The Deputy may be aware that a disease fatal to rabbits and hares, but of no risk to humans, has been confirmed in the wild in Ireland for the first time. Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) was first reported in domestic (farmed) rabbits in China in 1984 killing millions of animals within one year of its discovery. By 1986 this viral disease had been found in continental Europe and has since spread globally leading to significant mortality in wild populations of rabbits
The disease which was first reported in Ireland in domestic rabbits in 2018 has now been confirmed in 6 rabbits from counties Clare, Cork, Leitrim and Wicklow and in two hares in Co Wexford with further animals still awaiting testing. While all locations continue to support apparently healthy wild populations, officials from the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department continue to monitor the situation.
The disease is highly contagious and can be spread directly between animals and in the faeces and urine of infected animals, as well as by insects and on human clothing. Under these circumstances the catching of hares in nets, their transportation in boxes and the collection and holding of hares in confined areas can all be considered to increase the risk of disease spread.
Accordingly, I made the decision last month to suspend the licences due to come into effect on 10 August issued to the coursing body in question on behalf of its affiliated clubs to capture and tag hares for the 2019/20 hare coursing season until a clearer understanding of the extent, spread and implications of the RHD2 virus emerges.
I am keeping matters under ongoing review.