Councillors oppose motion seeking ban on hare coursing

A motion calling for a ban on hare coursing was rejected by members of Westmeath County Council last week by 11 votes to two with one abstention.

Cllr Hazel Smyth of the Green Party called for the ban claiming that 5,000 hares are being trapped and terrorised across the country every year, despite being a protected species. They are trapped and then held in captivity before being let out to be chased by ten dogs trained to run them down, she said.

Cllr Smyth praised the work being done by Mullingar animal rights activist Aideen Yourell in condemning this “barbarity”. She claimed that 80% of Irish people support the call for this ban.

However, Cllr Smyth’s council colleagues did not support it, apart from her party colleague, Cllr Louise Heavin.

Cllr Heavin said time was up on chasing down one of the treasures of the Irish countryside. She said hare numbers were declining and we should do all we can to protect them.

Many members felt that hare coursing was an integral part of rural Irish culture and that banning it would drive it underground and lead to the banning of all sorts of rural sport such as fishing, shooting, racing and even the GAA.

It was argued that coursing clubs had increased the hare population through their breeding programmes, that the dogs are muzzled and the hare is given a good chance of getting away.

Cllr Smyth assured the members that her motion was in respect of hare coursing, not any other rural sport and definitely not GAA which she loves “as much as anyone”.

She said she was a rural person speaking from the heart, but there was no such thing as acceptable cruelty.

She described hare coursing as a medieval, heinous source of amusement. She pleaded with the councillors to support her.

Cllr Smyth and Cllr Heavin voted in favour of the motion. Cllrs Aoife Davitt, John Dolan, Andrew Duncan, Tom Farrell, Ken Glynn, Paddy Hill, Frankie Keena, Denis Leonard, Johnny Penrose, John Shaw and the chairman Aengus O’Rourke, voted against. Cllr. Michael Dollard abstained.