Following the news this morning (Thursday, January 27) that a livestock worrying awareness campaign had been launched by the government, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has welcomed the campaign as an “important first step”.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, and Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, launched the campaign this morning, before the former’s appearance at the IFA’s AGM this afternoon.

However, newly-appointed IFA sheep chairperson Kevin Comiskey said that the campaign “must now be accompanied by better enforcement and more appropriate sanctions”.

At the AGM, Comiskey said that ministers McConalogue and Humphreys “must deliver strengthened legislation as a matter of urgency and have it in effect before year-end”.

“This is a critical time of year on sheep farms where dog attacks are causing unimaginable suffering for sheep and lambs and huge economic losses for farmers,” he stressed.

Comiskey added: “There should be no dogs allowed in or near farmland. I urge all dog owners to behave in a responsible way and respect farmers’ demands.”

The campaign by the two ministers is being launched to coincide with the start of lambing season.

The purpose of the campaign is to remind dog owners of their responsibilities and the vulnerability of sheep to dog attacks as lambing season approaches.

The two ministers said the issue is one of “grave concern” to the farming community and that attacks on sheep are happening “far too often” in the rural countryside.

The latest figures compiled by local authorities show that there were 240 incidences of ‘livestock worrying’ in 2020 – with a similar number expected when the 2021 returns are completed.

The campaign will run over the whole of lambing season.

Speaking at the launch, Minister McConalogue said: “Sheep worrying causes immense and unnecessary stress for farmers, and serious animal welfare issues for sheep and newborn lambs.

“Uncontrolled pets can decimate a flock within minutes, with reports suggesting that up to 4,000 sheep are killed or seriously injured in dog attacks every year,” he added.

“Dog owners must take responsibility for their pets, which must be under control at all times. Remember, even the gentlest family pet can kill or maim sheep and lambs. Never let your dog out unsupervised, especially at night,” the minister warned.