574. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice the steps being taken to address pet thefts. [44202/21]


Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): As we all know, many people have a strong emotional attachment to our pets and I therefore appreciate that their theft can be a traumatic experience.
This is an issue that is of personal importance to me and indeed 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 met with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, in December last to discuss the issues of pet theft and animal welfare legislation. We all agreed to a collaborative approach to dealing with the issue. As you will be aware, Minister McConalogue's Department is the lead Department for all animal welfare issues.
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. Neither I, nor the Minister, have a role in these independent functions and that is entirely correct. 
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.