Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said new legislation on animal welfare which came into effect today, outlines in clear legal terms the responsibility people have when they own an animal.

The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 includes provision for increased powers for authorised officers to investigate complaints of animal cruelty, and stricter penalties on convictions.

New penalties for convictions include powers granted to a judge to ban a person from owning an animal and a maximum five-year prison sentence.

The new law allows authorised officers, including gardaí, Department of Agriculture representatives and officers from animal welfare groups, such as the ISPCA, to investigate complaints of animal cruelty in private homes and impose on-the-spot fines.

It also makes it a criminal offence to attend a dog fight.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Coveney said this is a huge piece of legislation, which quite dramatically changes the approach to animal welfare in Ireland.

He said: "This allows both the guards and our vets, and indeed authorised officers that are trained from welfare organisations, to intervene, to fine people potentially, to take cases to court.

"We now have given significantly more powers to judges, who can for example ban somebody from owning an animal in the future if they deem them unsuitable."

The Department of Agriculture has a hotline for those wishing to report instances of animal cruelty. The number is 1850 211 990.

The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has welcomed the bill.

DSPCA CEO Brian Gillen said: "The introduction of modern animal welfare legislation will reduce the unnecessary suffering on animals as authorities now have the backing of appropriate legislation.

"This is particularly important with regard to trafficking of animals which remains a significant issue in Ireland.

"In those cases, where trafficking is suspected, we will now be able to trace the source of those engaged in this cruel trade and prosecutions will be possible."