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Hare today, gone tomorrow . . .

The effects of climate change are well known to the Green Party, which has accorded due priority in Government to this global challenge. The party has always emphasised the importance of a safe and healthy environment.

I hope it will also move speedily to address the implications of our recent prolonged spell of wet weather for Ireland's hare population.

The hare is one of a number of mammals that are vulnerable to weather conditions of the kind that have ravaged the country for the past few weeks. In particular, hares born during lengthy periods of rainfall have a reduced life expectancy.

This threat to the Irish hare is compounded by a decline in numbers in recent years owing to a multiplicity of factors. Modern farm practices that deprive it of habitat and food militate against its survival and well-being. But so do the activities of over 70 coursing clubs that scour the countryside in search of hares to serve as live bait.

Within days, Environment Minister John Gormley will have to make a decision on whether or not to grant a licence permitting coursing clubs nationwide to again net thousands of hares for baiting.

Before doing so, I hope he takes a close look at a report drawn up by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) on last year's coursing season. This states that, according to club officials, it was "the most difficult year ever to find and capture hares".

This lends credence to an NPWS report issued earlier this year on the 'Conservation Status of Habitats and Species in Ireland', which declared: "The conservation status of the Irish hare is poor."

These findings do not come from any of the anti-blood sport campaign groups. They are backed by research and published by people who have no axe to grind on the separate issue of cruelty to animals associated with hare coursing.

I urge the minister to act now on conservation grounds to protect a species that is clearly under threat on many fronts.

JOHN FITZGERALD

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