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Monday 27 January 2020

Horse fair to go ahead despite row with council

LIAM COLLINS

Centuries-old Smithfield market is a cultural and legal right, claims horsemen's association

The controversial horse fair in Smithfield, Dublin, is going ahead next Sunday after the 'horsemen' failed to reach agreement with city council officials.

The men behind the fair, traditionally held on the first Sunday of every month, said they are being squeezed inch by inch towards the exit.

"We are more than willing to deal with Dublin City Council, with the gardai and with the Dublin Society for the Protection of Animals," said horseman Willie Hanlon, "but they don't seem willing to play fair with us."

Although millions have been poured into 'improvements' to the Smithfield square, located west of Dublin city centre, large areas were still cordoned off yesterday -- although no actual work seemed to be going on.

The men behind the Smithfield Horse Fair believe that the square has been left in that condition to try to squeeze them out of existence.

There has been a horse fair in Smithfield for hundreds of years, and although it was marred by a shocking shooting incident late last year, the organisers said they have always tried to co-exist peacefully with the authorities.

But raised areas, steps and other obstacles costing millions of euro, are designed, they said, to end their ancient cultural and legal right to hold a horse fair in the square once a month.

Last week there were at least 50 trees in containers -- imported from Spain at a reputed cost of €3,000 each -- waiting to be distributed around the square, further cutting off open space from the horsemen.

"We agreed to postpone it (the fair) in January and February and the council agreed to put an advertisement in the newspapers about the March fair -- but in the end they didn't, they said why should they pay good money when they didn't want it to take place," said three members of the Smithfield Horse Owners' Association -- Willie Hanlon, Patrick Harris and John Farrell.

They are prepared to cut the number of fairs to five or six a year, if they can get the co-operation of the authorities, they added.

When the March fair went ahead, the horse dealers and their visitors were met by council officials, squads of gardai who refused to let horse-owners park in the vicinity of Smithfield, and Revenue officials who they said "should have bigger fish to fry".

"This is a cultural event, it is part of Dublin in the rare old times and it is a tradition that costs Dublin City Council very little," said the trio. "They should be trying to keep it up -- instead they are doing their damnedest to get rid of us."

Although the work on Smithfield appears to have dragged on for years, according to Dublin City Council it only started on March 1, 2010. When finished it will have cost almost €5m.

The renovations have been funded by a European Regional Development fund grant of €2.4m with the other 50 per cent funded by the city council.

At the moment large tracts of what was once an open square have been broken up with what seems like the deliberate aim of driving the horse fair from the city centre.

"Why are they devoting all this money to getting rid of us, it seems like a crusade for them," said Mr Hanlon.

"We've never done them any harm, it's part of the colour of the city, it attracts hundreds of people when it's on and we have even offered to help with the clean-up afterwards.

"They know we have an ancient right to hold this horse fair, and yet they are making it as difficult as possible for us -- even thought we have offered to work with them, we've attended meetings and done our best," he added.

Walking the square with the horse owners it is easy to sense their frustration. The once derelict square has been gentrified, but it remains largely deserted, a casualty of the economic downturn.

The one time it does spring to life, on the Sunday of the horse fair, however, it seems the authorities are making it their business to make life as difficult as they can for the participants.

Sunday Independent

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