Wednesday, 25 February 2004

Questions (10)

Tony Gregory


97 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the Irish Council Against Blood Sports has been in correspondence with his Department regarding its concerns at the ongoing cruelty involved in live hare coursing, including video evidence of the success of drag coursing abroad; if he has fully considered all the issues raised given his reply to Question No. 246 of 18 February 2004; and if he will make a statement on the need for legislative change. [6210/04]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

As I explained in my reply to the earlier parliamentary question referred to by the Deputy, under section 26 of the Greyhound Industry Act 1958, the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, is recognised as the controlling authority for the breeding and coursing of greyhounds, subject to the provisions of the Act, the constitution of the club and the general control and direction of Bord na gCon.

The Irish Council Against Blood Sports has written to my Department about drag coursing and the availability of a video showing drag coursing events abroad. As the Deputy will be aware, the question of introducing drag coursing to Ireland has already been raised with the ICC by the monitoring committee which comprises officials of my Department, the Department of Agriculture and Food, Bord na gCon and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The ICC informed the committee that it does not propose to change to drag coursing and that the muzzling of greyhounds and the continued veterinary inspections by both the coursing clubs and the Department of Agriculture and Food have significantly reduced the incidence of injuries to hares. In light of these initiatives, I do not propose to introduce changes in legislation to introduce drag coursing in Ireland.

I am more interested in the Minister's views and his policy on this issue than those of the Irish Coursing Club, about which I am well aware. Does the Minister agree that the introduction, even on a pilot phase, of drag coursing, which uses a lure rather than a live animal, would be a step forward and a more humane alternative to the current practice of traumatising timid wild animals — hares — and subjecting them to the cruel and terrorising practice of greyhounds being set upon them? What is the Minister's view on the introduction of drag coursing and would he see it as a more humane alternative? Does he agree that a tiny minority of die-hard coursing people are resisting change and a more humane practice? As the Minister well knows, these are the same people who resisted the introduction of muzzling, which had to be forced on them.

I dislike posing this question under the heading of "sport" because I do not regard the terrorising or infliction of cruelty on animals as sport. Is it not part of our appalling record in animal welfare that we allow the practice of enclosed hare coursing as well as the use of packs of hounds to hunt domesticated tame deer, as practised by the Ward Union Hunt? Moreover, other activities have been exposed recently which would not be tolerated in other EU countries, such as puppy farming and the new development of fur farming in which Arctic foxes are farmed for their fur and subjected to horrific deaths.

Does the Minister agree that, due to the activities of a small minority, we unfortunately have a dismal and appalling record in animal welfare and does he further agree that the continuation of such a medieval, archaic and anachronistic activity as hare coursing is part of that culture of cruelty? What are the Minister's views on these issues because they are important and, if the Government does not deal with them, action will be forced on us by the European Community.

Deputy Gregory should be under no illusion about the fact that coursing is a popular sport among a considerable number of people.

They are a small minority of the population.

Since the introduction of the muzzling of greyhounds, the incidence of injuries to hares has been greatly reduced and has been accompanied by monitoring and inspections carried out by veterinary officers and wildlife experts. In those circumstances, the Irish Coursing Club's assurances on the high standards enforced at coursing meetings should be accepted. The muzzling of greyhounds was necessary and has dramatically improved the situation and the sport is well-ordered and run.

As the Minister did not answer my first question, I will repeat it. Will the Minister agree that the introduction of drag coursing would be a more humane alternative to the current practice of live hare coursing? Will he agree that hares continue to be injured, killed and brutalised by muzzled greyhounds and traumatised by being taken out of the wild in the first instance? It is a practice which is increasingly unacceptable in the modern world.

I have been informed by the ICC that in its opinion greyhounds would not follow the lure in these circumstances.

Has the Minister an opinion?

That is the view of the coursing club and the people who control the sport, which I must take into account.

It is done in Australia and all over the world.