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Last Updated: Monday, 14 February, 2005, 22:31 GMT
Hare hunting ban upheld by court
Hare is chased by two dogs
A controversial ban on hare coursing was introduced in 2003
A ban on the netting and hunting of the Irish hare has been upheld by the Northern Ireland High Court.

Local coursing clubs had challenged a special preservation order which was made by Environment Minister Angela Smith.

It prevents them netting hares for coursing events.

In Monday's ruling, the court found the minister was entitled to consider animal welfare as well as conservation issues in deciding to protect hares.

The temporary ban on the killing, taking or sale of Irish hares in Northern Ireland was renewed last December.

Ms Smith, who campaigned against blood sports in the past, said her personal views played no part in her announcements on hare coursing.

The Irish hare population has increased six-fold in the last two years - clearly it wouldn't have if coursing was such a problem
Ronan Gorman
Countryside Alliance

Welcoming the ruling, she said on Monday that she strongly refuted any suggestion she had acted in any way improperly or that "my decisions were based on anything other than my ministerial responsibilities."

"This fully justifies my earlier decision to ensure that the Irish hare, a unique and valuable creature in terms of biodiversity in Northern Ireland, is given adequate protection to allow their numbers to increase and is in line with my department's policy objectives for the Irish hare," she said.

League Against Cruel Sports chief executive, Douglas Batchelor, said they were delighted the court had recognised that the the Irish hare's welfare was best served by continuing the current suspension on hare coursing.

"While we welcome the renewal of the temporary ban on this activity, when we look across the water in the same week and see hare coursing being banned in England and Wales, we have to ask: 'Doesn't the Irish hare deserve the same level of permanent protection?'," he said.

Ronan Gorman of the Countryside Alliance remained upbeat after the verdict.

"The Irish hare population has increased six-fold in the last two years - clearly it wouldn't have if coursing was such a problem," he said.

"There are only two clubs, two events - it is perfectly sustainable, and I believe there will be a return to it later this year."

Protest against hare coursing
25 Oct 03 |  Northern Ireland
Row over hare permit
14 Oct 03 |  Northern Ireland
Campaign to save Irish hare
15 Sep 03 |  Northern Ireland

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