Cultural depictions of Hares in Ireland often represent ideas of freedom, wildness and joy; a connection to nature that’s uncatchable and untameable.
The Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) is one of three lagomorphs, hares and rabbits found on the Island of Ireland and the only native species. Irish hares are protected under the 1976 Wildlife Act, but paradoxically it also protects hare coursing – it’s illegal to trap or sell hares unless it’s for the purpose of coursing them. Hares have been part of Irish life, culture and symbolism for thousands of years appearing in folklore, mythology, songs and poetry. An image of a Hare was used on the early Irish free state currency. These cultural depictions of Hares often represent ideas of freedom, wildness and joy, a connection to nature that’s uncatchable and untameable.
This weekend commemorates the Irish Easter rebellion, a revolutionary uprising against the forces of the British ruling class that happened in 1916 Dublin. The rebels proclaimed it’s vision of a free, equal and just society for everyone on our island. The Irish Coursing Club (ICC) – the national association for hare coursing in Ireland, was established in that same year of 1916 to uphold and expand a set of rules for Hare coursing called ‘The Laws of the Leash. These ‘laws’, drawn up in the late 1500s by the 4th Duke of Norfolk are standards that are still in Irish coursing today. The first modern Hare coursing club was set up in England in 1776 . Coursing had been almost exclusively restricted to the ruling classes and nobility until the end of 19th century. Modern Hare coursing as we know it in Ireland can be seen as part of the legacy of colonialism.
“Ireland is one of only three EU countries in which hare coursing is still a legal practice.”
Jump forward to the 21st century and bans on Hare coursing have been made across the Irish Sea. In 2002, the Scottish Parliament passed the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, which banned hare coursing in Scotland. In 2004 the British Parliament passed the Hunting Act, which banned hare coursing as well as other forms of hunting with hounds with effect from 18 February 2005. In the North of Ireland, there are no legal hare coursing events. In June 2010 the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to ban the practice. This has left us with a patch work ban in place on our island where coursing is illegal in the North of Ireland and is still legal in the Irish Republic. It is even banned in the country of its origin – England. Why is Ireland such an outlier? Who is holding on to hare coursing in Ireland? Who is fighting for the Hare?
One of the groups fighting to ban hare coursing in Ireland today is the vegan, National Animal Rights Association – (NARA). NARA was started by Laura Broxsan in 2007. It has successfully campaigned for a legislative ban in Ireland already. NARA was instrumental in getting fur farming banned. That ban took affect in 2022 – after years of street level work, protesting fur farms and fur outlets, media campaigning and having input on the bill that was successfully put forward in the Dáil, the Irish Parliament. They have shown that a multi strategic approach: working on grassroot levels as well as established political lines with socially progressive organisations and representatives can bring positive change for animals and Irish society.
We caught up with Tom Dwyer, a member of the National Animal Rights Association (NARA), to talk about their campaign for a Hare Coursing Ban in Ireland. They are currently working on getting parliamentary legislation passed to ban coursing.
What is the issue of live hare coursing in Ireland?
Tom Dwyer –TD, NARA: Hare coursing is an extremely cruel blood sport. Hares are captured from the wild, trained to run up and down a field, and then released for dogs to chase during coursing competitions. The first dog to “turn” a hare (i.e. cause the hare to change direction) wins. Pretty obviously, this is extremely distressing for the hares, and many of them are injured. Ireland is one of the only three EU countries in which hare coursing is still a legal practice.
Why is muzzling not a solution?
TD, NARA: The fact that dogs are now muzzled during coursing doesn’t prevent the hares from being traumatised, terrorised, injured or in some cases killed.
(Indeed a damning report from a conservation ranger to the National Parks and Wildlife Service played a large part in a rare case of a Galway club’s license being revoked recently: https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-40926257.html. In 2019, an RTÉ documentary report shocked the country when it revealed that almost 6,000 greyhounds are killed in Ireland every year were serious concerns were raised about hare coursing.)
Since when has NARA been campaigning and lobbying specifically for a ban?
TD, NARA: We began to campaign for a ban on hare coursing in 2020 and as soon as lockdown was lifted, NARA began to campaign intensively for a ban. Amongst other things, NARA’s campaign involved the leafleting of shops and business premises in cities and towns throughout the country, and a weekly protest outside the Department of Agriculture in Dublin.
What has the public’s response to the campaign been?
TD, NARA: The many conversations we’ve had have often been very encouraging, with many people telling us quite forcefully that they regard coursing as a cruel and long outdated practice. We’ve also noticed that some people, particularly in cities, are shocked to find that coursing still takes place in Ireland. In a sense, the very act of letting people know about coursing is already a step towards having it banned. Occasionally, we get an aggressive response from someone who takes part in coursing, but we get far more positive reactions to our anti-coursing message.
“The vast majority of Irish people, rural as well as urban, regard hare coursing as an embarrassing and cruel relic that should be firmly consigned to the past.”
What government department is responsible for licensing these coursing events and what minister?
TD, NARA: The licences for hare coursing are issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service under the remit of the Department of Heritage, where the Minister is Green Party T.D. Malcolm Noonan. However, the actual hare coursing events and the management of coursing meetings are carried out under the authority of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Wasn’t the official position of the Green party to support a ban on live hare coursing?
TD, NARA: Before the Green Party entered the coalition government it was Green policy to support a ban on hare coursing. It seems that that policy has disappeared along with virtually every other commitment regarding animal rights.
Are there elected representatives involved in hare coursing or greyhound breeding/racing?
TD, NARA: Shamefully, T.D.s from Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour, and the “Rural Independents” are directly involved in both hare coursing and greyhound racing and breeding.
The connection between hare coursing and the political establishment in Ireland goes back a long way. Part of the problem is that T.D.s and senior politicians are scared of the very aggressive and active “country sports” lobby, which falsely maintains that a ban on coursing would be also an attack on rural life and country people. NARA’s visits to many parts of Ireland and our conversations with people from all walks of life have made it clear that the vast majority of Irish people, rural as well as urban, regard hare coursing as an embarrassing and cruel relic that should be firmly consigned to the past.
Can you talk about the coursing’s crossover’s into other issues ?
TD, NARA: Greyhound racing and hare coursing are inextricably linked. The Irish Coursing club keeps the greyhound stud book, for example. And, the otherwise unsustainable greyhound racing industry is kept afloat by huge public subsidies (millions of Euros) that it receives each year. This is at a time when taxpayers’ money is badly needed to address the homelessness and housing crisis, the funding of women’s refuges during an epidemic of violence against women, the inequities and shortfalls in healthcare for our people, and other essential social and moral priorities now facing Ireland.
When was the bill introduced at stages in Dáil?
TD, NARA: Paul Murphy T.D. (People Before Profit) introduced the bill to ban hare coursing in 2020. After a long delay, the bill has now reached the final stage of the legislative process, and a vote on it is expected in the near future.
What stage is the bill at now and who’s supporting it ? Who’s not supporting it?
TD, NARA: In previous votes on this issue, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour, Sinn Fein and rural independents have all voted against a ban on hare coursing. Support for a ban has come from the parties of the left (People Before Profit, Solidarity, Right to Change) and from left-wing independents. The parties that voted against a ban have imposed a whip on their T.D.s, meaning that any T.D. who defies the party by voting for a ban would be expelled. NARA fears that the same parties will do the same thing when Paul Murphy’s bill comes up for a vote, but we certainly hope that they will mend their ways and vote for a ban on cruelty. This is fundamentally an issue of conscience, a moral question, and T.D.s should therefore have a free vote, one in which they are not whipped into voting against a ban.
How can people support the bill and campaign, who can they contact to lobby and where can they donate?
TD, NARA: We really need people to support the bill by phoning or emailing their T.D.s and letting them know that voting against a ban is simply unacceptable. Given the political parties’ fear of the coursing and greyhound-racing lobby, we need to let them know that they will also face electoral consequences if they ignore the will of the anti-coursing majority. NARA will gladly send out free leaflet packs and hi-viz vests to anyone who would like to do some street-level campaigning in their own area. Only public pressure will “turn” the pro-coursing politicians away from cruelty and towards decency and compassion.
NARA NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT TO CONTINUE THE CAMPAIGN Donate what you can here: https://paypal.me/naracampaigns
To get involved https://naracampaigns.org/