Government funding helping animal welfare
WE live in a world where bad news grabs headlines more easily than good news, and where it’s more popular to criticise than praise governments. It’s easy to forget that many positive events happen around us and that the aim of most of our elected representatives is to help rather than to hinder.
One such positive announcement was made on the Friday before Christmas. The Minister of Agriculture, Simon Coveney, announced the latest round of government funding to animal welfare groups around Ireland: €1,867,200 has been given to 142 organisations involved in delivering animal welfare services throughout the country. The funding is “ex gratia”: to use the dictionary definition of this term, it is “done from a sense of moral obligation rather than because of any legal requirement”. This government funding of non-governmental animal organisations is exceptionally unusual, even on a global scale. Nearly all animal charities elsewhere on the planet, including the UK, depend entirely on the generosity of private individuals.
So for all the criticism that’s dealt out to the Irish government, this is an area where a round of applause is deserved. The Department of Agriculture website includes a detailed list of the funds allocated to each welfare group. If you look at the backgrounds of the 142 organisations that are helped, you’ll see that they are staffed by hard working, dedicated individuals who are genuinely helping animals. They are mostly volunteers who donate their own time and energy (and often money) to the organisations that they work for. Without the financial support from the Irish government, they would not be able to help nearly as many needy animals.
My understanding is that the Department of Agriculture funding was introduced in 1995 by Fianna Fail’s Joe Walsh when he was Minister of Agriculture. Mr Walsh retired from politics in 2007, and he died just two months ago. The ongoing annual funding of animal welfare groups is a legacy that his family should be proud of.
It is a credit to the various political parties that have been in power since then that the ex gratia payments have not been subject to the dramatic cuts that have been applied to other areas of government spending in these economically challenging times. In fact, the funding has been increased from €1.2 million in 2009 to the current figure of just under €1.9 million, an increase of 58% at a time when many budgets elsewhere have been slashed. The current Minister of Agriculture, Simon Coveney, deserves a big thank-you for continuing to help Irish animals with this generosity.
The ex gratia funding is carefully controlled, only being granted under strictly controlled conditions. The money is aimed specifically at organisations involved in the delivery of animal care and welfare services, particularly to companion animals. The Department of Agriculture is clear that funding is limited and is intended only as a contribution to the overall costs of the organisations. Most animal welfare groups view the money as a welcome top up to their organisational costs rather than as the mainstay of their annual budget plan. Donations from the general public are still essential, providing for most of the daily running costs. In many cases, the government money is like an emergency lifebelt being thrown to a swimmer in trouble: the funds have prevented many overstretched animal welfare groups from having to close down.
The money is carefully administered by officials at the Department of Agriculture. Animal welfare groups have to fill in a detailed application form, and they are subject to inspection of the organisation’s premises and paperwork by local authority veterinary officers to ensure that animal welfare is being genuinely supported. In past years, there was a “code of practice” which organisations had to aim at. This year, the terminology was changed subtly but significantly, and there are now “conditions to be adhered to” by organisations applying for funding. If they do not comply with these, they will not be given money. This allows the government to influence how the money is spent, in a positive way. Spay/neutering campaigns for cats and dogs are critically important elements in controlling numbers: all funding recipients of aid should have programmes in place to tackle this in their own areas. Welfare groups are also encouraged to have greater visibility in their local communities, so that people know who to call on for help with animal welfare issues.
Government officials are also keen to tackle the potential problem of “animal hoarding” by some animal welfare groups i.e. the accumulation and permanent housing of large numbers of unwanted pets that are difficult to rehome because of problems such as aggressive behaviour. The cost of maintaining long-term residents like this prevents funds being spent on other needy animals. It’s debatable whether such long term institutional care is even in the interests of the animals themselves.
It’s heartening that the Irish government takes animal welfare seriously enough to continue to offer financial support to those helping animals in need.
Animal welfare groups deserve financial support