Parliamentary Questions and Answers

Question 359 - Answered on 3rd December 2013

Maureen O'Sullivan, TD (Dublin Central, Independent)

To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will consider suspending the hare coursing season during spells of adverse weather conditions and spells of freezing weather when the welfare of the hares and greyhounds is increasingly under threat; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney (Cork South-Central, Fine Gael):

Under the provisions of the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 the regulation of coursing is chiefly a matter for the Irish Coursing Club (ICC) subject to the general control and direction of Bord na gCon, which is the statutory body with responsibility for the improvement and development of the greyhound industry, greyhound racing and coursing. The ICC has confirmed that it has systems in place to underpin the welfare of animals participating in coursing events. These include mandatory inspections of hares and coursing venues in advance of the commencement of an event. Greyhounds involved in coursing are subject to the provisions of the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and the Code of Practice for the care and welfare of greyhounds, published by Bord na gCon.

The ICC has assured the Department that it goes to great lengths to ensure the highest standards are adhered to during coursing. ICC rules and regulations require the postponement of coursing meetings if the weather is unfavourable for example where snowfall or frost could impact negatively on the greyhound or the hare. The ICC has confirmed that a coursing meeting scheduled to take place on November 23 2013 was postponed due to heavy frost. During extreme weather conditions, it is also the practice of ICC clubs to provide additional food for the hares living in the wild, within hare preserves protected by the ICC.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012, has responsibility for the issue of an annual licence to the ICC and its affiliated clubs to capture live hares. These licences currently have a total of 26 conditions attached to them. The conditions of these licences cover a range of items, including veterinary supervision at coursing meetings and a number of requirements attaching to the welfare of hares.

The ICC ensures that a veterinary surgeon and a control steward are present at all coursing meetings. In addition to this, veterinary staff from my Department and rangers from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (part of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) carry out random monitoring inspections during the coursing season to verify compliance with the licences and the rules governing animal welfare.

As a further control, a Monitoring Committee on Coursing was established during the 1993/94 coursing season and is comprised of officials from my Department and representatives from both the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the ICC to monitor developments in coursing and in that regard the situation is kept under constant review to ensure that coursing is run in a well controlled and responsible manner in the interests of hares and greyhounds alike.

A very high proportion (98.09%) of the hares captured for hare coursing were returned to the wild at the end of the 2012/2013 season.

The systems that are in place are, in my view, effective, proportionate and are working well. The ICC has demonstrated its willingness in recent weeks to postpone an event due poor weather. Accordingly I see no need for any unilateral intervention on my part to suspend hare coursing during adverse weather conditions.

Ireland's coursing cruelty catalogue 2013

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