Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill 2004: Second Stage.
Mr. Boyle: I move: Â“That the Bill be now read a Second Time.Â”
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 MembersÂ’ 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 MembersÂ’ 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 childrenÂ’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, 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 who 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 Â€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 GovernmentÂ’s argument on this Â— 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 Â— 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 oneÂ’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 captivity. 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 FÃ©in 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 Â€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 Â£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 Â“bored with being politically correctÂ”. 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 from 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 CommissionÂ’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 committeeÂ’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 Â— that is the real world. Approximately 153,000 pelts are produced annually with an export value of Â€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, sections 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.
Collapse 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 Â— 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 personÂ’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.
Â“Morning IrelandÂ” 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 OÂ’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.
Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: Â“That the Bill be now read a Second Time.Â”
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 nightÂ’s debate on this Private MemberÂ’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 eveningÂ’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 nightÂ’s debate and state my belief that the conditions of an animalÂ’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, largely escape-proof units which developed following the introduction of the 1965 order, 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 nightÂ’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 Â€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 1,600 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. HeffernanÂ’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 industryÂ’s turnover is approximately Â€4 million annually.
Mr. Boyle: It is Â€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 Â€4 million. Is there a farm near Deputy BoyleÂ’s home?
Mr. Boyle: One-third of my constituency is rural.
Mr. Moloney: I am satisfied there is no point building up a head of 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 DepartmentÂ’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 leadersÂ—Â—
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 Â€1.9 million.
Mr. Boyle: That is the industryÂ’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 industryÂ’s annual turnover is Â€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 animalÂ’s needs. These systems provide high standards of animal welfare, housing, husbandry methods and disease control. If proper disease control was not in 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 MembersÂ’ 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 Â€4 million. The figure went from Â€1.5 million to Â€2 million to Â€4 millionÂ—Â—
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 UnionÂ’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 Â“regular basisÂ” 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 Â€1.5 million to Â€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 CommunitiesÂ’ 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 Â— for that we can substitute smothering; electrocution Â— 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 Â“pass the buckÂ” on this issue. He said: Â“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 seriouslyÂ”. He further stated:
The CommissionÂ’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 Â— 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 Â— 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 fashionÂ’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 Â— 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 IrelandÂ’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 Â“fur farmingÂ” might give the impression that animals are allowed to roam over open fields, but it might be more appropriate to refer to Â“fur farmsÂ” as Â“fur factoriesÂ”. 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 countryÂ’s economy.
Another issue that has received some attention recently Â— I intend to address it at a later stage Â— 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 IrelandÂ’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 tacaÃocht a thabhairt don Dara CÃ©im den Bhille um Fheirmeoireacht Fionnaidh (Toirmeasc) 2004, de chuid an Comhaontas Glas. Cuirim fÃ¡ilte roimh an Bhille agus gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an Teachta Ã“ Baoill, a ullmhaigh an Bhille. Is mÃ³r an trua Ã© nach bhfuil an Rialtas sÃ¡sta 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 nightÂ’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 DÃ¡il Ã‰ireann, 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 MembersÂ’ 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 todayÂ’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 EUÂ’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 GovernmentÂ’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 PartyÂ’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 FÃ¡il 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 FÃ¡il 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 FÃ¡il Deputy who knows a thing or two about cattle, and about other peopleÂ’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 Â€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 Â€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 DeputyÂ’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 Â€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 Â€7. Bedding for the same period costs Â€8. In addition to that, she feeds the animal with carrots and broccoli that cost approximately Â€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 speech I was tempted to say that the Â“short, nasty, crowdedÂ” part was just like a Fianna FÃ¡il parliamentary party meeting. However, I resisted. I did not include that in my speech.
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 FÃ©in 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 tempted to deviate from my speech 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–Â—Â—
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: Â—Â—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 seeÂ—Â—
Mr. Boyle: The Minister is a cold woman.
Mary Coughlan: Â—Â—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 FÃ¡il 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 partyÂ’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 wayÂ—Â—
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 Â—Â€4 million Â— as Deputy Moloney said, yet Luddite thinking continues to hold sway.
Mr. B. Smith: The Deputy should apply the term Â“Luddite thinkingÂ” to himself.
Mr. Gogarty: Fianna FÃ¡il 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 DeputyÂ’s constituents.
Mr. Gormley: The Green PartyÂ’s Private MembersÂ’ 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 FÃ¡il 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 FÃ¡il 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 PartyÂ’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 DÃ¡il.
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 dtÃºs bÃ¡ire ba mhaith liom mo bhuÃochas a gabhÃ¡il leis na TeachtaÃ as Fine Gael, PÃ¡irtÃ an Lucht Oibre, Sinn FÃ©in agus An PÃ¡irtÃ SÃ³isialach agus leis na TeachtaÃ NeamhspleÃ¡cha a labhair ar son an Bille seo agus a thug tacaÃocht 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, whom I thank.
No fur breeders must have contributed to the Progressive DemocratsÂ’ funds, as no party member has shown up to voice an opinion on the subject. It is ironic to hear Fianna FÃ¡il Deputies claim to be the farmersÂ’ 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 Â“the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treatedÂ”. Where does this stand with the morals of the Government? George Bernard Shaw said Â“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that is the essence of inhumanity.Â” 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: Â“My Lords, I once heard it said Â— and the saying has haunted me ever since Â— that if animals believed in the devil he would look remarkably like a human being.Â” 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 Â€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 Â€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 DÃ¡il divided: TÃ¡, 50; NÃl, 67.