I made the decision last month to suspend the licences issued to the Irish Coursing Club on behalf of its affiliated clubs to capture and tag hares for the 2019/20 hare coursing season which were due to come into effect on 10 August until a clearer understanding of the extent, spread and implications of the RHD2 virus emerges. Based on what we have been able to establish over the last 7 weeks, RHD2 appears to be widespread in Ireland. The virus is known to be highly contagious and easily spread and environmental contamination presents significant difficulties in terms of any biosecurity responses.
Netting and collecting hares for coursing meetings has been identified as a significant risk factor in spreading the disease. Accordingly, I have decided to maintain the suspension of the licences issued to the Irish Coursing Club to capture and tag hares for the 2019/20 hare coursing season. This decision will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
The disease was first reported in Ireland from domestic rabbits in 2018 and was first reported in the wild in early August this year. The virus has now been confirmed in Counties Clare, Cork, Leitrim, Offaly, Wicklow and Wexford with some other animals still awaiting testing. My Department officials will continue to work closely with colleagues in the regional laboratories and virology unit of Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to gain a fuller understanding of the extent and impact of the disease in Ireland. All post-mortems and RHD2 testing to date has been done in DAFM’s labs and I would like to acknowledge their ongoing support and cooperation in our efforts to date.
While most of the confirmed reports to date have been in rabbits, the disease has also been recorded in two Irish hares. Further hares await testing. While all locations continue to support apparently healthy wild populations, unlike the situation in the UK where mass mortalities have been reported, officials from the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department continue to monitor the situation.
The cooperation of farming groups, hunters, the coursing clubs and other rural land-users will be essential to ensure that a full picture of the disease’s extent and spread are achieved.