Hare coursing integral to many in rural Ireland, says Minister

Heather Humphreys opposes outright ban on practice after motion from Independent TD

Ardmore Rusty (left) and Doomore Dave, chase during a coursing meet in  Clonmel, Co Tipperary. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Ardmore Rusty (left) and Doomore Dave, chase during a coursing meet in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Hare coursing is an integral part of the community for many people in rural Ireland said Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys as she opposed an outright ban on the practice.

The Minister echoed the comments of Independent TD Mattie McGrath that “arts and heritage come together at hare coursing meetings” and the interest passes through the generations from father to son.

Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan called for the ban in her private member’s Animal Protection (In relation to Hares) Bill. She wanted to put an end to the “cruel practice of live hare coursing” which she described as “animal abuse”.

The Dublin Central TD said it was “an irony that we have the Minister for Arts issuing licences to capture, to net hares”.

She asked how this was “part of the artistic and cultural agenda of this country to net hares, to keep them in captivity for several weeks before releasing them into a field to be chased and to be hunted” by greyhounds, which weighed 60lbs plus on average while a hare weighed 6lbs on average.

But Ms Humphreys insisted coursing was strictly regulated and she said an outright ban on coursing could drive the sport underground which would result in unregulated coursing meetings.

“This has been an issue in Northern Ireland” where there were concerns about underground, unregulated meetings.

Ms O’Sullivan said Ireland was one of only three countries in Europe to allow hare coursing, which is banned in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

The hare is a protected species under the Wildlife Act and “yet we allow wanton cruelty to the hare”, she said.

Contradiction

It was a contradiction she added that “we have an Animal and Welfare Act, the ethos of which is to prevent cruelty to animals and unnecessary suffering to animals and yet this Act exempts hares”.

Highlighting a number of incidents she said the National Wildlife and Parks Service did not have enough rangers to cover all the coursing meetings.

Ms O’Sullivan highlighted different versions of the same coursing event from rangers and from coursers. She said that at one meeting the ranger reported 14 hares hit, six badly, one dying of its injuries and three put down.

“At the same meeting coursers reported 12 hares requiring assistance a euphemism for being hit and mauled.”

She said this was an ideal opportunity for parties to give their members free votes because there were people in the Dáil who were against coursing.

But Ms Humphreys told Ms O’Sullivan she had been active in ensuring that conditions of licences were enforced.

The Minister had threatened sanctions against Mallow and Liscannor clubs in 2013 and improvements were made in both clubs.

She said she took action against Thurles and Doon clubs in the 2014/2015 season and was considering further sanctions against Doon following a court conviction when the Irish Coursing Club cancelled its meeting last November.

The coursing season runs from September 26th to the end of February.

The Minister said she had to find a balance and this was done through strict licensing and regulation and monitoring of coursing events in a controlled environment.

Her responsibility was for conservation and she had no concerns about this as the hare’s conservation status was regarded as “favourable”.

Many rural TDs opposed the ban.

Fianna Fáil also rejected the legislation and Cork East TD Kevin O’Keeffe said it was a matter of conscience for him but he had also consulted many of his constituents over a number of years “with the aim of promoting the safe practice of hare coursing”.

He added that the regulatory framework in place was strict and it ensured the highest animal welfare standards “and protections are in place in carrying out this sport”.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith described the Bill as “a small step towards a kinder and more humane society”.

Voting on the Bill will take place next week.