ALMOST 6,000 stray horses have been put down after being seized by local authorities at a cost of €12.5m in the last five years.
The rate at which horses are being slaughtered has spiralled with almost 80pc of those horses being slaughtered since 2011.
The problem is growing due to the abandonment of animals bought during the boom years and less horses being slaughtered for food due to the horsemeat scandal.
Councils are responsible for the impoundment and disposal of stray horses, with the majority of the 34 local authorities hiring private contractors to deal with the problem.
Horses can be reclaimed by their owners by paying a fee, while others are re-homed through charities.
Figures compiled by the Irish Independent show that out of 12,622 horses seized since 2008, some 5,825 have been put down.
The rate of horses being put down has dramatically increased since 2011, with slaughter rates now nearing 70pc.
More than 1,000 houses have been ‘euthanised' in the first four months of 2013 alone.
Dublin City Council had the highest costs since 2008 with more than €2m spent on its seizure programme. At 787 horses, the city council also had the most animals put down out of all local authorities.
Some 149 were reclaimed by their owners after a €700 fee was paid, while 799 were re-homed.
However, the numbers being killed went from zero in 2008 to 239 in 2012.
A spokeswoman for the council said it was complying with the Control of Horses Act which allows for the disposal of horses if the owner fails to make themselves known within seven days of seizure.
South Dublin County Council had the next highest number euthanised at 758.
Its horse-disposal procedures came in for criticism from a High Court judge in April.
It was found to have breached regulations in the 2011 disposal of four horses put down without complete records of their slaughter as required under EU law.
The horses had been slaughtered without the knowledge of their owner, Gerard Burke from Tallaght, who had disputed the recovery fee as he believed the horses had been securely penned in a field.
The councils with the next highest rate were Limerick City, which had 625 horses put down, and Kildare (381).
Cavan County Council, which seized 43 animals, was the only local authority where no horses were put down since 2008.
ISPCA chief inspector Conor Dowling blamed the increasing number of horses being seized and put down on a “massive overproduction” of horses during the Celtic Tiger years.
He added: “This is compounded by the issues with the horse meat. Last year, there were 24,000 horses slaughtered for meat. That's likely to be under 8,000 this year so that's a big surplus of horses.”
Click on your county for the detail of stray horses seized/put down in your area