Hare coursing involves the terrorising of one animal by another. It causes unnecessary cruelty every year to thousands of hares through stress, injury and death. It is a total contradiction that on the one hand the hare is protected under the Wildlife Act but the Act also protects hare coursing. The legislation states that it is illegal to trap and sell hares other than for the specific purpose of coursing them. On the one hand the hare is protected, except when it comes to coursing.
Let us examine the procedures involved in coursing.
Some time before each coursing meeting the club members go out into the countryside to collect the hares in a process that is known as netting. They shout and they yell as they herd the hares into the net and then the hares are put into boxes to be transported to the coursing venue. Netting and handling are cruel. The hare is a very timid and delicate creature and it is cruel to net an animal that is used to the freedom of nature. Hares have been injured and have died in this process. Then there is the training of hares, which must happen to produce what is considered to be better sport. The hares are familiarised in the field so that when the coursing does happen, they will run up the centre of the field, which makes for good coursing.
In the few weeks before the coursing event, the hares are kept herded in an enclosure, which adds more stress and cruelty because hares are strictly solitary creatures and they do not live together in groups. During the weeks of being herded, they are prone to disease which spreads very quickly due to them being enclosed.
Only three countries in Europe in total, including Ireland, allow it. What is involved in both open and enclosed coursing is hares running for their lives. The hare does not know that the greyhound is muzzled and that it cannot be killed. Both Deputy Clare Daly and I raised a number of issues relating to coursing with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, during Question Time this morning. As I have done previously, Deputy Daly pointed out that there have been breaches of the licences granted to the coursing clubs. They do not get a slap on the wrist or a fine and their licence is not revoked. People continue to get licences. We are told the welfare issues are a matter for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. If there are breaches of the licence conditions, surely the logical conclusion is that a licence would not be granted? If a pub, restaurant or nightclub breached licensing conditions their licence would be revoked.
Some months ago the weather prevented the last day of a coursing event. It is acknowledged that the event was being monitored and the ground was deemed to be unsuitable. Instead of it being a reprieve for the hares, they were kept in captivity for a further week until the weather improved. This is not about destroying the greyhound industry; it is about using live hares in this cruel way, which has led to injury and death as documented by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. There have been occasions when the staff of the NPWS have been intimidated and they have been inhibited in doing their work by coursing enthusiasts. This is a very clearly defined remit. There is an alternative to live hare coursing. In Australia and the United States they have drag coursing. I do not understand the attraction for men – it is mainly men – who get pleasure in seeing a defenceless animal running for its life.