Parliamentary Questions and Answers

Question 458 - Answered on 10 May, 2000

Tony Gregory: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands if she will set out the irregularities referred to in her letter to Deputy Gregory (details supplied) including the coursing clubs and meetings concerned; and the outcome of the inquiries made in each case. [13033/00]

Question 459 - Answered on 10 May, 2000

Tony Gregory: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands if a coursing club (details supplied) was involved in irregularities during the 1998/99 season; if their licence was suspended for the 1999/2000 season; if the suspension was then lifted, if so, the reasons the suspension was lifted and the representations made to have the suspension lifted. [13034/00]


Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): I propose to take Questions Nos. 458 and 459 together.

Licences are issued under sections 32 and 34 of the Wildlife Act, 1976, which enables the Irish Coursing Club and its affiliated clubs to net and earmark hares which are a protected species under the Wildlife Act, 1976. Conservation rangers carry out spot checks on coursing club meetings to ensure the terms and conditions attached to the licences are adhered to.

Based on reports received from the conservation rangers in relation to spot checks carried out on coursing meetings in the 1998-99 coursing season, a meeting was held between representatives of Dúchas, the Heritage Service, and the Irish Coursing Club on 23 July 1999. The matters raised in the discussions were as follows.

Possibility of hares being coursed more than once on the same day: Dúchas raised this in relation to reports received from conservation rangers on a number of club meets at Borris in Ossory, Rathdowney, Tubbercurry and Millstreet. While the Irish Coursing Club had advised by letter dated 11 May 1999 that hares had not been coursed more than once at these meets, the club undertook to draw the attention of all clubs to the terms of the licences which restricted the coursing of hares taken more than once on the same day. Dúchas would draw the attention of conservation rangers to the use by clubs of a divided paddock to avoid the coursing of hares more than once on the same day.

Clare South: Dúchas had requested further information in relation to a report received that 14 hares had died from an unknown cause at this meet. The coursing club advised that it was believed that stormy weather conditions had played a part but they would investigate further to see if facilities, practices or procedures could be improved at the meet to reduce such risk.

Release of hares: Dúchas advised the ICC that arising from a report received in relation to the East Donegal Coursing Club meet, a number of hares had been released outside the jurisdiction. Technically, this amounted to an export of hares which would require a licence under the Wildlife Act, 1976. The ICC noted the situation and undertook to inform clubs of the situation and to address any problems arising.

Refusal of access to Dúchas staff: Dúchas staff had been refused full access to a coursing meet held by the Kilcreevan/Ballymote club and had withdrawn from the meeting in January 1999. Dúchas considered this matter as extremely serious and sought assurances from the ICC that this incident did not reflect the policy of the control body. The ICC had acted swiftly to secure access for Dúchas staff on the day following the incident. The ICC advised that its policy was to fully co-operate with Dúchas, all clubs were advised to co-operate and most clubs welcomed and encouraged the attendance of Dúchas officials.

Applications for licences under sections 32 and 34 of the Wildlife Act, 1976, were received from the Irish Coursing Club in respect of the 1999-2000 coursing season. Having considered the application and all relevant information in relation to the 1998-99 coursing season, I decided to grant the licences but to exclude the Kilcreevan/Ballymote club from the terms of those licences.

The exclusion of the Kilcreevan/Ballymote club from the terms of the licences granted to the Irish Coursing Club on 30 August 1999 was the subject of an exchange of legal correspondence between Dúchas and club representatives, informal representations to Dúchas and representations on behalf of the club to my office. As a result of these representations, I met a deputation of representatives of the club, led by Deputy Matt Brennan and Deputy Ellis on 2 December 1999. At this meeting, I took the opportunity to outline the functions and responsibilities of both myself, as Minister, and Dúchas staff under the under the Wildlife Act, 1976. In particular, I pointed out the need for full co-operation between clubs and Dúchas staff. I also undertook at this meeting to review the matter.

Following my meeting with the deputation, I received a letter dated 21 December 1999 from the chairman of the Kilcreevan/Ballymote coursing club. In reviewing my decision in this case, I was conscious of the fact that my earlier decision to exclude the club from the licences issued to the ICC imposed a sanction on all club members because of the actions of a small number of individuals. Also, in their letter of 21 December 1999, the club had acknowledged that the full co-operation required between the club and Dúchas staff had not been present at the meeting in January 1999 and gave a formal undertaking to ensure that the necessary co-operation would be forthcoming at any future meetings. On this basis, I decided to issue the necessary licences under sections 32 and 34 of the Wildlife Act, 1976, to the Irish Coursing Club, to facilitate the holding of the Kilcreevan/Ballymote fixture in January 2000.

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