Irish Hare

Oral Answers to Questions — The Environment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 2nd April 2001.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 3:30 pm, 2nd April 2001

4. asked the Minister of the Environment to detail his proposals to provide greater protection for the Irish hare.

(AQO 1210/00)

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

In October 2000 I launched a species action plan for the Irish hare. The action plan will be implemented by a partnership, which will include the Ulster Wildlife Trust, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and my Department’s Environment and Heritage Service. The plan deals with the decline, over the past three decades, in the number of hares in Northern Ireland. The action points in the plan includes the completion of a repeat survey of hares. The Environment and Heritage Service will commission this work once the current restrictions caused by the foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak have been lifted. When I have assessed the repeat survey and the impact of the other three measures in the species action plan, I will consider what further steps, if any, need to be taken.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Does the Minister agree that it is unacceptable to the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland that the catching of hares, an endangered species, still takes place? Hares are taken to contained sites, chased by greyhounds that happen to have muzzles on them, and are not necessarily returned to the places from where they were caught in the first instance. Given that the Department is granting licences for this practice, the hare population is continuing to decrease.

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

My Department has powers under the Game Laws (Amendment) Act 1951 to issue permits to capture hares from the wild for hare coursing. Recent legal advice has confirmed that the Department might be acting unlawfully if it were to adopt a blanket policy of not granting these permits. The repeat survey and assessment of other protection measures will create an opportunity to re-examine this matter.

In the meantime, I recognise that issuing permits to take hares for coursing is often perceived to be inconsistent with the action plan. Therefore, although this other work is under way, I will ask officials to re-examine the evidence to determine the impact of netting hares on that animal’s conservation status.