Animal welfare groups called for the immediate closure of the centuries-old market after yesterday’s event was marked by a number of violent incidents including a shooting in which two males were injured.
The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals claimed the fair, which attracts hundreds of horse traders and spectators every month, descended into mayhem after gunshots rang out around the packed plaza.
“People were literally running for their lives as horses were out of control. It’s a miracle nobody was killed,” said Orla Aungier, operations manager of the DSPCA.
Two men were injured during the shooting which occurred at about 11.30am as the large plaza was thronged with more than 400 horses and several hundred traders and bystanders, including a large force of gardaí.
One male was rushed to St James Hospital for treatment, while the other was brought by ambulance to the Mater Hospital, although neither victim’s injuries are understood to be life-threatening.
Garda sources said the incident was believed to be related to an ongoing feud between Traveller families. Both injured parties are believed to be members of the same Co Offaly family.
The Army Bomb Disposal Unit was also called to the fair after a suspicious device was discovered.
The Defence Forces later confirmed that the weapon was an improvised shotgun which was made safe and given to gardaí for investigation.
In a separate incident, another man also required treatment in hospital for an injury after he was attacked with a slash hook during a row involving a large group of males.
DSPCA general manager, Jimmy Cahill, said the organisation had warned before yesterday’s events that the horse fair posed a considerable danger to both the public and animals.
“This is not some quaint tradition that celebrates Ireland’s love for horses. This is a major health and safety issue that today moved firmly into criminality,” said Mr Cahill.
“The Smithfield market is unlicensed, unregulated and completely unsuitable for horses. We have regularly come across neglected and injured horses here which flies in the face of Ireland’s reputation as a nation of horse lovers.”
The DSPCA called on the new Government to close the Smithfield Horse Fair through the introduction of emergency legislation.
Ms Aungier said the condition of some horses brought to Smithfield were a cause of serious concern.
A request by Dublin City Council for horse traders not to attend yesterday’s fair due to refurbishment work on the Smithfield Plaza was widely ignored as horse traders from all parts of the country, as well as Britain, attended the largest of the monthly markets.
The local authority is currently carrying out a major upgrade of the Smithfield Quarter which meant that around 50% of the space normally occupied by the horse fair was closed off.
Dublin City Council said the call on traders to avoid the fair was made in the interest of public safety.
The council does not have legal powers to close the market itself unless it provides an alternative site within the surrounding area.
Instead, it has asked the Government to introduce legislation to extinguish the right of horse traders to operate the fair on the first Sunday of every month.
Dozens of council staff were also required to mount a major clean-up operation after the fair was over as Smithfield’s famed cobblestones were covered with rubbish and horse manure.