Wednesday, 11 March 2015
Animal Protection (in relation to Hares) Bill 2015: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Wildlife Act 1976.I rise today, as the late Deputy, Tony Gregory, did in 1993 when he introduced a Private Members' Bill on wildlife to ban hare coursing. He spoke then about "the welfare of the vulnerable and defenceless in nature's creation". While greyhounds today are muzzled, the cruelty continues for the hares. That is the reason the Bill I propose will make it unlawful to engage in live hare coursing.
Hare coursing involves the terrorising of one animal by another. It causes unnecessary cruelty every year to thousands of hares through stress, injury and death. It is a total contradiction that on the one hand the hare is protected under the Wildlife Act but the Act also protects hare coursing. The legislation states that it is illegal to trap and sell hares other than for the specific purpose of coursing them. On the one hand the hare is protected, except when it comes to coursing.
Let us examine the procedures involved in coursing. I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, but I just noticed that the clock is not running.
Thank you. Some time before each coursing meeting the club members go out into the countryside to collect the hares in a process that is known as netting. They shout and they yell as they herd the hares into the net and then the hares are put into boxes to be transported to the coursing venue. Netting and handling are cruel. The hare is a very timid and delicate creature and it is cruel to net an animal that is used to the freedom of nature. Hares have been injured and have died in this process. Then there is the training of hares, which must happen to produce what is considered to be better sport. The hares are familiarised in the field so that when the coursing does happen, they will run up the centre of the field, which makes for good coursing.
In the few weeks before the coursing event, the hares are kept herded in an enclosure, which adds more stress and cruelty because hares are strictly solitary creatures and they do not live together in groups. During the weeks of being herded, they are prone to disease which spreads very quickly due to them being enclosed. There is no doubt that the practice of blooding continues. Often it is hares but at other times it is rabbits and kittens. Some greyhound owners are against coursing but they must register with the Irish Coursing Club, which skews the level of support for coursing. Many independent surveys and opinion polls indicate that people are opposed to coursing. That position is not confined to urban Ireland because there are cases in urban areas of cruelty to animals but there are people in rural areas who do not like the practice of hare coursing.
All the animal welfare organisations are opposed to live hare coursing and only three countries in Europe in total, including Ireland, allow it. What is involved in both open and enclosed coursing is hares running for their lives. The hare does not know that the greyhound is muzzled and that it cannot be killed. Both Deputy Clare Daly and I raised a number of issues relating to coursing with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, during Question Time this morning. As I have done previously, Deputy Daly pointed out that there have been breaches of the licences granted to the coursing clubs. They do not get a slap on the wrist or a fine and their licence is not revoked. People continue to get licences. We are told the welfare issues are a matter for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. If there are breaches of the licence conditions, surely the logical conclusion is that a licence would not be granted? If a pub, restaurant or nightclub breached licensing conditions their licence would be revoked.
Some months ago the weather prevented the last day of a coursing event. It is acknowledged that the event was being monitored and the ground was deemed to be unsuitable. Instead of it being a reprieve for the hares, they were kept in captivity for a further week until the weather improved. This is not about destroying the greyhound industry; it is about using live hares in this cruel way, which has led to injury and death as documented by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. There have been occasions when the staff of the NPWS have been intimidated and they have been inhibited in doing their work by coursing enthusiasts. This is a very clearly defined remit. There is an alternative to live hare coursing. In Australia and the United States they have drag coursing. I do not understand the attraction for men - it is mainly men - who get pleasure in seeing a defenceless animal running for its life.
There are also injuries to greyhounds. We know what happens to greyhounds who do not reach the mark in either coursing or racing, unless they are rescued by people involved in animal welfare. The greyhound is also a gentle creature, until it is introduced to blooding for coursing. This is one occasion - there have been others - when I wish the Bill introduced by Deputy Peter Mathews had been accepted, because I do not believe the majority in this House are in favour of coursing. If my Bill does proceed to Second Stage, I hope we can have a full and frank debate on this very cruel practice.