Advice: Are farmers within their rights to shoot dogs that attack sheep?
A spate of dog attacks on sheep in recent months has put the issue back in the spotlight as the lambing season approaches.
Last week, a north Sligo farmer made headlines when he warned that he is "patrolling" roads close to his home with a double-barrelled shotgun, threatening to shoot dogs accompanying hillwalkers.
Andy 'The Bull' McSharry stated that he would shoot dead any dogs found on his land - even those on a lead.
His comments reflect the fears and frustrations of sheep farmers who have ewes close to lambing or vulnerable young lambs in fields.
Both farmers and dog owners must be clear on their rights and responsibilities when it comes to their animals.
While many farmers know their duty under the law in the case of domestic animals like their cattle and sheep, liability for dogs has separate rules.
For instance, in the case of injury or damage to livestock which is caused by a dog, the owner is responsible regardless of the dog having previously attacked livestock or having a 'mischievous tendency'.
There is also previous case law in Ireland surrounding liability where dogs have caused injury to animals in the case of them bolting.
One such case involved frightened foals as a result of which they bolted and injured themselves - meaning the dog owner was not responsible.
However, in the case of dogs causing either the death of sheep as a result of fright, or the loss of unborn lambs, farmers can make a claim against the dog owner if they have evidence to show that the injury was a direct result of the actions of the dog - for example, a statement from a vet.
Farmers intending on making a claim must also be able to show which dog caused the injuries, and this may be difficult where there has been no physical attack - only suffocation or injury through fear.
Farmers must be able to show that the dog in question caused the injuries 'on the balance of probabilities', which is the test applied by the courts.
The Control of Dogs Act sets out that if a dog worries livestock, the owner or any other person in charge of the dog shall be guilty of an offence.
One exception to this rule, is where the livestock have wandered on to the dog owner's land and the dog has attacked. In this case, the owner of the dog would not normally be liable.
A common question that comes from farmers who have sheep in fields, is whether they can shoot a dog which is in the midst of an attack or has attacked sheep.
The rules are that the person who shoots the dog must be able to show that:
* The dog was shot when it was worrying, or was about to worry, livestock and that there were no other reasonable means of ending or preventing the worrying;
* Or, the dog was a stray in the vicinity of a place where livestock had been injured or killed, and the defendant reasonably believed that the dog had been involved in the injury or killing, and there were no practicable means of seizing the dog or ascertaining to whom it belonged;
* The defendant was the person in charge of the livestock.
* He/she notified, within 48 hours, the member in charge at the nearest garda station to the place where the dog was shot.
While the law clearly states that there are circumstances where an attacking dog can be shot, you should bear in mind the priority should be to stop the dog where possible rather than shoot it, as in many cases the owner will be a neighbour!
In the case of dog attacks on people, the liability of the owner is similar in that the owner will be responsible regardless of whether the dog has previously attacked or not.
Many people incorrectly believe that dogs can bite once without the owner being liable, but that is just a myth.
A dog owner will also be responsible for injuries caused by dogs to trespassers if the owner has been in any way negligent, so it is always advisable to notify trespassers of the presence of a dog by clearly displaying a sign.
Theresa Murphy is a barrister based in Co Galway
Strict conditions for farmers seeking a gun licence
By Deirdre Flynn
Applications for a firearm certificate (gun licence) are made via a form at the local garda station. A licence lasts for three years.
A licence can be restricted or unrestricted. A restricted certificate relates to particular categories of guns and are usually granted only to members of gun clubs who have carried out various courses.
An unrestricted certificate is generally granted to farmers and is used solely for the purpose of shooting vermin, crows etc on their farm.
Before granting a licence, a garda superintendent must be satisfied that the applicant complies with certain conditions and can continue to comply with them during the lifetime of the certificate. Such conditions include:
* the applicant must have a 'good reason' for requiring the gun.
* the applicant must be permitted to possess, use and carry the gun or ammunition without danger to the public safety or security of the peace.
* the applicant must not be disentitled to hold a gun.
* secure accommodation must be provided for the gun - which can be inspected by a garda.
Applicants, particularly farmers seeking an unrestricted licence, must specify the land on which it is proposed to use the gun. The gun can then only be used on this land - otherwise the licence can be revoked.
Applicants must also set out details of any previous convictions, and say if they have ever been refused or had a licence revoked.
The gardai require two character referees - they will look into the applicant's background prior to granting a licence.
The applicant must also provide proof of competency in the use of the gun for which they are seeking a licence.
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