Northern Ireland’s environment minister Angela Smith — a former employee of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) — is to force through an order to ban taking and killing of Irish hares in Northern Ireland — without consultation.
The Special Protection Order for Irish Hares comes into effect on 19 January and lasts a year, although it can be renewed annually. The order is likely to criminalise beagling, coursing, foot Harriers and all other forms of hare hunting and shooting.
Leaders from three of Northern Ireland’s main political parties expressed concern at the decision by Angela Smith, who is unaccountable in Northern Ireland. More than 3,000 letters of objection were sent to her office after she announced her intention to take action in early December, and the scientific community has unanimously criticised her lack of scientific rationale.
Smith is Labour MP for Basildon and was head of political and public relations when she left LACS in 1995 after 12 years. She spent two years as research assistant to current rural affairs minister Alun Michael.
Ronan Gorman, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance Ireland, says: “We met Angela Smith and explained the conservation work being carried out by people who have a vested interest in the well-being of Irish hares.
“We also made proposals on how the country sports community could expand upon its contribution to Irish hare conservation and research, but the minister does not appear to be genuinely interested in promoting good conservation practice.”
The Countryside Alliance Ireland and its 30,000 supporters plan to challenge this decision with protests, campaigns and legal action, while the Northern Irish hunts have called an emergency meeting.