Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney received an independent report on matters relating to donkey welfare in Ireland.

The report, launched at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, links the uncontrolled eligibility of donkeys for subsidy payments granted for ‘Areas of Natural Constraint’ (ANC) with potentially driving a market for indiscriminate breeding.

Uncontrolled production is considered key to the increased numbers of donkeys being abandoned in Ireland in recent years - there is an excess of supply (in particular uncastrated colts) over demand.

The report was commissioned by The Donkey Sanctuary in response to the increase in abandonments being dealt with by the charity in recent years. During 2014, 400 donkeys were admitted into the care of the charity’s Cork Sanctuary and, with 366 donkeys already admitted between January and the end of August 2015, the trend shows no sign of declining. The majority of these abandonments are young males - the cost of castrating and microchipping a donkey or mule colt is often considered greater than the profit a breeder might make selling excess stock.

Latest figures published in the report indicate that over 2,500 donkeys are registered as Livestock Units for the purposes of claiming within the ANC scheme (previously called ‘Disadvantaged Area Scheme’, ‘Area Aid’ or simply ‘headage’).These donkeys ‘earnt’ their keepers €1.6m in 2014. The Donkey Sanctuary finds that figures for donkey abandonments and relinquishments are highest in counties with significant ANC activity, notable Counties Galway and Mayo which comprise approximately 30% of ANC applications relating to donkeys.

Andy Foxcroft, Director of Care and Welfare for The Donkey Sanctuary, says: “Breeding and keeping of donkeys in Ireland is unregulated and until recent times has been viewed as a profitable enterprise; however, the market quickly collapsed during the period of economic depression in Ireland. The results of this study will be used to develop the charity’s operational strategy for future years in Ireland, meaning The Donkey Sanctuary can best reach donkeys in need of care and owners in need of support.”

The Donkey Sanctuary has called for the following changes to the ANC scheme:

• Gradual changes in donkey eligibility criteria with a phasing out of new donkey registrations and new registrants using donkeys

• Inclusion of donkey welfare standards and inspections as a prerequisite for gaining ANC payments when using donkeys as Livestock Units.

• Penalties (such as payment withdrawal) for those who do not meet the required standards

• Uncastrated donkeys should not be eligible as Livestock Units in the ANC subsidy scheme

In addition the charity calls for enhanced monitoring and enforcement of Equine Identification and Registration legislation.