Fur farming industry dealt a killer blow with passing of new bill 

Fur farming industry dealt a killer blow with passing of new bill 

Banned fur good: Minks and other animals will no longer be able to be farmed for their skins.

There was a major milestone reached in the 20-year struggle to ban fur farming in this country in recent days when the Animal Health and Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 passed its final stage in the Seanad.

The signing into law of the bill in the coming weeks by President Michael D Higgins will make it illegal to breed, rear, or keep specified animals “solely or primarily for the value of, or the manufacture of products from, their fur or skin”.

According to Laura Broxson, animal rights campaigner and founder of the National Animal Rights Association (Nara), the passing of the legislation represents a major victory for the Irish animal rights movement.

“This has been something we have been fighting for, for many years at this stage, and we are absolutely delighted that finally this will become law,” she said. “It has taken far too long, but it stands to the many people who never gave up. There is much more to do, there always is, but I think a lot of people are really euphoric to see this finally happening.”

The Government’s decision to ban fur farming follows the introduction of the 2018 Prohibition of Fur Farming Bill by then-People Before Profit/Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger.

“Ruth Coppinger deserves a lot of credit for picking this up,” said Ms Broxson. “She really pushed it and brought it back to public attention.”

Ms Coppinger was inspired to publish her Private Members’ Bill after viewing a video from a Nara investigation of a Donegal fur farm. Once the bill was published, it gained widespread political support and Nara activists began campaigning all around the country seeking public support for the ban.

“People everywhere were very supportive,” said Ms Broxson. 

Especially in the areas where the fur farms were located, which was a bit of a surprise. Many people weren’t even aware that fur farming was still legal in Ireland and they were often horrified to discover that fur farms were operating in their own local area.

The first serious attempt to ban fur farming here was made by former Green Party TD and current Cork City councillor Dan Boyle, who published the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill 2004.

“It was a different landscape then,” Mr Boyle told the Irish Examiner. “It was debated in 2005 and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were very much opposed to it. Micheál Martin was the health minister and he was under real pressure, and I remember some elements of the press asking me why I was using up valuable private members’ business time for something like this instead of addressing the issues in the health service.

“There was a lot of eye-rolling, a lot of people then didn’t really take it seriously, but it was exactly the type of thing we should have been using private members’ business for, to bring issues to wider attention.”

His original bill stood little chance of becoming law in the political climate of 2004, but it did pave the way for a growing activist campaign from the various organisations such as Compassion in World Farming, Respect for Animals, the ISPCA, and the Fur Free Alliance.

“I think a lot of people, myself included, found the whole idea abhorrent, the condition animals were kept in,” he said. 

I think the public were ahead of the politicians — especially the more conservative ones — on the issue for a long time.

Fur farming had once been seen as a potential growth area for Irish agriculture, and incentives were offered for fur farms to be set up in the 1960s. As well as mink, there were also farms rearing Arctic fox, but by 2018 there were just three fur farms still operating here.

With the introduction of the ban, the question of compensation for the remaining operators became a contentious issue with the three fur farms presenting their case to an Oireachtas Joint Committee in January 2021.

They argued that the compensation on offer was insufficient and that the industry was being shut down abruptly and not gradually up until 2024 as outlined in the programme for government.

Ultimately the farm operators stand to receive between €4m and €6m each to cover decommissioning costs, redundancies, and compensation.

“I don’t really have a lot of sympathy,” said Mr Boyle. “They’ve known this has been coming for a long time, and they should have been preparing for it for years. It’s happening all across Europe so it really shouldn’t be a surprise to them.”

For Ms Broxson, the passing of the bill represents the end of one chapter in the campaign for animal rights, but there is much more to do.

“The fight goes on,” she said.

“The next step is to see an end to the sale of real fur, which is still legal. It has declined but we want to see it banned right across the EU. Then we move on to the many other issues that need to be addressed — hare coursing and blood sports are now top of the list.”

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