The Programme for Government 2020 includes a commitment to bring forward legislation that prohibits fur farming in the State. While fur farming was once legal and socially acceptable in most countries, there is now a broad consensus among veterinary and other scientific experts that certain animals should not be farmed for their fur or skin because of serious animal welfare concerns that cannot be mitigated. There are also increasing serious societal concerns in this regard.
There are three active farms in the State that breed and rear mink for the purposes of pelting for the fur industry. The main purpose of this Act is the statutory prohibition on fur farming and will, in particular, impact these three farms who are currently operating a lawful business. For this reason, the legislation makes provision for a scheme of compensation to be made available to the three farm businesses affected by the prohibition.
The provisions of the Act that govern the nature of the compensation scheme that can be provided for ensure that mink farming operators are to be compensated for losses and costs directly resulting from the prohibition on fur farming in Ireland. The Act sets out criteria upon which compensation for income loss, non-income loss and certain costs will be payable. The types of costs that will be covered by any compensation scheme made under the legislation will include redundancy payments to employees, certain professional fees, mink disposal and clean-up costs and the costs involved in the demolition of mink buildings.
To note is that the specific details regarding the methodology for calculating the compensation payable in respect of income and non-income losses and costs incurred are now to be provided for in Regulations made by the Minister.
Provisions have also been inserted into the Act that will allow the Minister to authorise advance compensation payments to affected farmers in respect of any particular income loss, non income loss or type of cost and providing for the manner in which the advance payments are set against any compensation amount to be made.
The Act provides for the appointment of an assessor whose function shall be to examine an application for compensation submitted and to determine the amount of compensation payable. To this end, the Act provides that an assessor may require further information or documents from an applicant and includes guidance for the assessor on what can be done in the event that an applicant fails to cooperate with the assessor in this respect.
The Act makes provision for appeal directly to the High Court. In addition, the Act provides that the decision of an assessor can be appealed by both the Minister and an applicant which is a further innovation over the General Scheme.
The Act provides procedures for the payment of compensation and includes express provision authorising the Minister to offset any advance payments that may have previously been made.
Offences and Prohibition
The Act makes it an offence to engage in fur farming and provides for appropriate penalties. The Act also provides for a procedure for the disposal of fur producing animals lawfully seized following commencement of the prohibition on fur farming.
The Act makes it an offence to engage in fur farming and provides that a person convicted on indictment of this offence will be liable to a fine not exceeding €250k and or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years.
The prohibition on fur and skin farming provisions are provided for in a new Part 12A to be inserted into the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. The new Part 12A contains a definitions and prohibition section that confirm that, upon commencement certain specified animals shall not be farmed solely or primarily for their fur or skin.
The Act makes it an offence to engage in the practice of fur farming. Additionally, the Minister may, by order, apply the prohibition on keeping animals primarily for their fur or skin to an animal or class of animals not currently specified in the Act .
The Act provides for a new power to dispose of animals being farmed for their fur, lawfully seized following the commencement of the prohibition. This provision is necessary as currently, under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, the power to dispose of animals lawfully seized is limited to situations where disposal is necessary on welfare or disease grounds. The legislation specifies the actions an authorised officer carries out when a person is found farming subsequent to the ban having commenced.
Detail is provided around the seizure and detention of the animals concerned and the involvement of the District Court. The Minister shall as soon as practicable after the seizure and detention apply to a District Court for an order authorising the disposal. A notice is required to be served on the person before an application to the Court is made. For the purpose of this new Part of the 2013 Act disposal of the animal may not necessarily involve its destruction.
Compensation for licensees under Musk Rats Act 1933
The compensation being provided for licensees whose farming enterprise has ceased because of the ban is outlined. On the basis of an application submitted the Minister is to pay compensation for income losses, non- income losses and costs incurred as a direct result of the ban and such amounts are to be determined by an assessor. The Act makes provision for the Minister to make regulations to specify the income and non-income losses and other costs, the basis of valuation, applying maximum amounts as required, providing for the costs involved in disposing of breeding mink, demolition and clean-up costs, payments to redundant workers, professional fees for professionals used for representation purposes and preparing applicants’ claim forms.
The regulations are to deal also with making an advance payment, providing the manner in which the assessor is appointed and procedures the assessor must follow in determining the compensation amount, defining the claim form for the compensation scheme and providing for any other related matters.
Appointment of Assessor
The Minister may in accordance with regulations address where applicable the type of assessor to be appointed, the level of skill, knowledge and qualifications and the persons he or she may engage. The assessor shall be independent and shall be paid fees and expenses as determined by the Minister and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
Upon the receipt of an application the Minister shall assign an assessor to consider the application. This section addresses the procedure around examining each application for compensation determination with further detail in regulations as required. The Minister submits the application form and any documents received in this regard to the assessor. The Assessor examines such information / documentation received to make his / her determination.
Where the assessor may require or seek further information from the applicant for verification purposes he or she may issue a notice in writing requiring applicant to provide further information or documents or to verify such information or documents within a defined period for response. The period may be extended for the response but the applicant shall give all assistance required by the assessor. Where the information or documents is in the power, possession or procurement of a third party, the applicant shall make every reasonable effort to obtain that information or those documents from the third party concerned.
Failure of the applicant to cooperate
Where the applicant fails to provide the required information or documents, fails to provide the required assistance or provides information that is incomplete, inaccurate or misleading and the assessor is unable to verify or substantiate the information provided, he or she may make a determination and draw any adverse inferences he or she considers appropriate and / or determine the applicant is not entitled to compensation or have regard to these deficiencies in his or her determination.
Notice of determination
The Act provides that when the assessor has determined the amount of compensation he or she shall inform the applicant in writing in relation to each income loss, non-income loss and type of cost applied for. He or she shall provide a copy of the document to the Minister and a copy of all of the documents considered by the assessor.
Appeal to the High Court
There is an appeal mechanism to the High Court where the applicant or the Minister is dissatisfied with the determination of the compensation. The High Court shall determine the appeal. The Court shall give such direction and orders for the conduct of the appeal as it considers appropriate. The Court may affirm the determination, vary the determination, set it aside and remit to the Minister or substitute its determination for the determination of the assessor.
Remission of determination to the Minister
Where the High Court decides to set aside the determination and remit it, the Minister shall assign an assessor to consider the application and the assessor shall have regard to the stated reasons of the Court.
Payment of compensation by Minister
Regarding payment of the compensation determined, the Minister shall pay the assessor’s determination as soon as practicable taking into account the period of time for appeal. Where an appeal has been made the Minister shall pay after the date on which the the termination under appeal ceases to be under appeal.
If the High Court has made an order the Minister shall pay the compensation in accordance with the order as soon as practicable. There is a provision to allow payment of part of the determination where only part was appealed and for an advance payment.
Revocation of Licenses under Musk Rats Act 1933
The Act provides for the revoking of all licenses that are current on the day before the commencement of Part 12A of the Act .