Alliance Leader David Ford has slammed former Environment Minister Dermot Nesbitt for granting a licence for hare coursing, after it was revealed that two hares died as a direct result of the activity.
The Alliance Environment Spokesperson said he had now written to the Direct Rule Minister now in charge asking for a “categorical guarantee that no further permits for coursing will be issued by your Department”.
Mr Ford said: “Despite the Assembly passing a Bill preventing the licensing of netting of Irish hares if it endangers the species, the former Minister went ahead regardless, in complete defiance of the wishes of the Assembly.”
“By his defiance, the Minister has to accept some responsibility for the deaths of these animals. This licence should never have been granted, and the Minister’s behaviour can only be described as disgraceful.”
“The fact that Dungannon and District Coursing Club was granted a licence to net over 50 hares and could only catch 10 speaks volumes. A licence was also issues to the Ballymena Coursing Club, although it could not net any hares last year. It clearly demonstrates how dangerous the situation for this protected species actually is.”
“I am therefore calling on Direct Rule Minister Angela Smith to give assurances that no more hare coursing licences will be granted, as the object of the legislation was to protect animals, not contribute to their killing.”
Provisions for saving the Irish hare were only included in the Game Preservation Act after an amendment was brought forward by David Ford – and passed with the support of other parties.
Mr Ford said: “My amendment in September was designed to help the Irish hare population grow in its native habitat. Of the 10 hares caught by the Dungannon club, two died. That is scandalous, given the changes to the law, and the former Minister Dermot Nesbitt was wrong to issue a licence.”
“It also shows how the Countryside Alliance was prepared to be economical with the truth, as it stated on November 28 that all 10 hares netted were released. Clearly, that was untrue.”
Mr Ford said that the only positive thing to come out of former Minister Nesbitt’s actions was Queen’s University’s opportunity to do research on the eight hares released back in to the wild after the coursing. A vet fitted radio-collars to these hares to aid a study into how well they settle into their familiar area following the event.
“The research will establish whether the hares suffered any long term trauma as a result of being netted, boxed, transported, coursed, boxed and transported again.”