Parliamentary Questions and Answers

Question 540 - Answered on 17th June, 2014

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

To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will ensure there are sufficient strict regulations that coursing will not take place in weather conditions that are adverse and difficult for the animals in question, hares and greyhounds; and if so that coursing events will be cancelled; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney

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. The ICC's rules and regulations (Rule 106) accommodate the postponement of meetings if the weather is unfavourable i.e. snowfall, frost or waterlogged ground, which may affect the welfare of both greyhound and hare.

The ICC has demonstrated its willingness to cancel / postpone meetings in the face of adverse weather conditions, For example, one coursing meeting was cancelled on 23rd November 2013 due to heavy frost, and this would be a routine practice for all clubs affiliated to the ICC. Also meetings were postponed over the Christmas (2013) period due to other unfavourable weather conditions. During extreme weather conditions, it is also the practice of clubs to provide additional food for hares living on hare preserves protected by coursing clubs.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012, has responsibility for the issuing 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 inspections during the coursing season to monitor compliance with the licences and the rules governing animal welfare.

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

A very high proportion (99.4%) of the hares captured for hare coursing were returned to the wild at the end of the 2013/2014 season.

The systems that are in place are, in my view, effective and are working well.

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