Dáil Éireann - Volume 415 - 19 February, 1992
Adjournment Debate. - Wandering Horses.
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
Mr. Allen: The problem of wandering horses has not been tackled. It should have been tackled many years ago by successive administrations. Suburbs of Cork city such as Ballyvolane, Hollyhill and Bishopstown have been devastated  by wandering horses owned by itinerants who camp in the area. The problem in Cork is similar to that in most cities and towns around the country. Parents are sometimes afraid to send their childen to school because of the danger from horses racing around the streets. Much lip-service has been given to the question of the control of wandering animals. I will deal specifically with horses tonight, but wandering donkeys and cattle cause problems. The problem of wandering horses must be tackled especially in view of the recent appalling accident in Cork involving a truck which, I understand, swerved to avoid a wandering horse and hit a car. The accident resulted in the death of one man and another is critically ill in hospital in Cork. This accident brought home to us all the need to introduce legislation as quickly as possible to deal with the problem.
Unfortunately, when gardaí went to investigate this accident, the owner of the horse had disappeared. The Minister has a responbility to introduce legislation to deal with this problem. It is ridiculous that while one needs a licence to own a dog no licence is required to own a horse. I ask the Minister to include in legislation provision for the licensing and tagging of all horses and the registration of all owners, with a requirement, that the authorities be notified of change of ownership. That is the minimum that is required.
Another aspect of this is cruelty to animals. If I had more time I would deal with this issue which also needs to be addressed. There is an abundance of evidence of extreme cruelty to horses, donkeys and other animals. This is highlighted from time to time but nothing is done about it. If the Minister does not introduce legislation to deal with it quickly I intend to introduce a Bill to do so. I ask the Minister to do something before more lives are lost and further property is damaged.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. O'Dea) Willie O'Dea
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. O'Dea): I am aware of the case to which Deputy Allen has adverted.  I would like to convey my sincerest sympathy to the bereaved family and to everyone involved in this tragic accident. An investigation by the Garda is under way and, in view of the possibility of legal proceedings being instituted, I do not think it would be proper for me to make any further comment on the matter.
I understand the accident arose because of a lack of effective control over the animal rather than the fact that it was wandering in the accepted sense. I will address the subject matter as raised by the Deputy and speak about the general question of wandering horses. The question of how to deal with this matter has been debated several times in this House in recent times and I welcome this opportunity to make clear my position on it.
Most people, if the issue was put to them, would say that the control of horses — any more than the control of dogs — has nothing to do with the Minister for Justice, his Department or the Garda and essentially they would be right. However, the legal issues and the effect of wandering horses, with their potential for human tragedy, damage to property and resulting civil liability, could not be ignored by any Minister for Justice. My Department have in the past, therefore, sponsored legislation to enable wandering animals, including horses, to be impounded. The most recent statute is the Animals Act, 1985, which up-dated and improved the law in this area. First, and very importantly, it gave new, wide powers to local authorities and the Garda to impound wandering animals. Second, it gave new powers to local authorities regarding the sale, disposal or destruction of impounded animals. Thirdly, it provided for increased fines for such offences as allowing animals to wander onto public property. The Act also abolished the then immunity of occupiers of land adjoining the public road in relation to danger caused by animals straying onto the road. That is the old common law rule known as the rule of Searle v. Wallbank. As a result of that legislation the ordinary laws of negligence apply.
I know that Deputies, including  Deputy Allen and many Deputies from my party, have been concerned in recent times to see if a more fundamental solution can be found which will address the source of this problem, the ownership and control of horses, particularly in urban areas. While such an approach is outside the sphere of responsibility of the Minister for Justice it is not unreasonable to say that there is a problem and some solution will have to found to it. Incidentally, I understand that several solutions, including proposals along the lines referred to by Deputy Allen, are being considered at the moment by another Government Department.
The limited employment of the gardaí in impounding wandering horses, while important in itself, is nevertheless only treating an acute symptom of a deep-seated, fundamental problem. As far as the Minister's responsibilities are concerned, the existing legislative powers are probably as strong as they can reasonably be expected to be and I am sure that the Garda for their part will continue to give the highest possible degree of priority to their functions in this matter in line with the other onerous demands made on them in the areas of crime and security.
Dáil Éireann 415 Adjournment Debate. Wandering Horses.