Legal queries: Dog owners responsibility to prevent livestock worrying
This week's legal query looks at dog owners' legal responsibility to prevent their dogs from worrying livestock.

Q I am a sheep and cattle farmer and am having issues with my neighbour’s dogs. The dogs escape at times and chase my sheep and cattle. While they have not caused any major damage as yet, I fear it is only a matter of time. I have spoken to my neighbours about this and they have apologised and offered to make a greater effort to keep the dogs in but the situation has not improved. What are my rights?

A The Control of Dogs Act 1986, as amended by the Control of Dogs (Amendment) Act 1992, sets out the principal rules pertaining to liability for damage caused by dogs. If a dog worries livestock, Section 9(2) of the Act provides that the owner or any other person in charge of the dog shall be guilty of an offence. The only exception is where it is established that at the time the dog worried the livestock it was for the purpose of removing trespassing livestock and that having regard to all the circumstances, the action was reasonable and necessary.

The word “worry” in relation to livestock means to attack or kill, or to chase livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause the death of or injury or suffering to the livestock, or to result in financial loss to the owner of the livestock.

Section 21 of the Act imposes strict liability upon a dog owner for any injuries caused by dogs to livestock and for damage which results when a dog attacks a human being. It provides that the owner of a dog shall be liable for damage caused in an attack on any person by the dog and for injury done by it to any livestock.

Where livestock are injured by a dog on land onto which the livestock had strayed and either the dog belonged to the occupier of the land or its presence on the land was authorised by the occupier, a person shall not be liable under this section in respect of injury caused to the livestock unless the person caused the dog to attack the livestock.

The IFA earlier this year launched a new protocol for farmers who encounter a dog attack on their sheep flock. Briefly to summarise, the 10-point plan provides as follows:

  • 1. Stop the dogs.
  • 2. Follow the law – defence in action for damages for shooting a dog.
  • 3. Inform the gardaí.
  • 4. Ring the dog warden.
  • 5. Contact the IFA.
  • 6. Ring the vet.
  • 7. Keep the evidence/take a picture.
  • 8. Get a valuation of losses.
  • 9. Inform your insurance company.
  • 10. Tell your sheep-farming neighbours.
  • While the Act specifies instances where it will be lawful to shoot a dog, this should only be done as a matter of last resort. These are set out in Section 23 of the Act and must be proved by the defendant:

  • (a) the dog was shot when it was worrying, or was about to worry, livestock and that there were no other reasonable means of ending or preventing the worrying; or
  • (b) (i) the dog was a stray dog which was in the vicinity of a place where livestock had been injured or killed, and (ii) the defendant reasonably believed that the dog had been involved in the injury or killing, and (iii) there were no practicable means of seizing the dog or ascertaining to whom it belonged; and
  • (c) he was the person in charge of the livestock; and
  • (d) he notified within 48 hours the member in charge at the nearest garda station to the place where the dog was shot of the incident.
  • It further provides that these provisions will be deemed to have been satisfied if the defendant believed and had reasonable grounds for his belief that these provisions had been satisfied.

    It is clear that your neighbours will be liable for any damage caused to your livestock by their dogs.

    You should ensure that they are aware of their responsibilities and that they take appropriate action to prevent this damage from occurring.

    If, after giving them another opportunity to remedy the situation, the matter is still not resolved, it may be worth contacting your local dog warden.

    Dempsey at Large: Irish and world-class industry
    I have been surprised at the reaction I have had following last week's piece on the use of imported maize in the newly buoyant Irish whiskey industry.

    The advent of Brexit has forced a brutal re-appraisal of where Irish produce should stand on a global scale.

    Over the last few weeks, it has really borne in on me how the agri sector and the food industry based on it, is one of the few really indigenous Irish sectors with a presence on global markets.

    Last week, I listened to Paul Wilson of Monaghan Mushrooms at a Brexit seminar in Dublin City University on how the company has now become the biggest mushroom composter in the world and by far, the largest supplier of mushrooms to the UK market.

    Brexit potentially poses huge challenges but it has prepared meticulously for it by buying and organising facilities and parallel logistical capacity in Britain.

    Monaghan Mushrooms’ pre-eminence is based on science developed in Kinsealy by Teagasc’s forerunner, the Agricultural Institute.

    Then at the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s seminar in Kilkenny, I heard Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, totally at home with his Brexit brief as Minister for Foreign Affairs but also at home with the fact that he was addressing a sector that is the third largest producer of thoroughbred foals in the world – after just the US and Australia – an industry that is as big as the industries of Britain and France combined.

    As in the case of the beef industry, the potential damage that might be done to one of our world-class industries is enormous

    As a major exporter and international breeding centre, the Irish industry depends on free movement but the long-term arrangements that allow such easy and safe transport between Ireland – north and south – Britain and France are in danger of collapse.

    As in the case of the beef industry, the potential damage that might be done to one of our world-class industries is enormous.

    The next few weeks of intensive negotiations will tell a lot.

    Finally, I was delighted to be asked by Ornua, formerly the Irish Dairy Board, to the launch of its new Kerrygold global campaign.

    The message to be beamed to global audiences was simple – green grass, family involvement, heritage and relentless focus on quality and naturalness. In all cases, mushrooms, horses and milk, the message is the same – a product we are proud to stand behind and whose methods of production are utterly transparent.

    Read more

    First processor sets milk price for January

    The 'Irish' drinks business – where is the grain?

    Home Farm: dense, heavy cover of grass
    In the main, grazing conditions during daylight hours have been good and the young bulls have come in willingly each evening for half their normal winter rations.

    This year, even the old permanent pasture has a dense, heavy cover of grass that I would normally be very happy to have in mid-April.

    The covers, in my view, are too heavy to risk applying slurry with a trailing shoe or umbilical system, never mind an ordinary splash plate.

    While we have missed grazing the odd paddock after a night’s rain – in the main, grazing conditions during daylight hours have been good and the young bulls have come in willingly each evening for half their normal winter rations.

    I am looking at our shrinking pit of silage and hoping I won’t regret having sold all my reserves last April

    We have now had this regime for over three weeks but we must remember that last year it was the first week in March when we had snow over the hedges and bitter biting blizzards.

    At the same time, I am looking at our shrinking pit of silage and hoping I won’t regret having sold all my reserves last April to a dairy co-op but we can only take the weather as it comes.

    Meanwhile, we have bought in our first load of weanlings to replace some of the beef that is gone.

    With the continuing falls in the beef price, the gap between buying and selling is too small for sensible profit – we can only assume that beef prices will improve. But factories are still having cattle thrown at them and as long as that lasts, the possibility of price rises for the well-bred suckler progeny seems remote.

    One expense that we don’t have to face is extra pollution control work.

    We had a follow-on inspection to see if we had met the requirements that follow from farming in what is becoming semi suburbia

    During the summer, after a full inspection, we installed a new septic tank and sewage treatment unit to replace the old system put in 100 years ago.

    We also put in a new reinforced grid over the junction box diverting the silage effluent into the dirty water tank from the clean yard run-off, which goes harmlessly into the ditch.

    A fortnight ago, we had a follow-on inspection to see if we had met the requirements that follow from farming in what is becoming semi suburbia. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an official written letter giving us the all-clear but of course, pointing out that we were expected to keep the yard, etc, in its present satisfactory condition and that we would be subjected to future inspections!

    Read more

    Home Farm: a first time grazing in January

    Farmer Writes: feeling flush after clearing a blocked drain

    John Bruton: UK party politics could result in chaotic no-deal Brexit
    Former Taoiseach John Bruton assesses two potential ways to break the Brexit deadlock.

    The shocking consequences for Irish farming of a no-deal Brexit have been spelled out in graphic detail by Phelim O’Neill in successive editions of the Irish Farmers Journal.

    The beef sector will be worst hit, with a 350kg Irish beef carcase worth €1,295 facing a €780 tariff on the UK market, if the UK applies WTO terms.

    If, instead, the UK adopts a zero-tariff approach, Irish beef would face unlimited Brazilian competition.

    The emergency support measures that the EU might introduce to deal with a no-deal crisis might buy time for the sheep, pig and dairy sectors. This would allow them to develop alternatives to the UK market.

    But alternative markets for Irish beef, at anything near the returns to be found on the British market, do not exist.

    A no-deal outcome has become increasingly likely because Theresa May has decided that her priority is to avoid a split in the Conservative Party. She has calculated that, if she tried to get her withdrawal deal through with Labour support, in return for modifications that would satisfy Labour, such as staying in the Customs Union or softening her stance on EU immigration, her party would break up. She would lose 50 or 100 MPs, and would cease to be Prime Minister.

    Should, or could, the EU make concessions that would help out Mrs May?

    Even if the EU side wanted to make concessions to the UK on the terms of its withdrawal, it has no way of knowing if Mrs May would have the political authority to get any such modified deal through the House of Commons.

    When one contrasts what leading Brexiteers, like David Davis, were saying a few years ago about what might be acceptable, with what they are insisting on now, it appears that nothing will satisfy them, and that every concession will be met by a new demand. It is catharsis, rather than compromise, they are after.

    This is the point that needs to be addressed by those in the Irish media who are already laying the groundwork for blaming “brinkmanship” by the EU and particularly by Ireland, if the UK crashes out of the EU on 29 March.

    What guarantee can these critics offer that any conceivable alternative to the backstop would pass in the House of Commons?

    These critics, and the UK government itself, have so far been shy in coming forward with practical ideas that would get a majority in Westminster.

    One person who has come forward with ideas to break the deadlock is the UCD economist, Karl Whelan.

    He says that one of the reasons advanced by the DUP for rejecting the backstop, namely that the backstop would place a barrier in the way of Northern Irish exports to Britain, is without foundation.

    Exports originating in Northern Ireland would go through a Green channel at Belfast port with no checks or controls. Only goods originating in the Republic of Ireland, or further afield, would have to go through a red channel where there might be checks. And, at the same time, NI exporters would have free access to the EU across the open land border in Ireland. They would have the best of both worlds.

    Karl Whelan goes on to suggest that, to get the withdrawal deal across the line in the House of Commons, the EU side might consider two extra concessions.

    The first is an option that, at some future point after the end of the transition period, Britain could leave the joint Customs Union with the EU, provided Northern Ireland only remained in the Customs Union and aligned with EU goods regulations.

    This would deal with the Brexiteer fear that the EU is trying to “trap” Britain in the Customs Union, which is not the case.

    Backstop

    The second part of his proposal is that voters in Northern Ireland try out the backstop for a few years, but that, after (say) five or more years, they could have a one-off referendum, in which Northern voters could decide to opt out of the backstop.

    He thinks they would opt to stay in it because by then they would have experienced the “best of both worlds” that the backstop gives the Northern Irish economy.

    There are two problems with this idea. The suggested referendum could further deepen the orange/green split, and the very possibility of a referendum would introduce a new element of uncertainty for business. But the delay would allow time for the supposed technological fixes for a hard border to be road-tested.

    It would be far less divisive than an outright border poll, which could flow from a no-deal Brexit. Opinion polls in NI suggest that a majority there would opt to stay in the UK if the UK were to remain in the EU, opinion would be equally split under the backstop, but would spring dramatically against staying in the UK if the there was a no-deal Brexit. Brexiteer “Unionists” in Britain are foolishly playing with fire.

    Another idea for breaking the deadlock has come from the German Ifo Institute, in a paper published only last month.

    This proposal would involve dumping the entire EU negotiating approach so far, and instead offering the UK membership of a newly constituted European Customs Association, through which the UK would have influence on EU trade policy and vice versa. It suggests that Turkey might also be invited to join this European Customs Association.

    I question the wisdom, and perhaps the motivation, of bringing forward such a proposal at this impossibly late stage.

    It might have been helpful if it had been published when Theresa May wrote her original Article 50 letter in 2017, but it has little value as a way of averting a no-deal crash-out on 29 March.

    If the UK accepts the Withdrawal Treaty, or if it decides to withdraw its Article 50 letter, the Ifo proposal might be considered then.

    Both the Whelan and Ifo proposals are designed to help the UK clarify what it wants.

    The problem is that opinion on Brexit has become so polarised, and so tied up with questions of identity, and political party discipline has been so damaged, that it is hard to see the House of Commons assembling a political will to deliver anything, but slip into a chaotic no-deal situation.

    I hope I will be proven wrong.