In this general election campaign, will animal-related issues change the way people vote? Compared to the homeless crisis and human health, animals are generally seen as a lower priority, but for me, it isn't a case of "either/or".
My ideal candidate would want to address all of the aspects of society that need to be improved, including homelessness, human health and animal welfare.
In the four years since the last election, there have been significant improvements in the animal welfare world thanks to government activity: ideas that were called for by animal welfare groups have become a reality in several areas.
* Fur farming has been banned.
* The use of wild animals in circuses has been banned.
* Dog breeding legislation has been gradually reformed to help control puppy farms (this needs to be further reformed, but at least it has progressed).
* The government continues to fund animal welfare charities to the sum of nearly €3 million every year.
However there are still many key animal welfare issues in Ireland today that need to be tackled. Contrary to popular opinion, the main problem is not the lack of laws to protect animals: Ireland has some of the best pro-animal legislation in the world. Rather, it's the lack of enforcement of legislation, and it takes money to do this more effectively. There are three good examples of this.
First, the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 was a significant step forward for animal welfare in Ireland. ISPCA and DSPCA Inspectors are Authorised Officers under this Act, instigating many investigations into cruelty. However these charities only have enough funding for a small teams of inspectors, making it impossible to enforce the law effectively across the country. Increased funding for the charities who have authorised officers would allow them to do more to intervene in cases of suspected animal cruelty, and this would make a big difference to animal welfare. It is ironic that over €16 million is given to the disgraced greyhound industry while less than €3 million has to be shared amongst all of the hard working animal welfare groups across Ireland.
Second, microchipping of dogs. It's been compulsory to have all dogs microchipped since 2016 but this is still not properly enforced. This is an area where local authority dog wardens should be better resourced to be able to routinely check dogs to ensure that they are compliant. If all dogs were microchipped, the issue of stray dogs in pounds would be solved, with huge money savings for local authorities as well as the obvious animal welfare benefits.
Third, proper resourcing for staff in the Department of Agriculture and local authorities is key to full enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare Act (AHWA), the Dog Breeding Establishments Act (DBEA) and equine legislation. We don't need a "nanny state" but we do need people who flout the law to be brought to account: it's only when this happens that everyone will begin to respect the law, and do what they are meant to do for the animals under their care.
As well as these areas needing more funding, there are other decisions that a future government could move forwards over the next four years to improve animal welfare. These need not cost much money, but they do require a commitment to move them forwards.
* Animal welfare lessons and activities should be introduced to the curriculum of all schools in Ireland. If children grow up understanding how to care for animals properly, the adults of the Ireland of the future will be less likely to commit acts of cruelty to animals.
* Tougher sentencing is needed for those found guilty of animal cruelty. There should be higher fines, jail sentences for the most serious cases and life bans on keeping animals to stop those found guilty of animal abuse from reoffending. Sentencing guidelines should introduced for courts to make sure that this happens consistently.
* Live exports of cattle and sheep should be stopped to non-EU countries where welfare standards at the final destination cannot be assured.
The truth is that everyone's vote does make a difference, and if you care about animals, you should ensure that the people you vote for share your concerns.
By asking your candidates their views on key animal welfare issues you can gauge their support and at the same time raise the profile of these issues in political discourse.
The ISPCA has written a list of questions that you can ask candidates.
What are their views on animal welfare?
Would they support animal welfare being taught in all schools as part of the curriculum?
Do they support stronger penalties for those convicted of animal welfare offences?
What are their views on blood sports such as fox hunting and live hare coursing?
Do they agree that the live export of food animals to countries outside the EU should be banned?
Would they support better resourcing to support animal welfare legislation?
Please ask candidates these questions on the doorstep: this is how change happens.