Thursday, November 24, 2016

Letter to TDs requesting help with Two-tier Council Structure and its Animal Welfare Implications

The following letter has also been responded to with a promise of raising this matter with the Minister, before the Dog Pound tenders are written again.  

Dear TD,
Thank you very much for your reply. I know you must constantly receive information about many pressing issues. Thank you for keeping the fate of the animals in mind and defending them in the Dail discussion last week.
The most serious threat to both the animals and the environment are the county council executives. There is a two tier system where the elected representatives have no say and the permanent staff share the money amongst their friends. 
In Kilkenny, we really need your help at once as the council executive are refusing to take out the clause in the public dog pound tender that says that applicants must have ‘two similar contracts’. This is even when it was requested, by their own welfare committee on the dog pound. The council executive are writing the tender again this month and this clause would exclude every animal welfare organization from applying. Last time, two years ago, we were led to think that ‘similar contracts’ meant animal care contracts but actually they meant financial public contracts. Please put pressure on Kilkenny Council before the writing, this time, to take the clause out. If they could make the money available to an animal not-for-profit organization, it would be more in alignment with law that says the pounds should be with a ‘fitting person’ and it would build a network of support to collect dogs, care for them and rehome them (and horses for that matter), in connection with the other local shelters – thereby extending the period where dog’s owners might be able to find them or for the animals to recover their dignity sufficiently and health to be rehomed.    
The council executive has misspent a huge amount of money in Kilkenny alone, on building the ill-conceived and environmentally damaging Central Access Scheme bridge, instead of finishing the ring road. The majority of the councilors were elected on their being against the Scheme but found they had no influence on the council executive’s plan. The council executive also gave the massive public contract for the dog pound to a ruthless and exploitative company, to top up on the council’s ongoing payments to them for the seizure and disposal of horses (I gather approximately a million has been spent annually on this practice that benefits no animals or society). There was a parallel expensive ecocide road plan in Ennis County Council too and the major public tender for the dog pound going to the same firm. So this is happening country wide.
Elected representatives were kept in the dark and had no power at all even once they were made aware, by concerned citizens. Elected councillors were not even informed of the €248,000 dog shelter tender coming up last time. I gather that they are informed of none of the public tenders. Not one elected representative was, even later, allowed to see the document nor the applications. €100,000 of the contract comes from Carlow Council (as it is the Carlow/Kilkenny dog pound) and none of the executive or elected representatives saw it there either, or were involved or approved of the decision on who it was given to.
The Environment department permanent staff (Carol McCarthy was the deciding engineer in that case) arranged to give it to the Animal Collection Service – a private firm registered in Latvia with no Irish office, no website even, no welfare or rehoming policy and no named staff. They were originally formed to collect and dispose of fallen animals, with no animal welfare interest or experience. The Kilkenny Environment office lied in writing to the other applicants and said ‘The Animal Care Society, Cork’ had won the contract. The council executive assumed that no one would ever find out. The only reason it was discovered was that a congratulations letter was sent to the Animal Care Society, including the offer of volunteers to help run the pound. They replied, shocked, that they had never even heard of the contract and if it was the ACS who got the contract they would never want to be in any way associated with them.
100% of the elected representatives were shocked and opposed the decision but could do nothing. They insisted on discussing it in Chambers and a dog pound committee was formed (essentially the person who sets up a committee gets an extra €7,000 for setting up a committee and a few other protective party-liners were allowed on it and one independent councillor, a different one allowed for the second six months. The only welfare group allowed on it was someone from a rescue in Galway who could not cause them too many problems as she was so far away. The Dog Trust were involved but they only have the time to collect the over flow of dogs as best they can, for rehoming.

Even after the public outcry, the council executive refused to withdraw the contract and the ACS was only stopped when they themselves withdrew, following a damning article in a national paper on their 100% kill rate of seized stray horses and their being registered in Latvia, Riga, where the animal body parts factory is, where the BSE came in from a couple of years ago.They were obviously concerned that their wider operation would be exposed if they stayed inolved in the tender process.
Apart from the 'similar contracts' clause there were three other problems with the tender. The second area of non compliance was that of ‘enforcement’. The ability and efficiency to drive around and collect stray dogs, even aggressive, sick or defensive pregnant ones is part of the work for the charities anyway so it would be no problem.
Thirdly, the county's Environment Department (looking after the tender) refused to tell applicants whether the staff should be kept on or could be re-interviewed or replaced by the tenderer's own staff. Later it turned out that the ACS would be allowed to do what they want with their own team but any other applicants would be expected to work with the existing staff. What needs to happen is that the new management should be able to recruit their own staff. The existing wardens have their own ethos, which is completely control legislation orientated. They have relationships with the county vets, local farmers and collection services (all who benefit from putting dogs to sleep) and currently have the law on their side. Any group who gets that amount of public funding to run the pound must be able to at least influence the way the wardens work to be in keeping with a shift in practices for the pound and that the staff work together as a team.
Fourthly, the tender contract on the public tender website was for between €450,000 and €650,000. That meant every applicant put in a tender towards the lower of these figures. Only the ACS knew that the councils only had €248,000 and so they put in the only reasonable management plan, close to the money actually available. This is illegal to start with, that the figure should be intentionally wrong. It is inappropriate to give the money to a company who will make up the difference they need by selling dogs on for research or putting them to sleep and charging again for their disposal.
There is a good animal rescue organization might be willing to tender again, that is ASH, who have a great track record of care and rehoming and have managed hundreds of dogs and other animals very successfully. They will not go through all the hard work of putting in the tender if the clause is still there and automatically excludes them. The only other possibility is that the ISPCA keep the management of the pound but they were disturbed by the policies in place, the inability to prosecute the abusers, neglecters, puppy farmers, other farmers and greyhound racing owners for their endless surrender of dogs and insistence that their dogs are put down. At the moment no criminals are being prosecuted or fined and that leaves the cost of every casualty completely with the charity. This system could be easily adjusted now while the tenders are about to be written but the changes required are:
1. 'Two similar contracts' clause to be taken out
2. An animal welfare organization with good track record explicitly required to receive the pound contracts
3. The enforcement clause removed, as that is a given via the legislation in place.
4. The actual amount of public money available clearly stated
5. Clarification as to whether the staff must be retained or not and if they must, what their wages are.
I am sorry it is a long and complicated scenario but we would really like help with this before the situation deteriorates like it did last time the tender process took place. There was 11,000 signatures on a petition then, to persuade the council to withdraw the contract from the ACS. It did not have any impact on the council decision but we also established a good network of animal advocates. All the shelters, rescues, charities, volunteers, fundraisers would work together, if the public money went to a welfare group. I am a part of one not for profit advocacy groups that went for the tender last time.
I would be glad to support ASH or the ISPCA but mainly I would be grateful to not have to fend off another unscrupulous group planning to further exploit the animals. Just because they may not be called Four Seasons - trading as ACS this time, doesn't mean they are not the same characters masquerading under another name. The directors are associated with Brinks and Securicor. They have links to research and a German charity exporting horses from Ireland. There is nothing at all we can do about them unless we categorically say that public contracts must go to accountable, ethical companies. Could it be asked, in the Dail, that there be criteria? For example that all public money be paid to responsible Irish Companies with an expertise and good reputation, in the field for which they are applying to participate? And also to rethink the county council structure so that county executive must involve and heed the elected representatives and who they represent.

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