Coursing ‘unsafe’ during Level 5 restrictions, High Court told

Untrue true to say sport is being singled out and is being discriminated against, counsel said

The judge reserved her decision and acknowledged the urgency of the application

The judge reserved her decision and acknowledged the urgency of the application

 

The High Court has been told it is “unsafe in the current climate” to allow coursing take place and the Government is fully entitled not to allow the sport go ahead.

It is untrue to say coursing is being singled out and is being discriminated against because members of the Government are opposed to the sport, the court also heard.

The remarks were made by Michael Cush SC when opposing an application for an injunction allowing coursing re-commence during the current Covid-19 restrictions.

The case for an injunction was unstateable, the orders sought are mandatory in nature and should not be granted, counsel submitted.

The Minister for Health has made orders in the public interest to protect public health arising out of the unprecedented pandemic, he said.

Counsel added that coursing is quite different from other similar sports, including greyhound racing, on grounds including that it does not take place within enclosed areas or stadia and takes place in large open areas.

The vast majority of sports and sporting bodies are curtailed and affected “without complaint” by the Level 5 restrictions, he said.

Mr Cush is representing the Ministers for Health and Housing in proceedings by the Irish Coursing Club (ICC) after the government decided not to include coursing in a list of activities permitted during the current restrictions.

The ICC seeks the injunction, as part of judicial review proceedings against the Ministers because the annual coursing season is due to finish at the end of February.

The ICC, represented by Martin Hayden SC, and Eoin O’Shea BL, say the Minister’s decision to delist coursing as a permitted event was “absolutely lacking in transparency” and discriminated against those involved in coursing.

The ICC says, while its activities were de-listed other similar sports, including its sister sport greyhound racing, horse racing and other equine activities, were allowed by the government to proceed.

Counsel said his client’s membership believe coursing should be treated fairly, and the same as related sports.

Counsel compared the decision to delist coursing with allowing rugby union, a sport associated with private schools, go ahead while not allowing rugby league, which is more a working-class game, be played.

Counsel said the ICC’s membership believe coursing is being treated unfairly because members of the government, including the Minster for Health Stephen Donnelly, want it banned. While somebody may “hate coursing to their toe” it was not permissible in a democracy to stop a legitimate legal activity taking place just because government don’t like coursing. Reserving her decision, Ms Justice Niamh Hyland acknowledged the urgency of the application and said she hoped to deliver judgment as soon as possible.

The injunction is sought in the context of the ICC’s challenge over the failure to include coursing in a list of activities allowed to operate during the current restrictions.

The ICC says coursing was allowed take place before Christmas, due to its inclusion on a government approved list of permitted sports. When the government announced its latest round of restrictions on Christmas Eve, coursing was delisted.

No reasons were given for coursing’s delisting, it claims.

The ICC says its exclusion from the list of permitted sports is flawed, irrational and unreasonable on grounds the Minister for Health decided to delist coursing without consulting either the Departments of Agriculture or Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Those departments are responsible for coursing, the ICC claims. It also alleges the decision to delist it is tainted by a perception of bias because Minister Donnelly had in 2015 voted in favour of legislation banning coursing.

The ICC also alleges, in advance of the delisting decision Minister Donnelly had consulted with Green Party Ministers Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin, who also want coursing prohibited.

The Ministers deny the ICC’s claims.