Thousands to attend coursing event


Thousands of hare coursing fans are expected to attend the annual three-day national championships in Co Tipperary from tomorrow.

The 83rd running of the National Coursing Meeting takes place at Powerstown Park, Clonmel.

Organisers hope the festival, which attracts supporters from Britain, continental Europe and the US, will generate up to €16 million for the local economy.

Even though the greyhounds are muzzled and hares are released into the wild after the meeting, the coursing championship is not without controversy and animal rights protesters are expected to picket the meeting.

Around 30,000 fans will attend the three-day showpiece which has been staged at Powerstown since 1925.

But weather forecasters have warned the bitterly cold weather of the last few days threatens the start of the meeting.

Jerry Desmond, Irish Coursing Club chief executive, said a heavy frost is forecast for tonight. "If the frost was hard the ground would get very hard. First of all the hares would not run well as they can't grip and it would be likewise for the greyhounds," he said.

"They would also be liable to injury, both the hares and the greyhounds." On Wednesday, as the meeting reaches it highpoint with the derby, activists have vowed to come together for a peaceful protest.

The Animal Rights Action Network, the Campaign for the Abolition of Cruel Sports and the Irish Council Against Blood Sports will join forces for the demonstration.

It is 10 years since a major protest was held at the meeting. Activists claim despite the muzzling of dogs, hares continue to be mauled and injured. A spokesman for the protesters also claimed hares suffer serious injuries, stress and trauma when they are caught in the wild in nets in the weeks before the coursing meeting.

"Many of them break limbs or suffer agonising internal injuries, and the terror of confinement in cramped, unnatural compounds where hare mortality results from disease and illnesses," he said.

The activists are hoping the Green Party's role in Ireland's coalition will help increase pressure on officials to ban the sport. Last year the Ward Union hunt in Co Meath had severe restrictions placed on it by the Department of the Environment.

"In staging our peaceful protest, we wish to demonstrate to the Government, including the Greens, that Ireland's wildlife heritage belongs to all of us and is not the preserve of a small but politically well-connected minority," the spokesman said.

A ban on hunting foxes, deer and hares came into force in Britain in 2005. A survey commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports last year found more than two thirds of the Irish public would support an outright ban on coursing.