FORMER Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Cork North West TD Michael Creed (FG) has questioned incumbent Minister Charlie McConalogue (FF) on the State’s inaugural equine census.

The true extent of the engagement with the initiative by the equine community is not currently known but several teething problems with the Department’s preferred method of online entry of data led to a deadline extension. Acknowledging the IT problem, Minister McConalogue defended the new initiative, claiming there had generally been “very positive engagement’’ with it.

Deputy Creed’s question requested details regarding the equine census, including the obligations on horse owners, and questioned whether Minister McConalogue was satisfied with efforts made by his Department to facilitate engagement in the process by equine owners.

In response, Minister McConalogue replied: “The undertaking of this first equine census in November 2021 is one of a series of measures I am initiating to support the welfare of horses and other equidae and was one of my Department’s listed priorities for 2021.

“The new EU Animal Health Law obliges all keepers notify the habitual residence of equines in their care to my Department. The census facilitates keepers complying with this requirement.

“Census data will provide more accurate information on equines in Ireland, linking each horse to its keeper and providing important information in the event of an equine disease outbreak, in addressing public health concerns and in dealing with lost, straying or stolen horses.

“In August 2021, my Department wrote to keepers of all registered equine premises advising them of the census date. While the original intention was for the census to be conducted online only, alternative options were provided following concerns raised by keepers.

“In November 2021, my Department wrote again to all registered equine keepers advising them that they could complete the census by returning the census form enclosed, uploading a csv file online where the return involved large numbers of equines, completing the equine form online.

“Keepers were also advised that where they had approved a registered agent to act on their behalf, he/she could submit the census data. A guide to completing the form was included and information on the census was posted on the DAFM website. Finally, my Department operated a helpline to assist keepers with queries and completing their census.

“Regretfully, technical issues with the online portal meant some keepers had difficulty completing their census online. My Department has continued to work on improving the online user experience and the deadline for the return of census forms was extended in recognition of this issue.

“Notwithstanding the difficulties experienced by some keepers with their online return, in general there has been very positive engagement with the census,” added Minister McConalogue.