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Minister Creed Opening Address, Animal Welfare Conference, Backweston, 13 September 2018

I will start by issuing a warm welcome to the Department’s campus here in Backweston. I know many of you have travelled from far and wide and represent a very diverse audience in terms of the type of organisations you represent, your backgrounds and areas of interest. However, despite that diversity we are all united by an interest in animal welfare and in doing better for animals.

Animal welfare is an area where significant steps forward have been taken in recent years. The understanding from all parts of the community on the need to treat animals with suitable care and appropriate husbandry has greatly improved. However with such a large population of animals in Ireland, operating in so many different aspects of Irish life, Animal Welfare is an area that will always require attention. Today’s meeting has a very practical focus. We have a wide range of speakers but I think they all have useful experiences to share with us.

As many of you no doubt are aware the Five Freedoms – which were formalised in the late 1970’s have long formed the basis for evaluating and assessing welfare needs of animals and these principles have been captured in much legislation across the world since that time – including in Ireland. I think we can expect an interesting perspective on this from our speaker Tomasz Grudnik from the World Organisation on Animal Health – the OIE, which is the acknowledged world reference organisation for animal health. The OIE sets standards with regard to the safe trade in animals and animal products and promotes veterinary services, food safety and animal welfare.  My Department is pleased to have given financial assistance to the OIE to support its global work in relation to animal welfare and specifically in relation to transport, slaughter and in particular in a new concept dealing with ‘whole journey  scenarios’. Tomasz will update you on this developing project.

In Ireland, we are fortunate to have well established groups such as the Farmed Animal Welfare Advisory Council under the chairmanship of

Prof. Pat Fottrell and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Animal Health and Welfare under the Chairmanship of Dr Colm Gaynor.  The latter have conducted important reviews on issues such as bovine castration and ritual slaughter.

Farmers have experienced a very difficult year. The very poor spring that included Storm Emma and a long dry spell over the summer led to great hardship on farms. In recent weeks I have introduced a further series of measures to tackle the scarcity of fodder that has resulted from the summer drought.  In view of the stresses and strains that the weather has placed on the farming community I was delighted to launch Catherine Devitt’s study on the difficulties which can occur in relation to welfare on farms and which form a useful basis for a more considered State response. Her talk today will be on the “Challenges and Solutions to Supporting Farm Animal Welfare in Ireland Responding to the Human Element”. I am sure aspects of this report are equally relevant to veterinary practitioners, and rescue centre operators who deal with the wider area of companion animals. Therefore I am very pleased Catherine will be sharing her thoughts with you today and I am confident her views will benefit our Early Warning System which has been in operation for a number of years but will have an added focus this autumn in view of the difficult year that farmers faced.

The Quality Assurance Schemes as overseen by An Bord Bia continue to play an important role in underpinning our reputation as a major food exporter. Animal welfare considerations must continue to be placed at the centre of our Assurance Schemes. Irish producers are in an excellent position to benefit because of our strong record on animal husbandry developed over generations. I am glad therefore that Mr Peter Garbutt from McDonalds has taken time off from his busy schedule to be with us today with a view to sharing his organisation’s perspective with us.

The use of our Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) can be a key driver in improving animal welfare standards, particularly within the pig sector.  I have discussed this issue with representatives of the industry recently and I can confirm that my Department is reviewing the TAMS scheme to assess how the available funding can be best used for welfare related investment.

Looking beyond the agricultural sector, there are different but no less important issues around the welfare of other animals. Some of these will be the focus of the second part of today’s proceedings. Many here in the audience are involved with NGO’s of various types and sizes. Several speakers have useful contributions to offer on the operations of such organisations. The Charity Regulator has done important work in helping bring about greater probity in the charity sector and I hope people understand that greater financial acccountability is to the benefit of all genuine operators in the NGO world. Being registered with the Regulator gives members of the public confidence that their donations will be used correctly.

Another area of focus will be on horses.  I am pleased that a number of people who have done tremendous work in the horse area are here to share their story. The issue of unwanted and abandoned horses has certainly improved in recent years. Supply and demand are now more in balance in the equine sector which has helped the situation, but there is still work to be done.  My Department has been pleased to support some very worthwhile urban horse projects in recent years - which aim to develop more long term and sustainable solutions to some of our issues concerning urban horses. My Department has also supported a number of educational projects, including the Moyross project, which you will be hearing more about later. I was delighted to open the Clondalkin Equine Centre last year which has been a source of enjoyment to children and young adults, and is making a positive contribution to equine welfare in the area.

Of particular interest will be the launch today of a consultation document with a view to developing a national Animal Welfare Strategy for Ireland. This is an issue which Martin Blake the Chief Veterinary Officer will discuss in detail.

I would also like to mention some other broad animal welfare issues that have received attention in recent times. This is a continually evolving area with initiatives such as the banning of wild animals in circuses and a new consultation that I launched in May on the sale and advertisement of pets in Ireland. Pet animals are increasingly advertised for sale online, as well as through “bricks and mortar” pet shops.  It is timely to seek the public’s views on the sale of pets, to enhance our knowledge in this area, and assist the Department in developing policies that best assure the welfare of these animals. I am very pleased with the response to the consultation: 80 responses were received, from a range of stakeholders including animal welfare bodies and pet shops.  My officials are now reviewing all the responses, which will assist us in considering the next steps.

Looking further afield, my Department is represented on the EU Animal Welfare Platform's subgroup on the trade in pets.  This subgroup, which focuses on dogs, is examining how to improve communication and cooperation between EU Member States, including on possible illegal trade.  My Department will also take part in a voluntary EU initiative this autumn, which aims at gaining insight into current practices relating to the online sale of dogs and cats.

I would like to acknowledge the good work being done by my colleague Sean Kyne in the area of Dog Breeding Establishments and I look forward to future developments in this area.

In closing I would like to thank everyone here today for their participation and I hope that you find the day useful, stimulating and engaging. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the guests who have travelled from overseas, notably speakers from the UK and the Continent as well as a representative from the Turkish veterinary service. I wish you all well and hope today is useful and informative.