Dáil Éireann - Volume 420 - 28 May, 1992

Adjournment Debate. - Treatment of Greyhounds Exported to Spain.

Mr. Flanagan: I am grateful to your office for allowing me make a brief contribution on this very important matter this evening. There is widespread abuse of greyhounds in Spain where the greyhound industry is in a deplorable and sorry state. Many of these unfortunate dogs are Irish animals which are purchased cheaply here and subjected to vile and cruel treatment in Spain. The suffering caused to these defenceless animals is a scandal and while we in this country cannot resolve the problem we can at least ensure that no Irish dogs are involved. We can do this by introducing a total ban on live exports of greyhounds to any country where the regard for treatment of animals is in question.

I urge the Minister to set up an investigation on the matter of these serious allegations as quickly as possible. These dogs are kept in deplorable conditions without proper housing, water, or electricity and under extreme over-crowded conditions. The defenceless animals have been described as running machines, housed like battery hens and forced to run in very high temperatures and conditions of humidity. I am concerned at the manner in which the dogs are transported to Spain and that they remain for 21 hours on the ferry boat before being transported the long distance from the ferry port through France to southern Spain. The dogs, I understand, are packed 60 to a lorry in narrow crates, a type of crate that has been banned in the UK. That is why they do not use the land bridge route but rather the 21 hours on the boat because the crates are not allowed to travel through the UK.

The Minister may have to look at the Greyhound Industry Act and consider appropriate amendments to ensure that outlawing of this unsavoury practice. [1158] Last autumn, following a considerable outcry, Bord na gCon imposed a ban on the export of Irish greyhounds to Spain. I have information to suggest that this ban is now being flouted and that exports sales to Spain have again resumed.

I understand that recently in Limerick Spanish greyhound agents purchased 36 greyhounds to race in Barcelona under very poor conditions. Allegations have been made that the agents I refer to may, in fact, have been Bord na gCon representatives. If this is true it is extremely serious and I would ask the Minister to investigate this matter without delay. Is it true that Bord an gCon agents negotiated the sale of greyhounds to Spanish dealers in spite of a number of complaints to the auctioneers from concerned parties present in the course of the auction? It would be quite extraordinary, and indeed outrageous, if a representative from Bord na gCon was acting as such an agent having regard to the ban imposed on the export sales by that very body itself.

I urge the Minister to use his good offices to call a halt to this obscene and disgraceful trade in live animals. It has been established beyond all reasonable doubt that gross ill-treatment of Irish greyhounds continues and I would be grateful if this matter could be addressed at the earliest opportunity.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Browne, Wexford): I would like to thank Deputy Flanagan for raising the issue. Deputy Farrelly had a question on this matter in the Dáil today. We have no evidence of Bord na gCon acting as an agent but we will have it checked out to see what the position is.

Transporters of animals, including greyhounds, are required under the Transit of Animals (General) Order, 1973, to ensure that the welfare of animals is safeguarded during transport. The order implements the relevant provisions of EC Directives 77/489/EEC and 81/389/EEC governing the protection of [1159] animals during transport. Consignments of animals exported from Ireland are subject to monitoring by inspectors of my Department to ensure that such requirements are observed and that standards of transport are satisfactory. The question of protecting the welfare of animals at the point of destination is a matter for the authorities in the importing country.

Most exports of greyhounds from this country to Spain have until recently been organised by Bord na gCon. Allegations of ill-treatment of racing greyhounds in Spain were denied by the Spanish delegates at the 1987 and 1990 World Greyhound Racing Federation conferences. At the conferences, delegates from the Spainsh greyhound federation also indicated that they were unaware of any grounds for these allegations and assured the governing council of the World Greyhound Federation of their determination to investigate and pursue any substantiated incidents of ill-treatment. Allegations of this nature have also been discussed by one of my predecessors with the Spanish Minister for Agriculture who gave assurances that the allegations of ill-treatment and cruelty were without foundation.

Arising from more recent suggestions that conditions under which Irish greyhounds are kept and raced in Spain were inadequate, the governing council of the World Greyhound Federation responded positively last October to a request from Bord na gCon for an investigation into conditions within the Spanish greyhound racing world and into alleged cruelty to greyhounds in Spain. The assessment has been completed and recommendations have been made to the Spanish greyhound federation. While certain improvements have been recommended, the general conclusion of the World Greyhound Federation is that no deliberate acts of cruelty to the greyhounds were observed. The World Federation investigation team also recommended that the federation urge the EC Commission [1160] to make regulations for Community-wide standards for protecting the welfare of greyhounds.

The federation further indicated that they were in the process of drafting a welfare charter for greyhounds which they hoped would receive the support of the EC. The federation report was sent to the Spanish greyhound federation who have subsequently informed Bord na gCon that the main recommendations in the report have been implemented.

It has to be stated that Irish greyhounds are sought for their racing ability and that it is in the interest of those concerned to ensure that the animals are transported and maintained in conditions conducive to ensuring good performance.

In regard to any suggestion that the greyhounds are used for experimental purposes, EC legislation, under Directive 86/609/EEC, lays down specific requirements for the official registration and control by each member state of experimental facilities and animal supply sources. Under Spanish law no animals can be exported direct to Spain for experimentation unless the supply establishment is one that has been approved here. As regards greyhounds actually exported for racing but which might be used for experimentation when their racing careers are over, Spanish law makes provision for regulating any unacceptable practice in this regard.

Mr. Flanagan: That is a red herring.

Mr. Browne (Wexford): It should be noted that the World Greyhound Racing Federation has recommended that the Spanish greyhound federation should ensure that greyhounds at the end of their racing life be either adopted through a recognised agency, used for breeding purposes or humanely euthanised. Bord na gCon have been informed by the Spanish greyhound federation that such dogs whose racing careers are finished are put down.

[1161] Mr. Flanagan: The Minister says that the allegations are without foundation. Why did Bord na gCon themselves impose a ban?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is no provision for additional questions, unfortuntely.

Mr. Flanagan: There is no smoke without fire.