Irish horse keepers will soon be required to register their holdings with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF).

But welfare experts have criticised the plan because horse keepers will not have to identify which horses they have on their land.

The move is part of the Irish government’s interpretation of Europe-wide equine identification legislation, which was brought into Irish law last month, two years after the UK.

Minister for agriculture Simon Coveney said the new register of equine holdings would help in an outbreak of infectious equine disease.

“I hope to have the support and cooperation of everyone in the industry to improve the overall health and welfare of horses,” he said.

A Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) spokesman said it was in favour of any reasonable measures to improve the traceability of horses in Ireland.

But Sharon Newsome of the Irish Horse Welfare Trust (IHWT) said neither passports nor the register will work if they do not link the horse to its owner.

Passports have been required for all European horses since 2005, and since July 2009 foals and horses being passported for the first time have had to be be microchipped.

But this legislation was only officially brought into Irish law on 12 July, along with a €5,000 fine for breaking it.

Up to then Irish horse keepers, vets and passport issuers were obliged to comply with the law but they could not be prosecuted for breaking it.

There are nine Irish passport issuing organisations.

Ms Newsome told H&H: “The regulations are a step in the right direction, but the government has not told us how it will enforce them and they still have not linked passports to ownership.

“We had a horse brought in that had been abandoned in a forest with a horrendous leg injury and a tumour in her jaw.

“She was microchipped, so we could find out who bred her, but there is no way of finding out who owned her last.”

Dr Joe Collins, president of the Veterinary Council of Ireland, said the register would be useful in a disease outbreak. But he also felt it should go further.

“We need a system where passports are linked to ownership and change of ownership,” he said. “If horse keepers were asked to give the identity of the horses on their land that would be very useful — but it would be a mammoth task keeping that up-to-date.”

A DAFF spokesman said “authorised persons”, including local authority vets, police and staff at ports, would check horse identification at markets, sales and on premises.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (25 August 2011)