Up to 70 protesters attended a picket of the National Coursing meeting in Co Tipperary yesterday to voice their opposition to the sport at its biggest day of the year.
The protest, held on finals day of the three-day national meeting, took place outside the Powerstown Park venue in Clonmel and was organised by members of the Animal Rights Action Network (Aran) and the Irish Coalition Against Blood Sports (ICABS).
"We’re extremely heartened by today’s turnout, which is one of the highest we’ve had in recent years," Aran spokesman John Carmody said afterwards.
He called on government politicians to support moves by some Independent TDs to introduce legislation banning hare coursing.
"In the UK and Northern Ireland hare coursing has been banned for the last number of years. I think we’re behind the times in this country, politically, in terms of animal welfare."
However, "we’re finding an increase in support for our campaign. It’s going to take a couple of years, but we are going to get hare coursing banned."
Chief executive of the Irish Coursing Club, DJ Histon, responded: "If you balance it against the number of people inside [the venue], against the number of people outside, that tells its own story."
This year marked the first in the national meeting’s 88-year history when the action was held over a weekend, culminating with finals on a Monday. Previously, it has always been held from Tuesday to Thursday in the first week of February.
Attendances were reported to have increased by about 20% this year following the move.
"If people have a certain view on coursing, they should come to a coursing meeting and see for themselves what it’s like," said Mr Histon.
Visitors to the event came from America, mainland Europe and particularly Britain where coursing has been banned for years.
In previous years, protests against the coursing meeting attracted large crowds, but the introduction of muzzling of the greyhounds in 1993 muted some of the opposition to the sport.
John Carmody of Aran said yesterday that muzzling "hasn’t stopped the cruelty". Hares still get tossed into the air, he said, and also suffer broken bones and heart attacks.