The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O Brien TD has today [Thursday 12th November] welcomed the release of some 1270 previously captured hares back into the wild by clubs affiliated to the Irish Coursing Club (ICC).
The Department had been in communication with the ICC over recent weeks seeking to secure the release of hares that they were holding for future coursing meetings. Currently, coursing activities have been suspended under COVID-19 level 5 restrictions.
In terms of the welfare and conservation of a protected species, the Department formally requested the ICC to release all captive hares given that, by December 1st, the current duration of level 5 restrictions, hares would have been held in captivity for at least six weeks, and in some cases for much longer. It is also not clear at what point after December 1st it may be permissible for coursing to recommence.
Minister O’Brien commented:
“There have been some claims that my intervention in seeking the release of hares would result in them being hunted illegally by others. It has been claimed that this measure will make it easier for illegal hunters, as they would now know the location of high numbers of hares. I would point out that after every coursing meeting hares are released in any case, and these hares were in the wild until recent weeks. Hares are a protected species, and are better off being in the wild rather than being held in captivity in large groups. I see no reason why they should have been held for the duration that coursing was suspended. As well as that, the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department and the Garda Síochana have taken a number of prosecutions in relation to illegal hunting of hares in recent years and along with my colleague Minister of State Malcolm Noonan, I recently announced the establishment next year of a Wildlife Crime Unit in the National Parks Service of my Department. This will put a greater focus on the issue of wildlife crime including the illegal hunting of hares. Finally, there have been a number of erroneous claims on social media that the National Park and Wildlife Service publish the release locations of hares by ICC clubs. That is absolutely not the case and such claims are misleading and designed solely to serve an agenda supporting the retention of the hares in continuing captivity,” he concluded.
Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, added:
“A dedicated Wildlife Crime Unit will ensure a strategic and standardised approach to dealing with illegal persecution of wildlife. We would continue to urge members of the public to report any suspected incidents where hares are being illegally hunted.”