Almost 17,000 stray horses have been euthanised on “an industrial scale” over the last nine years at a cost of millions to the taxpayer.
From 2008 to the end of 2016, 24,433 stray horses have been seized by local authorities around the country and of these, 16,971 have been put down.
The Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine has spent €4.5m since 2014 on the control of horses.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed confirmed the number in an answer to a parliamentary question by Independent TD Mattie McGrath.
Mr McGrath asked what costs the department had incurred over the past four years relating to the seizure of animals, specifically horses.
“My department has contributed funding of €4.2m to local authorities in respect of control of horses activities for the period 2014-2017,” said Mr Creed. “This funding represents a very substantial support from the exchequer to local authorities.
“In addition to the work of local authorities, my department officials have removed a number of abandoned, welfare compromised, and/or unidentified horses throughout the country in the period 2014-2017 at a cost of €303,000.”
Mr McGrath described the cost of dealing with control of horses as “worrying”.
“It is absolutely staggering to see the industrial scale removal, seizure, and killing of horses that local authorities have been engaged in from 2008 to 2016,” said Mr McGrath.
“What is deeply worrying, apart from the clear disregard for animal welfare that is occurring on such a massive scale, are the costs that are being generated and which must surely be detracting from the allocation of departmental funds for other vital projects.”
The Control of Horses Act 1996 gives powers to local authorities to control stray and abandoned horses.
Under the Act, the agriculture minister may offer financial assistance towards the expenses incurred by the local authorities in operating under the power.
Mr McGrath said the cost may be far higher as local authorities incur their own expense in carrying out the work of controlling horses.
“Minister Creed tells me that under the Control of Horses Act 1996 his department has offered millions in financial assistance towards the expenses incurred by the local authorities in operation of the Act, but says nothing about the financial contribution that each individual local authority has had to make on top of that assistance,” said Mr McGrath.
“This is information we need to have if we are to have a clearer sense of the financial burdens these animal welfare issues are causing.”
Mr McGrath added that, while in his home county of Tipperary the majority of people care for their horses, the problem of cruelty and maltreatment remains acute in other areas.
Mr McGrath said that this maltreatment “needs to be tackled in a far more robust manner than it has been to date”.
In Cork City and county, 138 horses were seized in 2016 and 94 of these were euthanised.
The remainder were either rehomed or reclaimed by their owners.
In 2015, again for Cork City and county, there were 209 horses seized — 162 were euthanised.
The Government is currently developing a number of initiatives to reduce stray horses.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved