I thank the Deputy for her question. My Department issued the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, with licences in August 2018 on behalf of its affiliated clubs to capture and tag hares for the 2018-2019 coursing season. These licences included conditions relating to the reporting of coursing trials. Until recently the organisation and monitoring of these trials has not been included in the licences issued by my Department to the ICC and its affiliated clubs. However, in the light of concerns expressed, a revised licence was issued to the ICC in October 2017 for the 2017-2018 season with additional conditions to strengthen the regulation of trials. These conditions for trials are also included in the licence issued to the ICC for the current coursing season. It is now a condition that only one dog, as opposed to two, can be used in trials and vets are required to be present.
In addition, my Department is to be notified in advance, which was not done previously, and reports of all trials are to be submitted to my Department. Those reports and any monitoring undertaken by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, will also be taken into account in the consideration of the renewal of licences. Where resources allow, local NPWS conservation rangers and other staff attend coursing meetings to conduct on-the-spot checks and to monitor compliance with the licences issued to the Irish Coursing Club and its affiliated clubs. My Department monitored six of these trials during the 2017-2018 season given that these trials had not been monitored previously and these reports are available on the website of the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department.
For the current coursing season, and taking account of staffing constraints within my Department, my Department has concentrated its efforts on monitoring regular coursing meetings and to date has monitored some 32 coursing meetings compared to a total of 35 coursing events during the 2017-2018 season. I would intend that some trials will be monitored before the end of the current coursing season at the end of February.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
My Department will be appointing additional conservation rangers during 2019 and it would be my intention that more coursing meetings and trials would be monitored during the next coursing season. If I can in any way improve the welfare of the hare in the context of coursing activities, then I will endeavour to do so. I must say, in fairness to the Irish Coursing Club, that it has worked with my officials in making these very important changes to the licensing, reporting and monitoring regime. I would point out, as I did in response to written questions in this House yesterday, that I have no role in relation to the payment of any fees relating to these trials. That is a matter entirely for the ICC and its affiliated clubs. I would stress, however, that trials are trials and I would certainly not understand them to be revenue raising opportunities.