Licences to allow coursing clubs capture live hares for the winter season have been granted by the Department of Heritage despite renewed calls from animal welfare advocates for a ban on the sport.
On July 18th, the department granted the licence to the Irish Coursing Club (ICC) on behalf of its more than 80 affiliated clubs to net and tag hares for the forthcoming 2022-2023 coursing season, under the same conditions as previous years.
The licence, published on the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) website, is valid from August 12th and February 28th, 2023. Coursing clubs must tag each hare, and a return detailing each hare must be made to the State four days before a meeting is held.
In a statement following the granting of licences, Ban Blood Sports, an organisation seeking to end hare coursing, said it was “shameful” the practice would be permitted to continue into next year.
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“All hares suffer fear and stress, and every coursing season, hare injuries and deaths occur. Among the injuries documented are broken back, spinal injury, broken legs, damaged toes and dislocated hips,” the group said.
The group had called on the Minister for Heritage Darragh O’Brien to refuse the licence due to the “suffering, stress, injury and death caused to hares at coursing meets”.
Independent TD Joan Collins, Social Democrats TDs Cian O’ Callaghan and Jennifer Whitmore, and People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Mick Barry also urged the Minister to refuse the licence.
The campaign group said the risk of spread of RHD2 — rabbit haemorrhagic disease, which is fatal to rabbits and hares but no risk to humans — occurs more easily when hares are held in confined areas.
The disease causes death within a few days of infection, with sick animals developing swollen eyelids, partial paralysis and bleeding from the eyes and mouth.
Speaking in the Dáil recently, Mr O’Brien said there were only two positive cases of RHD2 recorded in 2021, and one case has been detected this year so far.
A spokesman for the department said that although it issues licences under the Wildlife Acts, the control of live hare coursing is the responsibility of the Minister for Agriculture.
“This department has no role in relation to coursing generally or in relation to coursing meetings,” the spokesman said.
DJ Histon, the chief executive of the Irish Coursing Club, said the call for a ban on the sport was “short-sighted and ignores the conservation effort conducted by coursing clubs on a 12-month basis”.
“Clubs prevent and report illegal hunting on a 12-month basis, which is a significant challenge for the authorities to eliminate due to the perpetrators’ modus operandi,” he said, adding that in the last coursing season 99.51 per cent of netted hares were released back to the countryside.
The Irish hare is protected under the Irish Wildlife Acts and can only be captured, tagged or killed under licence. The hare is also listed in the European habitats directive (annex V), which requires member states to manage the hare sustainably.