Deputy Dukes has nine minutes and I gather that he proposes to share his time with Deputy Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Private Members' Business. - Wildlife Bill, 1993: Second Stage (Resumed).
Deputy Kenny wishes to share my time instead of Deputy Browne.
That is satisfactory.
I will not repeat what I said last night. I will make a few brief points about the way coursing is and should be run. To be properly run a coursing meeting requires a considerable amount of preparation. First of all the hares should be caught some weeks in advance of the course and brought to the venue to be kept there so that they can become familiar with the ground and of course they should be fed there during that period. In the vast majority of cases that is what is done. They are then trained at the venue in that they are made to run over the course in the direction they will take on the day of the course, in the case of closed park meetings, towards the place where the escape is provided for them. From that point of view the hares are familiar with the ground before the coursing takes place.
Since it has been a matter of some contention, I will quote a little more from the evidence of the committee of the House of Commons which I mentioned last night about what happens and the behaviour of the hare during the coursing. This part of the report deals with what they called "jinking".
13. This stage begins when the dogs overtake the hare. The hare then uses its second means of defence, dodging to one side or "jinking". The dogs then overshoot and the hare gains a yard or two, until the dogs' superior speed brings them up again, when the hare will dodge again. The dodgings of the hare are not automatic defence reactions (although the first two or three may be): the hare can soon be seen to be working its way with each turn towards an escape hole, sought or other cover.
I make that point because it was alleged that hares are made to run in a straight line, a conduct which is alleged to be unnatural for the hare, and that they are not allowed to run or cannot run in a straight line when the course takes place. The evidence and my observation suggest that a hare which is not being pursued on its own in open country will on the whole run in a straight line and that the "jink-ing" is not the normal method of locomotion of the hare but a reaction of a prey species to a situation which is one that is peculiar and indeed even natural to its location in nature and the food chain. To allege that hares are in some way unnaturally made to run in one way or another during the course of a coursing meeting is wrong and it is not true. When meetings are organised in the way laid down in these standards we can be properly content that they are being properly organised and that no particular violence is being done to any of the orders of nature, given the nature of the animals involved. It is true that not all meetings are organised in that way and that is the centre of our concern. It is why we have made the proposals which I set out last evening in order to make sure that meetings when they take place are organised properly, that the scales are not overly balanced one way or the other and that the animals are properly treated before, during and after the course.
There are a number of practices which are reprehensible, some of which Deputy Gregory mentioned last night. There have been cases where meetings have been cancelled and licences have been withdrawn from venues by the Coursing Club because meetings were not organised as they should be. There are cases of informal coursing that take place around the country, happily not too frequently, where none of the standards I have been talking about are observed. Events of that kind and events that include the kind of blooding that Deputy Gregory mentioned last night are clearly illegal and should be visited with the utmost severity of the law. Even if Deputy Gregory's Bill were passed, those kinds of activities would still remain a problem. The passage of this Bill will not do anything to combat the kinds of practices which Deputy Gregory rightly deplores.
A great deal more could be said on this issue, but I will come back to the point from which I started. I do not agree with statements made this evening to the effect that this debate is irrelevant. I am a defender of the right of this House to examine any issue and, even though I disagree with Deputy Gregory, I defend his right to bring the matter before the House and have it properly debated. People who say that a debate here is irrelevant are not doing their own cause any good.
Those who look at the world with the mind of a human through the eyes of an animal are making a very big mistake. That is the basic flaw in the way Deputy Gregory and those who agree with him go about the basis of this Bill. It would be absolutely wrong — and Deputy Gregory has avoided doing this — to try to categorise all those people who are involved in coursing as being bloodthirsty barbarians, which they patently are not, any more than the people who are against blood sports can be categorised universally as saints.
Over 20 years ago I was a founder member of a gun club in my area. It was set up principally to regulate the traffic of foreign visitors coming there, whose game shooting exploits included shooting hares, rabbits, game of all description and song birds. Following activities in that area for a number of years, the proliferation of guns in the area and a decline in the wild game stock, my interest in the club declined. I have never attended a coursing meeting but I met coursing people from my county. They were the first people to suggest that regulations should be introduced into coursing. I would like to see regulations implemented if this Bill goes to Committee Stage.
It is important to realise that what happened in Limerick was a disgrace and that it is our own fault that something like this can happen. There are passionate arguments on both sides of the fence. Those against coursing would also oppose the vivisection of animals, the keeping of battery hens, cruelty to donkeys, which takes place daily in some parts of the country, and the lighting of fires on the backs of horses, which occurred in this city. One does not complain about the poisoning of grey crows, magpies, rats or vermin of any description. I accept that the humble hare has natural agility and ability to escape in open ground.
The regulations to which Deputy Dukes referred yesterday certainly would go a long way to eliminating, if not completely abolishing, the element of cruelty, the one aspect people want removed from coursing. Nobody wants to see hares die or being killed. In my travels throughout my rural constituency I have on occasion, late at night, killed hares that spring in front of my car. I do not like doing that. I do everything to avoid it. Life is cruel and nature has its balance, its element of cruelty so that the strong survive. I am not saying that is the way we should regulate confined coursing. Regulations such as licensing, the presence of wildlife rangers, the banning of coursing meetings where licences were not required and the muzzling of dogs — if that can be implemented — would eliminate the cruelty element from coursing.
If the Second Stage of the Bill is passed I should like to see adopted the regulations to which Deputy Dukes referred, and which were the subject of an amendment tabled by the Fine Gael Party yesterday but which was ruled out of order for technical reasons.
The function of my office is to develop the greyhound industry here. Of necessity, I am bound to take the wider view on most issues concerning that industry, to weigh each issue carefully and decide how best each issue should be dealt with for the betterment of the greyhound industry as a whole.
The coursing issue is linked inextricably to the greyhound industry and its development. The Irish Coursing Club is the embodiment of coursing in Ireland and has been since 1916. It has also been a regulatory authority in the industry since that time and was the only authority up to the time of establishment of Bord na gCon in 1958. The Irish Coursing Club compiled and published the first Irish Greyhound Stud Book in 1923 and has been compiling and publishing the stud book annually since then. In addition, the Irish Coursing Club is the controlling authority for the breeding and registering of greyhounds in the 32 counties. While it is primarily a coursing body, most objective observers would agree that the Irish Coursing Club played a substantial role in the organisation and development of our greyhound industry. This is something of which I must be aware in advancing proposals for the development of that industry.
I consider the timing of the introduction of this Bill rather unfortunate, in that Deputy Gregory has introduced it at a time when the issue is very divisive. In an interview on radio yesterday I said the proposed Bill from my Department will not be seen by us as being cast in stone. I would prefer that the House could move towards a resolution of this issue by way of a consensus.
I propose now to outline what my Department has been doing, proposes to do. It would be my hope that we could reach a degree of consensus on this issue of coursing within the context of developing our greyhound industry. As has been rightly pointed out by virtually all contributors, strong views on this issue are held by both sides of the House.
Following examination we have devised a formula worthy at least of the full support of this House in the context of its trial leading to the introduction of legislation. The Minister, Deputy Walsh, and I have made it clear on a number of occasions that a thorough review of the greyhound industry, including hare coursing, is at present taking place and that a comprehensive examination not only of the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 but of all legislation relating to hare coursing will form part of that review. Last July the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, appointed a task force comprised of representatives of Bord na gCon and officials of his Department. As Members will be aware, this task force followed on the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee which had examined the greyhound industry.
The greyhound industry is a many-faceted one. On my appointment as Minister of State I was rather surprised to discover that Bord na gCon had been assigned to me. I had experience of the greyhound industry as a young person and I particularly enjoy track racing. I look forward to dealing with the challenge facing that industry and of playing my part in helping that industry recover and develop.
In recent weeks the task force established by the Minister in July last presented a position paper to the Minister and me. I had been aware of their work since assuming office. I engaged in an exhaustive round of consultations with the representative elements in the industry. At all times I was anxious to hear the views of all those involved in the industry, including views on coursing.
The question of hare coursing must be handled sensibly if it is not to become a significant source of conflict and division in our society. There are many lines of division on this issue. It is not a simple division between town and country, although there were traces of that in the debate so far. There is a strong lobby in rural areas in favour of coursing. It is not — I stress this — a conflict between animal lovers and animal haters. Coursing people take good care of both hares and dogs at great expense to themselves. It is not a socio-economic divide either because, as far as I can determine, professional people and unskilled labourers alike are involved in the sport. The divide seems to be more accurately between the extreme views of both sides on this issue. Both sides appear to be attempting to attract the middle ground on this issue through intensive lobbying and media attention.
Coursing is at the heart of an important indigenous industry which gives much needed employment in rural areas. A Bord na gCon survey estimates that approximately 8,000 people are involved in the industry as breeders, owners and trainers. Taking those employed at racing tracks and in the supply of ancillary services, it is estimated that approximately 10,000 people derive their livelihoods, directly or indirectly, from the industry. Approximately 20,000 greyhounds are bred annually, about half of that number being exported, mainly to the United Kingdom. Total annual receipts from the sale of greyhounds is approximately £40 million, of which approximately half is derived from exports. Other receipts to breeders include prize money amounting to £2.1 million.
This level of employment and exports is of significant benefit to some communities and can be developed further if proper consideration is given to the industry in all its aspects. There are areas I should allude to in considering the value in economic terms of the coursing and greyhound industry. For instance, people living in the United Kingdom make trips to Ireland so that their dogs can mate with a female greyhound here, while others, as part of their holiday, visit the pups or saplings they have purchased. Therefore, incidental tourism earnings accrue from this sport. It is a very important industry.
From my discussions with the industry it appears that most people are not against coursing. Many will claim that the coursing bloodlines in the pedigrees of Irish greyhound track racing dogs give them their speed and contribute significantly to the quality of their performance, for which they have an international reputation. The fear is that if coursing is phased out or banned, the quality of the Irish track dog will over a period of years suffer badly and our exports will also suffer accordingly.
Comments and publicity material from some quarters give the impression that practically every individual course ends up with the destruction of the hare; but, as we all know, that is not the case and is far from the truth. Last night Deputy Ahern stated that he had attended two coursing meetings at which hares were not killed. I wish this was the case at every coursing meeting, but unfortunately that is not the reality. Deputy Gregory was quite right to point out that a large number of hares were killed at Clounanna this year during the running of the Irish Cup meeting. I do not condone what happened at that meeting in any way.
On average about one course in ten ends in the death of the hare. In making this point I am not condoning or arguing for a continuation of the current situation, rather I am making the point that the kill is not the purpose of coursing. This point was made strongly and eloquently in the House last night by my colleague, Deputy Brian Fitzgerald, who singled out coursing as the only sport of this type where the killing of the quarry is not the objective. The coursing fraternity claim that coursing provides information that is essential if the best greyhound breeding material is to continue to be identified.
Apart from the considerations I have just outlined, there is a number of technical flaws in Deputy Gregory's Bill. In pointing out these technical flaws I do not wish to be confrontational. Indeed, those who take part in the debate in this House and outside on coursing should not seek to be confrontational either. I am pointing out these technical flaws in the Deputy's Bill to underline the fact that consensus on this matter would lead to a much better solution to the problem of coursing.
Therefore, the Minister of State will rectify them on Committee Stage?
The Deputy's Bill.
No, the flaws.
I am not in the business of amending legislation that is badly drafted.
On Second Stage all Bills have their flaws and these are usually rectified on Committee Stage.
If the Deputy listens, I will explain the difficulties and come to the point. I believe that the flaws are such that if the Bill was to be enacted it would not succeed in achieving its aim.
With no Committee Stage debate presumably?
The Minister should be allowed to make his speech without interruption.
It is clear from the Long Title of the Wildlife Act, 1976, that its purpose is the conservation of wildlife. If the purpose of the Bill before the House is to prohibit hare coursing on the grounds of cruelty to hares, then the Wildlife Act is not the appropriate vehicle to achieve this end. If coursing to kill live hares is to be prohibited or restricted for cruelty reasons, then that should be done by an amendment to the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965.
Under the Wildlife Act, 1976, hares are a protected species for conservation purposes and they cannot be hunted unless there is a specific exemption or licence under the Act. Section 23 (7) (i) of that Act provides an exemption for coursing at regulated coursing matches under Hares Orders. Section 26 (3) allows the Minister to grant licences for clubs affiliated to the ICC to hold regulated coursing matches outside the open season specified in a Hares Order. By removing these two provisions as is envisaged in this Bill the coursing exemption is taken away from the protection given to hares for conservation reasons. However, the Minister's power under section 25 to make a Hares Order, allowing an open season in hares to exist at specified times of the year when hares could be hunted or coursed, is not taken away. Therefore the Bill is taking away the regulation of coursing but still allows a Minister to provide for coursing without any regulation whatsoever. In my view this is a major flaw in the Bill.
Another point to be made in this context is that since the Wildlife Act is a conservation of stocks measure only, orders under section 25 are not an appropriate means to distinguish between different types of hunting on grounds of cruelty and an order made under section 25 for that purpose might be ultra vires. Effectively, what this means is that a Hares Order made for the purposes of allowing the hunting of hares, for example, by shooting could not in all probability exclude hunting by means of coursing.
A further difficulty I have with Deputy Gregory's Bill is that it is indiscriminate in its attempt to outlaw hare coursing and fails to home in on the cruelty aspects, particularly the kill. Any discretion to the authorities to allow a limited form of coursing would be removed. If the Bill were successful it would, for example, outlaw the muzzling of greyhounds for coursing purposes.
Another aspect is that the provisions regarding the capture of hares contained in section 34 (3) (b) and 45 (3) (b) of the Wildlife Act, 1976, would remain. If hare coursing were prohibited then these provisions could be described only as anomalous and might facilitate the holding of clandestine coursing meetings without any supervision.
With regard to the amendments proposed to the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958, section 5 (1) of the Bill would turn the ICC from a coursing organisation into a greyhound breeding organisation without following through the consequences of this change elsewhere. It would cause a fundamental change to the greyhound industry and in particular to the relationship between the ICC and Bord na gCon. One effect of this amendment would be to deprive the ICC of its supervisory role over such varieties of coursing, not involving live hares, as might survive the Bill.
To sum up, I believe that a clearer approach to the problem would be to identify the specific element of the activity which it is sought to prohibit and then to proceed by legislation to prohibit that activity. Otherwise there is a serious risk of the measure resulting in unforeseen and unintended effects.
At this stage I would like to turn to the options for dealing with this issue. These are primarily to ban coursing or to make provision in a new Greyhound Act for better control measures which would eventually eliminate the "kill" from the sport.
I do not agree that the sport should be banned however. I have always believed that there is a large measure of support for the latter option of eliminating the kill. My position on this is well known at this stage. I believe that the killing of hares is the most unacceptable part of this sport and one which most people would be glad to see removed. In this way the essence of sport can be maintained as it has been for many years. With this in mind I have reached agreement with the ICC that controls aimed at achieving this goal would be put in place beginning with the coming season. The club has indicated that it has already proposed changes in the rules which will reduce the number of courses, improve veterinary supervision and provide for better conservation of hare stocks. Work on the design of a suitable muzzle and field trials are well advanced. The club will complete its research programme on developing a muzzle which, having regard to the welfare of both the hare and dog, will lead to all dogs participating in live coursing being muzzled. The club agreed that during the coming season a significant number of courses could be used as trials to allow for the complete introduction of muzzling at a very early stage.
Reports on the use of muzzles on dogs have been circulated in recent days. Recent statements by Deputy Gregory seem to indicate that this is a cobbled together solution. Obviously this is not the case. I have been working towards achieving a solution in this area for some time and it has formed part of my discussions with the various interest groups in the industry. It appears that Deputy Gregory's position on muzzling has changed considerably in recent days. I am not making this point to be confrontational, but this change underlines the need to proceed by way of consensus to eliminate the kill from coursing along the lines proposed by me. I note that Deputy Gregory initially welcomed the introduction of muzzling in last Friday's The Irish Times. However, he ruled out this solution as unacceptable in yesterday's edition of the same paper.
The Minister would want to take up that matter with The Irish Times.
Having regard to his contribution last night, the Deputy would seem to be the expert on The Irish Times in this House. The examination I am carrying out, together with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, is at an advanced stage and proposals have been presented to Cabinet. I am very pleased to say that these proposals were endorsed by the Cabinet today. The Minister has been charged with the responsibility of preparing legislation which will enact into law the proposed measures relating to the industry. The areas to which we are paying special attention are (1) the declining attendances at greyhound tracks, (2) the control of the industry and (3) coursing. Like many other issues, this issue does not benefit from the taking-up of extreme position, intransigence or fundamentalism. This issue can and will be resolved through consensus and identifying an acceptable middle ground which will best serve the interests of the industry and meet the legitimate concerns expressed by a great number of people in the community.
Both the Minister and I are determined to eliminate the kill from coursing. We are very committed to minimising to the greatest possible extent the suffering endured by the animals. Deputy Dukes made a very valuable, measured and balanced contribution to the debate. He adopted a human perspective on problems which essentially relate to animals. Nobody on this side of the House wants to see animals suffering; we would always seek to eliminate such suffering. I believe there is consensus on this point. We must follow the road outlined by me, starting with the new coursing season. I ask Deputies to reflect on the position which has been agreed with the Irish Coursing Club. It is very difficult to introduce changes to a sport which has existed for many years and from which many people have derived enjoyment. No one in coursing condones what happened at Clounanna this year.
I will not interrupt the Deputy if he does not interrupt me.
I could not keep it in.
There are rules in this House which should be observed, just as there are rules in coursing which should be observed. Last night Deputy Gregory referred to coursing meetings which did not comply with the rules. The Irish Coursing Club is determined to solve this problem with the co-operation of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry which is intent on ensuring that all the coursing rules are observed. As Deputy Ahern said last night in reply to Deputy Gregory, incidents involving coursing clubs which have not observed the rules have come to notice and are being dealt with. This is the point which can easily be overlooked. Coursing clubs which do not run their meetings according to the rules have been dealt with harshly.
Deputy Gregory was quoted in today's Irish Times as saying that muzzling could lead to all kinds of unacceptable activities. We must home in on this issue. Having regard to the agreement it has reached with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, I believe the Irish Coursing Club is determined to eliminate unacceptable and illegal practices from coursing. I am new in this office, but following the publication of the report by the Oireachtas joint committee the Minister set up a task force to report to him, which it has now done. Both the Minister and I have dealt expeditiously with the decline in the greyhound industry. We are determined that from here on in coursing will be widely accepted by people, the kill will be eliminated and any suffering by the animals will be eliminated to the greatest possible extent.
Having regard to the contributions from both sides of the House, I believe all Deputies are anxious to reach a common ground on the way to eliminate the kill from coursing. I have outlined the reasons the Government does not believe this to be an appropriate Bill in the present circumstances. As I said, the Department will shortly begin work on the preparation of comprehensive legislation in this area. I am prepared to co-operate with people and if superior arguments are advanced between now and the introduction of the legislation Deputies will not find me inflexible. We should not deal with this issue in a way which will be divisive within the community at large. The Government has faced up to this difficult issue; as I said, the Cabinet endorsed the proposals presented to it.
The Minister will deal in more detail in his contribution with issues such as the conduct of coursing meetings, etc. He has delegated to me responsibility for an area that he and Deputy Browne (Wexford), who has now gone to the Department of the Environment, had been dealing with. Let me reiterate that we intend to eliminate the kill from coursing and to minimise suffering. Members should give their support to that line of action so that we achieve the best option for the development of the greyhound industry. A great many people have problems with coursing but we are now presenting the prospect of a very large step forward and I hope everybody will give us support to do that.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Sir, I wish to share my time with Deputies Durkan and McGahon.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Invariably people hold very strong views on coursing, some are for it and others are against it. Those who support coursing see it as a test of the greyhound's speed, tenacity and stamina in being able to race three times before they win or lose. Those who are against coursing see it as the killing of a hare and the suffering that the hare has to endure during the chase. It is very difficult to reconcile those two extreme positions. Unfortunately, coursing is portrayed on television as the killing whereas coursing people see it as racing greyhounds.
As the Minister explained, the kill is of no advantage to the greyhounds because nine times out of ten whichever is leading when the hare is turned is the winner, unless the dog stops chasing. Some people see coursing as being a part of what we are and perhaps city people, who are not used to rural life, may see it as a practice that is completely out of order. Not everyone in the country supports coursing or, indeed, not everyone in the city is against it but usually it is a matter of whether one is used to it or not. From my early childhood right through my teens I attended coursing meetings in south Clare on every St. Stephen's Day. I must admit I never enjoyed seeing a hare being killed, there is no enjoyment in that, but the discussion was about the neighbours' greyhounds: who had the best one and who was going to win? Some greyhounds could be let loose all day because they are not fast enough to kill anything. In coursing circles they discuss the skills and abilities of the dogs. In the course of the debate last night Deputy Gregory read a description of a coursing meeting written by a journalist, whose name escapes me, and he read it because of what he called its prosaic style.
It was Deputy Dukes who referred to its prosaic style.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Whether he meant it or not the Deputy used a word to describe why he picked that passage.
I did not want to give Members the opportunity to say I was exaggerating by giving a personal account.
The Deputy should have a large brandy.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): I think a journalist can write any article he or she wants with verve and convey a chilling atmosphere.
In general, journalists state the facts.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): With all due respects to some of the company, a journalist can be as biased as me and that is not a difficulty.
We should muzzle them.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): That is true. My ten minutes will be up if I am not careful. My colleague, Deputy Dukes, gave a very balanced and simple explanation of life in the wilds last night. It has to be accepted that life in the wilds is tough for animals of all sorts. Those who heard him will know what I am talking about. It is the natural talent and agility of the wild animals that helps them to survive and live longer than others do. There is an idea that if coursing was banned all hares would be saved. Anyone with any idea of life in rural Ireland will know that if people go out in the wilds — and that seems to be the natural thing to do — the hares will have no chance because the dogs will be released within 20 yards of a hare in an open field. People seem to believe that the hare is safe in the wilds but I think the hare has a better chance on the coursing field. The hare usually gets a start of 150 yards and he has to run about 50 yards before the dogs catch up but its natural speed and skill allows it to escape to safety. In the open countryside it might have to run for half a mile and unless it can outrun the dogs on speed, or the dogs simply give up, it has very little hope of survival. It also has to face its own enemies, like foxes.
In general, coursing people cannot tolerate killings at coursing meetings — it is described as bad coursing when hares are killed: good coursing is where the hares lead the dogs a merry dance. It is important that these people are not labelled as barbarians or savages, as some have referred to them. They believe in what they are doing. It is part of Irish tradition.
I agree with the Minister that the sooner the kill is eliminated — no matter how seldom a hare is killed, it is one too many — the more ideal the situation will be. It would be ideal if coursing can continue without kills. The distance hares are given to escape is very important, indeed at some meetings the hare has gone into the escape before the hounds get near it. I know dog owners do not like that because they believe their dogs are not racing at their best if they lose sight of the hare. It could be easily organised that the hare would escape before the hounds catch up with it. This would eliminate the horror that some people have of coursing.
I have to respond to one or two points raised by Deputy Gregory. The Deputy read from a letter from a County Wexford farmer in which he described how he found injured hares in nets that had been left by coursing people. Obviously, the Deputy does not know anything about the way people go out to catch the hares — and I will say no more. That was somebody selling him a pup or else an account by a fiction writer.
How do they catch hares?
(Carlow-Kilkenny): They use nets but if the person at the net let a hare out of it he would be eaten alive. There is no question of leaving the nets around the place. As a person with an interest in things Irish I cannot understand why the Deputy had to bring in poor Pádraig Pearse into this.
The British Army introduced coursing.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Pádraig Pearse did a great deal for the Irish language and he is being quoted as to what he would do now. Is it not time we let the dead rest in peace? How do we know what he would think, even if his sister thinks she knows what he would feel about something? Should we not deal with reality? Perhaps those who died in 1916 would be embarrassed beyond belief at most of the things we are doing now. For goodness sake let poor Pádraic Pearse rest in peace.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Now that it is 7.50 p.m. I too will rest in peace.
I take an entirely different view from that of my colleague, Deputy Browne, Carlow-Kilkenny. I commend Deputy Gregory on his initiative in bringing in a much overdue Bill, one that has been carefully avoided over the years by all the major parties, with the honourable exception of Deputy Shatter.
I speak with a fair degree of knowledge of this barbaric sport because in the days of my youth when I was needy and greedy — I am still needy — I indulged in this "sport" for a short period. I was utterly sickened by the scenes of gore I witnessed on the coursing fields. With due respect to the Minister, who is a nice quiet, inoffensive man, as a political cynic I never heard such a load of codswallop as delivered here tonight or handed to him by a script writer. This "sport" is a stain on Ireland and Ireland's character and is an appalling sport. We are one of the last bastions of this sport in Europe and, indeed, in the world.
The cruelty associated with this sport does not always stop at the coursing door. I know what happens in the greyhound industry. I know that on many occasions hares — and sometimes rabbits if hares are not available — are fed to dogs to give them the taste of blood to improve their performance. That does happen, but it will be denied by the coursing enthusiasts. I have seen that happen and I turned a blind eye to it in the days of my youth. This is a sport that cannot continue in a civilised society. The little hare is a gentle, inoffensive creature and in many cases it dies of fright, hotly pursued by two hyped up dogs — and hyped up is the operative word. Many die in flight; they drop dead from heart attacks; so too would the Minister if he were coursed and hotly pursued by two Rothweilers.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): It is not his nature.
A little hare is a flesh and blood animal and feels pain in the same fashion as the Minister or I would if gripped by a Rothweiler. The agonised death shrill of a hare is the most painful thing you ever heard in your life. It is a pity we do not have a recording of it here today. If you have any sensitivity it would bring you near to tears; it is like the cry of a child. A hare is literally torn asunder in the jaws of two dogs, hyped up for the occasion. One of the dogs will grab the little head in its mouth; the other will grab the two back legs and rend the animal asunder, screeching like a banshee. It is an awful sight. When I was young I used to turn my back to it, close my eyes and put my fingers in my ears to dull out the sound of that agonising screech. I could not stick it and I sold my dogs. I accept that the track greyhound industry is a nice little earner, contributes in a small way to exports and that it gives employment. But I do not believe it justifies the killing of hares in coursing, particularly when the dog that turns the hare wins the buckle irrespective of the amount of coursing work the other dog does. For the life of me I cannot understand why in this day of automation a mechanical hare that twists cannot be produced. With respect, some of the Minister's responses were nonsense.
Deputy Gregory had the initiative to bring in this Bill and the Minister has responded in a bureaucratic way as a kneejerk reaction. Begrudgingly, he conceded some points and was fault finding on others. He shed crocodile tears and said he does not want to see hares dying, and I have no doubt he does not wish to see that happen. The Minister will not see them die, so he will turn a blind eye to it. Can the Minister not have the courage to accept that, despite the lobby of the Irish Coursing Club and the greyhound enthusiasts, that Deputy Gregory's Bill is basically correct and should be accepted? That is the practical commonsense thing to do. To try to tell us that he will bring in a Fianna Fáil-Labour version of the Bill and that it will be the correct one is nonsense. It is part of the nonsense in which we all indulge on a daily basis in this House of entertainment.
No civilised society can accept such a barbaric sport. It is well documented that it is a blemish, and seen as a blemish by people on the Continent, who in many cases have refused to come here. I would ask the Minister to prevent the suffering of these gentle inoffensive animals now and to accept the reality of this Bill which Deputy Gregory had the initiative and courage to introduce. The vast majority of Irish people are sickened by this "sport". The very large number of clerics who attend coursing meetings certainly do not represent St. Francis of Assisi. I would ask the Minister to take the commonsense approach and accept Deputy Gregory's Bill.
I have no wish to curtail the sporting activities of any group in the country. I am as good a sports person as anybody else, having hunted, shot and fished for a large part of my life. As time goes on society develops, new standards are set, changes take place and so on. I recognise what the Minister of State has said, but I am not sure that he intends to go along the road suggested by Deputy Gregory's Bill. In this context I congratulate Deputy Gregory and my colleague, Deputy Alan Shatter, for his pursuit of the broad objectives set out in the Bill. I was born and raised in the country and have lived in a rural area most of my life. People therefore might expect me to hold a different view.
Much has been said concerning the cruelty aspect and all that surrounds it and possibly the emphasis has been misplaced. As has been said on the opposite side of the House, it is natural for a dog to chase a hare in the natural terrain without any restrictions whatsoever. In that scenario the hare has a 50-50 chance. However, when the situation is changed and the animal is placed in an enclosed surrounding in front of a large group of people, in a totally alien territory, then the hare no longer has an even chance. In the natural law of the wild the strong survive and the weak do not. We are progressing a little. After all, many of the pasttimes of pre-historic man have been found to be repulsive.
We have progressed considerably in some areas, but in others have not progressed at all. In general, society has developed and evolved and more humane attitudes now prevail. Despite all the protestations about the elimination of cruelty and fair play in regard to this sport, I do not agree with hare coursing. I have never attended a coursing meeting, but I have no objection to greyhound meetings. In fact, that is a growing sport in my constituency. I do not accept either the necessity of live hare coursing for the greyhound industry. In other countries it has been possible to continue the sport of greyhound racing without the necessity to continue live hare coursing, but because of time constraints it is impossible to deal with that matter today. I do not accept the arguments put forward by those who believe that live hare coursing should continue.
Speakers from both sides of the House referred to our history and traditions. I take their point, but many practices which were pursued 500, 700 or 1,000 years ago are not acceptable today. Society and time have progressed. New standards, goals, ideals and objectives have been set and because society is evolving it has become necessary to curtail some of the activities which were acceptable 500 or 1,000 years ago. It is laudable to claim that we should retain our traditions. However, boar hunting was once a tradition in this country but there are very few boars here today.
There are plenty of them in this House.
Boar hunting is still practised in Austria. I see no merit in bull fighting but people in at least one EC country engage in that sport. Some people might believe that what I am saying is hypocritical because I eat meat. It is true that I eat meat and have no wish, laudable though it may be, to become a vegetarian but one should not have to course an animal before killing it. There are humane methods of killing animals today. A sporting activity should not be linked to the killing of animals which has become a necessity in order to eat meat. Society has progressed somewhat in this area, and I hope will progress further in the years ahead.
The greyhound industry and greyhound racing in general, should be well able to prosper and expand without resorting to the activities of hare coursing. It should be able to continue its pivotal role in that area without the necessity to engage in hare coursing. We should bear in mind that the main reason this Bill is being introduced is the number of coursing meetings which took place this year at which, without doubt, the normal rules and regulations which pertain to coursing were not applied. If they were, many of the present concerns might not have arisen. In reply to a Dáil Question, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Walsh, stated that he recognised immediately following the meetings in Munster that something was amiss and that action was required. Many of my constituents, and many Members of this House also, may expect that, because of my rural background, my views on this issue would be different, but I have as much right to my views as have those who hold directly opposing views. As parliamentarians and democrats, I hope we have developed sufficiently to accept that where views differ only one can pervail.
By virtue of the numbers on the Government side it is impossible for the Opposition to influence legislation. Given those circumstances, I hope that if the Government vote against this Bill it will see fit to introduce a similar one as soon as possible and not adopt an attitude similar to that adopted in regard to legislation we have been promised in the past three or four months. The Government has not met its commitments in regard to almost all proposed legislation, all we are told is it will be dealt with in the next session. I hope the Government will take on board the fact that society is progressing and that the standards and norms which were acceptable even ten years ago are not necessarily acceptable today. For that reason this House as a democratic institution, should take on board the sentiments expressed in this legislation and the greyhound industry should do its utmost to ensure the legislation is adhered to.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Foley.
Is that agreed? Agreed
I doubt if there is a Member of this House who does not know my feelings on hare coursing. It has been stated that my party has never allowed a free vote. However, I sought a free vote in regard to this matter but, unfortunately, the tradition in regard to "no free votes" prevailed. I argued that every issue should stand on its merit. that this is not a political issue but a humanitarian one and that people in all parties hold differing views on the subject.
Coursing has been referred to as a sport. It is not a sport, it is a business and we should realise that. It is some consolation that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Walsh, who is opposed to coursing in its present form will introduce legislation forbidding the killing of hares and providing for dogs to be muzzled. The whole question of hare coursing must be examined. We are told that the export of greyhounds depends on coursing and that unless our greyhounds are blooded they will not make the grade. It appears that those who favour hare coursing believe that our greyhounds are better than others because no other country allows coursing in the manner in which it operates here. Deputy Gregory knows my views in this regard. I do not wish to appear too emotional on the matter, but I am despondent because we are not allowed to articulate our views, and I know many other Members are of the same opinion.
There is virtually total opposition to coursing in Dublin and such views are not held merely by people from Dublin, but by country people who live here. I have received letters, too, from people in Galway, Kerry and elsewhere protesting about hare coursing. I would say without doubt that the figure quoted by Deputy Gregory last night in relation to the poll, which showed 80 per cent of the people of this country were opposed to coursing, is an accurate one. The numbers may be greater now because more is known about it. When one knows that something is intrinsically wrong one should set about putting it right. Coursing belongs to the last century and by the next century, which is only six and a half years away, I have little doubt that coursing will be forbidden.
We are constantly appalled by the atro-cities committed throughout the world where humans have very little respect for each other. Ireland is to the fore in condemning acts of inhumanity. Coursing is inhuman and inflicts unnecessary cruelty. Hare coursing demeans the people who participate in it and takes from their dignity. What some of the people who support coursing should try to understand is that there is a general revulsion against coursing by most other people. Some people tend to mock that revulsion. It is a mistake for anyone to think that people who do not have the stomach for coursing are wimps. Nobody has yet said it, but I have the feeling that we in this lobby are a bunch of wimps in the estimation of some of the people I have spoken to. I know the majority of Deputies are against coursing. There is nothing whatsoever to commend this so-called sport. I was at least encouraged when one Member of my party who has always been a keen greyhound person declared himself totally against the killing of hares and in favour of muzzling the dogs. I refer to Deputy Gerry Collins. I got his permission to mention his name.
I agree that drag coursing, the kind that takes place in Australia should be encouraged. If some people embarked on that procedure on a voluntary basis we would be making progress. Those of us in the party who were interested in this question had a special meeting with the Minister for Agriculture Food and Forestry at which there was expressed a general revulsion of what is going on. The Irish Coursing Club have been told time and again to clean up their act but have refused to do so. Some of the people at the meeting and I will not quote names here — said that the Irish Coursing Club were arrogant. The club ought to be made aware that that is how they are regarded by people they think may be sympathetic towards them. The sooner we can tame this evil sport, the better.
I was horrified when I heard about the hares being kept in small pens for God knows how long before a coursing meeting. I have said all I can say about the suffering of these animals. No other country has coursing which involves the killing of the hares. If a hare dies of fright, that is also a form of killing. That is why I feel that muzzling is not enough. It is time to ban this sport. I understand there is involved a greyhound export business worth between £4 million and £10 million. In the overall picture it is not that much but our reputation as a civilised country is on the line here. Somebody once asked how they were going to live if the business they practised was taken from them and the answer given was that they should find some other means of livelihood.
It is time to call a halt. I know the Minister is concerned and we are concerned as a party. I am very happy about it. I do not think I have been more happy about anything else that has come before this House. I am delighted that Deputy Gregory has introduced this Bill because at least we are discussing the issue. If the Bill does not go through, we will still have discussed it, created greater awareness and greater alertness. I hope, too that the public will make known their feelings about the issue. I hope the ICC will start to put their house in order before legislation has to be introduced. They could introduce drag coursing on an experimental basis. I hate it when we have to force people to do something, because we usually end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. That should be remembered.
I am sharing the remaining time with Deputy Kemmy.
That is in order. There are 22 minutes remaining.
The sport of coursing has been long established as an integral part of Irish rural life. The Irish Coursing Club controls the sport in the 32 counties of Ireland. It has laid down very strict rules and guidelines for all coursing clubs under its control. These rules and guidelines are strongly enforced by Irish Coursing Club officials and control stewards, who attend all coursing meetings, and are reviewed and updated by the club on a regular basis as circumstances require. For the forthcoming season the maximum number of courses allowed on any one day will be reduced to 72 from the present maximum of 88 and a formal veterinary involvement in the husbandry of hares before and during coursing will also be mandatory. All supervisory officials such as judges and control stewards are licensed by the club.
The Irish Coursing Club is a member of the Federation of Field Sports of Ireland, FACE. FACE Ireland represents all the field sports organisations in the country and over 350,000 people who are actively engaged in field sports throughout Ireland. When immediate family members are included this figure rises to in excess of 500,000. In a small country such as Ireland this is a significant segment of the population. It constitutes a body of opinion which cannot be ignored. The chief aim of the federation is to harness the widespread support into one body which has the authority, courage and confidence to speak out on matters of concern and which has the political weight to make its pressure felt and acknowledged.
Coursing may take place only between the months of September and February inclusive. This is to ensure that the hare is protected during the breeding season. Clubs must have a minimum number of hares before running a meeting. The minimum number is one hare for every course to be run plus a surplus of ten. All hares must be released back to the countryside after each coursing meeting under the supervision of a control steward who may be accompanied by an officer of the Wildlife Service.
It is not the object of a course to kill the hare. Indeed, coursing is one of those field sports where those engaged in it do not set out to kill what they hunt. Despite media reports, there are very few hares killed at coursing meetings. The average number of hares killed in a day's coursing is 5.69 hares.
On a point of order, I am anxious not to interrupt the Deputy because I am conscious that he has a limited amount of time but in the context of that statistic, 5.69 perhaps he might clarify whether the 0.69 was the hare that got torn to pieces and the remaining 0.31 could not be found.
Greyhound exports, which is a multi-million pound industry, benefit from coursing-breeding, because the element of coursing-breeding in Irish track dogs instills in them a greater instinct to hunt the artificial track. This is the principal reason that Irish bred greyhounds are in such demand in Great Britain. It is significant that in recent times breeders in the United States and Australia are importing Irish greyhounds with coursing bloodlines to rejuvenate the chasing instincts in the bloodlines of their greyhounds which has been lacking since the banning of coursing in those countries. Coursing bloodlines are present in the pedigree of 77 per cent of winners of major track events in England and Ireland in the past ten years.
Apart from its sporting and social attributes, coursing also plays an important part in the commercial life of the country. A study of the economic significance of coursing in Ireland was carried out in 1990-91 by three economists of the Department of Agricultural Economics of University College, Dublin. It concluded that the value of coursing to the Irish economy is in excess of £14 million per year. The industry provides employment for greyhound trainers, their assistants and for veterinary surgeons and their assistants. Spin off employment is created by manufacturers of specialised dog food, medications, tonics, collars, leads, greyhound covers, car trailers and so on.
Hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants benefit from the influx of people to an area where coursing meetings are held. The Irish Coursing Club is a large employer and has a full-time permanent staff of 41 and a significant number of part-time staff. The majority of people who have not attended a coursing meeting have a distorted view of what coursing is all about.
In Ireland there are two forms of coursing, park enclosed coursing and open coursing. In open coursing club member go searching for the hare in the country side on an organised basis and on finding it, they course it until it escapes from the dog and then give up the chase. In park enclosed coursing the hares are gathered in an enclosure for some weeks prior to the coursing meeting. There the hares have food and shelter and are enclosed in a habitat as close to their natural habitat as possible. Hares have time to settle down, become familiar with their surroundings and discover the location of the important exists. Hares can escape into an enclosure through an opening large enough for a hare but not for a dog to get through.
On the day of coursing hares are collected at the opposite end of the field to the escape enclosure where they are examined by experienced officials. If those officials consider the hare to be unsuitable, either because of its size or condition or for any other reason, they put it to one side and it is not coursed. When a suitable hare is selected the slipper, licensed by the governing body, the Irish Coursing Club makes a judgment in regard to the suitability of the hare for coursing. If he is not satisfied, he will not release the dogs. When he is satisfied, he decides how far to allow the dog up the field before he releases the hare.
An average coursing field would be 350 to 400 yards long. A slipper normally allows the hare about 50 yards leeway before releasing the dogs, thus the hare is usually a mere 50 yards from the escape when the greyhounds come close to it. The hare then jinks and turns at sharp angles to elude the greyhounds at each turn. The hare gains much ground on the greyhounds who, because of their size, cannot turn as quickly. When the hare goes through to the escape, usually after four to six turns, the course ends. That hare is not coursed again. When that coursing meeting concludes all the hares are released into the open country under the supervision of the Forestry and Wildlife Service, and always under the supervision of an ICC official.
Recent correspondence I received from an anti-blood sport campaigner indicated that hares were transferred from one club to another. This is one of the myths or deliberate lies fostered by the anti-coursing group and is not true. Under no circumstances is a club allowed to transfer hares to another club. It is expressely forbidden by the rules of the ICC. Each time this claim has been made the ICC has asked those making the claim to substantiate it and they have never done so.
A full report is made after each coursing meeting by an official of the ICC which is then forwarded to the secretary of the ICC. This report details, among other things, the number of courses run, the number of hares killed and the number of hares released. The secretary also reports on the quality of the hares and the standard of the coursing. If the secretary reports that the number of kills were above average the governing body would question the club concerned on its ability to hold a meeting and may decide to withdraw the club's licence as it has done in the past.
Coursing, in its present form, is a tradition in the kingdom of Kerry and older forms of it were practised in the ancient kingdoms of Ireland. The coursing folk of Kerry, men and women, are proud of their sport where they test the ability of their greyhounds and their talents of breeding, rearing and training. It is a sport which the ordinary people can afford. People can dream of owning a dog which might bring them glory and honour. Those who can afford to breed racehorses for glory should be mindful of what is being waged against coursing because their sport is also on a hitlist as well as many other field sports.
Coursing generates economic activity in many small villages and parishes in Kerry. It is a source of income for many. It is a test of a small community's ability to come together and organise a successful coursing meeting. The co-operation and organisational skills developed by people during the running of a coursing meeting has often led that community to become involved in further activity for the benefit of that locality.
The primary motive of the seven clubs in Kerry is to hold meetings at which the best dog wins, having been tested by strong straight running hares all of whom are well trained and survive. To this end the Kerry clubs have taken hare husbandry very seriously. They strive to minimise any hare kills. They know that hares die during coursing meetings. They do not take any pleasure out of this and are willing to listen to any suggestion which will help eliminate kills. They recognise that any hare kill is objectionable to the anti blood sports people and wonder if anything other than the complete abolition of their sport will satisfy some people. They wonder why coursing has been singled out as it is the only field sport where the primary objective is not the killing of the hare. What about shooting and fishing?
Much of the media is loud in its opposition to coursing and proudly publishes photographs of the first salmon of the season taken on the Liffey. When will people see the hidden agenda when the killing of any animal or fish for any purpose will be outlawed?
Kerry was beaten by the red and white of Cork on Sunday, but Kerry people have no objection to the sight of the red and white colours of two greyhounds going up a field behind a well fed and well trained hare waiting in anticipation for the judge to wave the winning colour, a decision which is accepted.
We in Kerry are proud of the continuation of a tradition of hunting which is not an imported custom, but one as old as Ireland itself. We in Kerry stand for an Ireland proud and secure in its own ways and we will not bow to the wind generated by people with an agenda of dictating the entire behaviour of the Irish people according to a code alien to their nature.
I know few pleasures to equal the tremendous sense of achievement that one feels on the final evening of a well-run local coursing meeting. A successful meeting is one where few, if any, hares are killed. I must emphasise that the killing of hares is not a central part of coursing and, indeed, the hare is more loved and looked after by coursing people than by any other group.
I have been attending a meeting with the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications Deputy Cowen, but I considered it incumbent on me to take part in this debate because I have strong views on this issue. It is important that public representatives should not act like parrots. When public representatives receive documentation from anti or pro hare coursing groups they must use their intelligence and draw on their experiences. Public representatives should not be fooled by propaganda in which there are references to well-fed hares and so on. Deputy Foley's speech reminded me of Mr. de Valera's speech about comely maidens, but it relates to the fantasy world of Goldsmith's "Deserted Village". That idealistic picture does not relate to the real world. Public representatives must rely on their experiences. Their role is to give their views as lay people on matters of State and legislation. The delegates at the Labour Party's annual conference voted to oppose live hare coursing. Delegates at our conferences decide policy in a broad manner and, generally, guide party members.
Man's inhumanity to man does not end with man or women. Such inhumanity also extends, unfortunately, to animals. Deputy Foley referred to well fed hares and so on but whether a hare is well fed or badly fed is irrelevant to this issue. A third of my constituency takes in County Limerick and I know a great deal about the activities in my constituency and in Tipperary.
It has been stated that hare coursing is part of our culture. It is part of our rural culture and is followed by a minority of people. However, because something is part of one's culture does not necessarily make it good or bad. We must examine our culture and consider whether activities associated with it are relevant, lawful or civilised. We cannot put our culture in a box to view it. It is a changing and evolving concept. Our understanding of culture also changes.
At one time slavery was justified by Church and State. People were employed for long hours and paid low wages. A great deal of money was made from slavery by agents who bought and sold slaves and engaged in slave traffic.