Dáil debate on change in law “to act as real deterrent against theft of pets”

In Blog by Denis Naughten

Earlier this evening a debate took place in Dail Éireann on the possibility of introducing stronger laws to act as a real deterrent against the theft.

Here is what was said:


Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne)

…….There is an amendment on the Order Paper to the Second Stage motion in respect of pet theft. The amendment was tabled by the Regional Group and I look forward to speaking further on it in my closing remarks. As Deputies are aware, this is an important issue for me and one for which I introduced a Private Member’s Bill. The crime of pet theft can give rise to incredible trauma. We are all aware of the strong emotional attachment we have to our pets and theft not only leads to their loss from our lives, it also gives rise to a high level of concern regarding their welfare and what happened to them. This is a crime which often affects which is often targeted at older and more vulnerable people, for whom a pet is of significant emotional importance. Since becoming Minister of State, I have committed to addressing this issue. I met with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and the Marine, before Christmas to discuss it with him. I have also had discussions with the Minister, Deputy McEntee, about it. Contact is continuing at an official level with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as we work on options. I look forward to hearing Deputies’ views. I recognise and appreciate Deputy Naughten’s real and genuine interest in this matter.

I emphasise that while legislative changes may be considered and needed, we must also look at the full range of policy enforcement options to ensure that this very serious matter is addressed. As I have set out, there is a practical issue in respect of the urgency of the Bill before the House, which needs to be passed in the next week to ten days. It is not a suitable vehicle for making changes in the area in question and I cannot agree to deferring Second Stage by a month, as referred to in the amendment. That said, I am absolutely willing to work with the Deputies on the issue of pet theft and to introduce appropriate, well-considered and effective measures.

Deputy Denis Naughten

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

The Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad] be read a second time this day one month, in order that the Minister may consider the desirability of tabling a motion to expand the scope of the Bill, where such a motion is deemed necessary,pursuant to Standing Order 187, in respect of amendments which revise the law to:

(a) clearly reflect that pets are much more than property, and

(b) act as a real deterrent against this growing crime of the theft of companion animals.

The basis for this amendment is to bring forward a revision to the legislation that would clearly reflect that pets are much more than property. We have an amendment that would clearly set out a real deterrent against the growing crime of the theft of companion animals. I have moved the amendment in order that Dáil Éireann can consider a change in the law that would act as a real deterrent in respect of the theft of pets.

We need to increase the penalties in this area for people who steal companion pets, a practice that has been on the rise since the introduction of the Covid-19 restrictions last year. In the past 12 months, there has been a significant increase in the number of reports of thefts of pets to An Garda Síochána. Under the law, however, pets are considered property and their theft is treated in the same way as the theft of, for example, mobile phones. We all know that pets are much more than property. They are part of families and homes across this country. Sometimes a pet is the only friend to someone who is isolated or is a guide for someone who is blind or has other sensory issues. This needs to be clearly reflected in much stronger legislation.

On Deputy Daly’s comments, I remind him that last year An Garda Síochána received 14 reports per day of animals being stolen or lost. This particular practice has a heartbreaking impact on the individual owners of these animals. The law does not take into account this emotional distress of the theft of a family pet which, as we all know, is far greater than the distress caused by the theft of a mobile phone or another piece of property. Yet, the legislation remains the same in its treatment of people involved in stealing family pets.

There are also people who, particularly during the lockdown, have been exploiting vulnerable owners of pets. They steal a beloved animal and then claim the reward for its safe return. From an animal welfare perspective, there is also a serious impact on the pet involved. Being stolen can give rise to long-term emotional or behavioural problems for a particular animal. Despite some criticism earlier, the fact is that there is cross-party support to the effect that companion pets must be treated as much more than property and that the law should and must reflect that. Across Dáil Éireann there is support from all parties and from Independents for a change in the existing law so that there will be a real deterrent against the growing crime of pet theft and that it will be made clear to people that we will act to ensure that there are significant penalties for those who steal or attempt to steal pets.

I welcome the comments of the Minister of State earlier. I hope that he can accept the sentiments behind the amendment we have proposed.