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Wicklow demands better monitoring, new bylaws and more resources to stop dog attacks on sheep

Just two full time dog wardens employed by the ISPCA to protect the whole county


There are 155,209 breeding ewes in Wicklow and 220,000 lambs are born in the County each year.

There are 155,209 breeding ewes in Wicklow and 220,000 lambs are born in the County each year.

There are 155,209 breeding ewes in Wicklow and 220,000 lambs are born in the County each year.


Wicklow councillors have given their unanimous support to a series of motions that will see the local authority petition Coillte and the government for increased resources and controls, while also seeking to create new dog control bylaws within the local authority.

The highly controversial topics of dog control and dog attacks on sheep were at the forefront of Council discussions once again, when elected councillors received a presentation on the impacts of sheep dog attacks on farm families and rural communities at this month’s Wicklow County council meeting.

Speaking passionately about the heart-breaking topic, Chairman Pat Dunne and Vice-Chair Peter Behan of the Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners Association described how the “law is against sheep farmers” and pressed home the importance of the issue in Wicklow – a county that houses 155,209 breeding ewes and births 220,000 lambs a year.

Showing extremely graphic examples of sheep kills that have gained national attention, Mr Behan shocked councillors with tales of mass slaughter, including a 30 sheep kill in January in County Kildare, 70 sheep lost in a dog attack in Tipperary and 50 sheep killed on the Offaly-Tipperary border at Christmas.

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Describing the huge financial and emotional costs for farming families in rural areas, Mr Behan pleaded with councillors to fund extra dog wardens and to write to the relevant Minsters – Minster Charlie McConalogue and Minister Heather Humphreys – to ask for a national database for all dogs in the county, and for increased micro-chipping and licensing.

Commending the sheep farmers on a flawless and informative presentation, Cllr Pat Kennedy commented: “I would second what Mr Behan said about writing to the relevant Ministers to look for that database. Sheep farming is hugely important to this County, worth in the region of €23 to €25 million a year. Now, if we had a multi-national with that kind of turnover wanting to come in, we’d welcome them with open arms and roll out the red carpet.

“To the best of my knowledge, the National Parks and Wildlife Service have a policy where dogs must be on leads on the hills and the open countryside. It’s the opposite with Coillte.

“We all appreciate the fact that Coillte have an open access policy, and we’re so lucky to have that, but maybe they could add on and develop their policy to include that dogs should be on leashes, when they are out walking in the rural countryside.”

“We all know Wicklow is a recreational county, but the reality is, some people that are using our walkways and our walking trails are simply not respecting where they are,” Cllr Shay Cullen added. “They think it’s just a playground with no consequences. Well, we’ve seen the consequences very clearly here today.

“I want to go a step further than writing to the Minister. We have a problem with the legislation in my view. As it currently stands it (Control of Dogs Act 1986) says that dogs should be ‘under effective control’. In my view that is far far too loose and a waste of time. A dog could be 200 meters away from its owner!”

In a motion seconded by Councillors Avril Cronin and Melanie Corrigan, Cllr Cullen stated “I would like to see a line put in the letter to the Ministers to make it compulsory that all dogs are on leads in public areas.”

Outlining his reservations about the motion, Baltinglass Cllr Patsy Glennon said: “I don’t think sheep farmers would necessarily thank you for that, as you’d no longer have the sight of a sheepdog clearing a line for traffic to pass through a flock of sheep, if it had to be on a lead.”

Moments later, Cllr Cronin responded to the comment, saying: “Just to clarify something for my colleague Glennon, who has unfortunately just left the chamber. It was leads for dogs in all public areas, walking trails and in parks. We clearly didn’t mean to have sheep dogs on leads on farms.”

Illuminating the subject of dog control further, Chair of the Wicklow JPC, Cllr Gerry Walsh pointed out that there have been 423 dog licence reminders sent out in Wicklow so far this year, according to the dog licensing stats in the Chief Executive’s report on the Control of Dogs Act.

In the same period of time, there were just 475 licences renewed in the County, highlighting the huge shortfall in licenses that Mr Behan and Mr Dunne had eluded to earlier.

“I could probably account for about 170 dogs in the Greystones district alone on a morning walk,” Cllr Lourda Scott joked. “It’s clear people either don’t understand their responsibility or just don’t care.”

“I don’t think I would concur with Cllr Cullen’s suggestion asking for all dogs to be on a lead in a public area. I don’t think that would be enforced. I don’t think it would be practical, or required. I think there would be a huge push back.”

After listening intently to the debate for almost half an hour, Arklow farmer Cllr Sylvester proposed an alternative solution.

“We do have by-laws for all sorts of things in the council but not for dog control, correct me if I am wrong. Perhaps we could set up a working group within the Council, to bring forward b-laws that we can highlight to the public. Perhaps it may help in solving the problem.”

Refocusing the discussion, Director of Services Breege Kilkenny agreed that dog control legislation wasn’t fit for purpose, highlighting the complications inherent in having three separate bodies charged with its governance – The Departments of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, and Wicklow County’s own parent Department of Housing and Local Government.

Based on their prior knowledge of the successful application of dog control by-laws in councils like Fingal and Waterford, Ms Kilkenny and Chief Executive Emer O’Gorman concurred with Sylvester Bourke’s suggestion, saying that by-laws might be the most realistic approach to addressing the overarching problem.

After considering all the motions put forth, elected councillors agreed to write to Minsters McConalogue and Humphreys to ask for additional resources for dog wardens, a national database for all dogs in the county, to examine legislation around the term ‘under effective control’ and to increase the micro-chipping and licensing of dogs.

Councillors also agreed to two further motions: To write to Coillte asking them to change their regulations and to establish a new working group to review existing dog control bylaws and establish new bylaws.