In what has become an annual pre-Christmas tradition, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue has announced funding of over €3.7m to 98 animal welfare organisations nationwide.
As a way of cementing this tradition into the long term, December 15 was given the title of the inaugural 'Animal Welfare Awareness Day', as an initiative to raise awareness of animal welfare.
This announcement is always surprisingly controversial. There are different aspects that come up every year.
It’s very positive: per capita, this is 78c per person living in this country given to animal welfare. In Britain, that would equate to the government giving €52m to animal welfare groups, whereas to my knowledge, they give nothing at all. There are very few countries in the world where the government directly gives funding to independent animal welfare groups, and we need to be cognisant of this fact.
The funding is used as a way of improving standards amongst the many disparate, independent groups that work hard for animal welfare. In order to receive the funding, you need to complete application forms, achieving standards of care that are clearly set out. This bureaucracy can be tedious for animal rescue groups who are already overloaded with a work burden, but at the same time, it is a way of making sure that people do better on behalf of the animals they are helping.
There have been examples in the past of groups whose dedication has led them to take on too much work, resulting in too much pressure, leading to standards of care falling. That’s not in the interests of the animals they are trying to help. So the ex gratia funding is a way of putting a bit of pressure on towards maintaining standards.
There are always complaints that too much funding goes to the bigger charities, and not enough (or none) to smaller, hard-working, local ones. For example, the DSPCA gets €615,000 and the ISPCA gets €670,000, while Cork Dog Action Welfare Group only gets €38,500, West Cork Animal Welfare Group only gets €21,500 and Madra only get €17,000. And everyone knows that these smaller groups do a mammoth amount of work. I understand the concerns about this, but there are two points that are sometimes missed.
First, DSPCA and ISPCA have an extra duty that other groups don’t have: they have the job of enforcing animal welfare laws. The Gardaí don’t do this, in general: the job is delegated by our society to these two charities. So clearly they need extra funding to employ the authorised officers to do this work, and to pay for the costs of court cases etc.
If they didn’t get this funding, prosecutions would not take place, and animal welfare would suffer.
Also, the Irish Blue Cross get a mammoth €330,000, but you need to remember that it does a different type of extra job, not done by other charities: it provides subsidised veterinary care for the pets of people who can’t afford to go to the vet, at its base in Inchicore as well as through their mobile clinics. So it needs more money to do this effectively.
The second point is that whenever funds are dished out, it’s always going to be impossible to make everyone happy. Someone always gets more, someone always gets less, and it’s so easy for people to feel aggrieved.
There is always a comparison made with this money (less than €4m) and the money given to greyhound racing (In October, €17.6m was announced as a grant to Greyhound Racing Ireland from the Horse & Greyhound Fund). I absolutely agree that this seems outrageous, and there are just two points that I would make about this that are often missed.
Firstly, the greyhound funding is not from general taxpayers’ money: it’s from the Horse and Greyhound Fund, which comes directly from taxes on betting, so arguably this is greyhound people’s money funding greyhounds. This does not mean that it’s “good”, but it does need to be noted.
Secondly, this money for greyhounds will not continue forever: I have written about this before, but just to go over it again. In 2018, a report titled ‘Strategic Plan 2018-2022’ was published by the Irish Greyhound Board. This report discusses, in detail, the challenges and problems facing an industry in decline. Crucially, the report set out a five-year plan for the redemption of the greyhound industry, which was dependent on Government funding. The report stated an annual sum agreed by the Government to be allocated to the greyhound industry, and this included the €20m that is due to be allocated in 2022 (“only” €17m was given in the end).
But after that, there is a big question mark. What will happen next? Should the Government continue to support an industry that is dwindling, and is beset with issues of poor animal welfare?
This is the big question that people should be asking today. To my knowledge, no decision has yet been made on future subsidies for greyhound racing. There is no doubt that behind the scenes, strong lobbying will be happening, disingenuously trying to link “greyhound racing” with “Irish rural culture”, when in fact, this is just a ruse to try to elicit political support for funds.
My view is clear: if greyhound racing is not self-sustainable, it should draw to a close, and a closing-down five-year plan should be put in place.
Why should our Government continue to support it when polls show that 80% of voters are against this happening? If greyhound racing is phased out, this does need to happen gradually, as there will be many greyhounds that need to be rehomed. It could not happen suddenly.
So today, rather than complaining about why such-and-such got so much, and such-and-such got so little, let’s focus on this question: will 2022 be the year that the Irish Government finally decides that greyhound racing should no longer be a subsidised part of our culture?