My Department issued the Irish Coursing Club with licences in August 2018 on behalf of its affiliated clubs to capture and tag hares for the 2018/19 coursing season which included conditions relating to the reporting of coursing trials.
There are 29 conditions associated with the licences issued to the Irish Coursing Club which have been developed and refined over the years. One of the conditions requires that hares may not be coursed more than once on the same day. In addition, the licence specifically requires that hares that have been coursed can be readily identified to ensure that this condition is rigidly observed.
Any allegations made to my Department about illegal trading of hares will be investigated where possible. It would of course be useful if any such allegations were backed up by some evidence. If a coursing club were involved in illegal trading of hares – for example, by selling on hares that had already been coursed – this would represent a breach of the licensing conditions, with inevitable consequences in the context of renewal applications for any clubs found to be involved in any way in such activities. If there is tangible evidence of illegal trafficking or trapping of hares I would urge that it be made available to my Department. Indeed, I would abhor and condemn this activity unequivocally.
There may be some merit in considering the issue of microchipping of hares at coursing meetings and I have requesting officials of my Department to examine the possibility of, perhaps, introducing a pilot project at some coursing meetings during the next 2019/20 coursing season in consultation with the Irish Coursing Club. It is certainly a method using in the tracking, quantification and assessment of certain species in the wild and if it aids the welfare of the wild animal and can be feasibly, safely and cleanly done, then it merits that consideration, and I want to thank the Deputy in that regard.
Officials of the NPWS of my Department have monitored 32 coursing events during the current 2018/19 season to date. During the previous 2017/18 season, 35 coursing events were monitored while during the 2016/17 season a total of 17 coursing events were monitored by my Department.
I am advised that Department officials have not encountered trafficking of hares in the current season so far. If such activity is detected, I have asked my officials to bring it to my immediate attention and I will consider the possibility of in-season sanction as well as looking to actions next season. In the meantime, I will also seek advice as to whether a possible offence arises under the Wildlife Acts in this regard.