“Even the dogs on the street know it is wrong,” said actor Pauline McLynn as the greyhounds standing at her feet howled in apparent agreement ahead of a protest march through Dublin aimed at highlighting the mistreatment of animals in the dog racing industry.
Hundreds of protesters, many of whom came with their four-legged friends rescued from the racing sector, gathered at the Spire on O'Connell Street with placards and banners calling for an end to State and corporate sponsorship of greyhound racing in Ireland.
The industry has been under scrutiny in recent weeks after an RTÉ Investigates programme which raised concerns over the potential widespread culling of thousands of animals based on their performances.
In response to that programme the Irish Greyhound Board promised to reform the industry which receives more than €16 million in State support every year.
However, McLynn said more than reform was needed and she said the “horrors of the industry” meant that greyhound racing should be outlawed entirely.
She dismissed claims made by the industry that it was an important element of the rural economy which created thousands of jobs and she castigated the greyhound authority for suggesting steps being taken to reform the sector were sufficient.
“They have known what is going on for a very long time and have had more than 100 years to get it right and they have failed to do that,” she said.
“Just because something is traditional does not make it good or right and ultimately it is the dogs that will continue to suffer,” she said.
As she spoke the protest moved off with marchers heading from outside the GPO to Leinster House where they planned to leave a selection of dog collars as a symbol of the cruelty endured by some dogs in the industry.
En route, the protest stopped at O'Connell Bridge to cheer on Belfast-based drag queen Delishus O'Tool who jumped in the Liffey wearing an elaborate ball gown bought from Marshes Shopping Centre in Dundalk which had been a sponsor of greyhound racing. (A spokesman for Marshes said it had ceased such sponsorship in 2017.)
Delishus swam from the south to the north bank in the blue sequinned gown and while she described the water as “ice cold” and was a little out of breath after her dip she was “still glamorous”.
She was also able to explain the reason for her own Liffey Swim.
“It is just a different way of raising awareness of how barbaric some greyhounds are treated,” she said. “There are dogs out there that are suffering and they need our help.”
She said she had been disgusted by the allegations in the RTÉ programme last month and said all sponsors of greyhound racing should cut their ties with an industry that permits such things to go on.
“The way some dogs are treated, it is just disgusting and the sponsors need to take a look at what they are doing and how it reflects on who they are.”
Julie Ann Farrell from the midlands echoed her concerns. She has three rescue greyhounds and she said the State funding of the sector to the tune of almost €17 million a year was "a complete waste of taxpayers' money and that is quite apart from the animal welfare issues".
She said she thought awareness of how elements of the industry were behaving and how it was funded had increased significantly since the broadcast last month.
Teresa McVeigh has been involved in protests aimed at highlighting cruelty in the greyhound sector since 2017 and she said the main thing “is to get Government funding stopped”.