I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. This Bill became necessary because of the enactment of the Dog Breeding Establishment Act 2010. This legislation was rushed through the House on 8 July 2010 by the previous Government. All Stages of the Bill were taken in one afternoon having spent four months in the Seanad. It was bulldozed through the Dáil prior to the summer recess to keep the Green Party and, in particular, its former leader, the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley, happy. He left for his summer break with little thought for the damaging impact that Bill would have on the greyhound industry.

The Acts provisions cater for the proper regulation of puppy farming in this country. However, if applied to the breeding of greyhounds, these measures bordered on the ridiculous and they would cause damage to the greyhound industry. Unprecedented concern was expressed to me and to many other Members by people involved in greyhound racing and breeding and throughout the greyhound industry. I am a greyhound owner and breeder and I could not understand what the former Minister was trying to do. Following the enactment of the Dog Breeding Establishment Bill, it became necessary to prioritise this Bill, otherwise the 2010 Act would be applied to greyhound breeding establishments.

I acknowledge and welcome the involvement of greyhound industry interests, including the IGB, ICC and the main welfare bodies, in the drafting of this legislation. The industry is of critical importance to this country. It employs 11,000 people through direct and indirect jobs and it is estimated that it is worth €500 million to the economy each year. Over the past two decades the IGB has overseen a complete transformation in the standard of greyhound stadia throughout the country. This transformation has resulted in Ireland becoming a Mecca for greyhound racing enthusiasts.

Greyhound tracks offer a complete night out with high quality sport and entertainment in comfortable, clean surroundings and they are noted, in particular, for first class dining facilities. There are 17 tracks in the State licensed by Bord na gCon, with meetings held nightly. The industry is big business and is run in a highly professional way. There is a system of self-regulation, which registers and identifies all greyhounds in the Irish greyhound stud book to ensure the integrity of the sport. There is broad agreement on the Bill because extensive discussions were held with all stakeholders, including the Dog’s Trust, IGB, ICC, Veterinary Ireland, City and County Managers’ Association and representatives of the animal welfare sector. I welcome that level of consultation and, like Deputy Mattie McGrath, I encourage the Minister of State to maintain consultation because if everyone is included, consensus can be achieved. This is not a contentious Bill because of the involvement of all the parties to which I referred.

The principal purpose of this Bill is to enhance the welfare of greyhounds, particularly through the regulation of greyhound breeding establishments. It introduces a provision whereby the ICC will be required to establish a register of greyhound establishments in each county. The breeding of greyhounds will be restricted to bitches aged over 15 months with a maximum of six to eight litters per bitch.

This legislation will make it necessary to register breeding establishments with the ICC under the supervision of local authorities, with minimum standards in such establishments and it will require adequate tracking mechanisms and record keeping. Part 1 deals with preliminary issues and contains the Short Title and commencement as well as the definitions and provides for the service of notification, notices and documents, expenses and the making of regulations. Part 2 deals with welfare generally. This Part also provides for regulations for the identification of greyhound and the requirement to notify sale or transfer of greyhounds, which is important to allow for traceability and responsibility to attach to owners.

Part 3 deals with regulations on breeding. The sections set out the number of times a female greyhound can be bred. The minimum breeding age will be 15 months. This is welcome because it is considerably higher than the minimum breeding age provided for in the Dog Breeding Establishment Act 2010. Part 4 concerns enforcement and allows for the appointment of welfare officers by local authorities, the IGB and the ICC and gives these officers powers to inspect and to issue welfare notices. Part 5 contains miscellaneous provisions relating to the exercise of functions by the secretary of the ICC. It also specifies the non-application of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010, which is very much welcome.

The total cost to greyhound owners each year to keep greyhounds is approximately €244 million. This is significant expenditure and much of it is injected into the local economies and supports thousands of local jobs. The IGB has delivered an impressive financial performance in recent years, despite the changed economic climate. Costs have been cut and greater efficiencies achieved, and the industry has been strongly supported. It has managed to deliver higher profits, more capital development and higher prize money between 2007 and 2010 than in the preceding four-year period, despite the difficult economic environment.

To grow the greyhound industry into the future, proper sustainable funding mechanisms will have to be put in place. Some of this will have to come from all betting channels. I appeal to the Minister of State to do all in his powers to bring that situation about. Without adequate and sustainable funding, the industry will struggle to sustain itself, its current contribution to the economy will suffer and its enormous potential will not be realized. If we could put the greyhound industry on a sustainable footing by funding it through betting, it will be able to maintain itself into the future.

The greyhound industry makes a very significant economic impact across Ireland and the potential is considerable. Ireland is regarded as a world class player in dog breeding and there has been significant potential to exploit this much further. More than 8,000 Irish greyhounds are exported to the UK each year. An Irish bred greyhound, Taylor Sky, won the English Greyhound Derby recently. He broke three records in winning that title, which shows that Ireland is a world leader in the greyhound industry, and we need to build on that. The greyhound industry has an exciting future and can make an even more important contribution to national and regional economic activity and employment, provided proper support and structures are put in place. I look forward to working with the Minister of State and the Government in improving the industry.