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Senator David Norris questions Minister about hare on hunting list
12 October 2022

Green Party Minister of State for Heritage, Malcolm Noonan, has said that there are no plans to make changes to an open season order which allows hares to be terrorised and killed by hunting dogs, captured from the wild and used as live lures in coursing and gunned down by shooters.

Minister Noonan was responding to correspondence from Senator David Norris who enquired about the presence of the Irish Hare - and threatened birds - on the open season order.

The inclusion of the hare – an icon of Ireland’s wildlife heritage – on the open season list means they may be blasted to death as they sit inoffensively in fields and chased to exhaustion by packs of hounds and torn to bits. And, thanks to a licence shamefully granted by Heritage Minister Darragh O’Brien, coursers have been netting thousands of them from the wild, holding them in captivity and releasing them into enclosed fields for greyhounds to chase – all so that a merciless mob can come to coursing meetings and gamble on which dogs will force the hares to change direction first.

The Irish Hare is a threatened species, with numbers declining. The species should be protected, not persecuted.

A survey worryingly found that the latest 2018-19 average hare density estimate of 3.19 hares per km2 was 58% lower than the 7.44 hares per km2 density estimated during 2007. The most recent estimates ranged from 3.50 hares per km2 in the northwest down to just 2.66 hares per km2 in the east of the country.

The survey, which estimated the Irish Hare population to be 223,000, conceded that it could be as low as 60,000.

In a 28 June 2022 Dail Question to Minister Darragh O’Brien, Paul Murphy TD (Solidarity-People Before Profit) asked “if his attention has been drawn to the fact that those carrying out the survey only detected 229 hares in the pilot study (March to May 2018) and 253 hares during the full survey (November 2018 to February 2019) with the latter sightings made in just 44 x 1 kilometre squares around the country; and his views that these facts would raise questions around the conclusion that this suggests a highly widespread common distribution.”

Responding, Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan described the survey’s 44 kilometre squares of focus (out of a total country area of 70,000 square kilometres) within which the hares were spotted as “statistically representative of the country’s overall habitat composition”. He said that those carrying out the survey extrapolated the findings in the sample area to the whole country. From the sightings of a few hundred hares, they came up with a population figure of 223,000 hares (“with a 95% probability that the number is between 111,000 and 449,000”).

The report admits that the population could be substantially lower, i.e. “the more conservative bootstrapped confidence limits suggested that the population could vary from 60,000 to 1.2 million individuals”.

In 2018 (before the survey was carried out), one of the authors of the survey report – Dr Karina Dingerkus – spoke about the general decline of hares on RTE Radio 1’s Mooney Goes Wild show. Programme presenter Derek Mooney told listeners that while hares are thriving at Dublin Airport, “their numbers elsewhere around the country are dwindling”. Speaking on the show, ecologist Dr Dingerkus said that “over the last 50 years, numbers have declined significantly.” “We know that hare populations do fluctuate naturally but we don’t know by how much,” Dr Dingerkus stated. “We certainly know that numbers have declined.” Later in the programme, she added: “We don’t see very many…Certainly over the past 50 years, we know numbers have dropped dramatically…they’re in trouble…we do know that they have been dropping over a long period of time.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage’s Wild Nephin National Park website states: “Hare populations can vary dramatically from year to year but it is believed that there has been a long-term decline overall”.

The hare survey was completed just before the presence of the RHD2 disease was confirmed in Ireland but the survey report acknowledges the highly contagious virus as one of the threats “of highest importance” to the species, noting that “rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) has the potential to cause widespread mortality in Ireland but its impact on the Irish hare population remains unknown at this point” and that “whilst we currently judge future prospects for the species as favourable, we encourage vigilance with respect to the potential impacts of climate change, invasive species and disease.”

The National Parks and Wildlife Service previously warned that licensed hare coursing was a risk factor in the spread of RHD2 (on nets and boxes).

Thanks to Senator David Norris for contacting the Minister about the Irish Hare’s presence on the hunting list. He has also questioned the Minister about the inclusion of threatened amber- and red-list birds (of highest conservation concern) on the list.

Earlier this year, he called on the Heritage Minister to refuse a 2022-23 licence for cruel hare coursing.

In the past, he has condemned hare coursing as “a particularly damnable and degrading pursuit” and “an obscenity which is indefensible”.

See the NPWS open season order at


Please join us in urging Ministers Darragh O’Brien and Malcolm Noonan to remove the Irish Hare from the open season order and end all hare coursing, hare hunting and hare shooting.

Minister Darragh O’Brien (Fianna Fail, Dublin Fingal)
Tel: (01) 618 3802 OR (086) 251 9893

Malcolm Noonan TD (Green Party, Carlow Kilkenny)
Minister of State for Heritage
Tel: (01) 888 2425 OR (01) 618 3156

Contact Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Green Party, Sinn Fein and Labour Party TDs and urge them to pledge support for the upcoming Animal Health & Welfare (Ban on Hare Coursing) Bill 2020.

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