Animal Health and Welfare (Ban on Hare Coursing) Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to prohibit the coursing of hares with dogs and for that purpose to amend the Wildlife Act 1976 and the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, to make consequential and other amendments to the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 and other Acts relating to such coursing and to provide for related matters.

I am very proud to introduce the Animal Health and Welfare (Ban on Hare Coursing) Bill 2020. This is a Bill to ban hare coursing. Hare coursing means capturing over 5,000 hares from the wild every year. It means holding them in captivity in close confinement despite the fact that they are solitary animals. It means training them and then their being coursed, in other words having them run for their lives as two dogs ten times their size chase the hare to see which dog can turn it first. It means profits for a small few, like the gambling industry which has sponsored events in recent years, while hares are terrorised for a supposed sport. The dogs being muzzled means the number of deaths has been reduced, but over the last four seasons, 75 hares have still been killed. Many more have been seriously injured with almost 600 hares being pinned to the ground in recent years. People should watch the videos online from the Irish Council Against Blood Sports, which show hares being tossed into the air and thrown around by greyhounds.

This is the third time such a Bill has been introduced in the Dáil. The first time was by Tony Gregory in 1993 and the second time was by Maureen O'Sullivan in 2015. I am following in their footsteps and also in the footsteps of the many impressive campaigners who have fought for this ban. I want to thank the National Animal Rights Association, the Irish Council Against Blood Sports, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Not For Your Entertainment, as well as many individual campaigners including Pauline McLynn, for their support for this Bill. I also want to thank the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers for its very thorough and quick work in preparing this comprehensive Bill. I also thank the co-signers of the Bill, my Solidarity-People Before Profit colleagues, Deputies Gino Kenny, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett and Bríd Smith, as well as Deputies Joan Collins and Catherine Connolly.

This is a cruel, barbaric and outdated practice. It has been banned across Britain and Northern Ireland and across all of the EU apart from three countries including Ireland. Sometimes, in defence of hare coursing, it is suggested that it is part of rural culture. That is not the case. The origins of hare coursing are as a diversion of the British aristocracy, part of the gentry's fondness for cruel and unusual entertainment to give them a thrill of power and brutality. The vast majority of people in rural Ireland have absolutely nothing to do with hare coursing. A Red C opinion poll in September 2019 found that 77% of people support a ban on hare coursing, including a majority of both urban and rural dwellers.

We are not introducing this as a symbolic Bill to make a point and then be forgotten about. We are serious about getting this Bill passed. The way we intend to do it is with the same methods by which the ban on wild animals in circuses and the ban on fur farming were won in the last couple of years. Solidarity Deputies introduced Bills to ban these cruel practices. Campaigners outside the Dáil including those supporting this Bill built pressure on political parties and, as a result, the Government moved to ban. When Maureen O'Sullivan's Bill was voted on in 2016, it received 20 votes in favour and 114 against. Even at that time, a majority of people in society opposed hare coursing yet the political parties were wildly out of touch. As well as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party voted against it. Progressive Independents, Solidarity-People Before Profit, the Social Democrats and the Green Party voted in favour.

We are aware that many Sinn Féin activists were deeply uncomfortable with their vote against former Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's Bill. Deputy Dessie Ellis and former Deputy Jonathan O’Brien were reprimanded by the party because they refused to turn up to vote against it. We appeal to Sinn Féin to change its policy as quickly as possible. We also appeal to the Labour Party, which voted against it the last time around, to change its position, to support animal welfare and to support a ban on hare coursing.

One of the biggest questions to be posed on this Bill on Second Stage, which it is hoped will be in the next months, is how the Green Party will vote. During the first debate on banning hare coursing in this House, former Deputy Trevor Sargent famously played a tape in the Chamber of a hare crying and wailing to demonstrate the reality of hare coursing. The Green Party has a clear policy position of opposing hare coursing, but I know that the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, told a leadership hustings that if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were against the Bill, she would vote against it "with the heaviest of hearts". Bluntly, I do not believe the hares or the animal rights campaigners will care about how heavy the Minister's heart is if she votes to continue this cruel practice.

I encourage people to get involved in the campaign, to contact the campaigning groups involved, and to contact their Deputies to ask them to support this ban. I put it to the Ceann Comhairle that it is time to ban this cruel practice.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.