Dublin mayor to seek horse fair ban

Mon, Mar 7, 2011, 00:00

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Gerry Breen said he will be writing to the new minister for justice requesting that legislation be brought in to abolish the Smithfield horse fair in Dublin.

Mr Breen was speaking after two men were injured yesterday at a shooting in the market, which was attended by about 4,500 people.

Dublin City Council and the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) have urged the incoming government to introduce emergency legislation to shut down the market.

The Army bomb disposal team was called to the scene following the discovery of a suspect device a short time after the shooting at 11.30am. On examination of the device a bomb disposal officer identified it as a home-made shotgun. The shotgun was made safe at the scene and handed over to the Garda. A man arrested by gardaí remains in custody today.

Gardaí this afternoon appealed for witnesses, particularly anyone with photographs or video footage of the incident - to contact them.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Breen said yesterday’s violence pointed to the unsuitability of the site for a horse fair. "God forbid if the horses panicked because of the gun shots. We’ve a Luas line running through there and a lot of people," he said. "It should be abolished. It’s a dangerous event nowadays and there are also significant animal rights issues."

He claimed the event was a haven for people “unloading horses to anyone who would take them” saying young people were using them almost like bicycles. He said Dublin City Council didn’t have the resources to provide an alternative location.

The council has for more than a decade sought the closure of the fair, but it has been blocked by an ancient market right to hold sales on the land, asserted by horse traders.

Smithfield was laid out as a market area in the mid-17th century, and from 1664 the site was used primarily as a cattle and hay market, but horses were also sold periodically.

Horses were sold on a regular basis in Smithfield from the late 1800s onward, but the horse fair in its current incarnation dates from the early 1960s, when the area was in a state of considerable dereliction.

The council temporarily banned the fair in 2002 after a horse bolted and hit a car on the quays which was occupied by a woman and a child.

However, the traders returned to the plaza, citing their market right. The fair also drew attention in 2009 when an injured horse was sold to an 11-year-old boy for €8.

Representations were made by the council to the outgoing Government to introduce primary legislation to extinguish the market right at Smithfield, but it said “these representations did not achieve their desired goal”.

In addition to the very serious public safety concerns, the council would have to spend up to €3,000 cleaning up after yesterday’s event, a spokesman for the council said. On most months the council spent €1,500-€1,800 on the clean-up, he added.

Pavee Point, an organisation supporting Traveller rights, said it was shocked at the violence and urged anyone with information to make it available to the gardaí.

In a statement this afternoon, the organisation said the fair needed to be regulated in the interests of animal welfare. "Enforcement of high standards is in everybody's interests, and would be welcomed by the Traveller community," it said.

However, it said said it would be a "disaster" if a single - "admittedly serious" -  incident should end a longstanding tradition for the Smithfield area.

People at the fair said the shooting yesterday was an isolated incident and should not influence the future of the market. Several traders and spectators at the monthly market who did not wish to be named said the shooting, and the fighting with horse crops, was related to a feud involving two families believed to be based in Co Offaly.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before. People come here to enjoy themselves and conduct business, there is never any trouble,” a long-time horse trader said.

Another horse dealer explained there were no specific organisers of the event because it was a well-established gathering that did not usually require any management. “This fair has been going on for hundreds of years, there are people here from Scotland, everyone knows about it – it’s big business," he said. “It was a terrible thing that happened here today, but it never happened before, and a small group shouldn’t be allowed spoil things for everyone.”