951. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Justice her plans to introduce a new criminal offence for pet abduction which would recognise that pets are valued as more than just property; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43181/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy James Browne): Both Minister Humphreys and I are very conscious of the strong emotional attachment that many people have to their pets, and that the theft of a pet animal can be a traumatic experience.
As the Deputy will be aware, I previously introduced a Bill to enhance the place of companion animals in legislation. Work on this Bill is currently ongoing in my Department.
Minister McEntee and I also met with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in December 2020 to discuss the issues of pet theft and animal welfare legislation. A collaborative approach was agreed to dealing with the issue. As the Deputy will be aware, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has responsibility for all animal welfare issues.
The Deputy may wish to further note that my Department is kept appraised by An Garda Síochána on the issue of pet theft. Under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act, the theft of an animal carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment on conviction. If the animal was taken from a person's property the crime becomes burglary and attracts a potential maximum of up to 14 years imprisonment. These are significant sentences by any measure.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible under the Garda Síochána Act for the administration and management of An Garda Síochána, including all operational policing decisions. This includes crime prevention initiatives and strategies.
With regard to measures aimed at preventing such thefts, I am informed by the Garda authorities that information has been disseminated to the Crime Prevention Officers' Network countrywide specifically dealing with the topic of dog thefts. The Garda National Crime Prevention Unit's advice on pet safety concurs with the advice from animal welfare groups and animal insurance companies about keeping animals safe.
Ongoing patrols throughout the country also act as a deterrent to mobile criminals and thereby help prevent criminal activity. Improved awareness of dog thefts among the community will ensure more vigilance within neighbourhood watch and community alert areas.