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Deputies Daly and O'Sullivan call for the protection of hares
20 July 2012

A big thank you to Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan and Clare Daly for standing up for hares during a Dail debate this week. Their comments in support of protection for hares were featured on RTE's Oireachtas Report programme which can be viewed below.

You can read and watch Clare and Maureen's speeches below or read the full text of the debate at

Full Speech - Dail Eireann (18 July 2012)

RTE's Oireachtas Report (18 July 2012)

Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages
Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: It is appropriate that, even though they relate to the remits of two Ministers, we are debating the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2012 in advance of dealing with the Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012. The Bill before the House is technical in nature and deals with the current hunting licence provisions relating to the shooting of wild birds and hares during open season. In the hunting of birds there is a need to put in place a protocol on the numbers of certain species hunted in order that we might monitor the impact. We must ensure changes in the level of hunting pressure are monitored and I wonder how it is proposed to do this. There is also a need to review the listed species of birds which are hunted in open season, particularly as some of these are of concern, both nationally and on an EU basis, in terms of their conservation. Wildlife in Ireland is a good indicator of the impact of environmental changes and, therefore, the question of monitoring is significant. We are aware that some species such as the breeding curlew and other breeding wader species are suffering a serious decline in numbers.

I will deal with the poor hare. I do not know what the hare has ever done to Irish society to justify the treatment meted out to it, first, as a result of many years of coursing and now by virtue of the fact that people will be able to shoot it. The Minister referred to open season which, for hares, will be five months long. However, open season for hares lasts all 12 months of the year.

My predecessor, the late Tony Gregory, was associated with a number of causes in combating illegal drugs and crime, promoting the interests of street traders and obtaining housing for people. Animal welfare was another cause central to his philosophy. It was one of his deep regrets that more had not been done to progress the issue of animal welfare before he died. In particular, he was concerned about the treatment of animals such as the hare, the fox, the badger and the stag. I am absolutely appalled to think the ban on stag hunting may be rescinded. That would be a retrograde step.

Tony Gregory was honoured to serve as vice president of the Irish Council Against Bloodsports when the late Hugh Leonard was its president. He used various mechanisms of parliamentary procedure to highlight the cause of animals and issues of cruelty. As the Minister is aware, in 1993 he sponsored a Private Members’ Bill on wildlife. When he was introducing the Bill, he paid tribute to the democratic process for allowing an Independent Member to take that course of action. He considered that wildlife was a matter of immense public concern and interest and referred to “the welfare of the vulnerable and defenceless in nature’s creation.” He hoped his Bill would help to end the “mediaeval barbarity of live hare coursing.” He acknowledged the pressure Members representing rural constituencies would be under to oppose the Bill. He also acknowledged that coursing clubs formed a very powerful lobby in some rural areas. Given that he came from Dublin Central, he was not under pressure from any lobby. However, he asked that Members be allowed to decide for themselves whether there was a need to change the cruel practice of coursing. This did not happen and, therefore, coursing was not banned in 1993. Many hares have suffered a cruel end as a result. I take the opportunity to state I object to the term “sport” being applied to coursing. There is no sport involved in either coursing or, as proposed in the Bill, shooting hares.

Tony Gregory was not the first person to try to have hare coursing banned in Ireland. The first attempt was made in November 1975 when the current President, Mr. Michael D. Higgins, then a Senator, tried to have legislation relating to wildlife being dealt with in the Upper House amended in order to have coursing declared illegal. His efforts in this regard were backed by another former President, Mrs. Mary Robinson, then a Senator, and the late Dr. Noel Browne. During the Committee Stage debate on the Wildlife Bill 1975 he stated, “My view is that the barbaric practice of hare coursing should be stopped immediately.” One of the Senators of the day who was in favour of coursing made the following comment, “There is scope for escapes. Those hares are properly trained today.” I wonder for what they were being trained. Another Member of the Upper House stated, “Coursing is fundamental to our greyhound industry.” I do not agree with that assertion. There are only three countries, including Ireland, in which coursing is legal and other countries which have banned it have thriving greyhound industries. One of the Senators to whom I refer and who was in favour of coursing also stated, “The hares are adequately and perfectly cared for, both prior to the coursing meeting concerned and afterwards.” I was bemused by the use of the word “afterwards”, particularly as the former Senator in question was speaking prior to the introduction of muzzling. In such circumstances, I am not too sure how many hares would have survived coursing meetings and required care afterwards.

Mrs. Mary Robinson said, “Coursing is a very cruel sport” and referred to “the principle of trying to prevent unnecessary and deliberate cruelty to animals.” The late Dr. Noel Browne referred to the hare as “one of the gentlest of God’s created animals” and the fact that very fast greyhounds were used to inflict “inevitably and invariably, unnecessary pain on this tiny animal.” He also described coursing as a barbaric practice. It is interesting that at the time in question the British House of Commons had just passed legislation to abolish hare coursing. As Deputies are aware, a high percentage of MPs in the House of Commons would have believed in blood sports. However, they passed an Act to ban the practice of coursing.

During the debate to which I refer the late Dr. Noel Browne commented, “Speaking as a psychiatrist, it is worth examining the kind of people who indulge in this masochistic practice.” He also wondered about the emotional make-up of those to whom he referred in the context of their enjoying “the sound of an animal screaming to death, being torn to pieces.” He associated that kind of enjoyment which what would have then been obtained in “the more disreputable night spots in Soho.” I do not think one would have to go to Soho to obtain such enjoyment nowadays because I am sure it is available much closer to home. I should note that all of the points made in the 1975 debate came prior to the Irish Coursing Club being forced to muzzle dogs at enclosed coursing meetings. The next political push to have hare coursing banned was initiated by the current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter.

Let us consider what the supposedly humane practice of muzzling has done for the hare. About one month before each meeting club members go out into the countryside to collect hares in a process known as “netting”. This involves a gang of supporters shouting and yelling to herd hares into nets which have been strategically placed. The hares are then put into boxes for transport to the coursing venue. These are another two instances of cruelty, but the Bill does not go into much detail on this aspect. The next stage of the process involves training hares. Perhaps the animals have a better chance of survival if they are the subject of coursing rather than being pursued by hunters with guns. However, that is debatable. Releasing a wild hare into a coursing field produces what coursing supporters see as very poor sport because it would not know where to run. During the training weeks hares are kept herded together in a enclosure. This adds considerably to the stress suffered by the hares which are solitary creatures and keep to themselves in the wild. They do not live together in groups. In captivity, therefore, they are very prone to disease which can spread more easily when they are kept together in an enclosure.

As a result of the level of secrecy relating to coursing and other blood sports, it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics for them. It is also difficult to know who to believe. We are informed that on coursing days each hare should only be coursed once. However, it is important to note in this regard that coursing clubs are monitored by coursing officials, not by an independent body.

It is clear that the practice known as “blooding” is widespread. I know this for a fact because many greyhound owners state their animals must be blooded before they can take part in coursing. They use rabbits and kittens for this practice to enhance the performance of the greyhound. The owners of greyhounds who want to race their dogs on tracks must first register them with the Irish Coursing Club. This represents an enforced subsidy in respect of coursing.

The majority are opposed to hare coursing. I am sure they would also be opposed to the hunting and shooting of hares. Many independent surveys have been carried out of this matter during the years. recently carried out a poll which showed that a considerable majority were in favour of banning hare coursing until, very suddenly, the numbers of those in favour of it not being banned rose. It was at that point that the staff of discovered an attempt to rig the poll - they have proof of this - by people who were pro-coursing.

All animal welfare organisations are opposed to coursing. What, therefore, is the justification for trapping hares or any other animals and using them and their pain as a form of entertainment? There is only a small minority who get pleasure from and bet on hares fighting for their lives as they are chased and terrorised by greyhounds. The activity of coursing is one-sided and the same side always wins. Greyhounds might be muzzled, but the hares are terrorised, injured and some have died. The hare is fighting for its life and is not aware that the greyhound is muzzled. Muzzling does not prevent hares from being tossed up in the air and injured. The lucky hare that reaches the escape area without being caught by the dogs is caught in an enclosure. We do not know what happens to those hares because we do not have the figures. They probably live to fight another day. Perhaps they are released to be shot under the terms of the Bill before the House. The animal we are talking about is chased by the greyhound, which is a much bigger animal...

I would like to make a point about the greyhound before I leave this issue. The greyhound is also a gentle animal. Greyhounds have also suffered particular injuries. I remind the House that a recent doping scandal involved greyhounds. In its definition of “animal welfare”, the World Organisation for Animal Health states that “an animal is in a good state of welfare if ... it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear and distress”. The Bill represents a declaration of open season for the hunting of hares, which have enough to deal with during the coursing season. I have made my point about the importance of registration in the cases of the bird species that are covered by the Bill. I will leave it at that.

Deputy Clare Daly: As Deputy O’Sullivan said, the purpose of this Bill is to allow somebody with a hunting licence issued after 1 August 2009 to carry on shooting wild birds and hares in the relevant open season. That is what it is about. It brings the issue of the welfare of hares to the forefront. It invites us to consider whether it is appropriate to treat them in this way. I totally agree with what Deputy O’Sullivan said when she spoke about the shooting of wild birds. The importance of the conservation of certain species of birds must be adhered to. It is appropriate for Deputies to ask what the hare has ever done to the Irish Parliament. The Bill we are discussing, which is being fast-tracked, will allow wild birds and hares to be shot.

This House has not yet been given an opportunity to debate a large and important Bill that has been published. The legislation in question - the Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 - is being introduced to protect animals from cruelty and unnecessary suffering. That vital Bill is being delayed but the Bill before the House is being fast-tracked. It is appropriate to link the two. The Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 talks about the prohibition of terrifying or baiting an animal. It goes on to exempt hare coursing. One Bill acknowledges that hare coursing is cruel by putting in an exemption for hares. Hares are exempt from protection in one Bill and are included in this Bill to allow them to be shot, presumably over the course of the next few months, in case some of them got away or something like that. I do not really know what the agenda is.

It is appropriate to say that this barbarity must stop. What did the hare ever do? We are talking about making provision for licences to allow people to shoot this unique animal - an endemic sub-species that is not found anywhere else in the world - in the open season. I am suggesting that other forms of treatment of this species, such as hare coursing activity, are relevant in this context. We have allowed this activity to continue for more than 100 years while other jurisdictions have been criminalising it. Hare coursing was appropriately outlawed in New South Wales in 1953, in New Zealand in 1954, in Victoria in 1964, in South Australia in 1985, in Scotland in 2002, in England and Wales in 2005 and in Northern Ireland in 2010. These jurisdictions have criminalised hare coursing - it is treated as a criminal offence - but this country is carrying on regardless by allowing hares to be treated in a totally inappropriate manner. It is scandalous that this activity continues regularly in ten counties: Clare, Kerry, Cork, Kilkenny, Donegal, Tipperary, Wexford, Limerick, Galway and Dublin. Balbriggan, in my own constituency, is the only place in County Dublin where it is allowed to take place.

It is appropriate to draw attention to this matter. The Irish Coursing Club has said that hares come to no harm in coursing because they are protected by the existing rules governing the sport, as the club calls it. That is completely and utterly false. It does not stand up to any scrutiny of the evidence...

for 12 months of the year, we are allowing hares to be used in a coursing environment. We have to see it in the context of the protection of this species. I would like to mention some of the commentary that has been made by the Irish Wildlife Trust, which is the foremost authority on this subject. It is a conservation organisation that uses all the relevant scientific data and expertise on the status of the Irish hare population. Some of its members are experts on this species. The Irish Wildlife Trust has said that the hare on this island is an endemic sub-species. In other words, it is not found anywhere else in the world. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has assessed the conservation of the hare, on the basis of recent studies, and expressed some concerns. It has suggested that the population is stable but is subject to important fluxes. A species action plan for the Irish hare, which was published by the same organisation, states that hare populations have undergone a substantial decline in the past 15 to 20 years and are thought to have fallen to a critical level in some areas. There is concern about the conservation of hares.

The Irish Wildlife Trust has suggested in one of its reports that the unsustainable taking of hares for sporting purposes could be one of the reasons the species is threatened and in decline. It is obvious that this extension of hunting licences, to allow some more hares to be shot, will pose a further threat to the species as a whole. The trust believes this important species needs to be protected. It is afforded protection under the Wildlife Act 1976, as amended in 2000, and under the EU habitats directive. Additional measures need to be put in place to protect the hare. It is relevant to examine this issue in its entirety. The Government has been incredibly slow to introduce legislation to protect animals from cruelty. However, it has found time to fast-track this measure, which will result in more hares being shot. It is particularly reprehensible that we are doing this at the moment. Other Deputies have made the point that shooting animals and wildlife, including birds, is good for tourism. I suggest the opposite argument can be made. Bird-watching and similar activities are also very important for local tourism. If we prevent wild birds from being shot, it will be good for the economy. Therefore, it is not appropriate for this Bill to extend current legislative provisions in this way. I do not think we should take part in it. I do not agree with the Bill for those reasons.

Read the full text of the debate at


"I was thinking of removing the reference to hares from the Bill because very few people shot them," Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan stated during the debate. Please contact him now and urge him to remove the provision from the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2012 which allows people to shoot hares.

Jimmy Deenihan, TD
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs
Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
23 Kildare Street
Dublin 2

Email: [with a copy to]
Tel: (01) 631 3802
Fax: (01) 661 1201


Contact Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and demand that a ban on coursing is included in the Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012.

Minister Simon Coveney
Department of Agriculture
Agriculture House,
Kildare Street, Dublin 2.
Tel: 01-607 2884 or LoCall 1890-200510.
Fax: 01-661 1013.

Urgently contact An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and An Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. Ask them to show compassion for wildlife and introduce an immediate ban on coursing and foxhunting.

An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny
Department of the Taoiseach,
Telephone: 01-6194020

An Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore
Office of the Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade,
Tel: 01 6183566 (Dail) or 01 408 2000 (Iveagh House)

Email Both:;

Contact all your local TDs now. Demand that they urgently push for bans on coursing and foxhunting.

Find out the names of your TDs and their email addresses.

If you prefer to post a letter to your TDs, address your correspondence to:
Dail Eireann
Leinster House
Kildare Street
Dublin 2.

Please also arrange a meeting with your TDs at their local clinics. Contact us for details.

The victims of coursing

All hares used in coursing are victims and they all suffer the fear and stress of being violently snatched from their habitats, thrown into crates, transported to coursing compounds and kept in captivity for months. Among the hare injuries and deaths recorded are:

Slideshow: the cruelty of hare coursing in Ireland

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