Ireland's minister for Arts and Heritage, Heather Humphreys, has a peculiar attitude to the preservation and protection of wildlife.
On August 13th, she was quoted in the media, and on her department’s official website, as condemning the illegal shooting of a protected peregrine falcon. She stated "It is intolerable for birds of prey and other wildlife to be persecuted, poisoned or shot." She also expressed concern that the incident might impugn our international image as a nation that treasures its wildlife heritage.
Less than forty eight hours later, Minister Humphreys issued a license permitting the capture of hares for coursing, in which they will serve as live bait for greyhounds. Thousands of the timid creatures will be netted in the Irish countryside. A percentage will die as a result of bone breakages and other internal injuries sustained when they become entangled in the nets and struggle to break free.
Some hares will die in captivity- an unnatural situation for an animal accustomed to the freedom of the wide open spaces. Others again will be found dead in the small cramped boxes in which they are transported to the coursing venues. And on coursing day a percentage will be mauled or forcibly struck by the muzzled but hyped-up greyhounds.
The minister issued the hare coursing license despite numerous appeals from animal protection and conservation groups not to do so and several online petitions that attracted thousands of signatures from people around the world. It would appear, to paraphrase one of the characters in Orwell’s Animal Farm, to be a case of “Two claws good, four legs bad” as far as the minister’s attitude to our wildlife heritage is concerned.
I think I can safely predict that hare coursing will be banned SOME DAY in Ireland. It amounts to a form of deliberate cruelty to animals in the name of “sport” and has no scientific or pest control value. It has already been banned in several jurisdictions that once allowed it, such as Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, England and Wales, and most recently, Northern Ireland.
I also predict that a future government here, after banning it, will apologise for the fact that such a barbaric practice took so long to abolish. Where would we be without the good old Irish government apology that comes late in the day… when it is safe to render and won’t cost a single vote?
In the meantime, the hares must continue to run for their lives thanks to our present crop of cowardly politicians.
Film footage of hare coursing in Ireland: