Court rejects challenge over horse passports

Dispute arose last year when Minister notified society the only persons allowed to sign and stamp passports were vets

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said identification and traceability of animals was a key element in the control and prevention of disease in the equine sector. A series of controversies over the last two decades in the food and animal sectors had highlighted this. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said identification and traceability of animals was a key element in the control and prevention of disease in the equine sector. A series of controversies over the last two decades in the food and animal sectors had highlighted this. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 11:04

An organisation of horse owners and breeders has lost its legal challenge to a refusal by the Minister for Agriculture to continue approval for its role in issuing equine passports.

The Irish Cob Society deals with owners and breeders of cob and part-cob horses, a short-legged animal whose records had been maintained by the society, with the Minister’s approval, since 1998.

In his judgment on the society’s action yesterday, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said identification and traceability of animals was a key element in the control and prevention of disease in the equine sector. A series of controversies over the last two decades in the food and animal sectors had highlighted this.

In November last year the Minister revoked the society’s authority to issue passports and maintain certain equine studbooks relating to the breed.

Irish law
The dispute arose last year when, arising out of EU regulations transposed into Irish law in 2011, the Minister notified the society the only persons allowed to sign and stamp identifying documentation, equine passports, relating to the animals were vets who had inserted a microchip transponder into the animal as part of the identification system.

Society secretary Evelyn Flynn told the department she was awaiting the enactment of legislation to legally clarify and establish the position whereby a person other than a vet can sign the documentation in a situation where the chip had not been originally implanted by a vet.

‘Special meanings’
Mr Justice Hogan said he failed to see any basis from Ms Flynn’s complaint that the society was prejudiced by the department’s “special meanings and interpretations” of the EU regulations. The interpretation was “absolutely straightforward and correct” and the society had ample notice of the department’s views.

While the integrity of Ms Flynn and the society was beyond question, the importance of adhering to fundamental regulatory principles was of “immense importance in matters of animal welfare and food safety”.

The judge also said he could not but observe that, regrettably, the society had demonstrated it could not be relied on faithfully and consistently to apply the regulations, notwithstanding getting “warning after warning”.

The department carried out an inspection of the society’s records in January 2012 when concerns were first raised and there were subsequent breaches of the regulations by the society, he said.