the ground as fuel. We will be using the great tourist resources in the west and will be seen abroad not as an environmental pariah, as is the case at present, but as a country that stands for certain moral and ethical issues.
Green economics are about quality, not quantity. We should not just make economic decisions on the level of profit, on the cost and the sales. Those issues are important, but the green movement believes that economics need to be broadened. We have to make qualitative decisions and put that on the balance sheet. We can look at the issue of fur farming and refer to the cost, the jobs and the balance sheet, but we cannot ignore the fact that this activity is immoral, unethical and wrong. There will be a universal response to the Bill from this side of the House, that this is not moral, ethical or correct. The immorality of the practice outweighs any of the other figures the Minister might have. The Minister may argue that if we do not develop this industry, it will go east where there are poorer standards. That is part of the globalised race to the bottom, where we allow manufacturing on the basis of the lowest regulations.
On this side of the House we do not believe in such a race to the bottom. It is about time we legislated for certain moral and ethical certainties. Sometimes it is very difficult to show where the qualitative line is set, but on this issue, in this Bill it is perfectly simple. The correct decision is to legislate for what the people of this country want. We must take the right line and stop this barbaric practice.
Mr. Cuffe: This Bill is about compassion and concern for animals. There is a moral duty on humans to speak out for animals. Animals suffer pain, stress and boredom. The green movement has been characterised by concern for wider envrironmental issues. These environmental concerns have their roots in religious thought. That thought is in the preachings of Saint Francis and in the tenets that underlie the practice of Buddhism. In many religions, there is a concern for walking gently on this Earth and showing respect for all living creatures. International movements such as Greenpeace had their roots in concerns about international whaling and the killing of seal cubs in Canada. All these concerns are about having regard to animals that do not have a voice.
The concerns that have been expressed about mink and foxes are real. These are wild animals that do not have a long history of being kept in captivity and they show that stress and boredom. It appears there is unnecessary cruelty by putting wild animals in cages. There is a trend in Europe towards not allowing animals to be kept in activity. In Austria, the Netherlands and, more recently, the United Kingdom, the practice of keeping foxes and mink has been outlawed. It is about time we joined the group of nations that have banned such activity.
A 2001 report by the European scientific committee on animal welfare examined the welfare of animals kept for production. It stated that there are serious problems for all species of animals reared for fur. It found deficiencies concerning cages and management methods, the training of farmers and responsible persons, breeding programmes and handling practices. Such concerns are addressed in this Bill. It is crucial that we give voice to those concerns and that we move towards ending this unnecessary and cruel practice.
The farming lobby argues that the animals are fine if one observes the colour and quality of their pelt. However, the animals are usually killed just after molting so the condition of the fur is not a true test of the conditions in which these animals live. The mink and the fox are killed at eight months, just after their first molt. At this time, their first winter coats have appeared and they are in prime condition. Therefore, the condition of the coat is not a fair benchmark of whether the animals are well kept. Due to the breeding and in-breeding among mink, mutations have occurred. Species of mink are being bred and are completely deaf in captivity because we are looking for a particular colour of fur. That is cruel and is unacceptable. We should look carefully at the conditions that apply. It is wrong that we allow these animals to be kept in captivity.
It is time we considered change. There have been periods of change in animal welfare going back to the 19th century in Ireland. What was seen as normal practice then is seen as cruel today. This Bill represents a quantum change in the treatment of animals, and such changes can continue in the future. The legislation in this area stems from 70 years ago. We must give voice to the concerns in this area. There are many campaigning organisations that support us in our efforts.
Mr. Ferris: I wish to indicate my support, and that of my party, for this Bill. Sinn Féin also supported the extension of the British ban on fur farming when it was voted on in the Northern Assembly. I commend Deputy Boyle and the Green Party for having taken this initiative, which I welcome. It is unacceptable that what are essentially wild animals should be reared and killed simply to supply the demand of a relatively small number of people for clothes made from their hides. Apart from the fact that such items represent an expensive luxury, which is of no benefit to anyone and can easily be replaced by synthetic materials, there is also a question over the treatment of the animals concerned. They are kept in cramped conditions and are killed in a cruel manner to ensure their pelts are not damaged. The common practice is to gas or electrocute them.
A circular on this matter brought home to me the conditions in which mink are held in particular. As Deputy Eamon Ryan said, small cages are employed for breeding and storage. It says an awful lot about society as well as the people who are involved in the fur farming industry. In addition, it says much about the conscience of those who use animal furs for their own status and benefit.
The argument that fur farms provide a valuable economic asset does not stand up. The value of exports is around €1.5 million and few people are employed by such farms. Therefore, the argument that fur farming provides employment or is of great benefit to the economy is false. It is estimated that, worldwide, less than 2,000 people are employed full-time on farms that raise animals as part of the fur industry. The small size of the contribution that sector makes to the economy does not outweigh the negative aspects of the trade, especially when up to 50 animals might be killed to provide enough fur for just one coat to satisfy the insatiable demands of upper class people for status.
When a country such as Sweden, which was one of the leading suppliers of furs, could ban fur farming in 2000, there can be no economic argument in favour of its retention in this country. The higher-value end of the market is obviously in the production of items made from fur. That has been estimated to be worth over £10 billion a year but I am sure the companies involved would have little difficulty in moving to new areas of production involving the use of synthetic materials if that demand existed.
Undoubtedly, there is a demand for animal fur and two or three years ago there was a significant rise in sales in Britain. Fashion commentator, Judith Watt, explained this as the consequence of a backlash against those campaigning to ban fur. According to Ms Watt, such people were buying fur because they were "bored with being politically correct". That would appear to be a poor excuse, however, and does not speak highly of the mentality of those concerned. It might also go some way towards supporting the feeling of many that people who wear expensive animal furs are more interested in making a statement about their perceived social status, than about anything else.
It is difficult to defend the raising and killing of any animal to contribute to that sort of thinking. Some will argue that the wearing of animal fur is an intrinsic part of human culture and obviously it was at a time when our ancestors had no other choice. However, that is hardly a valid argument in favour of the use of fur for expensive luxury items that can now be supplied by other materials.
It is also argued that raising animals for their pelts is no different than raising animals for food or the production of leather. The difference, of course, is that in the latter case the animals concerned are domesticated and produce essential items for most people. Fur coats do not serve the same purpose. It is a flawed argument not to make the distinction between animals used in the food chain and others that are used uniquely to cater for a perceived social status.
The conservative philosopher, Roger Scruton, claims that objections to fur farming are no different to those made against raising animals for food. There are people who will consistently argue that both are wrong but most of us can make the distinction. Mr. Scruton also claims that objections to fur farming are based on a dislike for the sort of people who are likely to wear furs. Perhaps he is correct but such a dislike is based on weighing the misery of a captive wild animal against the frivolous luxury enjoyed by people who have many other outlets through which to pursue pleasure.
There is substantial evidence that, despite the claims of those involved in the industry, wild species bred in captivity for their fur do not become domesticated. This applies to mink, which is the species that has been used longest for this purpose. Research by a zoologist from Oxford University, Ms Georgia Mason, found that even after 70 generations had been bred in captivity, the offspring of captive mink still have exactly the same instincts as wild mink.
Animals that were, for whatever reason, released from fur farms into the wild in my region, the south west, caused havoc. They have done enormous damage to indigenous species and that damage is continuing. That will be attested to by any fisherman who has witnessed the result of activities of mink that escaped from fur farms or were released into the local habitat by failed fur farms. Yet mink are kept closely confined in small cages where they become extremely aggressive as a result of not being able to enforce their natural territorial limits and being away from the water in which they spend most of their lives in the wild.
I call on all Deputies to support this Bill to bring an end to what is an unnecessary trade in which the harm done to the animals involved far outweighs any economic benefits or any enjoyment of the produce of that misery.
Mr. F. McGrath: I thank the Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill 2004. I support the legislation because it is based on compassion and care for animals. I commend the Green Party for having brought the Bill before the House and I urge all Deputies to support this important, progressive and caring legislation. Fur farming is already banned in Northern Ireland, Britain and Austria. It should now be banned here due to the suffering involved for animals. Scientific studies have shown that foxes and mink kept in cages on fur farms do suffer. There are currently six mink farms and one fox fur farm operating in this country. Together they account for the deaths of approximately 153,000 animals annually.
I urge all Deputies to support the Bill. Fur farming is unique in the realm of intensive animal husbandry because foxes and mink are farmed simply to produce a non-essential fashion material. Fur farming is unlike other kinds of farming because foxes and mink are essentially wild animals. While other farm animals, such as cattle and pigs, have been domesticated over thousands of years, mink and foxes have only been bred in captivity for the past century. Moreover, selective breeding has been for fur characteristics, rather than for domestication. Farmed foxes and mink are not herd or flock animals. Unlike other farm animals, mink and foxes are basically solitary creatures, which means they are not well adapted to living on farms in close proximity to hundreds of other mink or foxes.
Fur farming produces a non-essential fashion material. Farming to produce a frivolous fashion material cannot be compared to farming for food. Fur farming raises serious ethical questions. Scientific studies have shown serious welfare problems arising from fur farming. The European Commission's scientific committee on animal health and animal welfare on the welfare of animals kept for fur production, published a report in 2001, detailing serious welfare problems found on typical fur farms. These include stereotypical behaviour, animals biting their own fur, sometimes to the point of self-mutilation, fox cub infanticide and fox fearfulness of humans. The report concludes that current husbandry systems cause serious problems for all species of animals reared for fur.
The Council of Europe standing committee's recommendation concerning fur animals is outdated and inadequate. In the absence of an EU directive on fur farming, fur breeders generally use the Council of Europe recommendation as a basis for fur farm conditions, for example, cage sizes. However, the recommendation is based on outdated research. In particular, it predates the comprehensive scientific committee report and, therefore, cannot address problems raised in this later report. Adherence to the standards laid down in the recommendation has not resolved and will not resolve the animal welfare problems on fur farms.
There is no economically viable, humane alternative to intensive fur farm conditions. Zoo conditions, which would be the minimum acceptable standard for essentially wild animals, would not be economically competitive and therefore do not represent a practical alternative. Fur farming is not of major value to the Irish economy, nor is it a major employer - that is the real world. Approximately 153,000 pelts are produced annually with an export value of €1.56 million according to Department of Agriculture and Food figures. Each farm employs approximately two or three people full-time with extra staff working during the short slaughter season.
Fur farming is publicly unpopular. Two out of three people are against and support a ban on fur farming. It is illegal in the North of Ireland, Britain and Austria, and is being phased out in Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden, which I strongly support. It is unlikely the EU will bring in legislation on fur farming for the foreseeable future. However, member states can and have put in place their own national legislation to prohibit fur farming. I ask the Government to stand up and be counted.
Mink farming risks damage to the environment, particularly from escapees that must compete with the relatively stable existing mink population for territories and food. Prohibiting fur farming would represent a major step forward in furthering high animal welfare standards in Ireland.
To consider the detail of the Bill, section 1(a) and 1(b), which deal with offences relating to fur farming, create the offence of keeping animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur or for breeding for such slaughter. Section 1(2) makes it an offence for a person to knowingly cause or permit another person to keep animals where the purpose is to do so solely or primarily for the value of their fur. I strongly support these sections.
Serious issues have been raised in this debate. I have outlined my clear opposition to fur farming. I urge all Members to support Deputy Boyle and the Green Party on this important issue and to vote for this important, compassionate, caring and, above all, sensible legislation.
Dr. Cowley: I congratulate the Green Party, in particular Deputy Boyle, on introducing this important Bill. I also congratulate Compassion in World Farming and Respect for Animals for bringing this issue to the fore. This is the way we should proceed. We have power over dumb animals, which gives us responsibility. While we may choose to close our eyes to many world issues such as deprivation, poverty and famine, we should deal with this issue.
As noted by many speakers, this issue concerns wild animals that are not meant to be confined. Some wild animals are kept in zoos but fur animals are kept for one reason - slaughter for their fur. It is hard to justify how we, as a humane society, could continue to condone this cruel practice. As pointed out, the cages in which these animals are reared are very small, just large enough to take a person's arm. It must be a very cruel existence for a dumb animal under our control and in our power. It cannot be morally justified.
It was stated that 1,500 arctic foxes were due to be killed this year and 140,000 animals altogether per year will be killed for their fur. There has been a ban on fur farming in the UK since 2003. As it is said to be a growing industry in Ireland, it is obvious that having been banned in the UK, including in Northern Ireland, the industry has been driven south to this country. Here it will continue to grow and prosper, if one can use that word, so long as it is legal. While departmental regulations exist, they do not hinder what is a horrible industry.
"Morning Ireland" this morning graphically described how the fox is electrocuted by attaching electrodes to both its ends after a lifetime in a tiny cage. This cannot be justified. Given the mental and physical stress these animals suffer, they must live a terrible life. While foxes are electrocuted, mink are suffocated with carbon monoxide gas. These animals are semi-aquatic and used to surviving for some time under water so their death must be particularly cruel and slow.
The majority, some 64% of the Irish population, want to see an end to this cruel practice. Some might say we will drive it elsewhere if we ban it here but, while this may be true, it must be banned altogether. Fur farming is practised in some of the countries that recently joined the EU. However, a ban would spread the message that the practice is cruel and improper. It gives the wrong message to society in that those who are cruel to animals may be cruel to human beings also. Respect for life should be engendered in our children and through our schools. This practice takes away from respect for all animal life. Moreover, it is done in the name of fashion, an unnecessary application because fur can be produced artificially. The false fur industry will prosper if no real fur is available. The justification for fur farming is perverse and something fashion can do without.
The pelts are exported so we do not get any advantage from processing. The owners are probably people who have come to Ireland because they have been hunted from other countries. They escape a clamp down in their own countries to operate here. Serious animal welfare problems are associated with this practice. As was pointed out, there is no way it can be carried out in a more humane fashion because it concerns wild animals. It is good that the UK, including Northern Ireland, banned fur farming in 2003 and I hope we will follow this example, as have Austria and Italy.
The intention on the farms is that mink and foxes would be mated once a year and give birth in spring or summer. The cubs are reared until they are about six months old and then slaughtered.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Browne): I wish to share time with Deputies Brady and O'Connor.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Browne: I congratulate Deputy Catherine Murphy and wish her every success representing the people of Kildare North.
The Government is opposed at this time to the introduction of a ban on fur farming. The Government considers fur farming to be a legitimate farming activity in this country, a view that is shared amongst the vast majority of member states of the European Union. While there is no specific national legislation in place relating to fox farming, the particular legislation relating to the licensing of mink farms is the Musk Rats Act 1933 and the Musk Rats Act 1933 (Application to Mink Order) 1965. Under the Musk Rats Act 1933 (Application to Mink Order) 1965, the keeping of mink is prohibited except under licence from my Department. Licences, which must be renewed annually, are issued under this legislation only if the applicant, following an inspection, is found to be fully compliant with a number of key conditions. In addition, in common with all agricultural enterprises, licensed farms must comply with the animal health and welfare requirements pertaining to their particular sphere of activity.
The Department of Agriculture and Food has statutory responsibility for the welfare and protection of farmed animals through the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes Act 1984 and the European Communities (Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes) Regulations 2000, SI 127/2000. In addition, the Council of Europe has made recommendations regarding animals kept for fur farming. The regulations for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes make up a general piece of animal welfare legislation and apply to many types of farming systems throughout the country, including cattle, sheep and pigs, as well as the animals kept on fur farms. The on-farm welfare inspections carried out by the Department veterinary inspectors include assessment of the animals, the facilities provided and the management practices employed. It is essential that the animals be cared for by a sufficient number of staff who possess the appropriate ability, knowledge and professional competence. Adequate care and attention must be provided to all animals on farms.
In fur farming husbandry systems, the animals must be inspected frequently to safeguard their welfare. Owners are obliged to keep records of any medicinal treatments given and of the number of mortalities found at each inspection. Buildings and equipment must be safely constructed and comply with certain standards for the animals. Adequate amounts of appropriate food and water must be provided at acceptable intervals. In addition, fur farms are obliged to comply with the methods and conditions for slaughtering fur animals as laid down in the regulations for the protection of animals at time of slaughter.
In June 1999, the standing committee of the European Convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes adopted a recommendation concerning fur animals. The recommendation applies to all animals kept primarily for their fur. It sets out guidelines for the stockmanship and inspection of fur animals, the enclosures, housing and equipment, management, breeding, slaughter and minimum space requirements. Licensed fur farms are inspected by the Department to assess compliance with the Council of Europe recommendations concerning fur animals and also Council Directive 98/58/EC concerning the keeping of animals kept for farming purposes. These inspections have to date found that all of the licensed fur farms in this country have been operating in compliance with current legislation. Inspections by the Department have also found that the slaughter methods employed by the licensed fur farms are permitted under the Sixth Schedule of the European Communities (Protection of Animals at time of Slaughter) Regulations 1995.
The six fur farms licensed to operate in this State provide valuable employment in rural areas across the country. I understand that some 80 full-time workers and 85 seasonal workers are employed by the industry. The industry generates significant exports and has invested considerable sums in bringing their facilities up to a standard that satisfies the Department of Agriculture and Food. The Department is satisfied that they meet these requirements.
As regards animal welfare generally, all animals must be treated in an appropriate and responsible manner. Increasingly, consumers and citizens alike want improved animal welfare standards and an appropriate legal framework to ensure their legitimate expectations are honoured. I recognise that animal welfare can be an emotive issue. While there is a broad consensus on the need to ensure that animals are properly cared for, there are divergent views on how this is best done. We have all seen evidence of veterinary, cultural, religious,economic, social and other considerations featuring in the ongoing exchanges. From time to time, we have seen very polarised positions adopted on particular aspects. This is not helpful.
As with most issues, the best prospects for progress and positive development lie in trying to identify as much common ground as possible and building on that. As far as animals kept for farming purposes are concerned, it has consistently been my view that adherence to high standards and commitment to further improvement is best secured by demonstrating to all involved that there is a strong correlation between legitimate economic interests and the welfare of the animals. Moral and ethical considerations are of great importance but to achieve real progress it is necessary to deal realistically also with economic, social and other considerations.
Primary responsibility for the care of all animals rests with farmers and other keepers of animals. In this regard, farmers and keepers are by and large pragmatists and realise that the best way to remain in business is to ensure their animals are properly treated. Farmers are the traditional custodians of animal welfare conditions and have over the years demonstrated their commitment in this area. Furthermore, they realise that there is little prospect of a long-term future for the business if the general public is not satisfied that legitimate sensitivities in relation to the welfare of animals are not taken into account by operators in the sector. The CAP has long recognised this.
Welfare of animals is governed by a wide range of EU and national legislation, much of which has been enacted in the past 20 years. A number of very important legislative initiatives have been undertaken in this area. These include provisions on animal welfare contained in the protocol annexed to the treaty and provisions concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, as well as measures aimed at improving the welfare conditions of transported animals. Community legislation has also brought about major improvements in the standards governing the rearing of veal calves, specifically the harmonisation within the European Union of the size of the crates used in production of such calves. In 1999, the Community introduced new rules in order to improve the welfare of hens kept in battery cages and other rearing systems. More recently, in 2001, the European Union adopted rules to improve the welfare conditions of pigs, laying down provisions intended to provide them with proper surroundings, facilitating their natural behaviour and social interaction. New tighter animal welfare conditions applying in respect of transporting animals and the granting of export refunds on live animals have also been adopted.
It is also worth noting that the recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy will lead to a strengthening of the position of animal welfare in the agricultural policy of the EU. The cross-compliance requirements of the reform require that farmers respect basic animal welfare rules to benefit from the new single farm payment. Furthermore, the reformed CAP will focus on quality rather than quantity, with even greater emphasis on good animal husbandry. There has therefore been a constant updating in the Community's rules, which have brought about a significant push for improved animal welfare standards.
Here, we have been particularly proactive regarding animal welfare. In particular we have transposed all welfare legislation into national law and we were to the forefront in developing a regulatory framework for approving seagoing vessels for transporting animals. The livestock trade accepted that strict compliance with these requirements was entirely consistent with its economic interests, on the basis that if the welfare of animals being shipped was compromised during such journeys, the economic return and the future of the trade would be jeopardised. Farming organisations, transporters and shipping companies all bought into this regime because they realise there is little prospect of future business if concerns about animal welfare are not addressed.
We also have in place a farm animal welfare advisory council which includes representatives from farm organisations, animal welfare groups, the veterinary profession, animal transporters and others with an interest in animal welfare. This council provides a forum in which interests with opposing views have the opportunity to meet, discuss each other's positions and reach consensus on animal welfare issues which can inform public policy in the area. The forum has completed over two years of work and with the commitment of all its participants it is beginning to make a real contribution to progress in this area. The degree of consensus attained would have a bearing on the council's capacity in influencing the formulation of policy at both national and European level. Included in the work programme of welfare issues for discussion was the subject of fur farming. The council heard a number of submissions from parties who have a particular interest in and knowledge of the area. Following discussions on the subject the chairman concluded that the council could not take an absolute stance on fur farming.
A key aspect of any system of rules is the aspect of enforcement. It is essential that the monitoring arrangements in place are effective. It follows that detecting and dealing with abuses in a timely manner is of paramount importance. It is also important that meaningful sanctions are applied to persons responsible for animals who do not meet the required standards.
I am aware that the UK introduced a ban on fur farming from 2003. Likewise, I am aware of the views of bodies such as Compassion in World Farming and Respect for Animals. My colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, recently met representatives of both organisations and had detailed presentations and an exchange of views with them on fur farming and other animal welfare issues.
In considering the approach to fur farming, the following considerations arise. While fur farming has been banned in the UK and Austria, most other member states currently allow farming of some animals for fur production, although some ban farming of certain species; fur farming is a legitimate business activity and provides employment in disadvantaged rural areas where alternative employment prospects are minimal; the industry does not receive any State support; the fur industry is fully aware of animal welfare requirements; the Department monitors fur farms to ensure compliance with the relevant standards; the IFBA monitors fur farms; fur farms in Ireland have displayed a willingness to comply with the requirements of the Department; and a ban on fur farming would mean that Ireland's market share would be taken up by another fur producing country and, therefore, the ban would not serve any practical purpose.
I am aware that the scientific committee on animal health and animal welfare produced a report on the welfare of animals kept for farming purposes in response to a request from the European Commission. The report contains scientifically based recommendations on how the welfare of fur animals can be improved. It presents a list of areas where future research is desirable. While there is a recognition in the European context that there is room for improvement in certain areas of animal welfare in fur farming, ongoing research is required to assist the development of enhanced welfare standards. The Department will fulfil its role in monitoring the implementation of these advances and expects the industry to play its part in moving forward and meeting its obligations.
While I note the points made by the proponents of this Bill, I am not favourable to the approach being adopted in terms of an outright ban. The correct approach is that of appropriate licensing and control procedures. What we are talking about here is an intensive farming activity. The animals farmed on Irish mink farms represent in some cases 80 generations of breeding and accordingly they are not typical of the mink one would find in the wild. The enterprises engaged in mink farming in this country are subject to various inspections carried out by the agricultural inspectorate and the veterinary inspectorate of my Department on an annual basis. The findings of these inspections indicate that these animals are housed in secure conditions, they are well cared for and disease is not a problem. The methods of slaughter employed by these licensed fur farms comply with European requirements.
Whether we like it, fur is a product that is much in demand. It is a product for which a premium price is achievable, depending on the quality of product. The proposed ban would result in an annual loss of almost €2 million in export earnings to the Irish economy. Inevitably, a ban on fur farming in Ireland would mean that Ireland's market share would be rapidly taken up by another fur producing country, most likely within the European Union. This shows that a prohibition as proposed in this Bill, even if deemed meritorious in its own right, would serve no practical or useful purpose.
In light of the foregoing and given that licensed fur farms operating in this country meet current national and EU requirements, there is no reason that what is a legitimate farming activity, which is permitted in the vast majority of EU member states, should be banned. Accordingly, I am not prepared to proceed to ban fur farming at this time. I am, however, prepared to keep the position under ongoing review in light of developments. In particular, I will consider introducing a provision in the forthcoming legislation on animal health and welfare which would require the extending of a licensing requirement to all enterprises engaged in farming animals for their fur.
Mr. J. Brady: I record my strong support for the Minister's position on this matter. The history of fur farming can be traced back to 1866 in the United States of America. It is a well established and highly regulated industry and gives valuable permanent and casual employment in some of the most disadvantaged areas of this country.
A considerable amount of research has been undertaken into different aspects of fur farming. Research results have in many instances been incorporated into law and farm practices that benefit animal farmed for their fur in areas such as housing, disease prevention, nutrition, husbandry, breeding and selection. Fur farmers are very conscious of the importance of continuing with this scientific research for two key reasons, first, fur farmers wish to ensure that farming systems continue to have a high standard of animal welfare and, second, they want to ensure that any new rules or regulations governing the sector will have a sound scientific basis.
The European Union is not just a producer of fur, but also a leading consumer of high quality finished fur garments which are much in demand in the EU fashion industry. Trade in fur is a truly international industry and the production of fur pelts stretches right across the world. Some 70% of global mink production took place in Europe in 2002. The world's largest fur auction houses are located in Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo, St. Petersburg, Seattle and Toronto.
Denmark is by far the world's largest producer and exporter of mink skins. Fur farming was worth €514 million to Danish farmers in 2002 and fur is that country's third largest agricultural export product after bacon and cheese. Fur farming is also important in central and eastern European countries such as Latvia, Poland, Lithuania and Estonia. In Poland the production figure for mink skins was 600,000 in 2002. I inform the House of these facts so as to show that Irish fur breeders make up merely a small part of a much bigger European and international market.
We must remember that one of the core values of the European Union is the internal market and removal of barriers to trade. I ask Members to consider fur as a product in the same way as they might view beef. For example, if Irish fur farmers are in a position to produce fur for sale on the international market without any subsidy or financial assistance and in compliance with the many and various animal health and welfare requirements, it seems manifestly unfair that they should be prevented from doing so. When one thinks about it, it seems inherently unjust that Irish farmers should not have the same opportunities to earn a living as their counterparts in other EU member states.
The demand for fur is increasing. World production of mink pelts was estimated to be in the region of 40 million in 2004, a considerable increase over previous years. Ultimately, the finished product is transformed into fur garments and worn by people throughout the world, from New York to Beijing.
Having listened to the various speeches and the business case made in this House, I have no doubt this Bill should be opposed. I will certainly vote against it.
Mr. O'Connor: I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. We care deeply about animal welfare in Ireland and this is a sensitive and topical subject. Ireland has been to the fore in promoting animal welfare within the European Union. As a nation, we can justifiably take pride in the advances that have been made in animal protection standards.
I refer to a number of these initiatives. The European Community has been active on animal welfare for more than 20 years. A number of important initiatives have been undertaken. These include, in particular, the provisions on animal welfare contained in the protocol annexed to the treaty and provisions concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, as well as measures aimed at improving the welfare conditions of transported animals.
The role of the Department of Agriculture and Food in live exports is to promote and maintain an environment in which the trade can continue in an economic and sustainable manner with due regard for the welfare of animals. The key elements in this are the preservation of the animal health status of Ireland, the maintenance of the international reputation of our veterinary certification regime and the application of a welfare regime that protects the welfare of animals being exported. This latter element is manifested through the inspection and approval of vessels for the carriage of livestock at sea, subject to a comprehensive set of statutory requirements introduced in 1995. New tighter animal welfare conditions applying in respect of the granting of export refunds on live animals have also been introduced. These new roles involve reinforced checks at exit points from the EU and at the place of unloading in third countries and the application of severe penalties where breaches are identified.
The questions most frequently raised in the pigmeat sector concern environmental protection and animal welfare. Animal welfare, in particular, been at the forefront of discussions over the future of this sector, with the result that, in the past few years, our requirements in this respect have been continually upgraded to include measures such as minimum standards for living space and a minimum weaning age to supporting a higher level of training and competence among the stockmen in charge of the animals.
Tribute should be paid to the Minister. She has taken on this job and is impressing many, not only in rural settings but also in urban areas.
Mr. Naughten: Including Tallaght.
Mr. O'Connor: Yes, there are farmers in Tallaght.
Mr. Naughten: The Minister would look well in pink wellies there.
Mr. O'Connor: There is a small rural community in Bohernabreena, Tallaght. I would be happy to bring Deputy Naughten to meet the farmers there.
I applaud the work of the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Walsh, whom even Fine Gael admitted was a great Minister. I am also happy to applaud the work of the Minister of State and I am always asking him to visit Tallaght to launch initiatives.
Animal welfare standards are not defined at international level, except in conventions of the Council of Europe. The Council, which has 45 member countries, has been to the forefront of promoting animal welfare within the framework of various conventions and through specific recommendations. The recommendations concerning the keeping of fur animals, with which Ireland fully complies, date from 1999. I welcome that 166 members of the world animal health body based in Paris have signed up to a resolution that animal welfare deserves to be considered as part of the development of international standards and guidelines. I also welcome that the Doha 2001 conclusions of the World Trade Organisation place non-trade concerns, including animal welfare, firmly on the agenda of future agricultural negotiations.
I refer to the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy agreed in Luxemburg in 2003. Under the decoupled support system, the emphasis shifts from quantity towards protection and enhancement of the rural environment and livestock welfare. Instead of being linked to numbers of animals or production levels, as was previously the case, it will be fixed according to a historical reference period and dependent on farmers meeting mandatory standards under cross-compliance. Impact assessments have concluded this system not only encourages more environmentally friendly production with the extensification of beef and sheep production but it also secures basic animal welfare standards and allows a more efficient transfer of funds to farmers.
I admire the work of Deputy Boyle, with whom I laboured in other lives. I am always pleased to welcome his work and I am impressed by some of his efforts. However, the Bill does nothing to improve the lot of animals generally. It will most likely shift production to fur producing countries with little or no statutory controls or welfare standards. We must raise international awareness of the need to treat animals in the most humane way. It is paramount that those contributing to the animal welfare debate participate in a positive and constructive manner rather than point scoring. It behoves all of us to work through existing international agencies with a view to improving animal welfare standards.
Efforts have been made by a number of organisations to bring legitimate concerns about animal welfare to the attention of Members, which is fair enough. Deputy Boyle referred to the importance of Private Members' business in providing an opportunity to raise the important issues of the day. The Opposition might wonder at times about the attitude of the Government to such debates but backbench Members of all persuasions have an opportunity to debate the issues of the day.
Fur farming is an important issue. I am always careful with my mail to ensure I look after representations I receive. Deputy Naughten might expect that I only read mail from Tallaght, Greenhills, Templeogue, Brittas and Firhouse.
Mr. Naughten: Is it Firhouse or Furhouse?
Mr. Hayes: The Deputy has good rural connections in Doon, County Limerick.
Mr. O'Connor: I read all my mail every day and when organisations, irrespective of whether they are based in my constituency, go to the trouble of bringing issues to my attention I am happy to examine them and I will continue to do so. We are privileged to be public representatives and we should look at the horizon a little beyond our own constituencies. I am happy to do so.
I appreciate that organisations have gone to the trouble of making representations to us to bring animal welfare concerns to our attention. I am trying to figure out what to do with the little animal I was given but it is sitting on my desk.
Mr. Boyle: It might prick the Deputy's conscience.
Mr. O'Connor: It has helped me to focus on this issue. I am opposed to the mistreatment of animals and I expect the Minister and the Government will examine the legitimate concerns raised in the debate regarding animal welfare. The assurances given by the Minister of State are fair enough.
I compliment Deputy Boyle on his work in this regard. It is important that pressure should be maintained to improve animal welfare standards. It is only in that way that improvements in animal welfare will be secured. That is something to which we would all sign up.
Mr. Naughten: With the agreement of the House, I wish to share time with Deputies Hayes and Twomey.
I understand that six enterprises are licensed by the Department of Agriculture and Food to keep mink. Based on 2003 figures, data provided by the CSO indicate that the value of exports of raw mink skins from this country is approximately €1.6 million. I understand that there is a single fox-rearing enterprise in the country. I am glad to acknowledge that the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, has stated that he will see this issue regulated. It is unacceptable that it has not been regulated hitherto.
The regulations covering mink farms require the Department of Agriculture and Food to license them. However, the licensing conditions are aimed mainly at protecting the environment from escaped mink rather than at issues regarding the welfare of farmed mink. I will refer to two reports examining mink welfare. In 1997, the University of Cambridge Animal Welfare Information Centre published a comprehensive literature review outlining the welfare of animals raised for their fur. It concluded that there was enough scientific evidence to show that the current level of welfare for mink on fur farms was not adequate. Mink are denied a range of behaviours on farms that would be available to them in the wild. Good welfare may be possible in the context of the captive environment, but there has been no estimation of the economic consequences of such enrichment and the effects that this might have on the feasibility of fur farming. The main thrust of the report is that if mink farming is to continue, a radical rethink of housing is urgently required.
A further report by the EU scientific committee on animal welfare in 2001 examined the extent to which species used for fur production can be regarded as domesticated. It concluded that these species, in comparison with other farm animals, have been subjected to relatively little active selection, except with respect to fur characteristics. Some research would indicate that those animals that have been responsive to breeding programmes are the ones with fearful behaviour rather than the contrary, and that should be looked into. There is a limited amount of selection for tameness and adaptability to captive environments.
Regarding the welfare of mink, the report concludes that there is an average kid mortality rate of 20%. In experimental conditions, farm mink showed strong preferences for the opportunity to swim, something not available to them in the captive environment. The report states that the typical mink cage impairs mink welfare because it does not provide for those important needs.
It is important to put in context, in light of those reports, the number of pelts produced per annum in this country - approximately 140,000 out of a total international production of 40 million. We are, therefore, a minor player in the overall scheme of things. It seems clear that to introduce adequate regulation to address the shortcomings in the current housing conditions would in all probability make fur farming completely uneconomic. Furthermore, the current regulations do not achieve their target of protecting the environment from the potential escape of mink.
Mink farms are a potential reservoir for the release of wild mink into the environment. They are savage animals, alien to our country, which will kill for the sake of it and not merely to feed. They are vicious and extremely prolific. They cause massive environmental problems and are disastrous to wildlife. They kill fish and waterfowl and prey on smaller mammals. They ravage birds' nests even though they are high off the ground. They have been reported to have attacked dogs and in one case even humans. They are also said to have attacked lambs, especially when very young. There are great problems in some parts of the country with wild mink. Many of those mink were released by accident, but others deliberately. There have been examples in the UK of alleged animal rights activists releasing mink into the environment, causing massive damage.
Another aspect has been the closure of farms. In 1999 there was a report in a local newspaper that wild mink had been ravaging the Kerry countryside since the closure of two mink farms in Waterville had resulted in the escape of the fast-breeding, ferocious animals. In west Cork, where mink farms also closed, there was an increase in the wild mink population. That population has a massive impact on fish and wildfowl stocks. As a consequence, it could have a substantial effect on the angling and shooting industries, which are a critical element in this country's tourism sector. We should develop and promote those industries since they bring employment to many of the disadvantaged communities of which the Minister of State spoke that have not benefited from tourism or economic development. I ask the Minister to examine the issue of wild mink. The problem has been ignored to date. If we want to protect and develop our tourism industry, especially in the shooting and fishing areas, we must consider this problem.
Fine Gael is intent on raising the bar when it comes to the politics of farming and food. It is only with fresh vision that Ireland can fully engage with the realities and challenges of making farming viable after decoupling. It must be more commercial and consumer-oriented so that we can compete and win on the global food market. Fur farming, however, is not part of the long-term vision for agriculture. If we want a reputation for high quality food production and high value returns, fur farming is not the way forward.
While we support the broad thrust of this Bill, we want significant changes made on Committee Stage. We are opposed to the immediate outright ban proposed in the Bill. A stay of at least seven to ten years on implementing the measures contained in the Bill should be introduced. It is imperative for several reasons. First, one cannot simply shut down the industry overnight. That could lead to the deliberate release of captive animals, with a disastrous impact on wildlife throughout the country. In the early 1960s, there were 24 fur farms in this country. Regulations were introduced in 1965, after which nine remained in business. At that point, there was a dramatic increase in the wild mink population. We cannot allow that to happen again. It is important that we adopt a structured approach. We must work with those currently in the business to wind down their operations and develop alternative enterprises that will not only benefit them but also the communities in which they are located.
It must be noted that the Department of Agriculture and Food originally promoted fur farming as an alternative enterprise. There is an onus on it to develop alternative enterprises with Teagasc. There is also a need to provide alternative employment for the staff involved. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, mentioned the 80 full-time and 85 seasonal staff involved, many in unemployment blackspots. One example is the two farms in County Donegal, one in Glenties and one between Ardara and Killybegs. Some 30 full-time jobs are involved in that business. Those people cannot simply be thrown on the scrap heap. While it is important to examine animal welfare regulations, sometimes we forget that humans have rights too. We cannot simply abandon those people. It is critically important that we address that matter.
It is important in the interim that no new licences are issued for mink farming. We must immediately put regulations in place for fox farms because they must come under regulation. I ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, to consider seriously what has been presented tonight.
Mr. Hayes: I am very pleased at the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill. I admire many of the Green Party's policies regarding a cleaner environment, recycling, carbon tax and many other areas. Its members certainly stick to their agenda and fight very hard. However, I am extremely concerned about this issue. I come from a rural constituency. I have a love of animals and a love of the land and I am aware of what is important to people living in rural communities. Everybody is opposed to the mistreatment of animals, regardless of the side of the House they are on or the part of the country in which they live. I listened to the many contributions to the debate this evening but my blood boiled when I heard Deputy Ferris talk about mistreatment of animals. I was annoyed to hear Deputy Ferris make those comments because of the parallel to the position of the McCartney sisters and the treatment of their brother in Northern Ireland. I will say no more.
I am extremely concerned about the agenda behind this debate. The live export of animals from this country has created huge buoyancy in our economy. For many years agriculture in rural Ireland depended on the live export of our animals. I heard spokespersons talk about the cruelty inflicted on those animals but on several occasions I visited ports to see the terrible treatment that was supposed to be meted out to them as they left this country. I went to Waterford, which is 35 or 40 miles from where I live, to see the animals being exported from there which we, as farmers, depended on in the harder times of the 1970s and 1980s. Those cattle, which we reared, fed and sent to the ports when the beef barons would not pay us, were treated in top-class conditions. I hear spokespersons on radio and television talk about conditions and animal welfare, and it makes my blood boil. That is why I question from where this agenda is coming.
In Clonmel, people depend for their livelihood on small farms yet every year there are protesters outside the annual coursing meeting stopping people coming into the area to enjoy a sport which this House and my party were proud to change some years ago under the then Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, and the former Minister, Ivan Yates. We brought about changes in coursing. I attended six coursing meetings in the past few months and I did not see one hare killed. I love what is good in rural Ireland, whether it is coursing, hunting hares, beagling or whatever, and I believe there is a strong agenda to stop those sports.
If the Green Party is to make an impact as an Opposition party on the current Administration, it needs to think a little harder and deeper. I campaigned for the past three or four weeks in County Meath where the Green Party got 1,000 votes in the by-election. The green agenda its members were pushing was not strong in that constituency despite them having one of the best candidates in the field.
I am concerned about what is driving this agenda and about the impact it will have on the ordinary people of rural Ireland, for whom my party stands. I am not a spokesman for my party but I represent a constituency that is proud of its heritage in the coursing and animal welfare world. The Dáil should think long and hard before adopting this agenda. There is some merit in what is being proposed by the Green Party but I am seriously concerned about the agenda being followed.
I welcome the opportunity to make these brief comments because I speak on behalf of many people who love rural Ireland, the sports we stand for and, above all, who love the animals and the land of Ireland.
Dr. Twomey: Some of the comments made by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, show a certain lack of knowledge of what is happening in agriculture. I am surprised by his view on agriculture, which is a little narrow-minded. I was expecting a broader debate from the Minister of State.
I grew up on a farm and over the years I learned about the contempt farmers have for people who meddle in their affairs, whether it be bureaucrats or special interest groups. Farmers may get annoyed about that but they are also willing to listen. Not many years ago animals used to be tethered to a wall, something that was common practice in Irish agriculture. It was a practice brought in from Europe and one eventually banned by Europe. Farmers took that ruling on board and stopped the practice of tethering animals. Farmers are willing to listen.
Fur farming is not necessary in modern Ireland. It is something that could be abolished by the Government. I see no reason to continue with fur farming here. It makes little or no contribution to agriculture. Deputy Martin Brady said earlier that in Denmark fur farming was the third largest agricultural export. He made other references to the industry in other European countries but it failed in this country. It may have attempted to start up in Cork, Kerry, Galway or Donegal but by and large it has failed here and we are now seeing the side effects of the failure of that type of industry. Wild mink are running wild across tourist areas and if the problem gets any more out of control it will destroy much of the indigenous environment in which many of our wild animals live, yet the Minister of State made a bland statement to the House that the Government will continue to support the practice of fur farming without examining it in any detail.
In some respects the Minister has treated much of agriculture in the same way. He has done nothing innovative on his own behalf. He does whatever he is told to do by Europe. For instance, the budget of 2003, nearly a year and a half ago, and this is something that relates to the constituency the Minister and I share, introduced the provision regarding rapeseed oil yet the farmers working on that project in our county are still waiting for their commercial licences to allow them get this project operational. They put a huge amount of their own energy and innovation into making something else work in agriculture but they have received little support.
Fur farming was started here as an alternative enterprise but it has failed. That is why we should get rid of it but we should not just throw aside the people who took this chance 15 or 20 years ago. We must establish alternative industries. The Minister indicated that the industry is worth €2 million to Irish agriculture in exports. Our tourism industry is probably worth €2 billion yet we are prepared to play around at the margins of that industry with this Mickey Mouse fur farming industry that the Minister is not prepared to make up his mind on one way or the other. We should show more leadership and the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Government should be prepared to make decisions, stand up and admit we no longer have a need for this industry, that it is something we can abolish and concentrate on aspects that work in agriculture. We should concentrate on the live exports markets which nearly collapsed last year because the Government was afraid to make a decision on it. It was private enterprise supported by farmers which got that industry up and running again.
There are many aspects of Irish farming that are not good but there are many excellent aspects to it and farmers have the welfare of their animals as their first priority. They always did and they always will but the problem is that we have very poor leadership from Government in terms of agriculture moving forward. This issue will become a major point of contention between certain elements of society and the agricultural community. We will see it broaden into other issues over time, which is totally unnecessary.
Instead of the Minister of State coming into this House and making the sort of bland statement he made about fur farming, he should accept that its time is up and that it is past its sell by date. Perhaps we should protect our environment, tourism and agriculture in a way that shows we have genuine respect. We should not simply pander to the Government's nonsensical ideas about a matter it does not seem to know much about. It is far more important to consider such matters than to deal with the matter before the House.
Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed)
Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. B. Smith): I wish to share my time with Deputies Moloney and Ellis.
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. B. Smith: Following on from last night's debate on this Private Member's Bill I reiterate the position my colleague Deputy Browne outlined in this House yesterday that the Government is opposed at this time to the introduction of a ban on fur farming. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, has clearly made the case that fur farming is a legitimate farming activity here and throughout the vast majority of our fellow member states in the European Union, including Sweden. That country was mentioned last night and officials in the Department have confirmed this to be the case with the Swedish authorities today.
Mr. Boyle: What about the UK? What about Northern Ireland? They are our nearest neighbours.
Mr. B. Smith: I am talking of Sweden. There was some misapprehension last night. There was an indication that Sweden was not in the same position as this country.
Mr. Boyle: It has banned fox fur.
Mr. B. Smith: Officials in the Department took the opportunity today to check the matter with the Swedish authorities and the position as outlined was confirmed.
We have here a specific requirement under the Musk Rats Act, 1933, and the Musk Rats Act, 1933 (Application to Mink Order) 1965. Under the Musk Rats Act, 1933 (Application to Mink Order) 1965, the keeping of mink is prohibited except under licence from my Department. Licences have a duration of not more than one year at which point they must be renewed. Licences are issued under this legislation only if the applicant, following an inspection, is found to be fully compliant with a number of key conditions.
In the course of yesterday evening's debate on this matter, some Deputies expressed concern about the potential risks fur farms might pose to the surrounding areas. I reassure Deputies that the terms and conditions for obtaining a licence to operate a mink farm require that mink shall be kept only at the premises specified in the licence; mink shall be kept in cages or other containers of such material and constructed in such a manner as to prevent their escape; buildings or parts of buildings used for the keeping of mink shall be constructed in such a manner or enclosed by such material as would in the opinion of the authorised officer prevent the escape of mink; the licence holder shall ensure that trees, shrubs and undergrowth are not growing or planted in such a position in relation to the guard fence as would in the opinion of the authorised officer render the escape of mink possible; any drainage channels on such licensed premises shall be adequately guarded to prevent the escape of mink; licence holders must inform persons to whom they dispose of mink of the need for a licence to keep them; the Department must be informed if mink cease to be kept at any premises covered by this licence and of any change in ownership; authorised officers must be allowed to inspect the premises at all reasonable times; if any mink escape, the Department must be informed at once; and a licence is issued subject to compliance with all relevant legislation. Failure to comply with all relevant legislation and/or any of the conditions of a licence may result in the licence being revoked.
Mr. Boyle: Like Waterville?
Mr. B. Smith: Environmental problems arising from wild mink come within the remit of the national park and wildlife services. My Department places the utmost priority on animal health and welfare not alone in relation to animals farmed for their fur but across the entire spectrum. Fur farmers also have a vested interest in keeping their animals healthy and content and I disagree with some suggestions in last night's debate and state my belief that the conditions of an animal's coat is a key indicator of its well-being. The present housing systems used in the rearing of mink have evolved through research and practical experience over many generations of animals on farms.
Mink are generally housed in sheds four metres wide. These sheds are naturally aerated and open-sided with roofing panels.
Mr. Sargent: That is wrong. It is incorrect.
Mr. B. Smith: It is not incorrect.
Acting Chairman: The Minister of State without interruption.
Mr. B. Smith: The sheds provide normal temperature and light conditions while protecting against direct sunlight, wind and rain. Wire cages are placed in rows in the sheds. The cages are raised off the ground to ensure good hygiene. In mink farming, year-round nest boxes bedded with straw or wood shavings are located adjacent to each holding cage.
Mr. Boyle: Sounds like Heaven.
Mr. B. Smith: The nest boxes are provided for breeding purposes and to ensure that farmed mink can sleep and rest in comfortable conditions. Research has shown that the provision of a nesting box, which is now standard in mink production, is of great importance to the welfare of farmed mink.
Mink kits remain in the same cage as their mothers until weaned at the age of seven to eight weeks. After that the female breeding mink are kept singly in their cages from January until early May when the kits are born while the weaned animals are housed in little groups of two or three through their growth period, and only breeding males, selected among the mature animals late in the autumn, are housed separately. Non-breeding mature animals are killed quickly and humanely in compliance with the Sixth Schedule of the European Communities (Protection of Animals at time of Slaughter) Regulations, 1995. Slaughter is carried out on farm, thereby minimising the need for stressful transport. The diet fed to mink on fur farms is high in nutrients and may have added mineral and vitamin supplements to ensure ideal nutrition levels are provided to maintain good health and well-being. Clean water is available to the mink at all times.
The majority of European fur is sold through the two largest auction houses in Copenhagen in Denmark and Helsinki in Finland. There, supply and demand meet and try to strike a balance. Fur farmers must operate and compete within a global free market setting. The fur market is not protected by government intervention. Important markets for fur garments include North America, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, Scandinavia and Spain.
Last night Deputies made a number of specific points and I will refer briefly to some of the issues raised. Deputy Boyle made the point that fur farming is a nascent industry in Ireland. I could not agree with this assessment.
Mr. Boyle: There are just six farms.
Mr. B. Smith: Fur farming is a long established industry and in its present structure has existed in Ireland for nearly 40 years. Deputy Cuffe commented, as did Deputy Ferris, that the legislation governing this area is 70 years old. While the Musk Rats Act dates from 1933, the application of that Act to mink, on which the licensing system is based, is in place since 1965. Other important legislation governing this area from the welfare point of view is much more recent.
Deputy Ferris and others referred to mink escaping from farms and causing considerable damage to the environment. The situation in mink farming establishments is significantly different than it was in the past.
Mr. Boyle: It has happened. It happened in Waterville.
Mr. B. Smith: Deputy Boyle had his opportunity to contribute last night. I want to make my contribution. There should be such democracy in this House that people are allowed to make their contribution.
Mr. Boyle: The Minister of State should refer to the escapes that occurred.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister of State, without interruption.
Mr. B. Smith: I do not think Deputy Boyle has control of the House to decide who will speak. Deputy Ferris and others referred to mink escaping from farms and causing considerable damage to the environment. The situation in mink farming establishments is significantly different than it was in the past. The current operations are modern which are largely escape proof units which developed following the introduction of the 1965 order are in marked contrast to the small scale units which were the norm until the industry was brought under statutory control.
There is no evidence to support the claim made by Deputy Cowley that following the introduction of the ban on fur farming in the UK, the industry had moved over here. There were no such farms in Northern Ireland at the time the ban was introduced and there is no evidence of UK fur farms setting up operations here.
I do not agree either with the comments made by Deputy Twomey that this is an alternative industry that has failed here. These farms have been operating for up to 40 years in some cases, trading profitably and providing employment in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country.
Coming, as I do, from an area in the Border, midlands and west region, I cannot agree with some speakers who suggested that the contribution of fur farming is insignificant. On the contrary, all forms of legitimate economic activity, no matter how small, are important to this small open economy. There is a body of opinion that suggests that enterprises such as fur farms, which receive no subsidy from the State and have invested significant amounts of capital in their internal infrastructure and facilities, are very important.
Small industry is the lifeblood of rural Ireland. It must be recognised that these fur farms provide valuable full-time, part-time and seasonal employment. My information indicates much more significant levels of employment than those mentioned by some Opposition Deputies in last night's debate, although numbers vary according to the time of the year. While Central Statistics Office figures indicate exports of fur pelts amounting to a value of €1.9 million in 2004, Deputies must also consider that these enterprises would be significant purchasers of consumables such as meal, transport, engineering and construction.
The Department of Agriculture and Food has statutory responsibility for the welfare and protection of farmed animals through the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes Act 1984 and the European Communities (Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes) Regulations 2000, SI 127 of 2000. In addition, the Council of Europe has made recommendations regarding animals kept for fur farming. The regulations protecting animals kept for farming purposes are a general part of animal welfare legislation and apply to many types of farming systems, including cattle, sheep and pigs as well as the animals kept on fur farms.
The on-farm welfare inspections carried out by the Department veterinary inspectors include assessment of the animals, the facilities provided and the management practices employed. Officials from my Department carry out ongoing veterinary inspections at fur farms. In the course of these inspections they carry out a limited random examination of cage sizes which indicate that the fur farms are generally complying with the Council of Europe recommendations for minimum space allowances for fur animals. The farms are engaged in a process of achieving the targets required by 2010. With regard to mink, the current Council of Europe recommended minimum space allowance is a free area of more than 1600 cm2 and a height greater than 35 cm. These must be replaced with a system involving new enhanced space dimensions by 31 December 2010.
It is the obligation of the owner or person in charge of the animals to ensure that the slaughter of fur animals is carried out in accordance with national and European legislation. The methods that can be used for slaughtering fur animals on these farms are laid down in SI 114 of 1995, protection of animals at time of slaughter regulations. The slaughter methods employed in the fur farming industry in Ireland include inhalation by gas, electrocution and lethal injection. The specific technical parameters for these methods are detailed in the legislation.
The Council of Europe has made recommendations indicating an awareness of the basic requirements for the health and welfare of farmed fur animals at European level. These have focused primarily on good husbandry and stockmanship and protection against adverse climatic conditions, injury, infestation and disease or behavioural disorders.
The recommendations acknowledge the necessity to encourage further research on the welfare of fur animals and that these recommendations should be reviewed in the light of new scientific research. In addition, recommendations are laid down which include stockmanship, housing, management, slaughter methods and research requirements.
I am satisfied that there is an appropriate regulatory regime in place to ensure the welfare and protection of animals farmed for their fur. I also believe that Irish fur farmers are committed to ensuring the well-being of the animals under their care, as well they might. As entrepreneurs, they are acutely aware that to thrive and succeed they must adhere to best practice in the industry. Irish fur breeders are members of the European Fur Breeders Association, EFBA, an umbrella group for fur breeders in 15 countries. The EFBA has introduced a code of practice for the handling of farmed mink. This reflects the recommendation from the Council of Europe. Irish fur breeders have committed themselves to follow these conditions although they have not yet been adopted into law. Fur is a commodity that Irish fur breeders can produce under conditions which meet national and EU requirements and for which there is clearly an international demand.
The contribution by Deputy Hayes demonstrates clearly the significant divergence of views among some of the Opposition parties. We heard from two parties that aspire to participating in a multi-party Government. Deputy Hayes outlined clearly his alarm and concern about what he termed the agenda behind this debate.
Mr. Moloney: I support the Minister of State on the basis of first-hand observations of the industry in my home county. These observations reflect the operation of the industry on other farms throughout the country. The industry is well regulated locally and nationally and undergoes regular departmental inspections.
Local opinion is the best record of the running of such farms. Heffernan's of Vicarstown in Laois employs 26 full-time people. People living in the locality, many of whom are interested in animal welfare, have attested to me, during phone calls I have made over recent days to find out local opinion, that the regulations are applied on this farm and it is always open to inspection. They are prepared to go on the record and say the regulations apply in Ireland and they are always open to inspection. If that is the case, we should recognise the industry for what is it. It is also important to recognise the value of the industry not only to local economies but to the national economy. The industry's turnover is approximately €4 million annually.
Mr. Boyle: It is €1.9 million, according to the Minister of State.
Mr. Moloney: This issue excites the Deputy but it does not excite me. I only wish to acknowledge the legislation.
Mr. Boyle: The Deputy should quote the correct figure.
Mr. Moloney: I stand over €4 million. Is there a farm near Deputy Boyle's home?
Mr. Boyle: One-third of my constituency is rural.
Mr. Moloney: I am satisfied there is no point building up a head to steam to denigrate the industry, given what is happening on the ground on farms.
I refer to the basic economic precepts of the laws of supply and demand. There is strong evidence to support the argument that there is a strong, increasing demand for fur as a fashion item worldwide. A vibrant fur production industry in Europe seeks to meet this demand and that cannot be contradicted.
Mr. Sargent: There is also demand for slavery.
Mr. Moloney: Slavery was abolished in Ireland years ago.
Mr. Sargent: No, it was not.
Mr. Moloney: The two issues cannot be compared.
I cannot understand why we, as legislators, would seek to prohibit Irish fur farmers from seizing on the business opportunity that exists for them on the world stage, particularly when they comply with the Department's regulations. The domestic fur industry is well regulated. The Minister outlined that officials from her Department regularly inspect licensed fur farms and she referred to the willingness demonstrated by the management of these farms to comply with all the regulations.
All fur farm operators are members of the Irish Fur Breeders Association, which, in turn, is affiliated to the European Fur Breeders Association, EFBA, an umbrella organisation for fur breeders in 15 European countries. These organisations consistently advocate and promote the adoption of best practice within the industry by their members. The EFBA has introduced its own code of practice for care and handling of farmed mink in Europe. AlI members of the EFBA have adopted this code and Irish fur breeders have committed themselves to follow these conditions.
The conditions under which fur animals are reared have continually been improved through ongoing research. The EFBA and its member countries have a long history of encouraging scientific research into animal welfare related to fur breeding. The EFBA seeks to secure a future for farming by matching human, animal, environmental and societal needs in a sustainable way, thus strengthening the position of European fur farmers as world leaders in this respect. Irish fur breeders are world leaders--
Mr. Boyle: One-thirtieth of 1% is tiny.
Mr. Moloney: If Deputy Boyle had his way, we would lead in absolutely nothing. We are back to the issue of live exports and the detrimental effect of Green Party policy if its members had their way. Thankfully, the party is not in power and it is not heading in that direction.
Domestic fur breeders have every incentive to look after their animals by applying the best animal husbandry and welfare standards. Animals farmed for their fur in Ireland are selectively bred, well nourished, housed and cared for.
Mr. Sargent: They are privileged.
Mr. Moloney: Unlike Green Party Members, they are also well mannered. Why on earth would we wish to prohibit these people from earning a living? Fur farmers do not seek a subsidy or other form of financial assistance and we should not stand in their way.
The Bill must be voted down because to do otherwise is tantamount to transferring this economically viable industry to other fur producing countries with less stringent regulatory systems. This would take place at great cost to the animals, the entrepreneurs who operate these businesses in Ireland, their hard working and experienced employees and, last but not least, the economy. There is no rush on the part of animal welfare groupings to establish replacement industries to fill the void resulting from this legislation to close all fur farms. The Bill is not needed and it should be voted down because it serves no useful purpose.
Mr. Ellis: I wish to correct the record. The Minister of State said the value of pelts exported is €1.9 million.
Mr. Boyle: That is the industry's turnover.
Mr. Ellis: The Deputy tried to shout down Deputy Moloney on the basis that he was telling lies.
Mr. Boyle: I can be louder.
Mr. Ellis: Deputy Moloney is correct, the industry's annual turnover is €4 million.
Mr. Boyle: That is not the CSO figure.
Mr. Ellis: It is time Members took a reality check. There is much misinformation in circulation about the topic of fur farming, that all of us receive regularly in the post. The use of emotive language and the subjectivity employed when discussing this topic detract from the facts and the discussion. It has been alleged during the debate that cruel practices are employed in the fur farming sector. However, I am satisfied this is not the case. Two Ministers have stated this is a well regulated sector, which is welcome. If the industry was not properly regulated, the Department would not support it.
Fur is a globally traded product. Six licensed fur farms operate in Ireland under the ongoing supervision of the Department of Agriculture and Food. Can Deputy Boyle and his colleagues who tabled the motion inform the House about conditions in the fur farming industry in other parts of the world, particularly those that are less well off?
Mr. Boyle: There is no fur farming in the UK.
Mr. Ellis: Both Ministers of State at the Department have outlined how the licensing system administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food involves annual inspections covering animal health and welfare, inspections of the facilities and compliance with slaughter criteria. Deputy Brendan Smith stated the methods used to slaughter animals are most humane and are comparable to those used by veterinary practitioners when they put down farm animals. They often use lethal injection to do so.
We have also received reassurances that the Department inspects fur farms to ensure they are sufficiently secured to guard against the escape of mink, thereby, defending the interest of contiguous agricultural enterprises. There is a problem in a number of areas where mink were let go from farms in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Boyle: What about Waterville, County Kerry?
Mr. Ellis: I am not worried about County Kerry but mink, which escaped from a farm in Northern Ireland a few years ago, are creating havoc on the Shannon-Erne waterway.
Mr. Boyle: They are banned in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Ellis: There were fur farms in the North but the Deputy has not been around long enough to know that.
Every Member will agree the deliberate release of mink from a licensed mink farm is an illegal action, which cannot be condoned on any basis. I have outlined why such farms should be controlled. However, it must be remembered fur farms are engaged in a legitimate enterprise. The operators must be to allowed to earn a living and to provide much needed employment in rural areas. For example, Deputy Moloney stated one fur farm provides 20 jobs in his constituency, which is important to the local economy.
Farmed mink have adapted to their environment and farming systems have evolved to meet the animal's needs. These systems provide high standards of animal welfare, housing, husbandry methods and disease control. If proper disease control was not place, the finances of fur farms would be out the door. Research results have been incorporated into farm practices to benefit animals farmed for their fur through improvements in housing, disease prevention, nutrition, husbandry, breeding and selection. We must have a reality check and realise that fur farming is a business. If that business were to be ended by way of legislation passed in this House, I have no doubt the next legislation the Green Party would bring forward would be to ban live cattle shipping, which it has said it wants to introduce.
Mr. Sargent: We will not do that.
Mr. Ellis: Deputy Boyle is shaking his head. I regularly get letters, tapes and books from Mary-Anne Bartlett, who wants an end to live cattle shipping.
Mr. Boyle: That is not the Green Party. That is another organisation.
Mr. Ellis: What the Green Party proposes is the thin end of the wedge because it has no interest in fur farming, other than to try to create a mechanism by which it can bring legislation before the House to prevent the shipping of live cattle from this country. This Bill should be voted down because it will have a detrimental effect on the farming industry.
Dr. Upton: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' Bill. I support the Bill.
I am intrigued by the response from all the Government speakers. They addressed this issue entirely on economic grounds. Those economic grounds are of the order of approximately €4 million. The figure went from €1.5 million to €2 million to €4 million--
Mr. Naughten: Inflation.
Dr. Upton: It happens overnight; I understand that. We are still talking about a relatively small amount of money, so small that the income from fur farming does not appear in the agricultural statistics. It does not reach the scale of being considered important in the agricultural statistics.
Fur farming is the intensive breeding of essentially wild animals and because the animals have to be bred intensively, they are kept in relatively small cages and are unable to exhibit their natural behaviour. Every Member who spoke about this issue agrees on that. These animals are essentially wild and are now confined. They live relatively short lives in some distress prior to being slaughtered for their fur. That is a realistic summary of what fur farming is about.
The European Union's Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, in December 2001 published the most comprehensive study of the subject. This prestigious group of scientists and veterinarians included a senior member of staff of the Veterinary Research Laboratory, part of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in Ireland. Its conclusions could not have been clearer. Current husbandry systems cause serious problems for all species of animals reared for fur. That is unequivocal in terms of its commentary on the animal welfare aspects of this practice.
Against that background I was very disappointed to hear the Minister of State last night vigorously defend the intensive farming of animals for their fur, and he outlined in some detail the various Acts that refer. The Minister acknowledged that there is no legislation to oversee fox farming. Admittedly, it appears there is only one fox farm in the country but since there is no need for licensing, I am not sure we can have confidence in that statistic. While I believe it to be the case, the fact that no licensing is required for fox farming is interesting.
The Minister also stated that animals must be cared for by a sufficient number of staff who possess the appropriate ability, knowledge and professional competence. What criteria are in place to monitor the knowledge and ability of those who run fur farms? It was mentioned a number of times in the debate that the inspections are carried out on a regular basis but what does "regular basis" mean?
The Bill before the House seeks to prohibit the cruel exploitation of what are essentially wild animals for an unnecessary luxury item. The objective is straightforward and simple. It is to prevent unnecessary cruelty to animals. Our current law permits farming of mink and fox for their fur or their pelt in the case of rabbits. None of the products derived from the animals farmed under restricted space are necessary for our well-being and they have only a very limited impact on our economy, an issue we addressed already. The figure has increased from €1.5 million to €4 million.
Fur farming has been illegal in Northern Ireland and Britain since January 2003. Other European countries, for example, Austria, have banned fur farming. Fox farming is being phased out in Sweden and other countries are also considering a ban, including Italy and the Netherlands. It is a matter for each country within the EU to introduce its own laws to permit or prevent fur farming as long as they operate within the EU guidelines.
The Minister referred to compliance with the Council of Europe recommendations concerning fur animals and the Council directive on keeping animals for farming purposes. The slaughter methods are also permitted under the Sixth Schedule of the European Communities' regulations of 1995. I have no argument with the accuracy of any of that but it gives me some cause for concern when I examine the methods outlined earlier by the Minister. They are gaseous inhalation - for that we can substitute smothering; electrocution - a very unpleasant thought; and lethal injection, which would appear to be the most humane of those methods. The facilities allowed for slaughtering of the animals, legal or otherwise, do not appear to be an attractive option for animals that should be left in the wild.
Commissioner Byrne on placing responsibility for animal welfare with the EU said it is regularly the case that member states want to "pass the buck" on this issue. He said: "The public should be in a position where they can be confident that animals are treated humanely and that their elected representatives take the issue seriously". He further stated:
The Commission's role relates only to its legal powers and competence. We cannot ensure that animals are treated humanely throughout the EU. For a number of reasons - we do not have the resources, the powers or the legitimacy to do so.
Mink are essentially wild animals, not domesticated. They prefer to live alone in the wild and they are territorial. They are semi-aquatic animals with semi-webbed feed and therefore they like to spend their time in the water. It is impossible for mink to be housed humanely in the conditions that have been described and for them to be given the opportunity to display their natural behaviour.
The Bill also takes account of the fact that breeding the animals and selling on the progeny with the intention of slaughter is also an offence. Basically, housing these animals under the conditions that are normally associated with farming would be considered an offence.
The EU Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare states:
With respect to the welfare of mink, the report concluded that there is an average kit mortality of about 20% and a yearly adult mortality of about 2-5%. Stereotypes, largely locomotor in nature, are widespread on mink farms. In one study the number of affected animals varied between 31 and 85% of the females on different farms. The report concluded that the typical mink cage impairs mink welfare because it does not provide for important needs.
That is a European study that was set up with representatives from the then Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
With respect to the welfare of foxes, the report concluded that there is an annual mortality rate for juvenile and adult foxes on fox farms of about 5%. The report concluded that the typical fox cage does not provide for the important needs of foxes. In particular, it imposes monotony of the physical environment, restricts physical exercise and specific behaviour such as digging. I am happy to say that in suburban Dublin, where I live, I can vouch for the need for foxes to dig. They have burrowed a number of very interesting holes in my back garden but they are very attractive wildlife, and they are very welcome. That indicates, however, that having such animals in a cage is totally inappropriate. The three foxes in my area are alive and well and report in for duty every now and again.
If the conditions and mortality rates described previously for both mink and foxes applied to large domestic animals such as cattle there would be public outcry, and rightly so.
One argument against the banning of fur farming is the possible loss of employment and income. We have identified the number of farms, which appears to be relatively small - six mink farms and one fox farm. I understand the economic turnover from that is quite small. Some consideration should be given to those engaged in the industry who would accrue losses if fur farming is banned. When Deputy Boyle referred to such people last night, he accepted that it would be reasonable and sensible to compensate them. It would be more practical to phase out the practice of fur farming than to immediately impose closure orders.
I would like to discuss aspects of this debate which do not relate to economics. The Minister of State last evening and other speakers this evening showed little concern about mink escaping into the wild. As someone who comes from a rural background, I am aware that mink have done a great deal of damage in certain parts of the country, such as the west.
As a Deputy said last night, it is important for legislators to set standards for ourselves and for the animals for which we are responsible. It is unacceptable to keep an animal in a small and barren cage simply to obtain an unnecessary luxury item. The conditions in which mink are farmed are influenced by the fashion market. The Bill deals with the cruel nature of the farming of wild animals, which are the victims of fashion, simply for their fur. Anybody who has seen the many video tapes and photographs which are available will accept that mink farming is not a pleasant method of producing an unnecessary fashion item to which many alternatives are available. This industry does not produce any winners, other than those who aspire to fashion for fashion's sake without any concern for animals which suffer in the making of fashion items.
It was mentioned last evening that the fur coat has historically been seen as a status symbol. I do not wish to take from those who were lucky enough to have owned and worn fur coats in the past, when they were considered glamour items. Many people are unaware of the origins of such coats - they do not know about the conditions under which animals were housed while their fashion items were being produced. I do not suggest that such people should dump their expensive fur coats, if they happen to have such garments. However, I ask them to reflect and to lend their voices to the prohibition of the infliction of further cruelty on innocent animals.
It is interesting that the practice of breeding and farming animals for their fur, which is a luxury item, was condemned in recent days by one of Ireland's leading fashion designers, Paul Costelloe. Mr. Costelloe, who is a successful representative of Irish fashion at home and abroad, sees no reason for this country to continue to allow people to engage in such activity. I found it interesting that he took the view that fur is an unnecessary fashion item.
The term "fur farming" might give the impression that animals are allowed to roam over open fields, but it might be more appropriate to refer to "fur farms" as "fur factories". It is important to differentiate between the intensive rearing of caged animals in cramped spaces in which they cannot follow their natural instincts for the purposes of acquiring a fashion item and the accessing of a product such as leather that is a by-product of food production. That distinction needs to be emphasised. One might reasonably ask whether it is appropriate to rear chickens for food in battery conditions, but that is a separate debate. We should revisit the conditions in which poultry is intensively farmed so that we ensure that they are as humane as possible. I do not doubt that there is a strong economic argument in favour of the farming of poultry for food. Although that is a different argument, the conditions should be as humane as possible.
I do not think it is acceptable to state that fur farmers should be given the opportunity to provide more humane conditions for farming mink, for example. If that argument were valid, the provision of such facilities could and should have been done a long time ago. If it were acceptable to keep animals which are essentially wild in cages, the conditions for that could and would have been put in place some time ago. Fur farming is simply a business in which producers aim to generate the highest possible profit.
The Bill is important for a reason other than the specific issue it addresses. It highlights the need to raise awareness of animal welfare issues in general. We have had long and relatively fruitful discussions in the recent past on the conditions required for the transport of farm animals. Serious issues need to be raised about humane means of transport. There is a need for an intensive debate about how such transport should be managed. It is a separate matter that relates to an economic product that is of significant importance to this country's economy.
Another issue that has received some attention recently - I intend to address it at a later stage - is the cruel and inhumane practice of so-called puppy farming. Many parallels can be drawn between the practices of fur farming and puppy farming. Horrific photographs of neglected and suffering animals have been produced. Those who break the law by treating animals inhumanely, whose only motive is greed, should be suitably penalised. I do not draw an exact parallel between fur farming and puppy farming, but it is important that we should be aware in the context of a Bill that deals with matters of animal welfare that other practices, some of which are illegal, are escaping the tax net and are simply cruel to animals. That should be addressed.
I referred to the methods of killing animals, which were set out in detail by the Minister in his speech. It is interesting that no qualification or training seems to be required by those who slaughter animals. The presence of a veterinary practitioner is not required.
I have concerns about the attitude of the Government and the Department of Agriculture and Food in this regard. Parliamentary questions have been asked and letters have been written by various groups about fur farming, but unsatisfactory responses have been received. The Government has stated clearly that it does not plan to ban fur farming in Ireland. It has strongly reiterated that stance over the last two evenings. The Department of Agriculture and Food has said that the expansion of fur farms is acceptable. It has indicated that there is just one fox farm in this country, as I said earlier. The lack of a requirement that fox farms be licensed indicates that there is a lack of concern about what is going on. I welcome the comment last night by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, that he will address and examine this issue. That is a move in the right direction.
The Minister of State argued last night that a ban on fur farming would lead to Ireland's share of the fur market being assumed by another fur-producing country. He said that the ban would not serve any practical purpose for that reason. As legislators, however, we have a responsibility to ensure that the animal welfare standards and conditions in this country are above reproach. We cannot speak for or anticipate what other countries might do, but we can make a strong statement on animal welfare and fur farming by giving a lead, even now, by prohibiting fur farming and setting out the animal welfare conditions which concern us.
There is no good reason to continue the practice of fur farming in Ireland. It does not contribute significantly to the economy, it does not feature in agricultural statistics and it provides a relatively small number of jobs. All the products developed as a result of fur farming are exported and no value is added to them. Animals are suffering because fashion-conscious people want to indulge their whims. When the opinion of the public was sought in this respect, 64% of people stated that they were opposed to fur farming. That is not an insignificant proportion of people.
I thank Deputy Boyle for introducing this Bill and I thank Compassion in World Farming for taking proactive action to make Deputies aware of some of the unpleasant and inhumane conditions in which animals are bred and managed during the production of a fashion product.
Mr. Gregory: I propose to share my time with Deputies Joe Higgins and Morgan.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed,
Mr. Gregory: Ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don Dara Céim den Bhille um Fheirmeoireacht Fionnaidh (Toirmeasc) 2004, de chuid an Comhaontas Glas. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille agus gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an Teachta ó Baoill, a ullmhaigh an Bhille. Is mór an trua é nach bhfuil an Rialtas sásta glacadh leis an Bhille.
I welcome this Bill and congratulate Deputy Boyle of the Green Party, who is responsible for bringing it before the House. It is not often that the House debates issues of animal welfare or rights. Such matters have been raised infrequently during the 23 years I have spent as a Member of the House. I deplore that, but I think there were many reasons for the failure to raise this issue.
During last night's debate, at least one Member who spoke on the Bill was concerned that it might represent the tip of an iceberg. Nevertheless, I think he will support it, perhaps for party political reasons. He was concerned that, while we are dealing with fur farming tonight, it could be hare coursing next and heaven knows what after that, and he was right. Ireland is infamous for its cruel practices to animals which are increasingly being outlawed in Britain, other EU countries and countries throughout the world.
While the Green Party is on the side of animal rights, it is in a regrettably tiny minority in Dáil Éireann, with a handful of Independents and Deputy Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party, whom I always mistake as an Independent Deputy.
Mr. F. McGrath: He might join us yet.
Mr. Gregory: Some time ago I introduced a Private Members' Bill on hare coursing and found myself in a very small minority indeed. While I am afraid to say it did not surprise me, bringing the Bill forward focused national attention on animal welfare. To my great delight, I found that while I was in a very small minority in the House, the number of letters, phone calls and expressions of support I received from people in each of the Thirty-two Counties indicated that I was part of a very large majority among the public. The same is true in this case. While the Bill will be defeated by a Government majority, I have no doubt that it would be supported by the majority of people outside the House who are in favour of banning fur farming.
The House is politically out of touch on animal welfare and animal rights, which are becoming increasingly significant issues internationally. It would have been a significant step forward to end at least one form of the unnecessary animal cruelty which blights society and offends public morality. There is no justification on economic or other grounds for fur farming in today's world. There are plenty of other products which meet clothing and fashion demands and do not involve animal suffering. Factory fur farming is inherently cruel. The most comprehensive study on the subject was carried out by the EU's scientific committee on animal health and welfare, among whose members are leading scientists and veterinarians, including a member of staff of the veterinary research laboratory of the Department of Agriculture and Food. The committee concluded that fur farming systems cause serious problems for all species of animals reared for fur. It maintained that the problems are so serious that they cannot be resolved by altering the conditions in which animals are kept. Only a ban on fur farming can address the matter.
To keep mink and fox under intensive factory conditions in tiny, barren wire cages is inherently cruel and results in stereotyped behaviour and even self-mutilation. No modern society should tolerate this form of ill-treatment of animals. Many states have taken action to ban fur farming or are in the process of doing so. Fur farming is already banned in the North of Ireland, Britain and Austria. Fur farming is an issue under the general umbrella of animal rights and welfare, which will not go away. I applaud Compassion in World Farming Ireland and all those associated with the organisation who have led the campaign against fur farming, as they have on many other animal welfare issues here.
I wish to relate the issue of fur farming to the wider context of the various forms of cruelty to animals which are regrettably tolerated in the State. The State has an appalling record of official disregard for animal welfare. In the background masquerading as traditional country pursuits is a sub-culture of cruelty to animals which resists the changes inevitable in a modern society. Some months ago, so-called puppy farms were exposed on RTE television. They are not unlike fur farms with their dreadful conditions. Puppy farms operate here without any legislative restraint despite being another form of activity which is not tolerated in Britain and other member states.
Despite claims that Ireland is the European capital of this type of animal degradation, the exposures on RTE failed to result in tough legislative action. Indeed, there has been no action other than a ministerial response to the effect that discussions are taking place with interested parties. The Government's could-not-care-less approach is mirrored in a range of cruel practices which inflict unnecessary suffering on animals. The State continues to tolerate the barbaric treatment of timid animals in live hare coursing which was recently outlawed in the North. The responsible Minister here refuses to even countenance the humane alternative of drag coursing using a mechanical lure. The hunting of foxes with packs of hounds, which was recently banned in Britain, continues unrestricted in Ireland when drag hunting with a scented lure could easily remove the cruelty aspect of the practice.
The action of the British Labour Party in banning the use of packs of hounds to hunt has not been reciprocated even slightly here. There is a genuine fear among Irish animal welfare and rights activists that moves against cruel practices in Britain and other member states will make Ireland an even greater haven for such activities. Fur farming was banned in Britain, but it flourishes here.
I could provide many other examples of cruelty to animals which occurs in the State. I take this opportunity to draw attention to such practices as they form the context in which I support the Green Party's Bill. I am delighted that the opportunity has been afforded to Members to state their views on cruelty to animals. I hope we will see the day when measures such as those proposed by the Green Party are met with support from all sides of the House. In this area at least, we must join the modern world.
Mr. J. Higgins: I support the proposal to ban fur farming and, therefore, the Bill submitted in the name of Deputy Boyle. My opposition to fur farming relates primarily to the conditions in which wild animals are kept to make the industry possible. The animals affected for the most part are mink and foxes.
A number of Fianna Fáil opponents of the Bill paraded their farming and rural credentials. As a supporter of the Bill I would like to do likewise. I was brought up on a small farm in Corca Dhuibhne in west Kerry. In the 1950s, before the words were known or certainly popularised, most of our farming activity was organic and animals were reared free-range. Chickens and turkeys ranged freely across the fields. The pigs also roamed freely, happy as pigs in open fields. Admittedly the methods of killing of those times in rural Ireland were cruel, not because people wanted to be cruel but because the humane alternatives were not in existence.
In general, because of the free range nature of animal husbandry, it was the antithesis of what is necessary to produce fur for the fashion industry. The mass production methods of some farms are horrific. It is revolting to see thousands of chickens cooped up together on battery farms. It is appalling. I would not eat an egg from a chicken, or a chicken that was reared in such conditions.
Mink and foxes are wild creatures. In their habitat in the wild, mink spend most of their time on land but also some time in the water. Let us contrast that to the conditions in which they are kept on these farms where they are confined to tiny cages with no access to water. The conditions in which foxes are reared is possibly worse because in the wild, arctic foxes and other species of fox, migrate tens of miles and, in some cases, up to 70 miles.
It is inordinately cruel to have these creatures caged in spaces that are one to two metres square. None of the Fianna Fáil Deputies referred to or attempted to deal with these conditions. We have all seen footage from animal rights groups and others of the type of behaviour that this kind of stress and cruelty evokes in these animals. It is horrific to see. I do not see how it is possible to stand over that so that some privileged don or diva can have an accessory that makes them look chic, smug and prosperous.
A Fianna Fáil Deputy who knows a thing or two about cattle, and about other people's cattle as well, referred to the live export of cattle. Surely the live export of cattle should be stopped in favour of having the meat processed here where significant additional value could be added. The product could then be exported in different ways.
I take the jobs question seriously but job substitution is the way to deal with the matter. This matter is akin to the armaments industry which we do not support simply to keep jobs. I accept it is on a different scale. We must deal with the issue itself.
Mr. Morgan: I query some of the statistics referred to by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne. He claimed that 80 people are employed full-time by fur farms with a further 85 seasonal workers. I am curious as to the source of those figures which do not appear to be accurate. I say that in the gentlest way possible.
The most recent figure for the value of fur exports from the CSO was €1.6 million. If these employees were all on the minimum wage, the wage bill, including tax for 80 full-time employees, would amount to around €1.5 million. That does not to take into account the wages of the 85 so-called seasonal workers or the capital costs involved. Are we to take it that these fur farms are being run at a loss or that they are some class of charitable foundation set up to employ people and provide warm homes for poor old foxes and mink or even poor young foxes and mink? I do not think so. I humbly suggest that the overall figure for full and part-time workers is around 85 people and that the majority of these are seasonal workers employed for a week or two at most to kill the animals and harvest their pelts. Those with a good knowledge of the sector estimate that two or three full-time employees is the average for the size of farms in this country. At most we are talking about perhaps 20 people employed on a full-time basis.
The Minister of State and his Government colleagues referred to the kindly manner in which the poor creatures are cared for and that every step will be taken to ensure that this is maintained and improved upon. How touching.
Mary Coughlan: The Deputy's party does not display the same respect for human beings.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Morgan should be allowed to speak without interruption.
Mr. Morgan: I will come back to that at the end if I have time.
Let us look briefly at the economics of this issue. On the basis of export value, a single animal pelt is sold for €14. The animals are killed after seven months. That means that fur farmers, assuming that they extract no profit from the whole business, spend 6.6 cent per day on the animals in their loving care. There is not much scope there for luxuries. There are no days out to the beach for the mink and foxes or no treats for birthdays or bank holidays. In fact, it would be impossible to provide any type of decent existence for any living creature for just over 6 cent a day.
A colleague of mine who works here asked his young daughter, Ciara, to work out how much it costs to feed and house one of her guinea pigs. This was a most interesting survey. A bag of dried food lasts for six months and costs €7. Bedding for the same period costs €8. In addition to that, she feeds the animal with carrots and broccoli that cost approximately €2 a week. That works out at 36 cent per day. I humbly suggest that the economics of this business to supply fur coats and hats for the idle rich can only mean one thing for the animals who are the real fashion victims: a short, nasty, crowded, poorly fed existence that ends in being gassed or electrocuted. When I was preparing my script I was tempted to say that the "short, nasty, crowded" part was just like a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting. However, I resisted. I did not include that in my script.
Mary Coughlan: Deputy Morgan is always welcome to come and see how we work.
Mr. Morgan: I, therefore, urge all Deputies to support this Bill and bring this marginal barbaric business to an end.
I wish to deal with the jibes from the Minister, Deputy Coughlan. When I come to the House, I expect that the Minister and her colleagues will equate everything that a Sinn Féin Deputy says with the Irish freedom struggle. That will not stop me and my colleagues from having our say on issues like this. If the Minister wishes to debate the Irish freedom struggle, I will happily accommodate her in any forum she chooses. She should not try to distort the argument presented in this Bill by trying to mix it up and stir it around. That will not work.
I am delighted that there is considerable unanimity on the issue on this side of the House on this issue. I understand that all the Opposition parties will support the Bill.
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan): I am delighted to see that we have sensitivities across the way. I am sorely attempted to deviate from my script and I will do so to respond to a number of political points to reacquaint some Members of the House who inadvertently referred to a number of issues, particularly hare coursing, which is not under my jurisdiction but comes under the remit of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. Puppy farms, which we do not have, come under the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
I have concerns about one matter which I would like to put to some Members of the Opposition, namely, that we must now slavishly follow the British Labour Party. I am surprised. How are we, the people of rural Ireland, going to live?
A Deputy: The Minister should deal with the issue.
An Ceann Comhairle: Allow the Minister speak without interruption, please.
Mary Coughlan: We will deal with the issue of the Bill proposed, but I hear that a man who survived on live exports is now of the opinion that they should be removed. That does not reflect the reality of the situation. I am equally surprised Fine Gael Deputies have not read between the lines as to where we are going. One Deputy read between the lines and saw exactly where we are going because----
Mr. Boyle: How about Austria?
Mr. Sargent: Where is the Minister going?
Mr. Boyle: We are going beyond the Bill.
Mr. Naughten: What about our shooting and fishing industries?
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputies must allow the Minister to continue.
Mary Coughlan: --the members of the Fine Gael Party are at least pragmatic in reflecting the realities of agriculture and have been very supportive in addressing a number of these issues. If we want to have a countryside where the people who do not live outside the M50 can come and involve themselves for the weekend and go home, that is fine, but it is not the way it is going to be. If that is the way Deputies want to go forward, I am surprised.
Mr. Gormley: This has nothing to do with the Bill.
Mary Coughlan: I am equally surprised that we are now going to have a proposed coalition of romantics on the other side of this House. I am glad to see--
Mr. Boyle: The Minister is a cold woman.
Mary Coughlan: --that we have the opportunity to discuss this. I am opposed to the introduction of a ban on fur farming. Instead, I believe the correct approach is to apply appropriate licensing and control procedures to ensure both the security of the farms and acceptable welfare conditions. I have reached this view for a number of reasons. In particular, fur farming is a legitimate activity and it is permitted in almost all other member states, including Sweden and Denmark, which would consider themselves to be to the forefront on animal welfare issues. Any market opportunities resulting from a ban here would be immediately exploited by producers elsewhere. Thus, a unilateral ban here would not make any contribution to overall animal welfare.
Fur farming is subject to general and specific legislative requirements. At a general level, the welfare and protection of farmed animals is subject to the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes Act 1984 and the European Communities (Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes) Regulations 2000. In addition, the Council of Europe has made recommendations regarding animals kept for fur farming. The 2000 regulations apply to many types of farming systems, including cattle, sheep and pigs as well as the animals kept on fur farms.
As regards specific measures, legislation is in place relating to the licensing of mink farms in the Musk Rats Act 1933 and the Musk Rats Act 1933 (Application to Mink) Order 1965. Under the latter, the keeping of mink is prohibited except under licence from my Department. Licences, which must be renewed annually, are issued under this legislation only if the applicant, following an inspection, is found to be fully compliant with a number of key conditions. In addition, in common with all agricultural enterprises, licensed farms must comply with the animal health and welfare requirements pertaining to their particular sphere of activity.
Licensed fur farms are inspected by the Department to assess compliance with the Council of Europe recommendations concerning fur animals and also Council Directive 98/58/EC on the keeping of animals for farming purposes. These inspections have to date found that all the licensed fur farms in this country have operated in compliance with current legislation. Inspections by the Department have also found that the slaughter methods employed by the licensed fur farms are permitted under the Sixth Schedule of the European Communities (Protection of Animals at Time of Slaughter) Regulations 1995.
Since becoming Minister for Agriculture and Food, I have sought to build on the progress already made in animal welfare. Primary responsibility for caring for animals resides with the farmers and the keepers who have demonstrated their commitment in this regard over the years. We also have a raft of EU and national legislation which has succeeded in raising standards across all species and activities. This is part of an ongoing process and the recent reform of EU support arrangements will further strengthen animal welfare in the wider agricultural policy of the EU.
As regards fur farming, I am aware that the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare produced a report recently on the welfare of animals kept for farming purposes which contains recommendations on how this area can be improved. It also proposes a list of areas where future research is desirable. While there is recognition in the European context that there is room for improvements in certain areas, ongoing research is required. The Department will fulfil its role in monitoring the implementation of these advances and expects the industry to play its part in moving forward and meeting its obligations.
Fur farming is relatively small-scale in Ireland in comparison with other EU member states, but nonetheless it is important. I have always taken the view that animal welfare, not just for fur farming but for farming enterprises in general, is very important. We will certainly be led by European and national legislation. This legislation is not the way forward and an all-out ban on fur farming will not be progressive.
Mr. Gogarty: I would like to share time with Deputies Gormley and Sargent.
The first matter I want to address is the broader agenda issue about the fabric of rural society being destroyed by Green Party policies. If one considers post office closures and farm incomes declining, it is Fianna Fáil which, by and large, has presided over the latter.
Mr. B. Smith: Farm incomes are not declining.
Mary Coughlan: They are not.
An Ceann Comhairle: Allow Deputy Gogarty to speak without interruption.
Mr. Gogarty: Which party is proposing alternatives in terms of stipends for farmers who act as custodians of the land? It is the Green Party.
Mr. B. Smith: The Green Party has been attacking the farmers. That has been its contribution.
An Ceann Comhairle: Allow Deputy Gogarty to speak without interruption.
Mr. Gogarty: Deputy Twomey rightfully pointed out the potential of this sector and the lack of Government support in terms of using rapeseed oil to produce fuel. Our party's deputy leader, Ms Mary White, has engaged in a campaign to save Carlow jobs and protect farm incomes by using the Irish Sugar factory to produce biofuel. The Government is standing in the way--
Mary Coughlan: The Deputy never raised the question in a debate.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Gogarty, without interruption.
Mr. Gogarty: There are so many alternatives to fur farming. It comprises a very small amount - €4 million - as Deputy Moloney said, yet Luddite thinking continues to hold sway.
Mr. B. Smith: The Deputy should apply the term "Luddite thinking" to himself.
Mr. Gogarty: Fianna Fáil Deputies talk about the market and supply and demand in all seriousness as if the economy means everything and society and morality mean nothing. There are other and better ways of providing farm jobs such as the initiatives the Green Party, not the Government, puts forward. Compensation could and should certainly be paid to those involved in fur farming were it to be outlawed, as it should be. It is a moral, not an economic issue about growing demand.
The argument that we could lose out is mere rubber ducking. There is growing demand globally for legalised hard core pornography, but no one suggests that Ardmore Studios should be used to earn extra revenue. We could make billions of euro by setting up a dedicated arms factory to export weapons of mass destruction to corrupt regimes, but is anyone using the economic excuse for bringing such industries to Ireland? No, there is enormous demand and we are losing out to other countries by not entering this market, but morality comes into it.
Thousands of unfortunate women travel to England every year for abortions, but no one is arguing to allow abortions in Ireland because we are losing out in terms of revenue. As Deputy Gregory said, the mistreatment of animals for the production of fur is inherently cruel. Animals used to make fur include dogs, cats, pumas, seals, badgers, foxes, otters, mink and squirrels. It might be just foxes and mink in this country, but let us consider this. It takes 30 to 70 mink to produce one fur coat. That is 30 to 70 mink brought into the world and stripped of their fur to produce an item of fashion for this global market the Minister is so happy to talk about.
It might take 30 to 70 dumb animals to make one fur coat; it takes one dumb animal to wear it. It takes no dumb animal to introduce legislation to abolish fur farming; it takes six Green Party Deputies.
Mary Coughlan: The Deputy should give way on that issue.
An Ceann Comhairle: Allow Deputy Gogarty to continue.
Mr. Gogarty: However, it will take 84 dumb Deputies to reject this progressive legislation.
An Ceann Comhairle: Allow Deputy Gogarty, without interruption.
Mr. Gogarty: I have spoken in favour of maintaining the fabric of rural communities and there was no greater champion of this than myself as tourist spokesman, with my Green Party colleagues. We are the party trying to save farm incomes and rural communities.
An Ceann Comhairle: Allow Deputy Gogarty to continue without interruption.
Mr. B. Smith: The Deputy would be very welcome in rural communities.
Mr. Gogarty: I oppose the murder of innocent civilians in Iraq, Tel Aviv, Madrid, New York and other jurisdictions, but that does not mean that I have no right to oppose the morally wrong and inherently cruel killing of innocent animals, brought into this world for no other reason than its fur is a fashion item. Fur is not like leather, a by-product of the meat industry. We must take a courageous moral stand rather than use the economic argument, otherwise we may see in Ireland abortion clinics and weapons factories for revenue.
Mary Coughlan: I hope not.
Mr. Gogarty: Does the Minister want us to copy other countries and use dogs and cats for fur? This a moral prerogative, nothing else. Morality wins over economics in this debate. I ask Members to make a moral decision when casting their votes on the Bill.
An Ceann Comhairle: It is not appropriate to applaud in the gallery.
Mr. Gormley: I had not even started to speak.
Mr. Naughten: They must be the Deputy's constituents.
Mr. Gormley: The Green Party's Private Members' Bill to ban fur farming in Ireland is a modest and sensible proposal. While it does not strike a major blow for animal rights, it is a step in the right direction for basic animal welfare. It is disappointing and regrettable that the Government has seen fit to shoot it down without proper consideration of its merits.
Mr. Boyle: None whatsoever.
Mr. Gormley: We should not be surprised as this is a cold, calculating, hard-hearted Government, one that is wedded to expediency. The Government has no compassion for the less well-off, for those with a disability or young immigrants snatched from school and deported.
Mr. F. McGrath: Hear, hear. It is disgraceful.
Mr. Gormley: It would be extraordinary if Fianna Fáil or the Progressive Democrats could be stirred to pity for animals which have to endure such terrible suffering.
Mr. Boyle: Where are the Progressive Democrats?
Mr. Gormley: Will any Member on the Government benches empathise with the plight and suffering of these caged animals? I will not go into the gruesome details of how these animals are killed. However, those who can justify such cruelty must be very sick indeed. No amount of regulation can make this practice more acceptable or less cruel.
One can judge how civilised a society is by how it treats its animals. By rejecting this enlightened legislation, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are happy for this barbaric practice to continue. These animals are not suffering because they provide food for people. They are being mistreated and tortured for nothing more than status and vanity.
The Minister and others have suggested this legislation would have a negative impact on rural Ireland. That is absolute nonsense and she knows it.
Mary Coughlan: That is the Green Party's agenda for rural Ireland.
An Ceann Comhairle: Allow Deputy Gormley to continue without interruption.
Mr. F. McGrath: The Minister will show us what to do.
Mr. Gormley: This legislation would help rural Ireland. There are only six fur farms in Ireland, some of which are causing serious problems in their localities. Yesterday, I received an e-mail from an individual living close to a fur farm in County Kerry. He stated:
In the last two years the neighbourhood has been tormented with an infestation of flies. No household can open their windows from May on to September/October. As you can imagine with children this is near impossible. This is a serious health concern and the health and safety depart. of the council are aware that the root problem lies with the Mink farm. They have requested certain measures be taken by the mink farm, but I have been told by a neighbour that they are now being brought to court by the council. This is welcome news for us, but I still feel that we will have the problem again this Summer. There is also a problem with the waste effluent of the farm entering Lough Currane. During the late Spring, Summer and early Autumn flocks of seagulls will be seen at the mouth of the river passing the Mink farm into the lake. These seagulls are feeding on the effluent from the farm and are also feeding on the food and offal associated with the caged minks.
I am in full support of a ban on mink farming. I feel it is not regulated as the pro lobby claim. The department of Agriculture seems to have no input into the running of mink farms in the state and it is only the local councils that seem to have any powers to regulate them. At that, those powers are governed by antiquated Acts of law gong back many years and offering only small penalties for any irregularities. I wish you success in bringing this before the Dáil.
This e-mail is from a dweller in rural Ireland. The Minister must be aware of the damage caused by escaped mink, a non-native species, in certain areas to local wildlife. The Minister must not underestimate the amount of public support for this legislation. Most people have a sense of justice and are aware of the cruelty involved in fur farming. Most people, therefore, will accept this legislation. The Minister is out of touch with ordinary people. I commend the Bill to the House.
Mary Coughlan: I am delighted the Deputy has told me that. He must think I know nothing.
Mr. Sargent: Ar dtús báire ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a gabháil leis na Teachtaí as Fine Gael, Páirtí an Lucht Oibre, Sinn Féin agus An Páirtí Sóisialach agus leis na Teachtaí Neamhspleácha a labhair ar son an Bille seo agus a thug tacaíocht don Bhille. Even if this Bill needs to be amended, those parties are supporting it. That is in the spirt of the legislation introduced by Deputy Boyle, who I thank.
No fur breeders must have contributed to the Progressive Democrats' funds, as no party member has shown up to voice an opinion on the subject. It is ironic to hear Fianna Fáil Deputies claim to be the farmers' friends, particularly Deputy Ellis. When he makes such a claim, I am sure many of those farmers looking for payment for their produce would take a jaundiced view. Under the Government, farmers cannot survive with the prices they receive for their produce.
Mary Coughlan: The Deputy has not a clue. Beef prices have never been so good.
Mr. Sargent: Any cant about representing farming is hollow and hypocritical.
Mary Coughlan: The Green Party are the hypocrites.
Mr. B. Smith: The Deputy is not giving the facts.
Mr. Sargent: Licensing for fur farms in Ireland was only introduced in 1965, yet ranching of American mink began 55 years ago, unlicensed. It still has a culture of non-regulation. This is shown by the evidence from localities where mink have escaped. In 1969 mink were sighted in 11 of the Thirty-two Counties. American mink was breeding in the wild in County Tyrone, causing havoc among the native wildlife. It now breeds in many counties. As fur farming is banned in Northern Ireland, and if we are serious about the Good Friday Agreement, we should harmonise our legislation to those high standards.
Mary Coughlan: There are no fur farms in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Sargent: It is banned, that is my point. Logic dictates that if it is banned there are no farms.
Mr. B. Smith: Like Deputy Morgan, the Deputy wants us to follow the British.
Mr. Sargent: Wild mink also badly affect poultry farms.
Mr. B. Smith: We are unfortunate to become a Thirty-two County jurisdiction.
Mr. Sargent: What about the effects of fur farming on the type of society we are trying to foster? Gandhi claimed "the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated". Where does this stand with the morals of the Government? George Bernard Shaw said "The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that is the essence of inhumanity." When animal welfare was debated in the British House of Lords, the then Bishop of Manchester pointed out, which I as a Christian take seriously: "My Lords, I once heard it said - and the saying has haunted me ever since - that if animals believed in the devil he would look remarkably like a human being." In this case the devil would look like a Minister, the person standing over this cruelty.
The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Browne, claimed fur farming provided employment for 80 full-time and 85 seasonal workers. I am interested in hearing where the Minister received his figures. They must be corrected. They do not add up. Even if the €1.9 million export figure for raw fur skins from Ireland was devoted to paying wages, which it is not, each of the full-time workers would earn less than €20,000 per year and there would be no money left for seasonal workers, maintenance and feeding of the animals, the general running of the business or for profit.
There are better alternatives. Look at Perthshire in Scotland. Alternative industries in farming can and should be developed. In Scotland a fur farm has been transformed into a major exporter of strawberries, an enterprise which employs more people in farming. If the Minister was serious about employment in rural Ireland and supporting farming, that is the example she should follow. That is where the potential lies in terms of exports, employment and providing a livelihood for people in rural areas. Instead, the Minister stands over a deplorable persecution of rural communities in terms of health hazards, cruelty, the flies infestation and the smells.
The Government does not give a damn for rural Ireland or animal welfare. Effectively, it is standing over the death camps this industry represents. When the German people elected Hitler, they did not know about the extermination camps. When people vote on this Bill, they know about the cruelty, the death camps and what is involved.
Mary Coughlan: That is preposterous. I am surprised at the Deputy.
Mr. B. Smith: The Deputy should be ashamed of his comments.
Mr. Sargent: I urge people to vote with their conscience and vote for the Bill.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 50; Níl, 67.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Boyle and Gregory Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.
Question declared lost.