The Galway County Council has spent €212,788 in just 10 months lifting free roaming or abandoned horses with suggestions that the figure could actually be more than €300,000 when the costs of staff and vet bills are taken into account.
This staggering cost and the sheer scale of the problem with unwanted or uncared for equine animals was revealed at Monday’s meeting of the Galway County Joint Policing Committee, with many members calling for the Goverment to meet this issue head-on and help struggling local authorities by introducting a national culling programme.
Presenting his report director of service for corporate, housing, and emergency services unit, Eugene Cummins, explained that between January 14 and November 13 this year Galway County Council spent €212,788 on lifting equine animals adding that it is “an enormous amount” and “there is an ever increasing demand” for the service. The report also revealed that there has been a substantial increase in the number of equine animals - mostly horses but some donkeys - which have been lifted by the local authority this year compared to other years. In 2011, there were 52 animals lifted, in 2012 there were 43, but so far in 2013 there have been 276 equine animals lifted. The majority of cases have been in the east Galway area with only a few cases located in the west of the county.
In order to reduce costs the council has begun a process to get “more value for money” and it is hoped that a new framework will be in place by the end of this year.
In 2012, the council had also begun a proceduce in conjunction with the gardai which, according to Mr Cummins, “has been a huge success”, however, the costs are still not sustainable.
“It’s not something the council can bear,” said Mr Cummins, before adding that many of these animals are deliberately abandoned with staff dealing with “sometimes horrifying cases”.
From July 1, 2009, it became a requirement for all equine animals to be microchipped and to have a passport for identification. This systems allows for previously unregistered animals to be approved and microchipped, even if they are destined for slaughter. This process is “very costly and time consuming,” explained Mr Cummins, who added that while housing staff are dealing with this they are unable to deal with other issues.
In 2012, there were 24,000 horses slaughtered, whereas this year so far only 8,000 have been slaughtered according to Mr Cummins, who then voiced his concern regarding what has happened to the other horses and his fear that the problem of animals being dumped will increase significantly throughout the winter months. He then thanked the gardai for their excellent co-operation and professionalism in working with the council in this matter and trying to minimise the cost.
Committee chairperson Cllr Peter Roche asked if there was any way to minimise the cost of microchipping and employing vets, especially if the horse was going to be slaughtered anyway.
Cllr Jimmy McClearn agreed that microchipping is far too expensive, adding that “it costs more than the animal is worth sometimes”. He added: “Until there is a national strategy to deal with stallions roaming public lands, until there is a cull, the role of the local authority is impossible. There are stallions on the hills going wild, and a number of foals born on those hills, it’s going to recreate the problem again and again. That €212,000 could be used for the elderly, it’s nothing short of wasting tax payers’ money.”
Agreeing that there was a problem with wild stallions, Cllr Malachy Noone, said that many were used for sulkie racing and that if the animals would not canter under the sulkies they were dumped, even if they were not even one year old. He then called for 10 days notices to be posted on the site and if the animals were not microchipped within that timeframe then the animal should be culled “before they kill someone”. Cllr Noone added that there have been a few “near misses” on the Headford Road lately and that it is a miracle no one has been killed.
“The scale of the problem is too great for any local authority,” said Cllr Michael Connolly, who added: “It’s incumbent on the Department to introduce a massive culling and further emergency legislation has to come in to get rid of unwanted equines.”
Mr Cummins then told the chamber that although the money spent is recoupable from the Department “it is tax payers’ money that could be used more efficiently”. He further explained that the €212,788 figure does not include staff or vet costs and that the total amount could be more than €300,000. After urging the committee members not to drop this important issue from future agendas Mr Cummins added: “If people cannot afford horses, or don’t have the land for them, then having a cultural attachment is no excuse