Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 3 July 2000 (continued)
The Taylor Report, which came in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, initiated these measures. Taylor said that, if people were treated like animals, they would behave like animals. Football crowds are fenced in behind cages, and some of the grounds look like a throwback to Bellevue zoo before it was redeveloped. Work needs to be done on the development of football generally, not just senior football, but junior and schoolboy soccer. It must all come together as a package. I shall be aiming at a holistic view in the future. When the money on football grounds was spent in England, Scotland and Wales there was a 60% to 70% increase at the gate, and an increase of 26% in the number of women attending football matches. If there were such a response in Northern Ireland, it would be wonderful, not only for the game, but for all of us.
Mr B Hutchinson:
First, will the Minister say how many times the RUC has been involved in taking football hooligans out of Irish league grounds this season in reaction to sectarian violence?. I do not know of any, but perhaps the Minister can answer that question. Secondly, is the Minister aware that, clubs such as Linfield and Glentoran have introduced schemes to try to deal with the problem? Linfield Football Club has introduced a scheme, based at Dundalk, aimed at tackling the issue. Does the Minister also agree that all the media attention on sectarianism is not at Irish league matches but at international matches played at Windsor Park? One of the problems is that the media objects to people singing 'God Save the Queen'. During Euro 2000, we heard it more than once from England fans, and no one in the media said then that it was sectarian.
My response to the problem is a scheme to highlight family, disability and sectarian issues. That is for all sports - not just for football or local sports, but for international events as well. I am aware that there are schemes run by football clubs such as Glentoran and Linfield. I understand that Crusaders Football Club is attempting to address the issue as well.
I do not know how many people have been thrown out of football grounds by the RUC because of sectarian issues. Indeed, I do not know how many people have been thrown out of football grounds for any reason, but judging from the size of the gate of some clubs, it would surprise me if the number was large. Football is not drawing large numbers. That is the problem that it must address. Whether it is a real problem or one of perception, it must be addressed for the health of the game. As for singing 'God Save the Queen', at international games, Mr Hutchinson will be aware that there is more than 'God Save the Queen' sung at Windsor Park. The Irish Football Association (IFA) and the Sports Council are considering that issue seriously, and I shall know more about their views when I meet them on 7 July. We want football grounds where everyone feels comfortable.
I was rather concerned at the wording of the original question, which refers to sectarianism in association with football. The matter needs to be clarified, as Mr Hutchinson has tried to do. Clubs are working very hard on this issue, and we may be talking about something that is perhaps peripheral. Will the Minister say whether legislation could be introduced to cover the sport of Gaelic association football? It is guilty of sectarianism with its exclusion clause, disallowing certain people from participating in the sport.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is not relevant to the subject that we are discussing.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
I am sorry, Mr McElduff. You cannot have a point of order during Question Time.
On Mr Hussey's question, I shall take the first part referring to measures to be taken. I repeat that the matter is not simply about association football. Legislation currently operates in the rest of the kingdom which creates three offences of disorderly behaviour: throwing an object either at the pitch or a spectator without lawful authority; taking part in indecent or racist chanting; and going on to the pitch without lawful authority. There is a recognition here that it is much more than just singing. Also it amends it so that taking part in racist or indecent chanting, whether alone or in concert with others, is an offence. That is the type of legislation in the rest of the kingdom, and the type of legislation that the IFA and the Sports Council are considering.
Rule 21 in Gaelic bans members of the security forces from the GAA. It dates back to 1887 and, apart from a 10-year lapse from 1893 to 1902, has been there ever since. I would welcome the ending of Rule 21 - it is wrong that it exists. Again that is not a matter for me; it is for the Gaelic authorities. Their position has been softening in recent times, and they are reviewing the ban. Certainly the general belief is that Rule 21 will go sooner rather than later, and I would welcome that.
I have been a supporter of Derry City Football Club for the last 30 to 40 years. The RUC do not patrol within the football ground. The club's own stewards do it. Both sets of supporters mix together, and there is no segregation at any time, regardless of who is playing. That may be the way forward.
My question is in relation to the Minister's recent announcement of £2 million for upgrading sports grounds. Will this grant apply to smaller grounds? If so, when will the grant become available?
We would expect the £2 million to be released and spent over the next 12 months. I am very anxious that spectators will see an appreciative difference sooner rather than later. And it is not just a promise; they will be able to see it in the grounds quickly. With regard to targeting of football clubs, 10 premier and 10 first division clubs will be targeted as well as six county and six designated secondary Gaelic grounds, rugby clubs and Derry City. It is in Northern Ireland and is entitled to apply. It will be treated the same as everybody else.
On the matter of crowd control and behaviour, stewarding and safety measures to control crowds will be under consideration as part of this scheme. Mr McMenamin mentioned that the RUC are never in Brandywell for Derry City matches because there is no need. They are needed in other grounds. The reality is that no club in Northern Ireland, as I understand it, pays the RUC for that level of support. However, in England clubs have to pay, and it is inevitable that clubs here will have that bill to face. Therefore it is better that they look after it themselves and do it properly, rather than having to bring in and pay the RUC. Clubs have enough financial difficulties without having that as an extra burden.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
The time is up.
asked the Assembly Commission what is the current position in regard to plans for a new gift/souvenir shop in Parliament Buildings.
Mr Campbell (Assembly Commission):
On 29 March 1999 the Commission received a report from the Gift Shop Committee, chaired by Mrs Iris Robinson, which recommended the establishment of an Assembly gift shop in the South Division Lobby and, as an interim arrangement, the expansion of the product range in the basement shop and the establishment of the display facility in the Senate Rotunda. The Commission endorsed the Gift Shop Committee's recommendations but decided not to press ahead immediately with the proposal to establish a gift shop beside the Senate Chamber until there was a better understanding of the requirement to use the Senate Chamber for Committee meetings.
Members will know that there is significant pressure on accommodation in Parliament Buildings and that the Senate Chamber is in regular use. This would require the gift shop, if operating from the Division Lobby, to relocate to the Senate Rotunda area during Committee meetings.
Subsequently, the Catering and Functions Committee, chaired by Sir John Gorman, commissioned a study on the future delivery of catering in Parliament Buildings. The Committee will bring the study's findings to the Commission in the near future. I believe that one of the recommendations is to relocate the basement shop to the post office. That may offer another way of implementing the Committee's recommendation.
In summary, the Commission will consider, at the earliest opportunity, the establishment of an Assembly gift shop to replace the interim arrangements which currently operate from the basement shop.
I thank Mr Campbell for the Commission's reply, but I note that he mentioned a report dated 29 March 1999. Does the Commission accept that there have been serious problems since then, especially for school parties seeking to buy souvenirs in this building? Is not it time that the Commission expedited the report from the Catering and Functions Committee to ensure that something better is done before the school tourist season starts again in September? Purchases could then be made from a more convenient place than the existing basement shop with all its inadequacies.
The Commission accepts the inadequacy of the present arrangements and will be considering alternative measures in the immediate future.
Will the Member assure us that there will still be the opportunity to buy Assembly fudge and humbug?
I know that reference has been made to fudge and humbug, and I am sure that both Members and public alike will be able to avail themselves of the nice things in the shop.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers): I beg to move
That the Second Stage of the Dogs (Amendment) Bill [NIA 7/99] be agreed.
This is a short Bill to amend the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983 by providing limited discretionary powers to courts and resident magistrates when dealing with a dog that has attacked a person or which has worried livestock. Under existing legislation, courts and resident magistrates have no discretion in this matter and must order the destruction of a dog that has attacked a person or worried livestock, no matter what the circumstances.
The term "attack", as used in the existing legislation, is very wide and relates not only to physical assault. It includes situations when a person is terrified by a dog, even if he or she is not actually bitten. Although there are relatively few cases each year of destruction orders being made, it is appropriate that there should be a measure of discretion for courts and resident magistrates in determining the fate of a dog.
The Bill will provide the courts and resident magistrates with limited discretion. A number of changes are proposed. First, as well as being able to order the destruction of a dog, the court can instead opt not to have the dog destroyed, but to make an order requiring certain specific measures to be taken to prevent the dog from being a danger to the public or livestock. These measures may include fitting a muzzle, keeping the dog confined in such a way that it cannot escape, excluding it from places specified in the order or having it neutered if it is a male dog.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair)
Secondly, the Bill will change the law when a person has been convicted of an offence relating to a dangerous dog. At present, the court has no discretion other than to make an order for the destruction of a dangerous dog. Under the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order1983, as amended by the Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, these include pitbull terriers and Japanese tosas. Under the provisions of the Bill the court will have discretion to decide not to order the destruction of a dog if it is satisfied that the dog will not be a danger to the public. The Bill proposes the same limited discretion in the matter of the destruction of any other dangerous dog that the Department may prescribe. It has not prescribed any other type of dog so far.
The third change relates to the powers of resident magistrates in connection with the seizure of dogs. Under the present law, when a district council seizes a dangerous dog, a resident magistrate must order its destruction. The Bill proposes that the resident magistrate must still order the destruction of the dog, but it will allow a person to apply for a certificate of exemption from the requirement to have the dog destroyed, the conditions of which must be complied with within two months of the date of the order.
In relation to all other seized dogs, the Bill now proposes that the resident magistrate would have discretion not to order the destruction of such a dog where he is satisfied that it is not a danger to the public.
Finally, the Bill would also allow cases where a court or resident magistrate has ordered the destruction of a dog under the existing legislation but the dog has not yet been destroyed to be reconsidered by a court or resident magistrate. The destruction of dogs is an emotive issue for pet owners and pet lovers, one that is highlighted in the press from time to time with heart-rending stories. I believe that it would be appropriate for a court or a resident magistrate to have a degree of discretion in this matter so that, where circumstances dictate, a lesser penalty than destruction could be imposed. I hope that Members will agree with me that the measures I have proposed, which are supported by animal welfare interests and district councils, are sensible and should be carried through. I ask the Assembly to approve this Second Stage of the Bill and to support the motion that will allow the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Committee to take the Committee Stage.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Most Members would generally welcome a Bill that gives the magistrate a discretionary power to make decisions in areas that are sometimes grey, as opposed to black and white, and this Bill does exactly that. However, it requires some clarification, and I hope that the Minister can give that.
This Bill gives discretion to the magistrate. Most people, especially farmers, would be worried about having their animals disturbed by dangerous animals, or animals that are not properly under the control of their master. They would be concerned that the discretionary power, instead of being a discretionary power that allows the magistrate to rule that a dog should not be destroyed if it damages or causes concern to flocks of sheep, becomes the norm.
It would be a sad reflection if this House were to pass a Bill that, instead of acknowledging that from time to time there are grey areas, makes more of them. I hope that the discretion posed in the Bill does not become the norm but is used for those few select cases where an animal should not be put down. The judge should have the opportunity to take a different course of action and show some leniency. I hope that the Bill does lead towards sensible acts. Of course, if passed, it will largely be in the hands of the magistrate and not in the hands of the Minister. This House should at least make that point of view known to the magistrate.
One other point concerns me about the drawing up of this Bill. It has been largely non-controversial. However, I noticed in the explanatory and financial memorandum that accompanied the Bill that there was no consultation - or should I say that it had not been subject to public consultation. People have asked me why has that been the case, and the Department should provide us with answers on that point. If this Bill is largely noncontroversial, there should have been wide consultation, providing us with a great deal of opinion across the board, and we could then have gone forward today in the full knowledge that we had widespread support. Most people want to see this Bill, if it becomes an Act, administered fairly. They do not want to see dogs put down because they might scare a passer-by.
I noticed recently that one particular passer-by in Ballymena got a little bit of a fright from a dog - a police dog named Sky from Ballymena RUC station. One would hate to think of a dog that was doing its duty being put down for growling at the Secretary of State. A lot of people in Ballymena would like that dog to get a medal.
The George Cross.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Yes, the George Cross.
Most people want to see this Bill, and the discretion that will come as a result of it, administered fairly. I also noticed from a written answer to Mr Ivan Davis that there are some areas where legislation appears to be administered more forcefully. I am referring, in particular, to his question (AQW 686/99) on dog fouling prosecutions. If you take your dog to Ballymena you are more likely to be prosecuted if it fouls in a street than you are if you take it to Antrim, Belfast, Ards or, indeed, North Down. The lesson there is: "Do not let your dog crap in Ballymena, or else".
I hope that the Minister will be able to give us the clarification that we seek so that we can push it through the House as quickly as possible. Let us make sure that our legislation has wide support, in the understanding that discretion is not the norm but is for the special circumstances that arise from time to time where a magistrate should have the choice not to put down a dog.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
The Minister will deal with your questions when she winds up.
I am a dog lover and the owner of two dogs, Jack and Buster. What will happen to owners whose dogs are already on death row?
A LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Bill. It is important to have legislation to clearly define the roles of district councils and dog wardens. There is a need for legislation and for some means of having discretion over whether dogs are put down or not. If this is a means of doing that, it is welcome. The main thing is to protect the public. There are a number of owners who train dogs in a vicious way, which means that when the dogs wander the public streets they are dangerous. I noted in the discussion this morning that there may be some means of controlling that other than putting them down. It is worthwhile for the court to have discretion, so that it is not automatic -
The Member was talking about discretion. Does he agree that there is a need for discretion, since some of the more infamous Rottweilers have turned out to be more like pet poodles?
I thank the Member for that. It certainly flags up the issue that a dog cannot be judged by its looks alone, or even by some of its statements. It is important to flag up the cases where court orders are not adhered to. If dog owners are given leeway, we need to monitor that and ensure that the dogs are then kept under control and are not a danger to the public. That is the main thing. We also need legislation to deal with the number of dogs on housing estates and in built-up areas that are under no control. There is a great danger to children and to others there. I hope that this legislation will be a first step in legislating, monitoring and controlling the whole issue of dogs running about estates.
I too welcome the general provisions of the Bill. I have a few questions which, unfortunately, as a member of the appropriate Committee, I am going to end up having to discuss in detail at the later stages of this Bill. The Minister herself highlighted the fact that, while the present legislation refers to dogs "attacking", the Bill refers to "worrying". I worry that we do not have a firm enough definition of "worrying" to ensure that this Bill can go through in the way that the main provisions are intended.
Clearly there are problems with mandatory sentences. I should be cautious in case I say too much about mandatory sentences with regard to other crimes. Clearly there is a need for the discretion which is missing at the moment and which has been highlighted in the few cases - only a few, but enough to reach the press - that have created difficulties. There will always be cases where discretion is needed. Discretion should be introduced into the primary legislation to ensure it goes through.
I am concerned about some of the implications, particularly for district councils. The statement accompanying the Bill says that there are no financial implications for the exchequer. That is indeed a happy position for the exchequer to be in. However, there are likely to be significant financial considerations for district councils. One of the reasons so few cases are prosecuted at the moment is that there is a natural reluctance to prosecute where a dog has had perhaps one bite, and people feel that if it is kept under control there will be no further problems, and they do not wish to proceed with an action that could lead to a destruction order.
If people see a careless owner being fined, or an order to keep a dog under control, then there may be greater incentive to proceed down the legislative route. That route may result in significant costs for district councils - and I say that as someone whose council took the first test case under the dangerous dogs legislation some years ago. The decision to take a test case on behalf of the Department and every other council in Northern Ireland resulted in an increase of 0·5p to the ratepayers of the borough of Antrim.
There are clear issues for us all if we do not deal with the problem of dangerous dogs; of pit bull terriers that put children at risk. I think Antrim Borough Council took the correct decision. Unlike the Members on my left, we were not fools. We did our duty by the people of Northern Ireland, but, unfortunately, our ratepayers paid for it. I hope that those events do not happen in Lisburn or North Down or Mr Poots and Mr Weir will not be smiling in the future. Mr Weir is still smiling.
We need to look at the financial effects of prosecution and the issue about the conditions that may be applied. The Bill is a little unclear about how we will ensure those conditions are to be applied. I suspect that the issue of having a dog neutered would be easily assessed on a one-off basis. However, I am not sure that preventing dogs going into particular public places, having them confined in yards or houses, or having them muzzled will be assessable on a one-off basis. If it means district council dog wardens having to ensure that the conditions are complied with then there will be greater difficulties, and the suggestion that there are no financial implications will be a little unfair. Perhaps the Minister could address some of those matters in her response.
I have a few concerns about the Bill. As councillors, we have been consulted about the Bill - and I know that Ards councillors have commented on it. Some of the changes are those we would wish to see. The present legislation, as we all know - some to our cost - exists to address the issue of the destruction of dogs. However, it lacks flexibility, and that is why we need the proposed changes.
We have got to look at the matter from the perspective of the dog and the dog owner. Under the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, a dog that has attacked a person or livestock shall be subject to a destruction order, and there is no reprieve or second chance. If a dog falls into that category, it is finished, and the courts have absolutely no power or discretion. That clearly illustrates where the problems lie. There is no room for movement or discussion on the circumstances of any particular reported attack. There are no provisions for extenuating circumstances.
In some cases there were extenuating circumstances in which we believed the dog should not have been put down. As a result of the nature and implementation of this legislation there exists the real possibility that animals could be destroyed without good reason, as did happen, and there is no opportunity for action to be taken by the owner to ensure that such attacks would not be repeated.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
I ask you to keep your head up, Mr Shannon. I am finding it rather difficult to hear you.
In relation to the whole subject, I am saying that there have been occasions when dogs have been destroyed when they did not draw blood. That is an issue which should be looked at. That is also why this amendment is very important. Nobody would agree, or accept, that any dog that has injured or viciously attacked a child or livestock should live. If a dog has done that, it should be put down, and we are in no doubt about that. However, we have to look at cases in which that has not happened, and the Bill makes provision for the cases that fall into that category. Every incident will be dealt with on its own merit. One such incident occurred in my constituency not long ago when it was alleged that a dog had attacked a young child. It turned out that the dog had not drawn blood.
It was a playful and amiable dog, with no history of aggressive behaviour. That is an example of why this legislation is being brought in. Under the old law, it would have had no chance of a reprieve. The existing legislation, prior to this amendment, would have meant that that dog's fate would have been sealed. That would have been unfair to the owner, who had a love for his dog, and for the dog, which had no reported past cases or history of harming anyone.
There must be differentiation to take account of minor attacks by dogs that are not classed as dangerous and where violent and aggressive behaviour is not a genetic characteristic. In these cases, measures could be taken like fitting a muzzle, ensuring that the dog is securely confined, excluding it from places specified in an Order, or having it neutered. As stated in the explanatory and financial memorandum, there are no exchequer costs or staffing implications related to this Bill and, in the name of fairness for both dogs and owners, it should be supported.
There is another well-known example in the sad tale of a dog called Kaiser - a dog who lived in Ballygowan some years ago. Kaiser was unfortunately involved in a violent act of unprovoked terror on an individual in the district. He was apprehended and charged accordingly. Just one day before his execution, however, Kaiser went missing. Kaiser has been on the run since that time. Some say that he lives in a number of safe kennels in South Armagh, while others say that he got a boat to the United States. Sightings have also been reported elsewhere. Kaiser has been in contact, dare I say it, with the President of the USA, with the FBI, and with the British Prime Minister. We are being a bit facetious -
Will the Member comment on rumours that Kaiser went back to his old kennels in Londonderry and talked about his days on the run?
I thank the Member for his interjection. It obviously fits into the category of this story. The point we are trying to make is that Kaiser had not done any irreparable damage or hurt to the person. The dog had no record of causing injury to any person. Had the law been in at that time, Kaiser would be a "free dog", and he could return from wherever he may be. I am not sure where he is, but we want to illustrate the case, and the case is quite simple. If a dog attacks and injures someone very seriously, or attacks livestock, or does something that is wrong, then it deserves to be put down. However, if a dog is playful and has not injured anyone, but just knocks someone over and does not draw blood, then there must be a differentiation in the policy to reflect that.
Under the Dogs (Amendment) Bill we have that opportunity. I say to the Minister that what we need, and what we now have, is that opportunity. That will be welcomed by people whose dogs have perhaps done something but deserve to live on as the incidents were not too bad.
I welcome Members' comments, which have been both helpful and balanced. In response to Mr Paisley Jnr, the discretionary power is limited, and it will apply only in a small number of cases. The Member is no longer here, but I will reply to his points anyway. I would like to think he was interested in hearing my views.
The points he made seemed to imply that the courts might not be able to deal with this issue. I take the view that the courts will be able to deal with the issue in a sensible and balanced way. It will only apply in a small number of cases. I appreciate that the Bill has not gone out to public consultation, but, given its nature, it was felt that it should be put to the Assembly as quickly as possible. On the whole it is uncontroversial.
In relation to Mr McMenamin's question, dogs already on death row may, under this Bill, have their cases reconsidered. That is the good news.
With regard to Mr Molloy's remarks, I am looking at the wider aspects of dog control and am currently taking the views of district councils who will be responsible for enforcing any changes in the legislation. I know that there are many issues surrounding dog control which might be slightly more controversial than what is in the present Bill.
Mr Ford's initial remarks about the interpretation of words would be better dealt with in detail at Committee stage. In relation to district councils, the position will not change significantly - only a very small number of dogs will be affected, and it will be up to the council as to the numbers and types of cases taken to court. For instance, in the last year approximately 50 dogs were destroyed throughout the whole of Northern Ireland. It will not have any major implications for district councils.
I am pleased to say that I can agree with everything that Mr Shannon said, and the Bill clearly deals with the concerns he expressed. He has taken a balanced view which takes account of the need to protect the public from dangerous and vicious dogs and the need to provide flexibility in situations where perhaps the dog is provoked and then subsequently put down. This Bill allows for flexibility. A court will be able to decide that a dog should not be put down if it can assure itself that the dog is not a danger to the public through the use of means such as muzzling or whatever is considered necessary. I thank all the Members for their comments, and I believe I have dealt with everything that was raised.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Second Stage of the Dogs (Amendment) Bill [NIA 7/99] be agreed.
(Mr Speaker in the Chair)
That this Assembly grants leave to carry forth the Ground Rents Bill [NIA 6/99] to allow its passage to continue in the next session. - [The Minister of Finance and Personnel]
That this Assembly grants leave to carry forth the Dogs (Amendment) Bill [NIA 7/99] to allow its passage to continue in the next session. - [The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development]
That this Assembly grants leave to carry forth the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill [NIA 8/99] to allow its passage to continue in the next session. - [The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment]
That this Assembly grants leave to carry forth the Fisheries Bill [NIA 9/99] to allow its passage to continue in the next session. - [The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development]
The sitting was suspended at 4.10 pm