Monday 17 June 2019

Controversial pig derby set to go ahead at Seabreeze Festival

Deborah Coleman

The controversial pig derby will go ahead at this weekend's Arklow Seabreeze Festival after the festival committee revealed the 'overwhelming response' from the public was to not cancel the race.

The annual event is one of the most popular events of the Seabreeze Festival but has come in for criticism in recent times, with local lady Ciara Fitzgerald describing it as a cruel and unnecessary event that causes distress to the animals.

Over the past three years, Ms Fitzgerald has collected over 8,500 signatures online at supporting her call to get rid of the race.

'I'm calling once again for the committee to do the right thing and cancel this race. This is encouraging bad behaviour in children through betting and teaching them that animal cruelty is OK,' said Ms Fitzgerald.

'I'm calling for all councillors to put pressure on the festival to drop this race. I ask all sponsors to retract any monies until this race is cancelled and I call on all publicans to drop their swinging pubs till the race is gone once and for all. It's sickening this is allowed to continue,' she said.

She commended the local council members in Arklow for banning the use of wild animals in circuses, and argues that the pig derby is a similar form of entertainment.

'This race is no different to performing animals. Pigs scare easily and are very susceptible to noises, the journey to the main street will already stress them, let alone be shoved along the street amid loud jeers and taunts. It's incredulous and I'm totally stunned by the lack of compassion with the festival committee.

She said the committee now had a clear choice: 'to either lead the way in progressive thinking and drop the race,' or 'to keep old ways and totally ignore the overwhelming support I've received in my campaign.'

In response, the Seabreeze Festival committee said that, following consultation with the local community, the vast majority of people indicated that they wanted the pig race to be retained.

'We are well aware that recently there has been a call from a local individual that the pig race be cancelled. When you look at the petition in question, it has been signed predominantly by people from places such as the US and Australia, who have never even seen the race. However, our interest is in what the local community want, so we have asked their thoughts on the subject. In the past few days, the overwhelming response we have been getting is not to cancel the event,' the committee said.

The members said that they take the welfare of the animals very seriously and have professionals on hand to ensure they are well looked after on the day.

'As a committee, the welfare of the pigs is of the utmost importance to us and we feel that this will hold up under rigorous scrutiny. Over the years, both farmers and veterinary professionals have assured us that the pigs love a day out as they are inquisitive animals by nature and would enjoy running about on the day. We take a very proactive approach to their care ensuring that the animals have plenty of food and water and that a pig handler is present to ensure they are well treated, even putting sun screen on them on sunny days.'

The committee also said that the abuse directed at them as a result of the petition is very upsetting.

'The committee volunteers are very upset at the abuse they have received and that all the hard work they have put in over the year to provide a programme of free entertainment for the town could be for nothing if a small minority threaten to ruin one of the most popular events of the festival.'

Meanwhile, the ISPCA has also expressed its opposition to the race.

'The ISPCA is opposed to the use of animals in sport or for entertainment when such use is contrary to the animals' nature, or may involve suffering or may adversely affect the animals' welfare. The ISPCA would not be supportive of pig racing, as the unnecessary transport, handling and noise of the crowd may be stressful for the animals. In hot weather, heat stress is also a risk for the pigs,' a spokesperson said.

Wicklow People