Thursday, 9 May 2019

Questions (6)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

6. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide the minutes of the annual meeting of the hare coursing monitoring committee; if he is satisfied with the make-up of the committee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16674/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

Will the Minister provide the minutes of the annual meeting of the hare coursing monitoring committee, is he satisfied with the make-up of the committee and will he make a statement on the matter?

A monitoring committee on coursing is in place, comprising veterinary and administrative officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Irish Coursing Club and the National Parks and Wildlife Service to monitor developments in coursing.  In that regard, the situation is kept under constant review to ensure that coursing is well run in a controlled and responsible manner in the interests of hares and greyhounds.  The work of the monitoring committee focuses on the maintenance of the highest standards of animal welfare and safety for both hares and greyhounds.  It is critically important that the monitoring committee continues its work to ensure that those in coursing operate in accordance with the regulatory framework and that the welfare and safety of hares and greyhounds is kept to the forefront at all times. The committee meets annually and, inter alia, considers any issues arising from the previous coursing season.

Wildlife rangers from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and veterinary inspectors from my Department attend coursing meetings throughout the coursing season and report on their findings.  These reports are reviewed by the monitoring committee, which also arranges to have any complaints or reported incidents investigated.  I have no plans to change the composition of the monitoring committee. The report of the monitoring committee on coursing for the meeting held on 18 December 2018 was released on receipt of a recent request under the Freedom of Information Act 2014.  I can supply a copy to the Deputy.  The report covers a review of the 2017-18 coursing season, the provision of new reporting forms, the issue of illegal hunting, the problems caused by buzzards, the media coverage of a disease outbreak in the United Kingdom and a single item under any other business.

Can the Minister clarify the date the report was released?

The report of the monitoring committee on coursing for the meeting held on 18 December was released on receipt of a recent request under the Freedom of Information Act 2014. I do not have the date but I can provide a copy of the minutes to the Deputy.

That would be useful. The question arose from a freedom of information, FOI, request by the Irish Council against Blood Sports, ICABS, which was looking for the minutes of the monitoring committee, which it received in 2016 and 2017 but not in 2018. No independent animal welfare body is represented on the monitoring committee. At the 2017 meeting the CEO of the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, stated that "Coillte lands were largely free of predators and therefore have a thriving hare population." The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine agreed to contact officials in Coillte for permission for Coillte lands to be used by the ICC to capture hares but, thankfully, Coillte refused to allow this. Is it, therefore, appropriate for officials from the Department to intercede on behalf of hare coursers to net vulnerable hares for use as live lures are used for greyhounds? I believe the Department overstepped its remit by facilitating this request and this is why the FOI request was put in.

I would be pleased to give the Deputy what has been released under the freedom of information request. My understanding is that there was a meeting on 18 December 2018 to review the 2017-18 coursing season. Arising either from the review or an ongoing inspection by the National Parks and Wildlife Service or the veterinary service in the Department, one coursing club was sanctioned.

One other aspect brings this out into the open. There was a coursing meeting last January at Seven Houses in County Kilkenny. The coursers reported that four hares were confirmed by the vet as dying of natural causes but the ranger from the National Parks and Wildlife Service said four hares died of injuries received after being hit by greyhounds. The vet reported that six hares were examined for injuries, that none was confirmed injured, none was euthanised, none died from injuries and there was no post mortem. The vet's name was redacted.

There are serious questions for the monitoring committee. Video footage from the coursing event showed coursing officials running across the field pulling a hare from dogs before carrying off the doomed hare to whatever was going to happen to it. The Minister and I do not agree on live hare coursing but at the very least we could agree on the need for transparency at meetings and truthfulness about what exactly is happening. Earlier, the Minister said there could be no compromise on animal welfare but there is compromise in this instance in the case of hares.

The function of the Department is to provide veterinary supervision and I would not like to cast aspersions on any official. I am not familiar with the meeting to which the Deputy alluded. One of the functions of the National Parks and Wildlife Service is in the area of licences to capture hares for coursing purposes. I am surprised the Deputy alluded to a hare being released because greyhounds at coursing events race with muzzles and there should not be such a situation. My Department insists on compliance with the law in the appropriate running of these events. People have different views but I strongly believe that a regulated coursing industry is better than one that is driven underground and is unregulated.