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Irish Coursing Club licences ban extended as deadly Rabbit and Hare disease spreads

The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD, has decided to maintain the suspension of the licences issued to the Irish Coursing Club to capture and tag hares for the 2019/20 hare coursing season.

The netting and collecting of hares for coursing meetings poses a significant risk factor to the spreading of the Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD2).  However, the decision to continue the suspension of licences will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD2) was first reported in the wild in Ireland in early August. Since then, the disease has been recorded in six counties - Cork, Clare, Leitrim, Offaly, Wicklow and Wexford. The  Irish hare is native to Ireland and found nowhere else and should this disease prove as infectious and lethal here as it has done elsewhere in Europe, the impact on the hare could be catastrophic.


Rabbit Haemorrhagic disease presents absolutely no threat to human health and it is entirely safe to handle infected or recently dead rabbits or hares provided normal hygiene is followed.


The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is renewing its request to the public to report any suspected cases. 


While most of the confirmed reports to date have been in rabbits, the disease has also been recorded in Irish hares.


The virus is extremely resistant, remaining viable for up to two months in the environment. It can be passed on by direct contact, but also in faeces and urine. Infected carcasses can harbour infective virus for several months post mortem. The virus can also be transported on soil, shoes and on clothing as well as by insects. It can be killed, however, using suitable disinfectants (e.g. Virkon).


Biosecurity measures have been put in place at NPWS and OPW sites where the disease has been confirmed and NPWS Conservation Rangers continue to monitor the situation nationally.


The public - particularly landowners, farmers, vets and the hare coursing community - is being asked to be on high alert and to report any suspected sightings of diseased rabbits and hares as soon as possible to help efforts to monitor and control the disease.


This can be done by contacting the NPWS by Phone (1890 383 000) or Email (

Notes to Editors:

The rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) was first introduced to Ireland by the Normans in the 12th Century for its meat and fur. It is widespread across the country and found in all counties. It is native to the Iberian peninsula and has declined significantly there in recent decades, most recently as a result of RHD virus.


The Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) is native to Ireland. It is a sub-species of the mountain hare (Lepus timidus) which is found in Scotland and the Alps. It is widespread across the country and found in all counties.


RHD2 is a highly contagious viral disease. The disease is known to be density-dependent (i.e. the higher the density of animals the higher the incidence of the disease). Mortality within populations can vary from 10-70%. Symptoms may take 3-9 days to present and apparently uninfected animals may carry the virus and play an important role in spreading the disease.