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October 31 2011 2 31 /10 /October /2011 14:41

The first attempt by an Irish politician to ban hare coursing occurred in November 1975 during the Senate debate on the Wildlife Bill. Michael D Higgins (recently elected Ireland's President, was the Senator who attempted to have the bill amended to have coursing declared illegal. He was backed by Senators Mary Robinson and Noel Browne, two other giants of Irish politics…

(The next political push against hare coursing came in 1984 when Fine Gael deputy Alan Shatter tried to persuade the Oireachtas all-party committee on legislation to adopt a motion calling for an investigation into the practise with a view to having it banned.

The last attempt was in 1993 when Deputy Tony Gregory introduced his Private Members Bill to outlaw the practise)

Following is an extract from the relevant Senate debate from 1975. I've highlighted a few interesting quotes. The full debate can be accessed on the Oireachtas (Irish parliamentary) website:


Ceapacháin Rialtais. - Wildlife Bill, 1975: Committee Stage.

Wednesday, 26 November 1975

Mrs. Robinson:    If the Minister is not prepared to go so far as to eliminate coursing, would he not feel that it would be appropriate to at least regulate coursing to prevent cruelty and abuses in connection with it? For example, the present law against cruelty to animals is the Protection of Animals Acts, the later one being in 1965. This legislation applied to wild animals and did not stop, for example, hares being kept in a shed for a long period of time before being coursed and being cruelly treated in relation to that.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins:    I was going to suggest to Senator Higgins it is agreed [58] that we should rise at 5.30 p.m. and it does not seem to me that the Senator would finish within a minute. Possibly he would like to report progress.

Mr. M.D. Higgins:    I must pay tribute to the perception of Senator O'Higgins nothing that I will not finish within a minute. I am very grateful to Senator Robinson for having taken up this amendment, which I regard as being extremely important, and I shall resume on it. I now formally report progress.

Business suspended at 5.30 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.

Mr. M.D. Higgins:    I seek the support of the House for this amendment. The effect of this amendment will make coursing illegal. Subsection (7) states:

...nothing in this section shall make unlawful,

(i) the taking and killing of hares by coursing at a regulated coursing match which is held both during a period specified as regards hares in a hares order and in a place to which such order applies.

The Act would give a very minor level of control. The Minister has suggested that in the future attitudes towards wildlife may change. My view is that the barbaric practice of hare coursing should be stopped immediately. If this amendment is carried, then that will be the position.

Mr. Dolan:    I have not many observations to make. Coursing seems to have been a time-honoured pastime right down through the centuries in this country. Ancient histories and annals tell us that during certain months of the year people indulged in this sport. In recent times it has become commercialised and it provides employment for many people. I fail to see how, by introducing an amendment or making a law, one can prevent what is the ordinary cycle of one animal killing another. In coursing and bloodsports it is well known that the hare will get killed. It is inevitable that accidents will occur. I would not like to see hares hunted which had been kept in confinement [59] for two or three days. The natural instinct of greyhounds is to hunt the hare and the natural instinct of the hare is to get out of the way as fast as he can. So far as animal nature and bird life is concerned, I do not think we can be blamed for it.

Mr. P. Browne:    There is nothing wrong with hare hunting. There is keen competition attached to it. People involved in hare hunting will not attend meetings which are not properly organised. There is scope for escapes. Those hares are properly trained today. The greyhound industry is in the same position as our horse industry in that it is highly commercialised.

Mr. W. Ryan:    I am surprised at Senator Higgins's amendment. The Senator comes from a well-known coursing county. I was against coursing years ago when hares were killed very frequently. But that day is gone. The Irish Coursing Club have gone a long way to see that that does not happen any more. Any coursing club that does not have strong hares or does not care for the hares properly should not get a licence from the Irish Coursing Club for the following year.

While none of us likes to see a hare being killed at a coursing meeting, I believe the number that are killed now is much reduced on what it was in previous years. I would ask Senator Higgins not to pursue the prohibition of coursing. If it is prohibited, a lot of people will miss a sport they enjoy and, as a result, many people will be out of employment.

Mr. Cowen:    I, too, am a bit surprised that Senator Higgins is bringing this amendment before the Seanad. There are claims by minority groups that coursing is a very harsh sport. On the other hand, we have to take into consideration that coursing is fundamental to our greyhound industry. The Irish Coursing Club are doing an excellent job in the preservation of the hare species, irrespective of what those minority groups say. The coursing club see to it that [60] the hares are allowed to roam free through the country when coursing is completed.

There are people who claim that the hares are ill-treated prior to coursing meetings. I attend coursing meetings and I have never seen evidence of this at any coursing meeting, but quite the opposite. The hares are adequately and perfectly cared for, both prior to the coursing meeting concerned and afterwards. I would advocate that coursing be maintained in its present form.

Mrs. Robinson:    I am fascinated listening to the contributions to this amendment which I have the pleasure of supporting. I find it interesting. We are now on amendment No. 51 of this Wildlife Bill and I did not hear a squeak out of this side of the House until we started to discuss an amendment to abolish coursing. I have been told that there is a very strong procoursing lobby in this country and I now see evidence of it. I believe that coursing is a very cruel sport. It is cruel in its intent and cruel in the way it is applied. I would accept that certain improvements have been made in the past few years but I do not think they meet the principle of trying to prevent unnecessary and deliberate cruelty to animals. I do not think any safeguard which may have been mentioned would be sufficient to take away the essence of what this is all about—coursing a hare: trials where a number of hares are killed, the cruelty of the whole matter.

Curiously enough, as a member of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities, I had the pleasure of going on a deputation to the Westminster Parliament. We met various members of the House of Commons Committee who had stayed up until 4 a.m. the night before to pass a Bill to abolish coursing. Here we have an opportunity, by supporting this amendment in the name of Senator Higgins, of not staying up until 4 a.m. but of achieving the same result.

Dr. N. Browne:    I should like to support Senator Higgins's amendment. Like Senator Robinson, I am fascinated [61] by the capacity of the Senators who have spoken in favour of coursing to minimise the total barbarity of this concept, which they support, of using two very fast animals, greyhounds, which are trained exclusively for this particular purpose, to hunt, to tear apart and to kill probably one of the gentlest of God's created animals, inflicting, inevitably and invariably, unnecessary pain on this tiny animal. I know most of the Senators who have spoken here well enough to know that they are kindly and gentle people, who would not go out of their way to harm or to hurt anything or anybody. I am totally astonished at this extraordinary blockage, which quite obviously they have about this acceptance of this barbaric practice of using extremely skilled, fast greyhounds to kill a little animal of this kind. They cannot be unmoved by the fact that, as Senator Robinson has said, the British House of Commons—in which there is such a high percentage of the kind of people who believe in these types of sports— passed an Act ending this kind of thing. They obviously appear to have much more civilised beliefs on this subject of killing little animals, painfully, deliberately and, above all, most shamefully enjoying the spectacle. What kind of human being can indulge in this kind of sport and enjoy it?

A Senator talked about the cat killing the mouse, an animal hunting in the ordinary way and killing painfully in the ordinary way. But these are animals; we are meant to be higher creatures altogether with the capacity to reason, to examine, and to project our own feelings into the experience of other people or other animals. Surely there is no individual here who would get up and try to defend these things: that to be hunted is heavenly, to be hunted is a happy experience, to be hunted is something which is great sport. To be hunted by two animals with this wonderful apparatus of the powerful jaws and the teeth, who, if they catch you, will tear you apart until you are painfully dead— that this could be considered to be a sport by any mature adult human beings defies my comprehension.

As I said, cats follow mice. All right. [62] Do we accept that this is a natural activity on the part of the cat? Do we then put ourselves on the level of cats, of the lion, the leopard and the tiger? Are we no higher than these animals? Have we no capacity to understand pain and suffering in others? Do we necessarily respond to our most primitive instincts: to kill and to enjoy killing?

How can these kinds of attitude be reconciled with any kind of civilised behaviour? The whole movement in the world is against this kind of thing — the imposition by human beings of unnecessary and avoidable pain on one another and particularly on innocent animals who are doing absolutely nothing. It is understandable that the lion that is terrorising the herd of sheep or pigs, or whatever it might be, in Africa or India might create resentment and anger on the part of the people who suffer as a result of the loss of their stock. But the hares are doing nothing to us. They are running away as fast as they can from us; they are trying to avoid any contact with us at all. We have to catch them and then, as somebody suggested, train them to accept that they will be killed painfully and enjoy it and give us sport in watching their horrible death. Surely for us this is a totally shameful pastime—“pastime” and “sport” are the words being used. We in Ireland will be the last outpost of this barbarous sport. We will have all these other half-savages from Britain, denied in their own country the spectacle of watching these little animals being tortured and killed painfully, flooding in here in order to get the enjoyment, the thrill, the excitement, the pleasure denied to them by the civilised decision of the House of Commons to stop them doing these terrible things to little animals.

Frankly, speaking as a psychiatrist, it is worth examining the kind of people who indulge in this masochistic practice. What is wrong with you people that you enjoy this kind of thing? Have you ever wondered about your own emotional makeup that makes you enjoy the sound of an animal screaming to death, being torn to pieces, bleeding to death, being hunted, frightened, [63] running away? Do the Senators ever wonder why they enjoy this kind of grotesque and horrible state? This is the kind of thing that one gets in the more disreputable night spots in Soho—this kind of pleasure. What is wrong with the Senators who enjoy this kind of thing? What happened to them on their way up what they have emotionally become so totally disturbed that they get pleasure from watching tiny animals killed painfully?

One of the Senators suggested that it has been commercialised. Yes, indeed, it has been commercialised. What is worse is that it is going to be further commercialised in order to give the English barbarians the pleasure of joining with the Irish barbarians in the pursuit of this particular pleasure. That, of course, adds to the moneys involved. Clearly, as a race, we will do anything for money. This is one of the dangers that the Minister has to face. What kind of protection has he given in this Bill except the protection of those with a vested interest in seeing that it is expanded and extended as rapidly as they possibly can extend and expand it, irrespective of the consequences to these unfortunate animals?

Evidence has been produced to show that the Irish Coursing Club have not supervised carefully the way in which these animals are, what is so euphemistically and misleadingly called, trained. One has visions of the gladiators entering the arena in ancient Rome who were trained to fight the lions before being torn to death. “Trained.” How we can misuse the word. How can a tiny little, five or six inch high, animal, terrified out of its life, become trained in order to prevent two greyhounds trained to catch it and kill it from catching and killing it? Surely it is completely disgraceful that you should attempt to mislead the House, even if you are misleading yourself into believing that you do not know quite well what you are doing in your advocacy of this cruel, horrible, revolting spectacle known as greyhound coursing, racing, or whatever you like to call it.

[64]Mr. W. Ryan:    I just want to reply to Senator N. Browne. The Senator accused us of misleading the House. If there is anybody misleading the House about coursing it is Senator Browne. I should like to make it very clear that nobody in this House gets any pleasure from seeing a hare killed at a coursing meeting. We get pleasure and enjoyment if the hare escapes. Ninety per cent of the hares escape at coursing meetings. In any sport there are bound to be casualties. Very few are taking place now on our coursing fields. Senator Browne seems to think that we will have an invasion from Britain because coursing is prohibited in Britain. As far as I know coursing is not prohibited in Britain yet. It has been passed through the House of Commons but it is not law yet and I do not believe that it will be law in England. I should just like to assure the Senator once again that we get no enjoyment from the killing of hares. Thank God very few hares are killed at coursing meetings today. This is due to the steps taken in recent years by the Irish Coursing Club.

Mr. Deasy:    I could not agree with Senator N. Browne. The man has gone a bit hysterical. He is seeing us all as barbarians just because we support coursing. He is being unfair to the Irish Coursing Club. The Senator does not give them due credit for the improvements they have brought about in recent years and the efforts they have made to eliminate cruelty at coursing meetings.

The greyhound industry contributes millions of pounds to this country and the abolition of coursing would eliminate this valuable source of revenue.

During the Second Reading of this Bill it was stated that frequently hares which had been coursed at a meeting were then sold off to another coursing club. I am informed that this is not so, that it is illegal, and that action is taken by the controlling board against any individual, or any club, who might do this. It may have been done in the past, but it is a practice which has been largely eliminated.

A coursing club is paid £5 for each [65] hare which it releases after a coursing meeting. Surely this is a tremendous incentive towards abolishing cruelty and giving the hare a fair chance. Hares are not sold by one club to another. They are let go free. I fail to see the consistency of people who support this amendment. Why do this pressure group not advocate that cruelty to other animals, which is far more widespread and far more cruel, should be eliminated? Why do they not protest against other forms of cruelty? The leading zoologist in this country has assured me that a fish which is caught on a hook, be it a salmon, a mackerel, or any other fish, suffers as much as if it were a human being. Surely this is considerably more cruel than the fate of a hare which dies within seconds of being caught by a greyhound or two?

Dr. N. Browne:    Which way would the Senator prefer to be killed?

Mr. Deasy:    Senator Browne made no reference to any of these forms of cruelty. I am sure Senator Browne eats fish. He probably also eats lobsters and crabs which have to be boiled alive. I cannot imagine any more excruciating form of pain than to be boiled alive, yet we condone this practice. I have never heard an objection to it. Let us be consistent.

Many people go out shooting. I am sure more birds are grievously injured than are actually killed. I am sure there are thousands of birds flying around with a considerable amount of buckshot in their posteriors and suffering grievously. There has been no mention of this from anyone. As Senator William Ryan has pointed out, Senator Browne made a very incorrect statement in saying that coursing followers enjoy the spectacle of seeing the hares killed. This is untrue. They do not enjoy it. They are delighted if the hares escape and go free after the coursing meeting. There is widespread publicity whenever hares are killed at a coursing meeting. This is spotlighted and given large headlines. There was nothing in the newspapers about a coursing meeting held in Donabate two weeks ago when no hare was killed. Surely that [66] should have been commented upon. There is none so blind as him who will not see. They did not want to take note of this.

It is not true to say that coursing has been abolished in Britain. The Bill outlawing coursing was passed in the House of Commons. It was not passed in the House of Lords. I believe the Bill has died and will not be brought forward again. Coursing is continuing in Britain and it looks as if it will continue for many more years. I definitely oppose this amendment.

Mr. McAuliffe:    I also oppose the amendment. People from the rural areas are completely opposed to this amendment. It is marvellous to have a hare in a hunt. Why was the hare created? The hare was created because greyhounds were created. If hares are not hunted and are allowed to stay together in large numbers, they become inbred in a very short time. Everyone knows that an inbred hare is nearly blind and will die in a short time. No pair of dogs will ever kill a good black hare. Inbred hares are good for nothing. Coursing clubs are doing a very good job by releasing hares in different parts of the country at meetings. If hares are properly fed with oats, turnips and cabbage they will not be killed.

As previously stated, there was a coursing meeting recently in Donabate and not one single hare was killed at it. Our greyhound industry is one of our greatest industries and we will not have a greyhound industry unless we have hares. We will not have good greyhounds unless they hunt hares. For these reasons I am totally opposed to the amendment.

Mr. Russell:    It is important to keep a sense of proportion in this debate. It is a debate that can be easily coloured by emotive phrases by Senators who give me the impression that they have never been to a coursing meeting and who got most of their knowledge from articles in magazines written by the anti-coursing fraternity. I am not a member of either the pro-coursing or the anti-coursing lobby. It is many years since I attended a coursing meeting, [67] although I live very close to one of the most famous meetings in the world, the Irish Cup at Clounanna.

As Senators said, it is true that all sportsmen who go to coursing meetings go to see the dogs. It is a contest between the dogs and not between the dogs and the hare. Everybody regrets when a hare is killed. I notice that none of the abolitionists has produced any statistics, but statistics have shown over the years that there has been a steady decline in the number of hares killed, particularly in long coursing, which is now the most usual type of coursing in Ireland.

The greyhound industry is a very valuable one. Every sportsman regrets the killing of any animal, whether it is a fox killed in the hunt, or a hare killed by beagles, or by dogs, but the basic industry is so large and has so many ramifications that any amendment put down without going fully into all the aspects of it should be considered very carefully before it is supported. I see no reason for supporting it. I acknowledge the concern of those who see only the hare being killed or maimed. They should remember that the hare is a necessary ancillary factor in the sport of coursing. The main thing is the dogs. People bet on the dogs and watch them coursing and applaud when a hare escapes.

It is also well to remember that the number of hares killed after a coursing meeting, outside the course itself, by youths or itinerants with guns, is generally far greater than the number of hares killed at a coursing meeting. As has been stated, hares who escape at a coursing meeting are not destroyed. They are resold. All coursing clubs prohibit the shooting of hares within their own confines. It would have been more helpful if somebody had suggested methods by which the rate at which hares are being killed could be decreased. That would have been a constructive proposal, but to try to demolish a valuable industry by one sweeping amendment is something which this House should not countenance.

[68]Mr. M.D. Higgins:    I want to make a few points perfectly clear. Dr. Shirley Summerskill, when she was speaking on the Bill which was introduced in the House of Commons—I am referring to the Official Report, Volume 893, No. 137, of Friday 13th June, 1975—quoted from a speech by the Leader of the House in which the following was said justifying why her Bill should be taken: “It is always right to spend time trying to get rid of cruelty whether to human beings or to animals. That is what we are doing.”

I hope to have time to deal with other forms of cruelty, cruelty to children, and so on, in whatever time I am allowed in public life. This is just cruelty to hares. The point is that in that debate in the House of Commons no one justified this practice. We should be unemotive about this matter. Senators said that statistics were not used correctly. Where are the objective statistics which show that 90 per cent of the hares escape? We know that does not happen.

Anybody who has studied instincts —I have studied instinctual behaviour in human, sub-human and extra-human life—will know there is no necessary connection between the instinct to chase and the instinct to kill. There is no proof whatsoever that the greyhound industry is at risk. There is not one whit of evidence for that. It is inaccurate to say the greyhound industry is at stake. I had hoped this matter would not be controversial and that the different parties would not disagree on it.

An important point was made by Senator Dolan, for whom I have the greatest respect. He is a sensitive teacher in a rural area. There are many ways of encountering life, wildlife in particular. On Second Stage I asked Senators to recall their experience as children of holding an injured bird or animal in their hand. They respected it and wondered at it. It is a terrible reflection on them that as educated adults they find it necessary to go coursing for entertainment.

I did not mislead the House. If amendments Nos. 51, 61, 111 and 112 were accepted there would be an end [69] to this barbaric practice. The facts are there. There will still be greyhounds, but the circumstances of an encounter between a small animal like the hare and those who pursue it will have changed. People can look at hares, photograph them, and admire them, but they will not be able to be present at the spectacle of a hare being torn apart. That is what the amendments are about. As someone who wants to eliminate cruelty in life generally, even on this very minor case of a hare, I could not withdraw those amendments.


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